Tuesday, December 10, 2013

A reflection on Nelson Mandela's Memorial and why I'm choosing to feel Canadian

Last night I went to bed after reading two articles regarding Nelson Mandela's Memorial service in South Africa.  The first was published by The Globe and Mail, and summed up how Canada's current and past Prime Ministers were all traveling together to South Africa, to pay tribute to Mandela.  Together, the mixed political batch wanted to honour the memory of Mandela, what he stood for and what he fought for.  The article focuses on the idea that despite past animosity, these leaders put it aside to reflect on Mandela and the positive force he exerted on our present world.  I smiled as I read the article. It ends with the words of  former Gov. Gen. Michaelle Jean.  She says,  “To see representatives of all political families together going to South Africa to pay tribute to Mandela is totally in the spirit of the man, So I’m proud of us.”

And in that moment, I was proud to be Canadian too.  These leaders aren't enemies, nor were they ever.  But neither were they best friends.  The article isn't a heavy political piece that makes any kind of strong statement, except to show us, that even in death, Mandela is bringing peoples together.   And today, after following the ceremony, we see how true that is.  Obama shaking Raul Castro's hand,  Obama and Bush sharing a plane together, and world leaders, who may never have shared a stage together, all huddled under the rain to pay tribute to Mandela.  

Just as Jean said, it seems fitting and in the spirit of the man.

Yet, as an Israeli, I feel differently.  I feel embarrassed.  Our two leaders: Bibi and Peres, were notably absent.  I can forgive Peres due to age and heath... but Bibi?  Bibi citing that he cannot attend because of monetary issues only makes the entire situation so much worse, especially in light of all of Bibi's recent frivolous spending on ice cream, private jet bathrooms and scented candles.   (There really must be a lot of crap coming out of him)  Which brings me to the second article I read yesterday published in Haaretz by Bradley Burston.  Burston too criticizes Bibi's abrupt decision to not attend the ceremony.   Every decision he makes, sends a message, and for Burston that message is all too clear.  He writes, "His message is clear: My Israel, which spends untold tens of millions on such matters as bolstering and protecting settlement construction during peace negotiations with the Palestinians, or erecting detention facilities for African asylum seekers rather than formulating coherent and just refugee policies, has nothing left over for this man Mandela."

What was it after all that Mandela stood for? Set aside his position on Palestinians and Israel, and look at what he really stood for: justice, peace, and equality for peoples, regardless of colour and race.   He was a man who fought for a better Africa, and a more just word.  Last night, when I was teaching English to a mixed group of Eritrean and Sudanese refugees I was trying to explain to them the meaning of the words "motivation" and "inspiration".  Without my prompting, they just kept saying, "like Nelson Mandela- the peacemaker."  That's who he was.  And in some sense, this memorial was the world tipping their hats to a man who fought for everything each and every person in this world should strive to be.  It's a memorial for the man, but also to his ideals.  To stand by what he stood for, and take responsibility to carry those ideals with us, for our shared futures. We all want to be an inspiration, to motivate.  To make the world around us a better place.  Obama said today at the memorial, "And while I will always fall short of Madiba’s example, he makes me want to be better. He speaks to what is best inside us."  

It was only last night that Israel even put together a "last minute delegation".  I'm happy there was an Israeli presence, but embarrassed that while the world sent it's most important representatives, ours were notably absent.  

Today, I woke up to this article: the Knesset approves Infiltration Prevention Bill.  It's really great to see that while the world is paying tribute to a man who fought for equality and justice, Israel is approving to jail African asylum seekers for up to a year without trial, and stop them from finding employment in Israel. (And as a sidenote- over one 100 million dollars has been allocated for this bill, much more money it would have cost to send Bibi to South Africa today) Our stance is clear, and our message is clearer.  In this sense, Burston's article rings even more true.  Our money is better placed tarnishing justice and equality, rather than standing by world leaders paying tribute to those very ideals.  

And that's why today, I'm choosing to feel Canadian.  I'm usually proud of both my countries, proud of the country I was born into, and proud of the country I choose to call home.  Israel has many times over proven it is a beacon of hope, democracy and equality to the world, but other times it has fallen short of such a title.  Today is one of those days.  Today, the Israel I believe in, has embarrassed me.  I've come to terms with Israel's imperfections.  Almost everyday there is a policy, or a person that stands against what I believe Israel should stand for.  Yet, I fight for Israel because at it's core, I believe we are a democracy that wants to be better.  A democracy that is struggling for a future that is just and equal.  That's why today, my I'm proud to be a Canadian: a country which came together in the spirit of Mandela, while Israel stood against it.