Wednesday, 17 September 2014

My Message to Scotland: Vote Yes to Independence. Let the Sun Set on the British Empire

In just a few hours, Scots will have the chance to do what their ancestors at the Battle of Bannockburn did seven hundred years ago: Win their nation's independence.  Fortunately this time, bloodshed is highly unlikely.  In a great exercise in democracy, Scots have been granted the right to choose their country's fate.  It's a right that most peoples seeking self-determination around the world can only dream of.  The fight for Scotland's future is very reminiscent of a struggle that I know all too well about as a Canadian: the question of Quebec's status.  Quebec has twice voted against independence.  The last referendum was in 1995, when I was still a teenager.  I can still remember my parents and I going to a massive rally in Toronto calling on Quebec to stay in Canada.  In my high school, we were even asked by our homeroom teacher to sign a petition calling on Quebec to vote against separation.  I signed that petition, but if I had the chance to do it all over again, I would not have signed it, nor would I have attended the rally in Toronto in 1995.  Quite the opposite.  I would have joined the campaign in favour of an independent Quebec, and I feel that should there be another referendum on the question of the province's status, I will definitely be on the side of the sovereigntists, which is why I am now on the side of those in Scotland who seek to regain their country's independence.


I have listened to the predictable arguments of those against Scottish independence.  They are very similar to the ones always used by those who are against independence for Quebec and they are almost all about the economy.  I'm not going to say that the "No" campaigners in Scotland are wrong about the economic consequences of Scottish independence any more than I would try to contradict the similar arguments of the federalist camp in Canada.  The truth is that there probably will be significant economic consequences for Scotland if they choose independence, just as their would be for Quebec if they decided at some point to go it alone.  But since when has freedom ever been free?  Indeed, there is always a price to pay when a people seek freedom.  It is usually paid in blood rather than money, and I would say that any economic costs borne by Scots after a "Yes" vote pale in comparison to the sacrifice made by their ancestors who bled on the battlefield of Bannockburn and the many other battlefields on which Scots gave their lives for their country's freedom.  Moreover, I cannot think of too many examples in which a newly independent country did not struggle during its first years of sovereignty.  So yes, in the short run there probably will be consequences for Scots to bear after they have voted for independence.  But in the long run, they will find that they made the right decision.

The Tyranny of the English Majority

It is true that way back in 1707, the Scottish parliament at the time decided to dissolve itself and delegate legislative power over Scotland country to Westminster in what is now called the Union of the Parliaments, so there was a degree of choice involved when the country joined the emerging British Empire - but only to a limited extent.  The Union of the Parliaments occurred well before universal suffrage; well before legislatures were elected by the masses rather than just by white male land-owners.  Then again, Scotland's accession to the British Empire was much more legitimate than that of Wales or Ireland, both of which were countries conquered by the English.  By the early 20th century, after centuries of bloodshed, most of Ireland managed to free itself from the yoke of British imperialism.  But Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland remain part of the United Kingdom, and they are all politically and economically dominated by the English.  Indeed, English domination has always been at the core of the British Empire and continues to be today.

Whatever Scotland gained from its domination at the hands of England will never make up for what it lost.  Centuries of English hegemony have made Scotland's Gaelic language nearly extinct.  The country's culture has become little more than a sideshow in the British melting pot.  And although Scotland's economy has developed significantly since the emergence of the British Empire, the country remains poor compared to England, even as oil has been pumping out of the Shetland Islands.  But instead of enriching Scotland, this oil has largely gone to where most precious resources in the U.K. have gone over the centuries: into the hands of the English.  The fact that Scotland and the other countries in the U.K. have gotten the short end of the stick while England has taken the bulk of the wealth and power shouldn't be a surprise, however, because after all, the United Kingdom, though largely a product of conquest, is a democracy, and in a democracy the majority rules.  So who is the majority in the U.K.?  Why the English of course!  So just as Quebec has been historically dominated by Canada's English-speaking majority, so too have the Scots, Welsh and Irish been dominated by the U.K.'s English majority.  In fact, Scotland and the other smaller countries of the U.K. are in an even worse situation because even together, they don't make up a very large counter-weight against England, whereas Quebec is Canada's second-most populous province and has been able to use its population's voting power to force significant concessions from the English-speaking majority, giving the province more power over its affairs and allowing it to reaffirm its distinct French identity.  It's time that Scotland said no to this tyranny of the English majority by saying "Yes" to independence.

Multinational Empires Have no Place in This World

The United Kingdom is what I often call a multinational empire - a country composed of two or more large ethno-national groups, but usually dominated by just one of them.  The U.K. is composed of four main national groups, but controlled overwhelmingly by one - the English.  It's story is the story of most multinational empires.  It begins when one group of people become so powerful that they conquer the territories of other peoples to eventually form an empire.  Rome, which was the greatest empire of the ancient world, began with the small Roman republic.  But of course, that republic grew more powerful, swallowed the territory of its rivals, and became an empire that stretched across Europe, North Africa and the Middle East.  It contained countless ethnic, linguistic and religious groups, though control remained firmly in the hands of the empire's founders, the Latin speakers of the Italian peninsula.  But of course, all empires eventually come to an end, as did the Roman Empire, which slowly lost control over the territories it had conquered until Rome itself finally ceased to exist as a state.  Fast forward centuries later to when England began to grow in wealth and power until she took control of her neighbours to form the Kingdom of Great Britain, which in turn spread throughout the globe conquering other peoples and their territory to forge the British Empire.  By the mid-20th century, the British Empire was a shell of its former self.  The British no longer hold vast territories overseas.  They have lost their empire.  And now, just as Rome itself was erased as a state, I believe so too will the British state cease to exist.  Whether this happens as a result of the Scottish referendum, or happens later on, it will almost definitely happen.  In fact, I believe that eventually all multinational empires, be they Canada, the Russian Federation or even the great United States of America, will come to an end.  It's just a question of when.  

     

Monday, 15 September 2014

Official Bilingualism is Good for Israel

Last week, I happened to come across an opinion piece on ynetnews.com that argued against a law proposing the annulment of Arabic as an official language in Israel (see: Let Israel's Arabs and their language be).  Supposedly, this bill "…will contribute to the social cohesion in the State of Israel and to the construction of the collective identity necessary for forming mutual trust in the society and preserving the values of democracy."  But the author argues that such a measure, if taken, will do the exact opposite by imposing the Hebrew language on the country's Arab minority.  Personally, I have mixed feelings about this issue.

Part of me believes that it would be hypocrisy for Israeli Arabs to accuse the country's government of trying to impose Hebrew on them, because that's exactly what their ancestors did to most of the peoples of the Middle East and North Africa during the Muslim Arab conquests of centuries past.  If anything, the Israeli government would simply be taking a step towards restoring the country's Hebrew heritage by reaffirming the language's supremacy in the State of Israel.  Moreover, I am usually of the opinion that if someone intends to live in a country in which the majority speaks a language that is different from his or her own, he or she must learn that language, no questions asked.  This is philosophy that I apply to immigrants who come to live in Canada, where I reside.  In Canada, our official languages are English and French.  So when someone comes to live here, they should be expected to begin learning one of these languages from day one.  If they refuse to do this, then they should pack up and go back to wherever it is they came from.  But for me, applying the same principle to Arabic speakers in Israel that I apply to new immigrants who come to live in Canada just doesn't make sense.  Why?  Because for the most part, Israel's Arabic speakers are hardly immigrants.  Many if not most of them have lived in Israel for generations, well before Jews began returning to their ancestral homeland.  Yes, it's true that Israel's Arabs are mostly a foreign population - the result of the aforementioned Muslim Arab conquests.  However, if we the Jewish majority try to impose our Hebrew language on the country's Arab minority, then we will be no better than the conquerors of the past who tried to impose their languages on us.

Official Bilingualism in Israel Should be Strengthened, Not Weakened

I am opposed to any efforts by Israel's leaders to try to reduce the status of Arabic versus Hebrew.  In fact, I would advocate strengthening Israel's status as a bilingual country, using Canada as a model.  For those of you who are unfamiliar with Canada's official languages policy, you may be interested to know that our Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which resembles Israel's Basic Law on Human Dignity and Liberty, enshrines the equal status of English and French in all national affairs.  This linguistic equality is further enshrined in Canada's Official Languages Act.  Indeed, Canada's laws on the use of both official languages can be quite strict.  For instance, if a product is not packaged with both English and French present, it is not allowed to be sold in Canada - and this applies to everything from a high-definition TV to something as small as the bottle of water that you purchase at a convenience store.  

Anyone who has travelled around Israel, as I have, knows that the country has already made great strides towards bilingualism.  There are signs in both Hebrew and Arabic everywhere, and Arabic does appear alongside Hebrew on some products sold in Israel, including that bottle of water.  We're certainly well ahead of other countries in the Middle East when it comes to respecting the languages of minority populations.  However, Israel still lags well behind Canada and other bilingual and multilingual jurisdictions.  We don't have a comprehensive official languages act, like Canada does, nor is the equality of Hebrew and Arabic enshrined in our Basic Laws - and I believe that this has to change.

The Case for Bilingualism in Israel

Now some of you folks reading this might ask me, why should we do even more than we already do to accommodate the Arabs when all they want to do is kill us?  My short answer is that strengthening and enshrining official bilingualism in Israel is not really about accommodating the Arabs, but rather accepting reality - the reality that one fifth of Israel's population speak Arabic as their first language; the reality that Arabic is the lingua franca of almost the entire Middle Eastern region of which Israel is a part; and the reality that whether the Jewish majority in Israel likes it or not, the Arabs and their language are part of Israel's heritage.  If we ignore this reality, we are deluding ourselves.  

So I think it's time that Israel's leaders accepted this reality and do what is necessary to make the country as fully bilingual in Hebrew and Arabic as possible.  This means enshrining the equality of both languages in law, enacting new measures to ensure the right of all of Israel's citizens to receive government services in both Hebrew and Arabic wherever they may be, and perhaps most importantly, making sure that Israelis themselves are fluently bilingual in both languages.  Indeed, I have met many Arabs in Israel who have taken the time to become fluent in Hebrew, yet I don't seem to find too many Jews who have taken the time to learn Arabic, unless of course they or their parents immigrated to Israel from a country in which Arabic is the primary language.  As a Jew, I've always felt bad about this double standard, which is why I took it upon myself to study the Arabic language and why I believe that every Israeli Jew should strive to learn the language of our Arab citizens, just as they make the effort to learn the language of their Jewish fellow citizens.

In fact, I would argue that official bilingualism in Israel makes even more sense than it does in Canada, because Israel is such a small country where Hebrew and Arabic speakers are very close to each other, while Canada is incredibly large and English and French speakers tend to be concentrated in certain regions that are often far away from one another.  In other words, bilingualism is much more attainable in Israel than it is in Canada, because let's face it; Jews and Arabs run into each other in Israel all the time, whereas Anglophones and Francophones in Canada do not.              

Friday, 5 September 2014

Building Israel in Judea and Samaria is the Best Response to Continued Palestinian Terrorism

Earlier this week, Israel announced that around 400 hectares of land in the Gush Etzion area of Judea and Samaria, a.k.a the West Bank, would be nationalized (see: Israel recognizes 4,000 dunam in Gush Etzion as state land).  Predictably, members of the international community protested, because unfortunately, the international consensus is that Jews should not live in their ancestral homeland.  Today, word also got out in the press that Israel plans to build just under three hundred new homes in the community of Elkana, located in the northwest of the so-called West Bank (see: Israel issues tenders for 283 homes in West Bank settlement).  I am actually very happy with these announcements because I believe that continuing to build Israel's presence in its Biblical homeland is a proper, Zionist response to the Palestinians' continuing terrorism.

Palestinians Shoot, Israel Builds

The bias against Israel's growing communities in Judea and Samaria is clearly outlined in the second article cited above.  Indeed, the article calls Israel's decision to nationalize land in Gush Etzion the country's "biggest land grab on Palestinian territory in three decades".  Personally, the use of the term "land grab" really upsets me, as does the article's defining Biblical Jewish land as "Palestinian territory".  Just once, I would love to see one major press outlet or world leader mention the land grab that the Arabs made centuries ago when they marched out of their native Arabian peninsula to conquer nearly the entire Middle East and northern Africa.  But believe me, I'm not holding my breath for this.  If Israel is grabbing land, it is simply grabbing it back from Arab conquerors.  Jews have every right to live in their ancestral homeland.  They have every right to establish communities there and rebuild the Jewish presence in the land that has been gone for centuries.  Furthermore, it is only fitting that Israel nationalize the territory in Gush Etzion as it was on this very land that three innocent Jewish teenagers were kidnapped and subsequently murdered in cold blood by Hamas terrorists.  Let this reclamation of Jewish land be a lesson to these terrorists and let the people of Israel say to them: Every time you shoot at us, injure us, or kill us, we will respond by continuing to build up our communities in the land of our ancestors.

Forget World Opinion!

Shortly after Israel announced its nationalization of land in Gush Etzion, one of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's coalition partners, Yair Lapid, who now serves as Minister of Finance, protested the decision, implying that it made Israel look bad in the eyes of world, especially in regards to the country's relations with the U.S. (see: Lapid: West Bank land seizure harms Israel).  My response to such concerns is simply to forget about what the rest of the world thinks.  History has shown that whatever Israel does, it is condemned.  The most recent example of this is, of course, the latest conflict in the Gaza Strip, where Israel took great strides to prevent the deaths of Palestinian civilians, even as terrorists shot rockets at Israel from civilian structures, including private homes, schools and hospitals.  But regardless of Israel's efforts to protect Palestinian civilians, the country was still condemned time and time again by the international community, the world press and countless anti-Israel and antisemitic protestors.  Let's face it; people just hate Israel and hate Jews, and nothing Israel does or doesn't do will change that.