FAQs: Ten Big Questions You Might Face On Campus

Knowledge is essential to being an effective advocate for Israel within the community and on campus. To assist in this vital advocacy education, CIJA has created 10 Big Questions to provide facts, history, and analyses important in understanding Israel and the broader Middle East. For a more detailed explanation of topics below, please consult our Core Issues Guide.

Why should Canada support Israel?

Canadians and Israelis are very similar, sharing values such as democracy, healthcare, freedom, equality, human rights, education, social justice, and peace. When Canada and Israel work together, both countries benefit, as seen in numerous health, high-tech, security, judicial and environmental partnerships.

Israel is an advanced democracy similar to Canada, with open and fair elections, freedom of dissent, freedom of the press, independent courts, equal rights for men and women, and legal protections for minorities. At the same time, Israel is surrounded by extremists – from Hamas and Hezbollah to Al-Qaeda and ISIS – who violently oppose the democratic values that we as Canadians cherish. The threats Israelis face are, ultimately, the same threats facing Canada and other democratic countries around the world.

Since Canadians have always supported moderates and opposed extremists, it is not surprising that Canadian governments, regardless of the party in power, have had positive relations with Israel for more than 60 years. Today, as a result of strong support from the current government and across party lines, Canada is widely considered to be one of Israel’s closest friends.

Is criticism of Israel antisemitic?

Legitimate criticism of Israeli policy is not antisemitic. Every democracy, including Israel, is open to fair criticism and debate over the policies of its government. Just as Canadians criticize our elected leaders, Israelis also freely criticize their government.

Legitimate criticism of Israeli policy is very different from demonizing Israelis, delegitimizing Israel’s existence, or holding Israel to standards expected of no other country in the world. Given that Israel is the world’s only Jewish state, fair-minded people reject these positions: it is discriminatory to single out the Jewish people for unequal expectations and treatment or to deny the Jewish people the right of self-determination.

Unfortunately, the UN is often misused by undemocratic countries with egregious human rights records to launch obsessive and abusive attacks against Israel. This practice not only distracts attention from serious human rights causes around the world but also undermines the UN’s credibility as a force for peace and reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians.

One can be pro-Palestinian without being anti-Israeli. Indeed, those who call themselves anti-Israel or anti-Zionist are an obstacle to peace – for both Palestinians and Israelis. Their message increases division, encourages rejection and extremism among Palestinians, and makes it more difficult for the two sides to normalize their relationship and come to the compromises necessary to end the conflict.

Why does Israel take military action?

Under the UN Charter, every country has a right – and responsibility – to defend its people from attack. Israel has an obligation to protect Israelis from suicide bombers, missile fire, and terrorists entering Israel through attack tunnels. As Canadians, we must ask ourselves: what would we do if our children faced similar threats?

Israel works to negotiate ceasefires and resolve the conflict with diplomacy. Hamas and other groups often reject ceasefires and intentionally derail negotiations with violence.

Civilian loss of life is a tragedy that pains Israelis and supporters of Israel around the world. It is the actions of Israel’s enemies – like Hamas, which launches missiles at Israeli civilians while using Gazan civilians as human shields – that make civilian losses unavoidable.

In responding to these attacks, Israel works to protect the civilians of Gaza by distributing warning leaflets, sending text messages, and phone calls. Israel often cancels military missions when it learns of civilians nearby – evidence of Israel’s respect for life and for international law. No military in history has done more to protect civilians than the Israeli Defence Force, which operates with even greater caution than US, UK, or other coalition forces fighting ISIS.

Don’t both sides have a responsibility to make peace?

While, like any other democracy, Israel is not perfect, Israelis want peace and have demonstrated this with a long track record of taking great risks to attain it. In 1979, Israel and Egypt signed a peace accord in which Israel gave up land more than twice the size of Israel and removed 3,000 Israeli settlers. In 1994, Israel signed a peace accord with Jordan, which included transferring 300 square km to Jordan. Both of these peace agreements remain in place today and have brought tremendous benefits to the citizens of all three countries.

For decades, polls have shown most Israelis support the two-state solution in which a Jewish state (Israel) and a Palestinian state would live side-by-side in peace and security. Both Israelis and Palestinians have a responsibility to turn this hope into reality.

Israel’s three offers of peace and a Palestinian state since 2000 were all rejected without counter-offer. Israel pulled every Israeli soldier and civilian out of Gaza in 2005, a move that was answered by the firing of thousands of missiles from Gaza into Israel. Hamas and other groups that commit these attacks openly declare their intent to create an Islamist state in all of Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. Their violent actions destroy lives on both sides and shatter the hopes of those who want the next generation of Israelis and Palestinians to enjoy peace.

Polls show many Palestinians support Hamas and Islamic Jihad – proof that there is a serious gap between the two sides when it comes to wanting peace. It is up to Palestinian leaders to close that gap by building peace from the ground up and educating their people to reject hatred and accept Israel.

What’s wrong with Boycott-Divestment-Sanctions (BDS) against Israel?

Boycott-Divestment-Sanctions (BDS) is a divisive, marginal and extreme campaign that undermines efforts to build trust and advance peace between Israelis and Palestinians. It is a failed initiative that has been overwhelmingly rejected by Canadians who, rightly, recognize it as a form of discrimination and prejudice against a minority group.

How many jobs has BDS created for Palestinians? To the contrary, it has targeted Israeli businesses that collectively employ tens of thousands of Palestinians. What has BDS done to promote peace or bring Palestinians and Israelis together in reconciliation? To the contrary, it has attempted to blacklist Israeli academics, many of whom are passionate peace advocates. What has BDS done to undermine Israel’s global ties? To the contrary, the “start-up nation” has seen trade and foreign direct investment continue to skyrocket despite calls for boycott.

We have yet to see a single Canadian company that has boycotted Israeli products. Not a single Canadian university administration has endorsed BDS. All three major federal party leaders have condemned BDS.

Those who share our goal of advancing peace have an opportunity to support positive initiatives that will make a real difference for average Israelis and Palestinians. This could include support for joint Israeli-Palestinian businesses, Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation groups, and coexistence education for Israeli and Palestinian children. Dialogue and cooperation, not more conflict and polarization, are the keys to peace.

Aren’t Israeli settlements the obstacle to peace?

The post-1967 settlements are not the cause of a conflict that began prior to Israel’s modern founding in 1948. Violent rejection of Israel’s existence, demonstrated by repeated rejection of Israeli peace offers, forms the core of the conflict.

On the issue of settlements, there is a healthy diversity of opinion within the Canadian Jewish community; however, there is widespread consensus – among Jewish Canadians, Israelis, and the international community – that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can only be resolved through a peace agreement that resolves all issues (including settlements).

It is also widely recognized that a final agreement will require a land swap in which the vast majority of the settlement population (most of which reside in large settlement blocs close to the Green Line) would find their communities formally incorporated into Israel. A future Palestinian state would be compensated by receiving land from Israel proper. This would reduce the upheaval of removing families from their homes while securing a two-state solution that benefits both sides. It can only be achieved through a comprehensive peace that addresses all issues, including Palestinian terrorism, incitement, and rejection of the Jewish state’s existence.

Israel has a record of making painful compromises for peace by forcibly withdrawing settlers from their homes. This has led to peace when it has been conducted with a peace agreement (as with Egypt in 1982, when 2,500-3,000 settlers with withdrawn from Sinai). It has led to escalated violence – more than 15,000 missiles and mortars fired at Israelis in the years since – when it was done without a peace agreement, as in Israel’s total disengagement with Gaza in 2005, when 8,500 Israeli settlers were removed.

Does everyone living in Israel have the same rights?

Every Israeli, including one-in-four Israeli citizens who are Arab, enjoys equal rights and legal protections similar to those enjoyed in Canada (including freedom of expression and religion, and non-discrimination in housing, employment, etc.) Israel is also the only advanced, liberal democracy in the Middle East – and Israel’s Arab citizens enjoy greater rights and freedoms than in any other country in the region today. Israeli-Arabs vote, study, work, and serve in Parliament, the courts, the military, and government alongside Jewish Israelis. Israel has two official languages: Hebrew and Arabic.

Israel’s Declaration of Independence is explicit about what a Jewish state means: a democracy for Jews from around the world seeking to escape historic persecution and looking to achieve national self-determination. At the same time, the Declaration of Independence is adamant about preserving the rights of non-Jewish Israelis, vowing that the new state will:

…foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.

Why does Israel control the lives of Palestinians?

In 2005, Israel forcibly withdrew 8,500 settlers from Gaza – turning over the entire territory to Palestinian rule. In 2007, Hamas seized Gaza in a violent coup, has subsequently refused to hold elections, and (along with other terrorist groups) has fired more than 15,000 missiles and mortars into Israel in the ensuing years. Israel and Egypt maintain an arms blockade of Gaza to try to prevent Hamas from obtaining advanced weaponry, a measure that the UN has declared legitimate under international law.

In the West Bank, approximately 95% of the Palestinian population live in areas under the governance of the Palestinian Authority (PA), with security functions carried out by the PA’s own security forces – trained in part by Canadian Forces personnel. In those areas, Israeli civilians are not allowed to enter without prior permission – just as Palestinian civilians are not allowed to enter Israel without prior permission. For example, every day, approximately 70,000 Palestinians with work permits enter Israel.” Likewise, there are roads in the West Bank that only Palestinians may use, and roads that only Israelis (Jewish and non-Jewish) may use.

All these measures exist for one reason: to prevent Palestinian terrorist attacks and reduce hostilities – for the benefit of both sides. They have been undertaken in line with existing agreements between Israel and the PA and are intended to be temporary, pending the successful negotiation and signing of a comprehensive Israeli-Palestinian agreement to end the conflict. Under international law (UNSC Resolution 242), Israel is entitled to receive security guarantees, recognition, and an end to all outstanding claims. Until such an agreement is formed, Israel is not required to withdraw from territories.

Why did Israel build the West Bank barrier?

From 2000-2005, approximately 1,000 Israelis, including hundreds of civilians on Israeli buses and in restaurants, malls, and clubs, were murdered in a wave of Palestinian terror attacks. As a defensive measure to stop these attacks, Israel constructed the West Bank security barrier.

Every suicide bombing the barrier prevents not only saves lives in Israel but also ensures that terror groups are not allowed to escalate the conflict by forcing Israel to enter the West Bank to arrest terrorists, which, because terrorists embed themselves among Palestinian civilians, put both Israelis and innocent Palestinians at risk. The barrier saves lives on both sides.

More than 95% of the security barrier consists of a double fence. The remainder, to prevent substantial dislocation of local residents in heavily-populated areas, consists of a concrete barrier.

The dramatic reduction in the number of Israelis killed in terror attacks, from more than 450 in 2002 (pre-barrier) to fewer than 10 in 2012, clearly demonstrates that the security barrier works. The barrier has enabled Israeli security forces to withdraw from most major West Bank cities, including Nablus, Ramallah, Jenin, and Jericho, and enabled Palestinian security forces to assume duties in those areas. Even the leadership of Palestinian Islamic Jihad (a banned terrorist group under Canadian law) told Al Manar TV (November 11, 2006) that, although terror groups intended to continue the suicide bombing campaign, the security barrier proved “an obstacle to the resistance, and if it were not there the situation would be entirely different.”

The security barrier is ultimately temporary. No one wants to live next to a fence, but neither Israelis nor Palestinian should be asked to put their children’s lives at risk. We look forward to the day when peace takes root and the barrier can be safely removed.

What does it mean for Israel to be a 'Jewish state'?

To be Jewish is to belong to both a religion and a people (or nation). Founded in 1948, the modern State of Israel is the national homeland of the Jewish people in their ancestral land – a state for the Jewish nation to achieve self-determination after centuries of statelessness and persecution.

Israel is as a liberal democracy, not a theocracy. The State of Israel’s identity revolves around Jewish peoplehood, rather than the religious tenets of Judaism. Israel is the only advanced, pluralistic democracy in the Middle East. Democratic Israel shares many of the same values we hold as Canadians, including freedom of religion, the rule of law, fair and free elections, freedom of the press, the equality of men and women, and protection for minorities.

Practically speaking, how does Israel’s Jewish identity affect life in Israel? Israel’s Jewish character can be found in everyday matters – from the weekly day of rest (Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath) to school holidays (following the Jewish holiday cycle) – as well as more serious policy areas. For example, while non-Jews can immigrate to Israel and become citizens through a naturalization process, there is an expedited process open to Jews from around the world known as the “Law of Return.” In the years before WWII, many European Jews attempting to flee Nazi persecution were denied admission to other countries. Under the Law of Return, Israel allows Jews to obtain citizenship relatively quickly – providing safe haven for Jews facing antisemitism anywhere in the world.

While approximately three-quarters of Israel’s population is Jewish, Israel’s democratic character ensures that the one-in-four Israeli citizens who are non-Jewish enjoy equal rights and legal protections similar to those enjoyed in Canada. This includes freedom of expression, religion, and equal rights in housing, employment, health care, etc. Israel’s non-Jewish minority votes, studies, works, and serves in Parliament, the courts, the military, and government alongside Jewish Israelis. Israel has two official languages: Hebrew and Arabic.

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