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L-R: Muriel Smith - Chair Activities Former MLA group, Ab Freig, Howard Morry, Clif Evans, President, Former MLA group
photo credit:Former MLA Marty Dolin

Former MLA Chris Melnick introducing the speakers
photo credit: Former MLA Marty Dolin


by Rhonda Spivak, Oct 2, 2017



The co-chairs of the Arab Jewish Dialogue (AJD) addressed a group of former Manitoba MLAs (AFFMLA) at a luncheon at the Canad Inns South on Sept 13, focusing on the AJD's mission and values, the lessons the members have learned along the way and the power of dialogue to work through even the most difficult issues.


Howard Morry and Ab Freig told the group of former MLA’s about how the AJD brings together Arabs and Jews to learn from each other about the Middle East and its conflicts. They have worked for the past 10 years with Arabs and Jews from across the country and inspired Canadians with their willingness to engage in dialogue.


The AJD has received recognition from a number of organizations and was recently registered federally as a charitable organization for providing a “public benefit” to Canada.


The key to their success, Freig told the audience, is that the members learned to trust each other before fully opening up. “We had to become friends first,” according to Freig.


Morry, a lawyer at Pitblado Law, told a story about leaving the group after its second meeting, before Freig convinced him to come back and give it another try. “Like most things,” said Morry, “you learn from your mistakes, and our first mistake was diving in before we established the foundation for dialogue.”


Freig, the President of ActivTek Environmental Solutions Canada, explained that the group enables both the Jewish and Arab members "to understand that you won't be judged," and to know that even though "people have different ideas, what "we have in common is the desire to understand the issues, to understand where the other side is coming from." Freig had the audience laughing when he said "There are two things you aren't supposed to talk about with your friends-politics and religion. We talk about both."


Morry spoke about how important it is to recognize the humanity of the other side.  He said he learned that lesson from Ossama AbouZeid, one of the Arab members of the group. It was during Operation Cast Lead, and tempers were high. The group had to cancel a meeting in order to avoid another clash between members. At the next meeting Morry thought it was important to say how sorry he was at the loss of life on the other side. Once he did this, Ossama AbouZeid unfolded his arms as if to say “what took you so long”, and proceeded to open up about his real views on the conflict.


Former MLA Chris Melnick, an organizer of the event introduced the AJD as the only organization of its kind in the world. 


The group has talked about the contentious issue of Jerusalem, because, as Freig, who is an Egyptian Canadian indicated "we didn't think Jews or Arabs understood why Jerusalem is so important to the other."


Freig also spoke about how  the wording of one line in the  obituary of Harold Buchwald z"l, one of the founders of the group , set off a round of discussion over the meaning of the word "Zionist." The obituary said Buchwald was "a strong Zionist," Freig explained. "To the Arab members, being a Zionist had negative connotations It meant you want to steal my land." Freig asked Howard Morry to explain Zionism. "Howard wrote a thoughtful paper on Zionism and what it meant," Freig said  


Morry indicated though that "It took me six years to be able to tell the story [of Zionism] properly. It’s not easy because usually when you explain Zionism, you're not talking to people from the region. But after I finally got it right, one of the Arab members of the group said 'you changed my life today' "


Morry indicated that shortly after the group was formed, they had arrived at its own 'peace accord ' based on the principle of two states for two people. “This was an important exercise for us," he said. "It taught us that we agreed on more than we disagreed on.”


He also noted that they didn't form a Muslim- Jewish dialogue, because the conflict is not necessary about religion . An Arab-Jewish dialogue recognizes that Jews in the Diaspora are stakeholders in the conflict as are Arabs from Egypt and Lebanon, for example, not just the Palestinians. The conflict takes place in the Arab and Jewish worlds, he said.


Morry joked that at the time Harold Buchwald z'l, one of the founders of the AJD, told Morry he was thinking of forming both an Arab Jewish dialogue and an  intra-Jewish dialogue  between left and right-wing Jews. "I said I'd join an Arab-Jewish dialogue because we might make some headway, whereas a dialogue between left and right wing Jews would never work!"


In fact, the dialogue between Jews folded after three meetings.


Morry indicated that there are ten different principles that members of the Arab Jewish dialogue agree upon. "For example, one of them is that violence shouldn't be used to resolve conflict."


He also said that "After 11 years, we still don't agree on everything, but when we disagree we do it respectfully."


Morry and Freig both indicated that they had decided to work at the grassroots level to advance the notion of dialogue. Morry also explained that he and Freig are looking at spending more time in other Canadian cities in order to start Arab-Jewish dialogue groups there. "The potential is limitless," he said, adding that there is a certified student Arab Jewish Dialogue on Campus at the University of Manitoba, which his son Josh Morry was instrumental in setting up.


Freig noted that the group had gone to Egypt together, just before the Arab Spring and the fall of Mubarak. Freig had the audience chuckling when he indicated at one point that he wouldn't let Morry answer a question about the solution to the Arab Israeli Conflict "because Howard is going to give you a long answer. I'll give a simple answer that you, Howard, will agree with!"


In question period, former NDP MLA Myrna Phillips who was the speaker of the Legislature spoke about her experience working on behalf of the National Democratic Institute out of Washington (NDI), acting as a consultant to the Palestinian Authority on organizing their legislature. Phillips worked out of East Jerusalem for close to two years in 1996-1998. She asked how it was possible for her to discuss the conflict and criticize the activities of the Israeli government and military "'without being accused of being antisemitic?" Mo

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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

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