Betar-Tagar, Israel’s grassroots defenders

Barbara Kay, National Post

‘Israeli Apartheid Week” (IAW) once again blotted intellectual landscapes on university campuses throughout February in the United States, Europe and Canada (Toronto, Hamilton, Ottawa, Montreal). For a heartening change, though, the third annual IAW has robust competition.

Conceived as an antidote to IAW’s anti-Zionism, March 5-9 marks “Freedom and Democracy Week” at the University of Toronto and Radical Islam Awareness Week at Montreal’s McGill University.

An antidote is certainly welcome. The IAW is promoted as a normal academic series of “lectures,” “panels” and “discussions.” And the organizing groups of Israeli Apartheid Week — the Arab Students’ Collective, Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights and the Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid — present as run-of-the-mill student clubs. But IAW lectures are in reality one-sided anti-Israel hate sessions, and many of the “student” organizers are full-time professional activists — producers of crude anti-Israel propaganda.

Crude but effective. The message of these cloned tours (“Zionist ethnic cleansing,” reiterated in various permutations) and the unremitting insistence that Israel be officially designated a moral leper amongst the nations will, if unchecked, become the received wisdom of an entire generation of university students.

All militant groups try to capture the moral high ground through ownership of charged vocabulary, whether it reflects the reality of their cause or not. Apartheid: Even though the South African experience has no objective cognate in Israeli society or political policy, when it was adopted by anti- Zionist militants four years ago, near global anti-Israel sentiment arrived at such a pitch that the encapsulated condemnation of “apartheid” was swallowed whole.

To the disgust of rational observers of the Middle East, the linkage stuck and took on respectability, even in high places: Today, former U.S. president Jimmy Carter can, however disingenuously, insist that his use of the A-word in the title of his recent political screed is non-partisan.

Many students have been overwhelmed by IAW’s well-oiled machinery; and intimidated by — in terror expert Daniel Pipes’ words — the “palestinianization of the academy.” Jewish students, in particular, mainly left it to official Jewish agencies to fight their battles. That didn’t work. It was clear that the students themselves would have to assume responsibility for taking on the anti-Israel juggernaut.

In the end, a Jewish leadership training group called Betar-Tagar, whose mission is “to defend and strengthen the Jewish people and the State of Israel,” stepped up to the plate, and organized the presently ongoing Freedom and Democracy and Radical Islam Awareness weeks mentioned above.

In outlook, Betar-Tagar is Jewishly secular, ideologically centre-right. It’s membership is small. (Their Montreal leader, Sara Rodier, a Torontonian studying at Concordia University, estimates there are about 12 active members in Montreal.) But they’re well-organized — and refreshingly politically incorrect.

Countering anti-Israel propaganda is a top priority for Betar-Tagar. Rather than getting bogged down in the endless he-said-she-said about the specifics of Palestinian grievances, they shine a light on the gigantic iceberg beneath: radical Islam. The group’s message is that democratic Israel’s existential battle for survival within a hostile Islamic world is a preview and warning for Western democracies. The series tackle sensitive issues such as Islamists’ brutality toward “infidels,” Middle Eastern homophobia, female oppression and the push by radical Islamists for global hegemony through terrorism.

Some speakers — Jonah Goldberg, editor of National Review Online, and Thomas Cushman, editor of the Journal of Human Rights — only spoke or will speak in Toronto. Simon Deng, a Christian former child slave of Sudanese Muslims, spoke only in Montreal. Others did — or will — present in both cities: David Harris, former chief of strategic planning for CSIS, and John Thompson, director of the Mackenzie Institute, speaking on homegrown radicalism and terror.

Altogether a strong line-up. Good on you, Betar-Tagar.

March 7, 2007 | 1 Comment »

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