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Thursday, October 8, 2015

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Put not your trust in princes

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Consider the ping-pong ball: it’s served from one side of a net, making a little “pock” sound as it strikes the table. The responding player hits it back across the table, “pock-pock.” Sooner or later, one side slams the ball across the net too forcibly for the opposition to return it, and a point is awarded. And so on and so forth, until a winner emerges.

In the United States, with the fall presidential campaign in overdrive, Jews and Israel are that unhappy ball.

Republican challenger Mitt Romney’s recent visit to Israel, where he exhibited an even stiffer demeanour than usual, was one serve. Take that, Obama! Whack! See how the Jews of Israel love me. Jews of America, vote for me!

Now the ball goes back to President Barack Obama. He carefully lobs it in Romney’s direction, but since he has that dodgy Muslim-sounding name, it’s a weak response, and besides, he didn’t go to Jerusalem and carefully place a small request in the Kotel, then march away with a rabbi strolling by his side, so –pock! Romney seems to win that round.

And so forth.

Up here beyond the 49th parallel, we have a prime minister who loves us. Everyone tells me so. We should be grateful. We should vote for him because he loves us. Given the insecurity of the opposition, so far, Stephen Harper slams the ball repeatedly across the net and seems to win all the points. Given his unconditional love for us, we, the Jews of Canada, are to forgive his authoritarian style. Because he loves Israel.

Pock! Here comes a hard serve from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. America! Draw that red line in the sand! No, he wouldn’t think of interfering in the U.S. elections, but watch that smooth manoeuvre when he speaks of whom he – read: the people of Israel – would like to see win the White House. (Note: so far Bibi has not drawn a red line.)

Here comes a smash. Watch out, Obama.

And so forth.

Here’s what I think: Israel has a government for which its people voted – perhaps, as with our current government, not one the majority of people chose, but one the system delivered. I may think the government’s decisions are damaging to Israel’s long-term interests, but I have only my opinion, and I’m merely a private individual.

I do think that no Israeli politician – I repeat, no Israeli politician – has the right to interfere in such a momentous event as the American national elections. The recent appearances and statements by Netanyahu are totally inappropriate, and many Americans may think so, too.

A similar interference with our elections would be, to say the least, inappropriate and damaging, resented, I’m sure, by Canadians.

In other words, butt out and let the voters decide.

For example, I believe that it ill behooves Canada to cut off diplomatic relations with another country if that country hasn’t declared war on us. Maybe doing so is in our best interests as our government sees them. If, however, it’s done simply to pander to a segment of the electorate – a segment that includes Jews – then it’s a very, very bad decision indeed.

Please don’t wave Israel in front of us as if it were some kind of panacea. Or as if we’re a gullible ping-pong ball.

What’s more important to me is what’s happening in our own country. Is our government delivering what we as Canadians expect: universal health care, support for scientific research, decisions based on that research and realities, intelligent policy on immigration, support for families and children in particular, a strategy on poverty elimination, and a sensible and sensitive environmental policy? Need I go on? That’s what I want to see offered to me as a voter.

The last thing I want are politicians donning kippot and swanning around at various Jewish functions looking as if they actually knew what was going on. Today they love us, but tomorrow, if need be, they’ll find a way to do what they deem to be politically necessary. If we stand in the way, too bad. If Israel stands in the way, ditto.

“Put not your trust in princes, in a human who offers no rescue,” the Psalmist tells us, and with good reason.

We do well to keep this in mind.

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