Message from Avi Benlolo: Speaking out for Syria Not Without Strain, but Right.

December 23, 2016


Speaking out for Syria Not Without Strain, but Right.

How we behave today will have consequences tomorrow. History will remember that when darkness fell to earth; when dark clouds gathered overhead and when humanity pleaded for salvation, we stood resolute. This week, we gathered five Holocaust survivors outside our offices in Toronto to speak out against the atrocities taking place in Syria and in particular, in Aleppo. We stood outside in minus 10 degree weather - survivors aged 87 to 95 - and we pleaded the case for humanity. The bitter cold was a reminder to all that discomfort and extremities can come at an instant, when the world turns upside down.

Survivors hold a special place and draw attention for their moral consciousness. They are a compass unto the world for when humanity deviates; when it crosses the red line. Their lives were turned upside down. They experienced hell on earth when they were ripped apart from their mother's embrace; when their heads were shaved and arms tattooed; when they looked up at the smoke stacks spitting out their past, present and future. There are few people who speak out and draw attention to the plight of others who are suffering around the planet. Many survivors have dedicated their lives and taken on the responsibility of educating and advocating.

Speaking out for Syria is not without strain. Bashar Al Assad is a tyrannical despot. Syria, a dictatorship, has not been the most generous or compassionate country - especially not to its former Jewish citizens, nor to Israel. Even though Syria is a self-declared enemy of Israel - refusing to make peace under the Assads, we are bound to take the highest moral ground, denounce the atrocities and speak up for its people.

Imagine, a state that gave refuge to Nazi war criminals; that oppressed its Jewish population so much so that they had to be smuggled out person by person; that incited hatred against Jews by promoting the 'blood libel' and so-called 'Protocols of the Elders of Zion' mythology and worst, launched wars against Israel, particularly the brutal Six-Day War. It even developed chemical weapons with Israel as its intended destination.

Despite these inalienable truths, Israel has treated over 2,600 wounded Syrians in field hospitals and even in Israeli hospitals. This week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu advised of an expanded humanitarian campaign to provide even more medical assistance to Syrian civilians.

Can a more tolerant society be built out of the ashes of Syria? Will the Syrian people recognize the assistance they received from Israel and remember the Holocaust survivors who stood up and spoke out for them when the world was silent? Will Assad, under the guardianship of Iran – a nation with a stated policy aimed at the destruction of Israel – and Russia reform himself and join civil society or be more emboldened? Time will tell.

Once an internalized habit, the passion of antisemitism and hate in general is hard to break for it often runs deep and, like a cancerous tumor, remnants remain even while the tumor is removed. But we must try. We must seize the opportunity to make peace with the people of Syria, especially in their hour of need and desperation.

As a proactive human rights organization and as a people who have suffered, we have a duty to speak up – to never be silent, for we can motivate the change we want to see in others.

We are perhaps the most unlikely advocates for those who wished us harm and destruction for decades (and still do). And this is what made our story this week in Canadian media so very impactful. In 2017, humanity can try and set a new precedent, a new course and a new direction. Others will soon follow because being decent and taking action for the better is contagious.

As we celebrate Chanukah the festival of lights, we are reminded of our obligation to bring light into darkness. But we are also reminded that the miracle of Chanukah is about celebrating the reconstitution of our holy temple in Jerusalem.

Wishing all my friends a Shabbat Shalom, a happy Chanukah, a Merry Christmas and a happy New Year.


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