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Toronto Star, Sunday, January 11, 2009

Jewish dissenters speak out over Gaza

by Haroon Siddiqui

Judith Weisman, 78, is a Toronto psychotherapist. She grew up in "a very Zionist family" in Baltimore but "began to change when Israel supported the Vietnam War."

She and her husband came to Canada in 1969. She worked at the Jewish Family and Children's Services.

Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon estranged her from the Jewish state. "It took me a while to grasp what was being done to the Palestinians." She was critical of Israel through the two intifadas and the 2006 invasion of Lebanon.

She helped found Jews for a Just Peace; Jewish Women to End the Occupation (since renamed Women in Solidarity with Palestine); Not in Our Name; and an umbrella group, Independent Jewish Voices.

She helped host a stream of visiting Israeli scholars and human rights activists. She's awaiting the arrival of Jeff Halper of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (7.30 p.m., Jan. 23, Trinity St. Paul's United Church).

Hers has been a long struggle, ignored by the media and shunned by "the organized Jewish community" that is solidly pro-Israel.

But in recent years, she and other dissidents have been garnering support. In recent days, they've had much company.

On Wednesday, a dozen Jewish women "occupied" the Israeli consulate on Bloor St., demanding an end to the Israeli siege of Gaza.

The group included Judy Rebick and Judith Deutsch, president of Science for Peace (whose former presidents include George Ignatieff, the late father of Liberal leader, Michael, who has just joined the Stephen Harper Tories in giving blanket immunity to Israel).

The women expressed "outrage at Ottawa's refusal to condemn the massacres," said spokesperson Miriam Garfinkle. They urged the media to report that "many Jewish-Canadians do not support Israel's violence and apartheid policies."

On Thursday, four prominent Jewish Canadians held a news conference.

Anton Kuerti, internationally acclaimed concert pianist, said:

"I am not an expert on what is a war crime but I can recognize one when I see one ...

"What if almost a thousand Israelis had been killed by F-16s and helicopters and 1,000-pound bombs? There'd be immense outrage throughout the world ...

"Israel's behaviour makes me ashamed of being a Jew, and Canada's servile support of the United States position – 'it's all Hamas' fault' – makes me ashamed of being a Canadian."

Deutsch read from a prepared statement: "The words 'never again,' so fraught with memories of the Holocaust, means 'never again' for all peoples."

Others who spoke were Weisman; Michael Mandel, professor of international law at Osgoode Hall, once a visiting professor at Hebrew University of Jerusalem; and the venerable Ursula Franklin, retired U of T research physicist, Companion of the Order of Canada and a Pearson Medal of Peace recipient.

Later that evening, two dozen dissenting Jews turned up at a pro-Israel rally at Beth Tzedec Synagogue.

Smadar Carmon, a dual Israeli-Canadian citizen, said the group was harassed by another – "a mob of thugs, full of hate, shouting 'IDF,' 'We love Israel,' and 'Terrorist supporters,' 'Traitors,' 'You are not real Jews.'"

On the other side of town, there was a candlelight vigil for Gaza at the Mississauga Civic Square, organized by Palestine House.

And yesterday, there was a demonstration in front of the Israeli consulate, organized by an array of groups, including the Canadian Arab Federation, Canadian Peace Alliance, Coalition to Stop the War, Canadian Union of Public Employees (Ontario), Canadian Union of Postal Workers, and all the groups that Weisman is associated with.

She had planned to be there, as she had been the Saturday before.

Haroon Siddiqui's column appears Thursday and Sunday.

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