Edmonton and Canada have Jewish communities that have needed to know this week that the rest of us recognize the barbarity of the attacks against Jewish civilians in Israel and that we have the community’s back, that we won’t support or permit such brutality in Canada.
Most leaders in the Western world, including Premier Danielle Smith and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, came through with the right message at the right moment. They denounced the terrorist acts of Hamas and affirmed Israel’s right to defend itself against this group, which is deemed a terrorist organization by the Canadian government.
Yes, a few of our political leaders, including Edmonton Mayor Amarjeet Sohi and NDP Edmonton Strathcona MP Heather McPherson have struggled with this simple equation. But the overall response has been heartening.
On Monday, the Alberta legislature was lit up in blue and white in solidarity with Israel.
“We mourn for the victims of the terrible terrorist attack committed by Hamas against the Israeli people and pray for the safe return of those who have been taken,” Smith said, adding that she had spoken with police chiefs in Edmonton and Calgary.
“I want to remind Albertans that violence and inciting violence will not be tolerated.”
We can only imagine the horror that Jews in Edmonton and worldwide have felt watching Hamas terrorists celebrate as they abducted women and children as hostages and slaughtered innocents. We all know the history of Israeli-Palestinian relations is fraught and complicated, but in the face of obvious war crimes by Hamas, Smith’s straightforward condemnation of Hamas and warnings against violence in Alberta was necessary.
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Equally to the point was Trudeau in Ottawa, who joined Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre at a vigil at the Ottawa Jewish community league. “Canada unequivocally condemns Hamas’ attack against Israel, and we stand united with the Israeli people,” Trudeau said.
Trudeau also spoke out against Canadians who rallied in support of Hamas. “The glorification of violence is never acceptable in Canada — by any group or in any situation. I strongly condemn the demonstrations that have taken place, and are taking place, across the country in support of Hamas’ attacks on Israel. Let’s stand united against acts of terror.”
In denouncing terrorist actions, Smith and Trudeau did more than stand with Israel and local Jews, they also implicitly affirmed that there is a standard for conduct in war, one that upholds the need to limit violence against civilians and forbids the direct targeting of them. It’s a standard that Israeli leaders and soldiers will rightly be judged by in the coming weeks and months.
But in his statement on Sunday, without any sound evidence, Sohi accused Israel of targeting civilians in Gaza, essentially putting Israel and Hamas on the same moral plane in that harrowing moment.
“The attacks taking place in Israel and Gaza targeting innocent civilians are horrific,” the mayor said.
Sohi’s comment outraged many in Edmonton’s Jewish community, including former city councillor Michael Oshry, who said Sohi’s “shameful” statement would encourage anti-semitic acts in Edmonton. “Hamas is an internationally declared terrorist organization,” Oshry said. “What they did is the same as if they came to Edmonton and murdered 200 people at the folk festival, then a few hundred more, then kidnapped some mothers and kids from the southside. The only thing Hamas accomplished was to sow sorrow to a country and a people and to ensure that the Palestinians in the Middle East will be significantly worse off for decades to come.”
Sohi’s timing could not have been worse. There may well be a day to condemn Israel if its soldiers commit war crimes by targeting innocents, but that day was not last weekend. In failing to unequivocally condemn the barbarity of Hamas just then, Sohi let down Edmontonians and further alarmed an already worried Jewish community.
As for McPherson, on the same day that a former leader of Hamas called for a worldwide day of jihad, she called for Israel to cease its attack on Hamas terrorists. “We ask Canada to urgently push for a ceasefire, the release of all hostages and a humanitarian aid corridor to save innocent lives.”
Of course Israel must not outright target civilians in Gaza, many of whom are opponents of the dictatorial Hamas regime. But what country on Earth would hold its fire after such a brutal attack on its citizens?
Canada’s role in this conflict will be limited, but the least we can do is support Israel’s hunt for Hamas terrorists and do all we can to ensure the well-being of Jews within Canada.