April 2013 Commentary

Israel, Canada, and the Movies

by J. L. Granatstein

"The Gatekeepers" is a superb Israeli documentary (partially funded by the CBC) that is based on interviews with a half-dozen former heads of the Shin Bet, Israel's primary security agency. Speaking frankly about their work, dealing with major incidents during their careers, these highly intelligent, articulate officials shed a revealing light on Israel's policy toward the Palestinians and toward the militant settlers who dominate the right wing of Israeli politics. It is no pretty picture. Captured terrorists are executed out of hand, targeted assassinations go wrong and innocent women and children die, while politicians of all political stripes regularly sacrifice Shin Bet and principle to save their own skins.

Most striking of all, these hard men who spent their lives protecting their nation's interests have all come to the conclusion that present Israel policy is fundamentally wrong. The Palestinians are not going to disappear, and the only hope, the only slim hope, of a real peace lies in a two state solution, an Israel and a Palestine living side by side. But if Shin Bet knows this, one must wonder if their Palestinian equivalents do.

Certainly the Shin bet directors understand the difficulties in resolving this historic quarrel. The Palestinians have their lunatics who will not rest until Zionism is eradicated and every Jew is killed or driven into the sea. The Israelis have their own fanatics, their beards just as long, their eyes as filled with hate, who believe that God gave Greater Israel to the Jews. They will not rest until they put settlements into every part of the West Bank and back into Gaza again. The Palestinians blow up buses, attack Jewish interests in Argentina or Europe, and throw stones at soldiers. The Israeli settlers for their part beat up Palestinians, plan attacks on the Temple Mount, Islam's holiest shrine in Jerusalem, and murder Yitzhak Rabin in 1995 when, after signing the Oslo Accords with Yasser Arafat in 1993, they deem him a traitor who was too eager to make a real peace.

Essentially, there is no difference between the madmen, Muslim or Jewish, and the Shin Bet officials understand this very clearly. Their greatest regret, it seems, was that they had failed to detect the plan to kill Rabin.

Stephen Harper seems to be a movie fan, and he took many of his Members of Parliament to see Daniel Day-Lewis in "Lincoln." That is a terrific historical film, full of political lessons. But so too is "The Gatekeepers," one with direct and immediate relevance to Canadian policy and politics. The Harper government has been accused of being much too supportive of Israel, no matter what its leaders do.

The Prime Minister told the Inter-Parliamentary Coalition for Combating Anti-Semitism in Ottawa in November 2010, that “I know... because I have the bruises to show for it, that whether it is at the United Nations or any other international forum, the easiest thing to do is simply to just get along  and go along with this anti-Israel rhetoric, to pretend it is just about being even-handed, and to excuse oneself with the label of honest broker. There are, after all, a lot more votes—a lot more—in being anti-Israeli than in taking a stand,” he stated. “But as long as I am Prime Minister... Canada will take that stand, whatever the cost....because history shows us...that those who threaten the existence of the Jewish people are in the longer term a threat to all of us.”

That was a bold, honest statement for a leader to make, especially one as careful in choosing his words as Stephen Harper. But one might be excused for wishing that he would take his caucus to see "The Gatekeepers" on their next movie night. In fact, maybe it would be enough to send John Baird who could then use his next visit to the Middle East to encourage Israeli and Palestinian politicians to watch the film and consider where their real interests might lie. 

J.L. Granatstein is a Distinguished Research Fellow of the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute.

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