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Elliot Leven

Rhonda Spivak


By Elliot Leven and Rhonda Spivak, June 29, 2010 reposted April 26, 2011

Elliot Leven presents his opinion below  and the  Editor of the Winnipeg Jewish Review Rhonda Spivak responds


By Elliot Leven, June 21, 2010

Federal NDP Deputy Leader Libby Davies is in hot water over the difference between 1948 and 1967.

The outspoken MP from Vancouver has criticized Israel in the past for its settlement policies, its treatment of the Gaza Strip and, most recently, the confrontation between Israel and the ships running the Gaza blockade.

She participated in a pro-Palestinian rally in Vancouver on June 5.  The rally was called to assemble in front of Vancouver’s art gallery.  It moved through downtown Vancouver and happened to pass a branch of Chapters – the Canadian book chain.

An amateur blogger with a camcorder accosted Davies during the course of the rally and asked her a series of questions about Israel.  The spot at which he stopped her happened to be in front of a Chapters branch.  The jerky, off-centred video of the impromptu interview can be found on the popular social media site You Tube.

The interviewer asked Davies for her opinion about when Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land began. After hesitating, she replied “1948”.  She added that it was the longest occupation in history.  She then appeared unsure of herself and backtracked slightly, adding that the numbers didn’t matter.

The significance of Davies’ comment is that Israel was born in 1948. It did not occupy the West Bank and Gaza until 1967.  If Israel began to occupy Palestine in 1948, the implication might be that Israel does not have a right to exist even within its pre-1967 borders.

During the course of the short interview, Davies noted that she has visited Gaza and West Bank twice, so she knows what she is talking about.  She later noted that she personally supported the current boycott-Israel movement.

When the interview became public, some media and political voices criticized Davies.  Some political opponents called on federal NDP leader Jack Layton to strip Davies of her Deputy Leader position.  Davies issued a brief apology, which can be found on her website, and Layton refused to demote her.  Layton confirmed that the federal NDP supports a “two-state” solution to the Middle East conflict, as it always has.

The harshest criticism of Davies comes from B’nai Brith Canada.  In a June 15 news release, the Jewish organization commented: “The fact that Davies made her comments at an anti-Israel rally held in front of a Jewish-owned business speaks volumes to the fact that anti-Israel agitators are blurring the lines between criticism of Israeli policies and antisemitism.”

One of the sponsors of the June 5 rally was the Canada Palestine Support Network (“Canpalnet”).  Canpalnet’s website calls on the public to boycott Chapters/Indigo because the chain’s majority shareholders (Heather Reisman and Gerry Schwartz) are the founders of the “Heseg Foundation for Lone Soldiers” which plans to distribute funds to Israeli soldiers without family in Israel. 

A careful reading of Davies’ website, combined with a viewing of the entire June 5 interview, leaves me with the impression that Davies is a compassionate but naive activist, with a very incomplete knowledge of Middle East history, and a sad lack of humility about her own modest knowledge.

To begin with, her morality is highly selective.  Her website shows a disproportionate interest in the fate of Gaza, combined with a lack of interest in other international human rights issues.  A search of her website for the word “Tibet” draws a blank.  Ditto for the term “Saudi Arabia”.

I think the time Davies spent making her two trips to Gaza and the West Bank could have been more usefully spent in a Vancouver library, learning a little history.  Some Israeli policies certainly deserve to be criticized, but such criticism must be measured and informed.

To be fair to Davies, the Middle East conflict is extremely complex and many Canadian Jews have huge knowledge gaps on the subject.  I know Winnipeg Jews who don’t know the difference between 1948 (when Israel became independent) and 1967 (when the Six Day War occurred and the West Bank and Gaza fell into Israel’s hands).

However, as a seasoned politician, Davies should have the sense not to comment on explosive political issues about which she knows so little.

As foolish and inept as Davies may have been, B’nai Brith Canada also deserves some criticism.  The Boycott-Chapters movement (if you can call it a movement) has nothing to do with the religion of Heather Reisman and Gerry Schwartz.  (Personally, though I have shopped at Chapters, I had no idea that its majority shareholders were Jewish until I read B’nai Brith’s news release.) The issue is Reisman and Schwartz’s support for a foundation which supports Israeli soldiers. 

It is not always easy to define the difference between anti-Semitism and opposition to specific Israeli policies.  For one thing, there are some anti-Zionist Jews (such as the Neturei Karta and the Satmarers on the right, and the Chomskys on the left).  Even if one dismissed the anti-Zionist Jews as insignificant, many Israeli Jews feel free to attack Israeli government policies in the strongest terms (far stronger than any Davies has ever used).  They are obviously not anti-Semitic.

Libby Davies is no anti-Semite.  On many issues, she is an intelligent, enlightened and courageous speaker.  The fact that a blogger approached her as she passed by a Chapters store, and the fact that Chapters’ majority shareholders happened to be Jewish, is a coincidence.  Davies should be rebuked for extreme foolishness and lack of intellectual humility, but not for racism. 

If Davies wants to make a more meaningful apology, she will confess that there is a lot she doesn’t know about the Middle East, and promise to refrain from making explosive comments about the conflict until she has a chance to learn a lot more about this complex subject.  If she is not prepared to make such an apology, she probably is not a good choice to be the federal NDP’s Deputy Leader.


By Rhonda Spivak June 30, 2010

I don’t know whether in her heart Libby Davies is an anti-Semite or not, or whether she is  what I would term  an “anti-Semite lite,” or a “budding” Anti-Semite or not any of the above . What I know is that I am deeply troubled by her remarks, and I would not go so far as to say that she  is not an Anti-Semite. 

I do know that Anti-Semites would definitely be pleased with the fact that she referred to the Israeli occupation of Palestine as beginning in 1948.

I also know from the many interviews with Palestinians and other Arabs that I have conducted over the last number of  years that I have not met one of them who defines the Israeli occupation as having begun in 1948 who is genuinely interested in a two state solution, Israel and Palestine living side by side.  Every time I have heard someone in Canada or elsewhere refer to the occupation of 1948, they want a so called “one state” solution which does not recognize the right of the Jewish people to any self-determination.  They are talking about dismantling the State of Israel, and having Jews live as a minority in a Palestinian majority.

I certainly don’t accept your rather lax interpretation that Davies’s words might be consistent with not recognizing the existence of the State of Israel.  In fact, I think that,  having said that the occupation began in 1948, the most  LIKELY interpretation of her remarks is that  deep down she does not  recognize the existence of Israel. She made these remarks in a political context, and in doing so she is certainly suggesting that  Palestinian refugees ought to be able to return in full force to pre-67 Israel and  essentially over run the State of Israel.

Do I think  Davies is  just stupid or naïve for not understanding the difference between 1948  and 1967? That would be the most favourable spin of your comments  and the one that you have adopted.  It is the one that may be most comfortable for  a Jewish “two state” NDP supporter , such as yourself,  to take.  But , it is one, which in my view,  tries to massage her words a little bit so that you can feel assured that Libby Davies is really in favour of a two state solution.

The reason I don’t buy that so easily is because throughout that interview in which she rambled away she never once referred to any of the usual lingo that is associated with a two state solution. She didn’t talk about a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza living side by side with the state of Israel, let alone an Israel living in secure borders.

Furthermore Davies’s remarks ought to  be considered in light of a  few other very anti-Israel comments, which when all put together make me less and less inclined to see her remarks as simply naïve or mistaken.  In the clip, Davis also called this “the longest occupation in the world.” As Bob Rae, Liberal foreign affairs critic said “That simply is untrue and  reflects a complete disregard for the fact.”

In addition to her 1948 “mistake” and her “longest occupation” mistake, during the  interview she also talked about how maybe  a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would have to be “imposed.” (check carefully and you’ll see she used the word “imposed.” ) This is also a statement which crosses a red line,  and  out of line with  NDP policy which is in favour of a negotiated agreement not an imposed one.  Presumably, in her ramblings Davies was  contemplating an imposed solution on Israel, one which it wouldn’t agree to, and which would be done without ensuring Israel’s legitimate security concerns and  could put almost half of  the world’s Jewry at risk.

It’s interesting that none of Libby Davies’s “mistakes,” were ones that  ever  advanced Israel’s cause, as opposed to undermining it.

In addition, Davies confirmed that she is a supporter of the BDS (Boycott Divestment Sanctions) movement, and there are an awful lot of people in that group of supporters whose agenda is a ‘ one state’ solution for  the areas that are pre-67 Israel, the West Bank and Gaza ( a way of dismantling Israel and making Jews a minority in a Palestinian majority).

Ask yourself, if  Libby Davies had been in charge of Canadian foreign policy in 1947, would she have voted at the U.N. in favour of the State of Israel coming into existence? It’s a hypothetical question. But I am not at all clear that she would have raised her hand in favour of Israel being born.

On June 11, Davies issued a written apology on her website, which read:
“My reference to the year 1948 as the beginning of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory was a serious and completely inadvertent error. I apologize for this and regret any confusion it has caused. I have always supported a two-state solution to the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict and have never questioned Israel’s right to exist and the Palestinian’s right to a viable state.

“New Democrats have long called for a peaceful, negotiated end to the conflict where Israelis and Palestinians can live side by side with secure borders. This is a policy I fully support. I reject the allegation that I hate Israel, and I reject the assertion that I said that Israel is illegitimate or an abomination. Neither are true.”

However, I agree with Bob Rae’s June 15 statement, in which he rejected Davies’ apology and said her original interview comments were “not the off-the-cuff ramblings of [just] any ill-informed or biased person.” He said that as deputy leader of a national political party, she was “fully cognizant of her responsibilities” when she stated that Israel has been occupying territories since 1948.

“The logical implication of these comments is that Israel has no right to exist. This rhetoric is responsible for more than ‘confusion,’ and an ‘inadvertent error.’ The appropriate decision, is for Mr. Layton to ask for her resignation as deputy leader and for Ms. Davies to issue an apology to all Canadians. Nothing short of that will do,” Rae said [emphasis added].

I note that Rae’s comments  above that nothing short of  Davis’s resignation as deputy leader will do, are actually more bold than your own comments that Davis is “probably not a good  choice for Federal NDP’s  Deputy Leader.”  Why  have you used the word probably instead of definitely?

Why haven’t you called directly on Layton to  ask Davis  to tender her resignation? If  Davis were in the Liberal or  Conservative Party and she made those kind of comments, she’d be booted out  right away as deputy leader. How come the  NDP is different.? Layton hasn’t asked for her resignation. In my view, that is because there are probably and definitely too many voters for the NDP who  don’t  believe Israel should exist and want to see it dismantled in favour of  something else (be it a bi-national or one state or  a Palestinian state over the whole area).

It is worth noting that Thomas Mulcair, the NDP’s other deputy leader said of Davis’s comments “No member of our caucus, whatever other title they have, is allowed to invent their own policy.”  He continued. “We take decisions together, parties formulate policies together, and to say that you’re personally in favour of boycott, divestment and sanctions for the only democracy in the Middle East is, as far as I’m concerned, grossly unacceptable.”

If you look at Davis’s apology, she doesn’t anywhere apologize for her comments about being in favour of boycott, divestment and sanctions.
Lastly, I take issue with your criticism of B’nai Brith. I for one, am glad that B’nai Brith issued a statement that put the heat on Libby Davies and raised all possible issues, and didn’t shy away from any of them. I am surprised that you didn’t know that the owners of Chapter’s are Jewish. But, what is relevant is not what you know or don’t know, but what Libby Davies knew. I didn’t read any statement by her that she didn’t know who the owners of Chapters are. Given that   there has been frequent activity by anti-Israel protesters in front of Chapters, I would be very surprised if Libby Davies did not know who the owners of Chapters are when she gave her rambling interview.

If Libby Davies isn’t anti-Semitic as you say she definitely isn’t, then she will know that the next time she delivers an anti-Israel rant she better be far more careful about the words she chooses, and the location she chooses.  By raising the spectre of anti-Semitism, B’nai Brith has put Davies on notice that she better not be so loose in the way she wags her tongue in the future. If it means that she doesn’t simply accept at face value every untruth that the people around her spew, then that is a good thing. Because something tells me that she is not going to spend hours in the Vancouver public library as you have suggested.

As far as I am concerned Davies’s comments, even if they are not anti-Semitic per se, have rung enough alarm bells to have made many, like myself, extremely uncomfortable with her.  She ought to resign. Not maybe, not probably, but definitely resign.

p.s.  Readers may be interested to know that in June 2008, Libby Davies also presented a petition in parliament disputing the findings of the commission investigating 9-11, and claiming that “elements of the U.S. government were complicit in the murder of thousands of people on nine-eleven, 2001.” 

Elliot Leven Replies:
I have not looked into what Libby Davies said about 9-11.  If the above is an accurate summary of her entire position, the position is frankly idiotic.

I agree with all of your criticisms of Libby Davies.  Watching the entire impromptu interview, I got the impression that, at least on this issue, she is a person of limited intelligence.  I agree that I should have used stronger words: she is definitely a poor choice to be a deputy leader.

However, none of that makes her an anti-Semite.  Some racists hate Chinese people. Some people have nothing against Chinese people, but have perfectly legitimate criticisms of China’s Tibet policy.  Some people know very little about Chinese government policies, and make foolish and sloppy comments about Tibet.  That makes them stupid, but it does not necessarily make them racists.  That is my point.

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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.