On Friday morning I went to an event called “Prominent Canadians speak out against the bombing of Lebanon”. It was at a banquet room of a five-star hotel in downtown Toronto. The hotel is actually right next to the Israeli consulate, where many a rally and vigil has occurred over the past decades.
Given my background and work with activist groups, I felt some discomfort at the title, the self-identification of the speakers as “prominent Canadians”, and the setting at a major hotel. I understood the logic though. Our society is a hierarchical one. The “prominent” have authority to speak, the non-prominent do not. Press conferences are held at hotels. When activist groups hold press conferences in outdoor, public spaces, like the OCAP press conferences I’ve been to, often the press doesn’t bother to show up. So, perhaps by setting up this panel in a hotel, and identifying the speakers as prominent, the press would show up, despite the press’s truly stark, and ever-increasing, racism on this topic. Right?
Evidently not. I saw a CityTV video camera there, and heard that some CanWest outfit was in attendance as well as the Toronto Sun. I haven’t yet checked if they covered it at all. In addition, there was a scattering of members of the public. I’d say twenty in all.
I cannot say anything bad about the panel, though.
Michael Mandel, a law professor, spoke about the violations of international law committed by Israel. Anton Kuerti, a concert pianist, talked of the humanitarian situation based on his following the press. Judith Weisman, from Jewish Women’s Committee to end the Occupation, read from Jennifer Loewenstein’s recent piece, which I had been so moved by two days before when the piece had come out that I had to write Jennifer right away (reading Jennifer’s article was as cathartic as watching George Galloway’s interview on Sky News). Weisman also told some personal stories of the constant humiliation of Palestinians that she had witnessed, evidence that we have completely lost our moral compass. Atif Kubursi, a UN consultant and professor of economics, emphasized the humanitarian situation based on his recent work in Lebanon. He also very skillfully explained various aspects of the political situation in Lebanon, support for Hizbullah, etc. David Orchard, who organized the event, spoke about Canada’s trajectory away from international law and towards support for war crimes, under Harper. A young Lebanese-Canadian scientist spoke about the effects on the victims and what she’d been hearing from her family in Lebanon.
While Weisman raised the issue of Palestine and the important connection between the events in Lebanon and Palestine, I do worry that even in “progressive” circles this connection is fading. Of course, the UN resolution that was just ratified gives nothing to the Palestinians, instead rewarding Israel for its destruction and slaughter. And Hizbullah, whether or not they undertook their July 12 operation to try to relieve Gaza, has been, since the Israeli invasion and for some time to come will be, too occupied to be able to think about helping the Palestinians. But leftists who are trying to mobilize solidarity from positions of relative safety should never forget the connection, for two reasons. First, there is the ethical obligation. Our societies are actively participating in the re-destruction of Lebanon, yes, but our societies have been participating in the destruction of Palestine for decades, and that means we owe something to the victims. Second, there is no way to even begin to understand what is happening, Israel’s motives and decisions, as well as those who are resisting Israel, without understanding Palestine and what Israel is doing to the Palestinians.
The second event I went to was a Sumoud fundraiser. Sumoud is a Toronto-based group that tries to educate and organize for Palestinian political prisoners. The prisoner issue is of course central to events in Palestine and Lebanon. Israel has thousands of Palestinians locked up in its prisons: 9,000 adult male prisoners, 300 children, 100 women – those were the numbers at the start of this current crisis. Israel has since kidnapped probably 600 more Palestinians.
The Sumoud event was a cultural event at a union hall, and it was very well attended, and I think successful as a fundraiser for relief in Lebanon and prisoner organizations in Palestine (the split will be 50-50 I believe). There was plenty of Arabic music and dancing, with much of the crowd singing and dancing along. The first act was a pair of poets who did spoken word, a style of rap where the rapper provides the music by singing/rapping the words of the poem. I’ve seen a lot of spoken word, now, some of it political. I’ve seen it in the US where I suspect the genre started, and here in Canada. It is a beautiful form, a good way to deliver surprises and wit, as well as convey powerful messages and emotions. On all of those counts, the performers last night were spectacular. The two who performed last night are my first and second favourite of the spoken word poets I’ve heard.