Controversial perspective

It was promoted as “An Evening of Perspective and Controversy,” and it lived up to its billing.

The Palestinian Canadian Student Society brought Anti-Zionist Rabbi Yisroel Dovid Weiss and paramedic Shane Dabrowski to campus on Tue., Jan. 28 to share their respective views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“It’s a different perspective,” explained PCSS Vice-President of Public Relations Reyad Abusalim. “We thought it was time for new, fresh ideas to develop. This was a fresh look at the idea from a Jewish perspective or a Canadian perspective.”

Dabrowski, a paramedic with the Fort McMurray Fire Department, spoke first, sharing his experiences as a volunteer with the Palestinian Red Crescent Society. In 2002 Dabrowski went to the West Bank expecting to serve the PRCS in an administrative role, but found himself on the front lines of the medical effort, riding an ambulance into such hotspots as Ramallah and Jenin.

Shortly after Dabrowski arrived in Ramallah, the Palestinian settlement was invaded in the largest Israeli military incursion since the invasion of Lebanon in 1982. The day after the invasion, despite a 24-hour curfew, Dabrowski and other PRSC workers entered the settlement because, as he put it, “we had a duty to serve the public.”

Other than casualties of war, the PRSC had to treat day-to-day medical problems, such as children with asthma, or elderly women with diabetes.

“Just because there’s a war going on doesn’t mean that someone with kidney failure doesn’t need dialysis,” he related.

Later, Dabrowski became one of the first individuals to enter the Jenin refugee camp after the Israeli army’s siege. Jenin had gone without medical aid, food, or water for more than 14 days, and Dabrowski was unprepared for what he saw there.

“It was the most destruction I had seen or thought I would ever see in my life,” he recalled.

Immediately upon entering the camp, after two hours at military checkpoints, Dabrowski was told by an Israeli general to climb into a partially destroyed building to recover a decomposing body.

“You shot him, you go get him,” the paramedic replied, brazenly. “I’m here for the living.”

Rabbi Weiss, a spokesperson for Neturei Karta International, an organization of Jews against Zionism, spoke next, explaining his beliefs as a Jew who doesn’t believe in the validity of the current Jewish state. In Weiss’ view, the Jewish homeland should not have been returned to the Jewish people yet. The Zionist movement, in existence for roughly 100 years, was wrong when it established the nation of Israel in 1948, Weiss believes.

Weiss explained that, according to the Toran, when God exiled the Jews from Israel centuries ago, he warned them “not to try to leave exile prematurely, not to rebel against any nations, not to take up arms against any nations,” and that all these things are embodied in the Zionist movement.

Weiss opposes the creation of Israel because he sees it as a premature end to exile, and because of the displacement of the Palestinians who lived there before 1948.

“[Removing the Palestinians from their homeland] is the opposite of what a Jew is all about,” Weiss lamented. “There were people, there were human beings living there.”

Weiss also blamed anti-Semitism on Zionists.

“Zionism is a factory for anti-Semitism,” he declared. “This is the cause of bloodshed.”

Members of the University of Calgary’s Jewish organization, the Calgary Jewish Students’ Hillel, stated that Weiss is not a representative of Judaism. According to CJSH President Michael Lipton, less than one quarter of one percent of the world’s 14 million Jews fall under the anti-Zionist banner.

“It was a very biased opinion,” said CJSH member Malka Zimmerman. “[Weiss presented facts], some of which were true and some of which were skewed in his favour.”

Zimmerman pointed out that the creation of Israel was necessary in 1948; prior to its establishment, Jews were not welcome in other countries.

“Without Israel, lots of Jews would have had nowhere to go,” she stated.

Lipton argued against Weiss’ statement blaming anti-Semitism on Zionists, pointing to the Spanish Inquisition as a particular example.

“Anti-Semitism has been around as long as there have been Semites,” Lipton noted, adding that both Jews and Arabs are considered Semites. “It goes back long before Zionism.”

Abusalim was pleased with the results of the evening and the discussion that resulted.

“A lot of people are happy; a lot of people are upset,” he said. “Overall, it ended up peacefully. It was a touchy subject. The Jewish community might call it controversial, but these people need to be heard.”

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