Monday, January 28, 2013

Jews in solidarity with IDLE NO MORE

Additional signers:

Rebecca Tobias, United Religions Initiative; Vancouver, BC
Judy Goldschmidt, Black Creek, BC
Richard Marcuse, West Vancouver, BC
Michael Gabriel Rosen, Mas Movement, Vancouver, Coast Salish Territories
Sid Shniad, National Steering Ctee, Independent Jewish Voices - Canada
Marty and Martha Roth, Vancouver
Ada Glustein, Vancouver
Helen Mintz, Vancouver
Marion Pollack

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Impressions: Enbridge pipeline hearing tonight in Vancouver

Approaching the huge, towering Wall Centre complex where the hearings are being held (at what huge, towering cost to us taxpayers?), I was first amazed at the dozen or more very well-protected police patrolling outside . . . and even more amazed at the dozen or so inside the lobby and then even more amazed at the police posted in the halls outside the hearing rooms.

Each of us speakers was allowed to bring exactly one other person who would be allowed to sit in a separate room and watch on a video monitor.  No one else was allowed in.  And, to speak, we had to sign up months and months ago . . .   The public viewing of the hearing was only through a video monitor located about a mile away in another enormously expensive glitzy hotel.

Second, in addition to the large security presence, I was amazed at the very many people employed to run the hearing.  It was all very tightly organized with several dozen people to sign us in, take an affidavit under oath, give us name tags, check our coats and bags, watch over us, keep us seated in the waiting room, watch over the people watching over us, escort us at the right time from the waiting room to the hearing room, watch the people escorting us, place an absolutely clean water glass on the table before us, record what we said, transcribe overnight the oral recording into a written record, escort us back out again, be sure we left and who knows what else . . .

All this is going on for hours and hours a day, day after day, as hundreds and hundreds of us come to give our testimony. 
If only half as much attention and resources were devoted to taking care of the environment and to needy people among us as to making sure that the hearings ran smoothly . . .  
After working at the First United Church’s homeless shelter and seeing staff laid off and desperately needed programs shut down because of government funding cuts and knowing about so many other human needs going unaddressed, I am shocked at how we allow so much money to be poured into the finery of running these hearing in one of the most expensive venues in Vancouver instead of a regular government office building’s hearing room or even a school auditorium or possibly even renting space at one of the many organizations which could use the income from the rental.  The priorities are all so crazy.  Who is this government serving?

The people speaking tonight were very, very impressive.  There were environmental scientists, biologists, journalists, folks who love the outdoors, teachers, professors, activists . . . and even a rabbi.

The speaker after me was Nicholas Read, one of my hero-journalists whose stuff I was grateful to read in the Vancouver Sun for years.  (He’s now teaching journalism and appearing in the Sun only in letters to the editor.)  Nicholas gave an impassioned and well-informed plea to stop the destruction the pipeline would inevitably bring.

The speaker after him was a very impressive biologist named Stan Proboszcz who was a researcher for Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans and quit because the environmental impact assessment process is so corrupt he couldn't stand being part of it.  He now works for an environmental NGO.  He gave an exceptionally well-documented testimony about how the entire process of environmental assessments done by contract for the companies wanting to do the development is skewed, flawed, prejudiced and corrupt.  You should hear or read his comments.  Just listening to him, I learned a lot and shifted my understanding, sadly, to be even more cynical about the entire process of corporations engaging the public around environmental issues.

I think the panel liked what I said – the midrash about God saying to Adam that ‘if you ruin it, there is no one after you to repair it’.  They smiled when I said it.  I briefly made points about the inevitability of catastrophic oil spills and the pollution and global warming impacts of the entire tar sands project.  I was very brief, just two or three minutes.  I’m sure they liked that too.

The two brilliant speakers after me, Nicholas and Stan, were only two of hundreds and hundreds of passionate, caring, knowledgeable people to address this panel in a hugely elaborate, well-designed public hearing process that is taking months and costing God-only-knows how many millions of taxpayer dollars.

And the result?

In the end, the panel will write a report and submit it to the Harper government whose base and home territory is the Alberta oil patch and who on many, many occasions has totally bulldozed right over public opinion to do whatever it wants to do.  Is the outcome anything but a foregone conclusion?

Is this effort futile?  No way!  I have very strong faith that this hugely destructive project is not going to go ahead in the end despite the hugely powerful forces behind it.
To quote Rebbe Nahman:  All of this world is a very narrow bridge and the main thing to recall is not to fear at all.

To read the transcripts of the hearings, see


Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Enbridge pipeline hearings tonight -- "no one to repair it after you"

I'm going in just a short while this evening to testify at the very formal, legal hearings on the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline project in British Columbia.  Hundreds of others have testified, well over 1,000.  I am sure they've put into the record everything practical that I might think of.  I am going to add from a rabbi's point of view the following passage from ancient Jewish earth wisdom, written nearly 2,000 years ago, long before the industrial society, in a time when I can hardly imagine how people could imagine what we can do today to the earth

Adam and Eve were caretakers and their job was to protect the land, not to harm.  The Midrash (Ecclesiastes Rabbah 7:13) makes this quite clear:  “When God created Adam, He took him and led him round all the trees of the Garden of Eden, and said to him, “See My works, how beautiful and praiseworthy they are!  Now all that I have created, I created for your benefit.  Be careful that you do not ruin and destroy My world; for if you destroy it there is no one to repair it after you.”

Sunday, January 06, 2013

Israel, Palestine and the United Church of Canada -- Winds of Change?

On Monday evening, Jan 7, Rev. Dr. Bruce Gregersen, senior program officer of the United Church of Canada will discuss the UCC’s landmark decision concerning Israel and Palestine adopted last August after years of study and reflection and despite vociferous opposition from extremely well-funded and well-connected Canadian Jewish Israel defense organizations.*

The UCC is Canada’s largest Protestant denomination.  Among other points, the UCC called for the dismantling of Israeli settlements within the occupied territories, the end of all settlement construction, and the dismantling of the separation wall in all places where it crosses over the Green Line.   Most controversially, it directed that United Church members be encouraged to boycott settlement products and that an information campaign on this issue be developed.

The UCC’s decision aligns with recent decisions in nearly all mainstream national Protestant denominational bodies in the US.  Last year fifteen expressed concern openly and clearly about Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians and about Israeli policies and actions being obstacles to peace and justice.** 

Decades of church acquiescence to pressure from Jewish groups using accusations of anti-Semitism and liberal Christian guilt about the Holocaust may be coming to an end.  Despite enormously loud and public efforts, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) and B’nai B’rith Canada proved unable to stop the UCC from adopting this change. 

I hope that this change in the churches’ relationship with Israel and Palestine will ultimately help bring about desperately needed moves toward peace and justice that Israelis have been unable to accomplish themselves.

I look forward to the discussion on Monday evening and encourage you to consider coming as well.  It will be an opportunity to learn from the inside about this significant move within the United Church of Canada and possibly to share reflections and perspectives with others who are present.  The Rev. Kathryn Ransdell,  Acting Lead Minister of St. Andrew's-Wesley, has specifically told me that everyone is welcomed to join in this discussion as well as another Israel-Palestine related program scheduled for next Sunday just after noon.  If you’re there Monday evening, I’ll be happy to talk with you afterward to share impressions.