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MP Ben Carr: The Middle East and the Erosion of our Public Discourse

By Ben Carr, March 13,2024

Like so many Canadians, it pains me day after day to watch the ongoing crisis unfold in the Middle East. From the horrific torture Israeli hostages and their families are still enduring, as well as the grief and uncertainty that remains across the country after Hamas’ terrorist attack, to the innocent children in Gaza who have been killed or are starving as a consequence of this horrible conflict, its sum has equaled nothing short of total human catastrophe.

I have been critical of Prime Minister Netanyahu before, and I will be again. There are three core areas that I feel strongly point to the ways in which he is proving to be an obstacle to peace. First, he does not accept a two-state solution as a viable path to peace (even without Hamas at the table). Second, he refuses to condemn and take action towards growing settler extremism on the far-right. Third, and most important at this stage, he is not allowing the aid so desperately needed in Gaza to flow as it should.

For its part, Hamas must release all hostages, stop using civilians as human shields, and cease its constant attacks against Israel. A criticism of Benjamin Netanyahu does not in any way provide a get out of jail free card for Hamas. The terms of a ceasefire cannot be one-sided.

It is critically important we remember that governments come and go. Our relationships with states are deeper than that we may have with the leadership of the day. Israel is still a key ally in the region, and plays a vital role in protecting our interests against hostile actors, such as Iran and Russia.

We can expect that a more moderate Israeli government will emerge from the ruins of this chapter. It will be in Canada’s interest to have open lines of communication with them when the time comes.

Some have questioned my criticism of Prime Minister Netanyahu, contemplating whether or not it is appropriate for a Member of Parliament in Canada to comment on the affairs of another nation. When the domestic affairs of another country spill over into the domestic affairs of ours, and impact those that I represent to the extent that this conflict has, I feel it is reasonable and responsible for me to lend my voice to the conversation.

It is possible to remain outraged by the loss of life on Oct 7th and supportive of Hamas’ dismantling while at the same time feeling as though the humanitarian crisis in Gaza has reached such levels that it is incumbent upon the Netanyahu Government to address the issue immediately. That sentiment reflects how I, and many others in our community, are feeling right now.

Yes, Hamas provoked this war. Yes, Hamas has to be eradicated. Yes, Israel has a right to defend itself. No, innocent kids should not be on the verge of starvation as a consequence of actions completely out of their control.

It is shocking that Israel’s most important ally, the United States, is set to create a makeshift port of entry off the coast in order to get aid into Gaza. This is a direct result of Netanyahu’s arrogant dismissal of the world’s concerns regarding the conditions facing innocent people.

There is nothing black and white about this conflict. Any attempts to overlook the nuance and historical complexity of these issues simply feeds into the hostility and aggression that is plaguing our public discourse on the matter, and by extension, negatively impacting the way we treat each other.

People are constantly looking to put others into one category or another. Are you “pro-Palestine” or you are “pro-Israel?” Do you “support Hamas” or do you “support genocide?”

The truth is, it's simply not that simple.

These tribalistic narratives are no doubt to some extent the result of intergenerational trauma experienced by members of both communities involved, and it is understandable how and why this conflict has evoked the range of emotions that it has.

However, the response is also reflective of a rapid decline in the quality of our public dialogue, borne from social media echo chambers and an underlying anger in certain segments of society that has stripped us of the ability to allow for compassionate argument to be accompanied by reasonable thought.

Because I have expressed support for Israel after the most devastating attack on Jews since the Holocaust, I have been called a “baby killer”, “genocide enthusiast”, and told that I have “blood on my hands.” I have been confronted by mobs of angry people screaming at me outside of events, and had threatening expletives hurled my way.

Because I have been critical of Netanyahu and showed compassion for the circumstances facing innocent people in Gaza, I have been called a “disgraceful Jew”, “Hamas sympathizer”, and a “political opportunist.”

These people are not interested in solutions. They hear only what they want to hear, and disregard the rest. None of that offers a pathway to peace, here at home, or anywhere else in the world.

We must, in the same breath, express care for the lives of innocent Israelis and innocent Palestinians. In doing so, we contribute a small part here at home to the pursuit of a lasting peace for a conflict that has taken the lives of too many, for too long.

Ben Carr is the Member of Parliament for Winnipeg South Centre

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