Israel and Ukraine: What We Can Learn from History

One of the biggest influences in my life was that of my late grandmother. Her experience and council has shaped, in particular, the way I think about many foreign policy issues. My grandmother was a Holocaust survivor. She was born a ‘mischling’ – a half-Jew according to Hitler’s race laws – and lived in Germany during the entire Hitler era. She was never angry or bitter, but she taught us well to remember the lessons of the time in which she grew up.

There’s been a lot in the news lately to remind me of her experience. Anti-Semitic riots in France, Germany and Italy, where protestors shouted “Gas the Jews” and destroyed Jewish-owned businesses, is the most obvious story which calls to mind the Nazi era (http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jul/22/italy-france-germany-foreign-ministers-condemn-antisemitic-protests). But the conflicts in Israel and Ukraine have also led me to remember some of that history.

The conflict in the Middle East is fundamentally rooted in the refusal of many nations and groups to accept Israel’s right to exist. Hamas wants all Jews to either leave the Middle East, die, or submit to total domination by their brand of Islam. If you don’t believe me, read the Hamas charter (http://avalon.law.yale.edu/20th_century/hamas.asp). Hamas and their backers in Iran don’t want peace, and they don’t want a 2-state solution. They want Jews to disappear from what they deem to be historically Muslim land.

I think many in the rest of the world look at Hamas’s rhetoric, and don’t take it that seriously. Surely they can’t mean it all?! But most Jews aren’t as sanguine, because they’ve seen this scenario play out before. Many of my German-Jewish relatives had the same attitudes towards the Nazi Party as western liberals today do towards Hamas – they found them unsavory, certainly, but they didn’t take their threats that seriously. Many of those relatives ended up dead or in concentration camps.

Many Jews, and descendents of Jews, have internalized this key lesson of the Holocaust – if someone says they want to destroy you, then you’re better off defending yourself than hoping they don’t mean it. And further, Jews will always be vulnerable if they don’t have a safe and secure homeland. At one time, there were large Jewish populations in most major Eastern European and Middle Eastern cities. Many of those communities no longer exist. Numerous states and people groups have sought to harass, chase out, or destroy their Jewish communities. This harassment unfortunately continues in Western Europe today. In spite of the conflict in Israel, increasing number of Jews are now leaving Europe for Israel, in response to anti-Semitic violence there (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/07/18/jews-immigrate-israel_n_5600211.html), to say nothing of much more systematic threats to a range of non-Muslim communities in the Middle East.

Certainly Israeli policy has not always been correct; and, there can be legitimate disagreement with what Israel does. Indeed, like any free and democratic nation, Israel subjects itself to criticism – Israel’s Arab and Jewish citizens alike have recourse to the courts and to the ballot box. However, I stand with Israel during this conflict because I believe that the Jewish people have a right to their ancestral homeland, and Israel has a right to defend itself from violence. Israel is a free and democratic country, where internal Muslim and Christian minorities live in peace. It is a country which does everything possible to minimize civilian casualties (including dropping leaflets in advance of attacks), despite the efforts of Hamas to put as many Palestinian civilians in harm’s way by using schools, hospitals, and mosques for their own nefarious military purposes. Israel deserves our support, and I am proud of the leadership of Canada and of our Prime Minister when it comes to Israel. If you haven’t seen it, here is the speech he gave in Israel earlier this year: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-ZmbQG0I5lo.

In the 1930s, Hitler gradually sought to expand his power and restore the former glory of Germany. He broke treaties, remilitarized the Rhineland, and occupied Austria and Czechoslovakia, all before the western world intervened. In his advances in Ukraine, Vladimir Putin looks a lot like Hitler. His western apologists would tell us that Crimea, and even the rest of Ukraine, have historically been Russian spheres of influence – but the same was very much true of Czechoslovakia’s relationship to Germany. There are no easy answers to Putin’s aggression, especially in an age of nuclear weapons – but we should at least start from recognizing what Putin is doing. Hitler’s invasion of Czechoslovakia was not centrally about Czechoslovakia, and Putin’s invasion of Crimea and subsequent actions in the rest of Ukraine are not principally about Ukraine. In both cases, they represent the first steps in a global power play to restore the former glory of a vanquished power. (You can read the Prime Minister’s own comments on the crisis here: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-debate/our-duty-is-to-stand-firm-in-the-face-of-russian-aggression/article19767742/).

There are no easy answers – in the Middle East or in Eastern Europe; and, the challenges facing western nations are immense. Canada, under the leadership of Stephen Harper, has been a strong voice in the world for Canadian values. Stephen Harper has the historic memory and the insight to understand what is at stake in each of these conflicts. Harper’s speech in Israel and his early recognition of Putin’s designs (http://www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-debate/harper-saw-through-putin-from-the-start/article19704732/) make this very clear.

If elected, I will strongly support a foreign policy rooted in moral clarity. I will support the Jewish state of Israel; and, I will support a free and independent Ukraine, with borders agreed upon in the Budapest Memorandum. And, I will call for the continuing remembrance of the lessons of the Hitler-era – if a tyrant or a terrorist says they want to kill you, believe them. If a tyrant or a terrorist tries to push you in one direction, hold your ground – lest you keep getting pushed, or fall over. As George Santayana said, “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”