Whose Freedom Counts in Canada’s Middle East Policy?

Published in the Toronto Star, March 18, 2013

The profusion of official statements the Harper government issues to recognize Canadians’ diverse ethnic and religious holidays suggests a deep-seated love of all that is festive and momentous. But for the scribes tasked with writing these messages, it can’t be easy to find fresh wording each year for expressions of well-wishing. Nor is it simple for them to know when the wording used to describe a holiday or event might lead into thickets of interpretive dispute within a well-wished-upon community.

Take the Jewish holiday of Passover, for instance. With much story-telling and matzoh-eating, it commemorates the ancient Israelites’ liberation from slavery in Egypt to freedom in biblical Israel. Next Monday, when the holiday begins, a statement from Ottawa will surely appear. And in keeping with governmental statements of this kind, it will likely exhort Canadians to reflect on the ethical significance of the holiday in question (which, for Passover, is all about freedom). Such an invitation to “reflect on freedom” may seem anodyne – but in this case, it’s decidedly not.

That’s because the question of just whose freedom Passover commemorates is entangled with profound divisions of outlook within the Jewish community. For some Jews, their religious identity is bound up with the story of an ancient tribal community that has stayed cohesive and distinctive through centuries of adversity. To them, Passover is about the specific struggles of the Jewish people to retain the freedom to live distinctively in face of adversaries who would destroy them. Other Jews take a more universalist approach to the stories and ethical teachings of their religion. They see Judaism as a specific way of addressing larger sufferings, joys and milestones of human individuals and groups, and Passover as a time to think about all forms of slavery and freedom….

Read the rest of this article on the Toronto Star website.

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