To Protest Or Not To Protest? A Response to CIJA CEO Shimon Fogel

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Mark Vandermaas,
Founder, Israel Truth Week
October 18, 2013

Dr. Martinl Luther King-march on Washington 1963On October 2/13 the Canadian Jewish News (CJN) published an editorial by Shimon Fogel, CEO of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) entitled We can’t have it both ways in which he takes to task those of us (he does not name any person or group) who choose to protest anti-Israel events, calling such efforts ‘feeble emotional reactions’ based on good intentions and employing tactics that “Simply put…don’t work” because they “don’t change opinions, nor discredit our adversaries.”  As someone who has devoted the last seven years of my life as a full-time volunteer activist defending the rule of law in Caledonia, Ontario against racial policing by applying the lessons of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and the past two years applying them in defence of Israel, I respectfully disagree with Mr. Fogel’s assertions regarding the role and effectiveness of public protests. I also take issue with the ‘strategy’ upon which his opinions are apparently based.

Fogel’s critique appeared shortly after CJN carried a September 23rd in-depth story about the Israel Truth Week Sodastream vigil I organized at a Stoney Creek (Hamilton, Ontario) Canadian Tire store that cleaned out the store’s supply of Sodastream products in defiance of BDS efforts while attracting Jews, Christians, Muslims and Hindus from Toronto, Hamilton and London whose presence effectively neutered the anti-Israel crowd’s plan to intimidate the store into not carrying the machines via picketing of the store’s entrance. The Hamilton Spectator interviewed a number of people on the pro-Israel side and carried a balanced article instead of the one-sided anti-Israel story that would have been printed but for our presence. I was also able to share the message that Israel is an ‘owner, not an occupier’ of Judea-Samaria thanks to the ‘land title deed’ given the Jewish people under international law via the original (and still legal) two-state solution created at San Remo in 1920 which was codified by the League of Nations in 1922. Shalom Toronto and the Jewish Tribune also carried stories. By any measure, the vigil was a unqualified success, so why the criticism?

130921 ITW Sodastream vigil-DavidFreeman-MarkVandermaas-SalomonBenzimra-VarditFeldman-SteveSchefferJonathan Halevi of Shalom Toronto (a 2013 Israel Truth Week presenter) linked the timing of Fogel’s remarks to our Sodastream vigil in his rebuttal editorial of October 10 entitled The Enlightened Camp and then asks rhetorically, “Is protest activity not officially sanctioned by CIJA indeed unwarranted and insignificant activity, achieving only momentary satisfaction? Were the activists protesting against the ‘al-Quds’ rally…just wasting their time? And what about those speaking out at the anti-Israel demonstrations in front of the Israeli consulate…? And those writing talkbacks and sending letters to the editor in response to hate articles? And the bloggers? Is the participation in the ‘Walk With Israel’ of no merit? And what about the small donations to the UJA which finance CIJA activity?”

The well-meaning leader of CIJA (I and my Never Again Group allies have met with him at length and I have no doubt of his sincerity and his organization’s commitment to doing what he believes is best for Canada’s Jewish community) is plainly saying to grassroots friends of Israel, ‘Leave the defence of humanity to the smart people, the professionals with the well-thought-out plan. Don’t take to the streets. Don’t protest. Don’t be confrontational or controversial. Don’t embarrass us with your selfishness and illogical efforts. We know best. Let us tell you what to do.’

Lessons from Dr. King

Birmingham_may04-63_dogsI’ve heard all this before…in Caledonia, Ontario where the politicians told the innocent victims – who were being terrorized while the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) stood by and watched – that they had everything under control, that it would all be over in a few weeks; just let us ‘negotiate,’ they said. Nothing to see here, folks. Caledonia: where the police launched vicious character assassinations and illegal arrests against those of us who dared to peacefully try to walk down public roads with Canadian flags in defiance of the no-go zone established at the whims of violent native militants who had cowed the town and its police.

People in authority never want their lessers to protest, never want the status quo challenged, never want to take risks that might imperil their position or embarrass them. On April 16, 1963 Dr. King wrote what some consider his greatest work, his magnificent Letter From Birmingham Jail,  written while he was being held for parading without a permit. This letter was our manifesto for conducting and, most importantly, justifying our civil rights resistance operations in Caledonia against the despicable racial policing practices of the OPP which had fully enabled violent native supremacists and their anti-Israel (the Palestinian flag was raised alongside that of the Mohawk Warriors early in the crisis by Palestinian groups), anti-capitalist fellow travellers.

Dr. King’s letter was written in response to a group of eight well-meaning white Alabama clergy members who criticized his decision to travel – as an ‘outsider’ – from Atlanta to Birmingham in order to organize marches, protests and sit-ins. Their words should sound eerily familiar to readers of Mr. Fogel’s editorial just as they did to those of us who were criticized in Caledonia:

“Responsible citizens have undertaken to work on various problems which cause racial friction and unrest. In Birmingham, recent public events have given indication that we will have opportunity for a new constructive and realistic approach to racial problems.

“However, we are now confronted by a series of demonstrations by some of our Negro citizens, directed and led in part by outsiders. We recognize the natural impatience of people who feel that their hopes are slow in being realized. But we are convinced that these demonstrations are unwise and untimely. […]

“We further strongly urge our own Negro community to withdraw support from these demonstrations, and to unite locally in working peacefully for a better Birmingham. When rights are consistently denied, a cause should be pressed in the courts and in negotiations among local leaders, and not in the streets.”

Imagine the consequences had Dr. King listened to those who, as he put it in his historic reply, were “more cautious than courageous and have remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained glass windows.” Civil war? The continuation of segregation?

King’s approach changed the hearts and minds of a nation. Who would dare today to denounce King and those who marched with him? And yet, just 50 years later, we were vilified and repeatedly arrested for marching into Caledonia’s no-go zone in protest against the evil of racial policing. And now, we are told by a Jewish leader we should not march and demonstrate with our Jewish brothers and sisters against the latest incarnation of raging anti-Semitism that is again chasing Jews out of Europe and turning universities into vile places where fabricated history and Jew-hate is taught ever more openly.

Mr. Fogel states that “True advocacy is about extending influence and winning support among those not already committed. Effective advocacy is about successful outreach to new sources of support, not providing emotional reassurance to those already persuaded of the righteousness of our cause.” On this we are in complete agreement. The only question is how is this to be accomplished? Are controversial street protests and grassroots activism tactics effective or is quiet, strategic diplomacy the correct approach? The short answer is ‘Yes!’ Both approaches are important provided the camps respect the role and work of the other. We all move in unique and different circles and therefore, we all have a role to play.

Victory In The No-Go Zone

Gary McHale/Freedom Press Canada: 'Victory In The No-Go Zone: Winning The Fight Against Two-Tier Policing'In November 2013 Gary McHale’s book, Victory In The No-Go Zone: Winning The Fight Against Two Tier Policing will be released by Freedom Press Canada. It opens with a foreword by Christie Blatchford, author of the 2010 bestseller Helpless: Caledonia’s Nightmare Of Fear And Anarchy, And How The Law Failed All Of Us, and goes on to tell the story of how a small group of totally unqualified Canadian patriot volunteers with no money, no power, no connections, no endorsements, and no pay cheques risked everything they had, including their freedom, their lives, their reputations and their financial security to stop native militants and the leftist radical allies who supported their lawlessness in their tracks, and force the OPP to slowly change their racist practices.

When he decided to take up the fight against racial/two-tier policing in Caledonia in 2006 McHale (a devout Christian without whom Israel Truth Week would never have existed) realized he had to take the fight outside the small town to persuade the larger Canadian community to care about victims who were, until he arrived, voiceless and expendable to biased media, the police and the politicians because their skin was white and their victimizers’ was not. It meant using a strategy whereby the media, biased as they mostly were against truth and the victims, were engaged to tell the story at a provincial or national level. This meant winning the hearts and minds of the public by dramatizing the injustices just as Dr. King did by peacefully walking down roads where Blacks were not wanted and allowing police and racists to violate their rights in full view of the cameras. So, we walked where we weren’t wanted in Caledonia and we attempted to raise Canadian flags where the police and racists did not want them. And it worked.

We used public protests; civil actions; Criminal Code prosecutions against militants and police (Gary McHale’s legal precedents in the field of private prosecutions are cited in other Canadian courts); media engagement (hundreds of interviews); the internet; politics; townhall meetings; invited speaking engagements; and alliances with likeminded activists. We went where they told us we were not allowed to go, allowing ourselves to be illegally arrested on public property in Caledonia’s ‘no-go zone’ over and over again – as many as 11 of us at a time (we had committed no crimes; it was simply easier for police to arrest us, the non-violent victims of abuse, than to enforce our rights against violent native supremacists).  We used every tool at our disposal to give Caledonia’s victims a voice; to educate the public; to expose the lies about us and ‘stolen’ land; to drive a wedge between the militants and the good people of Six Nations; and to hold police and politicians accountable. It took us 30 months of protests and arrests just to make the Canadian flag ‘legal’ again in parts of Caledonia.

(For those who may be worried about my mention of arrests: not one of the 14 combined arrests between Gary McHale and I have led to a trial. In any event, I see no need for encouraging pro-Israel activists to be arrested – at least not until the Islamic no-go zones that plague Europe arrive here in Canada whereupon you can count on our police forces to aid in enforcing them.)

We fought the radical Left (including a ringleading contingent from York University) to a standstill. They called us racists and colonizers and white supremacists, to no avail. We were so effective that our arch-enemies acknowledged (in a document setting out their plans to force the Canadian government to turn over, to the violent militants they supported, land that would not be subject to Canadian law) that we were the most effective obstacle to achieving their goals. They complained at an aboriginal-anarchist conference(!) that they had to find a way to counter our use of Dr. King’s techniques because we were making them look like the racists (their words, not ours). Music to the ears.

We – a small group of committed activists working within the law – forced the other side to pay a steep price for violating our rights and, in the process, changed the whole false narrative from one of sympathy for violent native militants who were ‘just defending stolen land’ and police officers who were ‘just following orders’ to a truthful discussion about innocent victims (both native and non-native) of racial policing, imaginary land claims,  and the abject failure of government to uphold the rule of law. I trust you can see the common threads between Caledonia and Israel here.

We didn’t wait for permission to do what we knew was right. We didn’t wait for people with money and power to help because history shows that they rarely do. We acted on every opportunity to dramatize injustice and, as I learned from my years with Gary McHale, one doesn’t need to have all the answers; one only needs to ask, What can I do today with the resources I have to take another step forward? What can I do today to take advantage of my opponent’s actions? 

Every negative action by your enemy today leads to a positive opportunity tomorrow to get your message out. Our Israel Truth Week Sodastream vigil was a textbook example. We stole their show and their media coverage without a single angry word spoken.

Controlling The Message Is Everything

No amount of strategic planning can take into account the infinite and wonderful possibilities that are opened up for you once you make the decision to act to the best of your ability. Strategy does play an important role; Mr. Fogel’s point that we need to understand who are the real targets of our message and how to reach them is an important one. In fact, the most vital ingredient of our success in Caledonia was our ability to ‘control the message’ by:

a) Being a reliable source of accurate information for our media contacts.

b) Using buzz phrases that redefined the debate such as ‘two tier justice’ and ‘racial policing’ (‘original two-state solution,’ ‘Israel is an owner, not an occupier’) that could be repeated by the media.

c) Portraying ourselves as the underdogs doing our best to follow in Dr. King’s footsteps by protesting with dignity in spite of extreme provocations which included threats, slurs, violence and illegal arrests. We resisted the temptation to respond with personal attacks and insults. Fogel is right: emotional yelling matches with your enemies don’t work because the media then has no choice but to report (at best) a ‘he said, she said’ story where both sides are equally to blame. Given the anti-Israel bias and general ignorance of the facts by journalists, hoping to ‘break even’ in the eyes of reporters is not a viable media strategy.

The real strength is having the discipline to remain quiet when the enemy provokes you. You can always count on bullies going too far, and when they do, you need to ensure that the cameras catch their excesses, not yours.

I was very proud to watch Jewish Defence League members and supporters protest with dignity at the recent JSpace conference at the University of Toronto on October 6th where those seeking to destroy Israel’s economy via BDS in pursuit of a new, utopian two-state solution were given the credibility provided by the presence of CIJA representation and Israel’s Consul General. The JDL’s leader, Meir Weinstein, invited me to engage with the day’s keynote speaker, well-known Jewish BDS activist Peter Beinhart which I did in the lobby, politely asking if he was familiar with the original two-state solution created by the San Remo Conference and the League of Nations. He suggested that the League of Nations had no relevance to the issue. When I pointed out that the UN assumed all League of Nations obligations to the Jewish people (Article 80 of the UN Charter), he replied, ‘I’m not a lawyer.’

Consider this sobering fact: Beinhart is a leading BDS/two-state solution advocate, but does not understand the basic legalities of the original founding of Jewish Palestine that Lord Curzon, British Foreign Secretary at the time of the San Remo Conference referred to as the “Magna Carta of the Zionists.” Our exchange showed, just as in Caledonia, the sometimes shocking ignorance of the so-called experts with respect to fundamental facts.  That ignorance opens a window of opportunity because it reveals a potential vulnerability.  

d) Having a purpose for every protest. Protests are for getting your message out to the media and/or the public, preferably both so be prepared with talking points, handouts and signs that use your buzzword phrases. You never know who will be affected or inspired by these simple things.

What we did in Caledonia can be done for Israel advocacy via an activist training program. Indeed, I have lost track of the number of Jews who have thanked me for teaching them how to fight back effectively.

One State Solution or Two States?

I see my role as helping Jewish advocates counter the lies attacking Israel’s illegitimacy. It is not for me, as a non-Jew, non-Israeli, to push a one-state or two-state solution. You may assume from my writing that I am promoting a single state solution. In fact, I believe that ‘the solution’ to restoring Israel’s image in the world is to stop seeking solutions and instead focus first on truth.

MythsAndFacts.org, Eli E. Hertz

If Israel is an occupier, then she needs to leave Judea-Samaria, but it seems painfully obvious to me, after reviewing Salomon Benzimra’s work, The Jewish People’s Rights To The Land Of Israel; the work of renowned Israel legal expert Howard Grief (upon which Benzimra’s book is based); the opinions of international lawyer Dr. Jacques Gauthier; and others such as Richard Bass and Israel Truth Week presenter, attorney/author Matthew Hausman, that Israel is an owner of Judea-Samaria, and not an occupier. If this is true, then the Israeli people need to understand these facts so they can make an informed decision about any plan to turn over their birthright to Arabs. Just as importantly, the world needs to know and acknowledge that Israel is an owner, not a heartless, colonialist occupier.

Those who push the new two-state solution while ignoring the original two-state solution that Arabs and the rest of the world have refused to respect since 1922 need to consider the following beyond the obvious security issues: If Israel turns over Judea-Samaria to Arabs without insisting that they and the world community recognize that they do so despite having lawful title to the land, she will – in effect – be admitting that every vile accusation associated with being an ‘illegal occupier’ was true all along. What a false and devastating legacy to add to the burden of a persecuted people!  

If Israelis will not hold up their San Remo-League of Nations ‘land title deed’ to prevent the loss of the land where Jewish patriarchs (and my Saviour) walked so long ago, or to force the world to acknowledge the truth of Israel’s founding under international law before voluntarily relinquishing their birthright, what legal justification will they have left to rebut Arab demands for the rest of Israel? Surely, no right-thinking Israel advocate can honestly believe such demands will not be pursued.

The consequences of the Jewish people being forced to falsely confess under duress to being monsters who occupied, terrorized and tried to ethnically-cleanse innocent Arab people while trying to steal their land would, I suspect, be far more devastating to the state of Israel than that posed by any physical security threat.

Shimon Fogel states, “Effective advocacy demands that there can be no half-measures, no hybrid approaches that draw from disparate strategic anchors.” He goes on to say that one must embrace “a strategic plan that seeks the long-term, meaningful advancement of the community’s interests. There is no middle ground.” What he neglects to tell the readers of his editorial is that the cornerstone of CIJA’s strategic plan appears to be convincing Canadians of the merits of the new two-state solution (even though the original and legal two-state solution has been consistently violated and ignored since it came into existence in 1922). 

I, along with members of my allies within Hamilton’s Never Again Group met with various Jewish community leaders — including Shimon Fogel — before the 2013 Israel Truth Week conference. We all were impressed with Fogel and I recall saying afterwards, ‘Let no one badmouth CIJA in my presence again!’

I was stunned, then, when CIJA’s Director of Research and Senior Media Relations, Paul Michaels, discredited one of my conference presenters in front of a group of Muslims when he was educating them about Israel’s legal rights during a separate event which took place following the conference. Salomon Benzimra, who worked closely with the late and renowned lawyer Howard Grief when researching his book, had been invited by another Israel Truth Week speaker, journalist/author/TV personality Tahir Gora, founder of the Progressive Muslims Institute Canada and Secretary General of the Muslim Canadian Congress.

Michaels showed up 15 minutes late into Benzimra’s presentation and then made a show of officially distancing CIJA from his fellow Jew’s efforts to educate Muslims about the 1920 San Remo Resolution and League of Nations-approved mandate, announcing that his organization supported the ‘two state solution.’ When I asked afterwards if he had any problems with Mr. Benzimra’s facts, Michaels replied, ‘No, but everybody in Israel supports the two-state solution.’ (Of course, not everybody in Israel supports the new two-state solution; witness the momentous letter to Benjamin Netanyahu published in Haaretz on September 20th which was signed by 19 members of the Knesset – including 6 deputy ministers – signifying their opposition to the transfer of the Israeli homeland to the Palestinian Authority.)

It became clear to me, then, that CIJA’s commitment to the new two-state solution meant that anyone who shared the truth about the original two-state solution, i.e. that Israel is an owner of Judea-Samaria, and not an occupier, was to be shunned for presenting an inconvenient truth. Still, in the spirit of unity, I resisted the temptation to publicly speak out about this egregious incident.

When I launched Israel Truth Week in 2012 after Jewish students at Western University in London were intimidated while campus police stood by, one of my key stated objectives was “to unite Jewish and non-Jewish groups in defence of Israel and liberal values of freedom and equality, and to encourage co-operation despite differences of opinion or approach.”

Wherever I go Jews complain to me about their belief that this or that organization is not responding effectively to the rising tide of anti-Semitism, but I have steadfastly counselled them not to waste their valuable time being angry at who is ‘not in the room’ with us, but to be grateful for those who are, and to work with them. I encourage my supporters to understand that those groups and individuals who will not support us now may well do so in the future, so we should not demonize them or their efforts.

I now find myself in an awkward and unwanted predicament: the necessity of having to contradict the leadership of a large, respected Jewish organization that does good work and with whom I would like to have worked. But to remain silent in the face of a clear denunciation and misapprehension of the value we bring to the table would be unfair to those of us – Jewish and non-Jewish – who have worked so hard and paid heavy prices to begin building a grass-roots resistance movement drawn across cultural and religious lines against the rising tide of anti-Semitism, anti-Israelism and anti-liberalism that threatens not only Jews and the state of Israel, but all of our fundamental freedoms in the West.

Crooked Furrows vs. Fields Unplowed

I am not Jewish and I am not Israeli. I am not an academic, nor am I a politician or an expert on international relations. I am, by most measures, totally unqualified to interject myself into the Middle East crisis insofar as ‘solutions’ are concerned. I am – as we were derogatorily called in Caledonia, and as Dr. King was labelled in Birmingham –  an ‘outsider.’ By what right, then, do I dare inject myself into this issue? I stand on Dr. King’s response to those well-meaning white clerics who urged him not to protest: “I am in Birmingham because injustice is here…I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

My only real qualification is that I am an experienced advocate who knows how to fight back when governments and radicals embrace violence and lies as ‘solutions.’ It is not my right to use every means at my disposal – including protests – to advocate for justice for Jews and Israel; it is my obligation. It is my obligation as a Christian, as a lover of freedom, as a former Canadian soldier, as the son of parents who lived in Nazi-occupied Holland and watched Jews taken away to be murdered, and…as a human being. When I defend Israel I defend Canada and vice versa.

As I said to Shimon Fogel when I met him, it would make you weep if you knew the price that ordinary people were paying to defend Israel and freedom at large. People have made enormous sacrifices of time, money, blood, tears and, in some cases, their freedom in order to stand up for the values passed on by the Jewish people to the nations. It seems a tragic mistake for a leading Jewish organization to so casually dismiss their efforts rather than learning how to support and harness that energy.

CIJA’s website says this under the heading Our Advocacy (my emphasis): “The Centre aims to enhance Jewish unity across Canada but not uniformity of viewpoints, a goal premised on the belief that, when combined with a broad sense of solidarity, a healthy diversity of opinion among Jewish Canadians is a source of community strength and vitality. [T]he Centre… works to build and strengthen mutually beneficial relations with other faith- and ethno-cultural communities in order to advance issues of shared concern.”  I hope that CIJA and other large Israel/Jewish advocacy organizations will one day engage and embrace those who use different tactics in support of a noble goal. We need one another and we can learn from one another.

Our allies don’t have to be perfect. We don’t all have to think alike, and we don’t all have to use the same tools. Indeed, for example, I find my commitment to the teachings of Dr. King at odds somewhat with the aggressive history and stance of the Jewish Defence League (JDL) and their founder, the late Rabbi Kahane, who some might be tempted (fairly or unfairly) to compare to Malcolm X rather than Dr. King. We are in a war against evil, however, so I prefer to focus not on our differences, but on our commonalities: our shared love for Israel, for truth and for freedom; our patriotism as law abiding Canadians; and our desire to give real meaning to the words Never Again! During the years that I have interacted with the JDL I have seen them work hard to bring together disparate groups and speakers in support of freedom and democracy in a way that others would do well to emulate.

I recall meeting Dr. Bill Warner of the Center for the Study of Political Islam and Judd Matheny – a Tennessee legislator who has seen the frightening Islamic no-go zones in Belgium firsthand – for the first time when they attended a JDL protest at the Israeli Consulate. Warner asked me, in total delight: Where do you find Jews like this! He was simply awestruck that Jews would take to the streets in protest. Yes, I have seen JDL people engage in yelling matches with their enemies and, even though that is not my preferred style of protest, I would rather stand with 100 noisy Jews facing the enemy in the streets than to have the enemy win their coveted media victory unopposed.

121124 JDL rally Israel-consulate TORSUN-Veronica Henri

In this Toronto Sun photo, a pro-Israel supporter holding an Israel Truth Week-produced sign at a Jewish Defence League-organized rally at the Israeli Consulate, Nov 24/12 steals the media spotlight from the much larger anti-Israel group across the street. Click on image to download the poster (and others) and read the entire story.

I sincerely hope that one day, all of Israel’s advocates will put aside their differences in favour of unity in the face of evil. I call upon CIJA to take the lead in understanding and harnessing the vital role played by volunteer activists who are willing to pay a price for their beliefs, and I ask them also to consider the possibility that promoting knowledge about the original two-state solution may be of great service to the Israeli people and the world at large during this dangerous time when truth and justice are in such short supply for Jewish people. Let us work together to ensure every field gets plowed and that, over time, the furrows get straighter.

Mark Vandermaas is founder of Israel Truth Week (www.IsraelTruthWeek.org) and the Caledonia Victims Project (www.CaledoniaVictimsProject.ca).

POSTED BY: Mark Vandermaas