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On Canada, Israel and Indigenous Peoples – An Open Letter to Dr. Yousef Jabareen

Ryan Bellerose

Editor’s Note: On Monday, Nov. 28, 2016, the Toronto Star published an editorial written by Dr. Yousef Jabareen, a Palestinian member of the Israeli Knesset, with the headline “What Israel Can Learn From Canada.” The following is a response to Dr. Jabareen from Ryan Bellerose, B’nai Brith Canada’s Advocacy Coordinator of Western Canada.

Dear Dr. Jabareen,

I recently read your op-ed in the Toronto Star, and while I appreciate your admiration for our country, I feel like there were several inaccuracies that can be pointed out.

Firstly, I find it paradoxical that you start by admitting you’re an “Arab-Palestinian citizen of Israel,” a state that pays your bills as a paid member of Parliament, before essentially denouncing its democratic nature as it pertains to Palestinian rights.

You can’t have it both ways.

You say Canada’s record of recognizing and overcoming discrimination and inequality is commendable, but I’m having a tough time believing that you, as a descendent of actual colonialists, even understand Canada’s history.

For starters, you’re a participating member of a government that allows you to supposedly represent the Arab population of Israel, but you instead use that position to spread libel about it. Rather than trying to make the lives of Arab Israelis better, you waste your time attacking the only state in the Middle East that actually treats its non-majority population like human beings.

You complain that Israel has many “features” of a democracy (in a bid, I assume, to suggest that it is not), yet Arabs are not only allowed to vote in Israel but actually participate in the governance of the country. Furthermore, Israeli Arabs are not forced to worship God in a Jewish manner nor are they forced to speak Hebrew. In your “Arab and democratic” neighbouring countries, how many churches have been built in the past five years? How many synagogues?

Now for your least truthful statement. You claim you’re an “Arab-Palestinian” but also say you’re a remnant of the “indigenous Palestinian people.” Which one is it? Because to claim  indigenous status, while admitting you are the descendant of Arabs who occupied the entire Middle East in the seventh century, is offensive to actual indigenous people like myself. By claiming that you have such status because your people stole an indigenous people’s land a long time ago only shows you don’t actually know where indigenous status stems from.

In your op-ed, you give the ludicrous example of why Canada is inclusive because our government must give services in both of our official languages, English and French. But actually, both are colonialist languages, and neither of the official languages are the three-thousand-year-old indigenous language.

It appears you are upset,  Dr. Jabareen, that government communications in Israel are done in Hebrew. But what about every Arabic-speaking country like Jordan, Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Qatar, or Kuwait where all governmental communications are done in Arabic? But I guess we should all be outraged that tiny Israel, the world’s only state where Jews are the majority, has the temerity to use its three-thousand-year-old indigenous language. How dare they!?!

In your op-ed, you write that “Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees equality to all.” Did you know that Native Canadians, my people, are governed by something called the Indian Act? Can you tell everyone in the class the name for when there are two laws for two peoples in the same state? I’ll give you a hint. It rhymes with shmapartheid.

You claim that Arabs are far underrepresented in Israel, so then how are you – an Arab – a member of Knesset? How are there so many Arab doctors, lawyers, and business owners who thrive in Israel? If Palestinian schools are underfunded, while Mahmoud Abbas and his cronies live in million-dollar mansions, Hamas spends millions on terror infrastructure, and MKs like you get paid from Israeli tax dollars, whose fault is that exactly? You complain that Arabs are unable to rent in some communities, but remain awfully silent about Arabs who sell land to Jews that have do so surreptitiously – or they’d be killed. Is that not worthy of your criticism?

As a civil rights lawyer, I feel it would behoove you to stop spreading libel about the country that allows you to have input in your own governance. If you are speaking on the rights of Palestinian citizens, why not ask their leadership to make substantial changes? If you’re referring to Arab Israelis, I absolutely agree that they should have equal opportunities as long as they are loyal citizens who demonstrate that loyalty.

Perhaps what’s most disparaging about your remarks, Dr. Jabareen, is your accusation that Jews are obliterating the aboriginal names of places in Israel in the wake of UNESCO and the Palestinian Authority’s attempt to rewrite Judeo-Christian history and challenge Jewish and Christian ties to Jerusalem and its holy sites.

I am a Canadian and I love my country, although I love it more for the dream of what Canada could be rather than for what it is. Like you, I know there are things that need fixing. Unlike you, I’m not running around telling lies about my own country.

Perhaps you can be more conscious of the fact that referring to Palestinians as “indigenous” lends a hand to their systematic campaign to rewrite Jewish history. As an Arab-Israeli representative of the Knesset, you indeed have a responsibility to speak on behalf of Arabs. But you also have a responsibility to speak on behalf of Israel.

Ryan Bellerose is the Advocacy Coordinator, Western Canada, of B’nai Brith Canada’s League For Human Rights.