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Bernie newBy BERNIE BELLAN

June 6th being the 75th anniversary of D-Day, our attention is called once again to remembering  the valour of the men who were part of what became the largest armada ever to be assembled: The over 1600 ships that set sail from a number of different ports in England on June 6, 1944, and which carried over 156,000 soldiers who took part in the Allied invasion of Europe.

 

 

 

 

Allied troops landing on Normandy on D-Day

Those men later boarded over 4,000 landing craft that took them to storm five separate beaches of Normandy in what became the key turning point of World War II, and which is known as D-Day. (By the way, the “D” in D-Day simply stands for “day”.)

Granted, some might make the case for other events during that war as key turning points, especially the Battle of Stalingrad, but had the Germans repelled the Allied forces on June 6, it is hard to imagine the Allies having being able to remount another successful invasion.
In almost every issue of this newspaper we have an article or two that refers to events during the Second World War in one way or another, most often events relating to the Holocaust. In this issue again we have a story about a book by an author with a Winnipeg connection about her father-in-law’s tale of survival in wartime Berlin, even despite his being a Jew.
But, in my story on page 10 about a gripping new docu-drama that centres on stories of 14 veterans of D Day who are still alive, I couldn’t help but notice an obvious similarity between the story told by that one particular veteran – who also happens to be Jewish, and the stories told by so many Holocaust survivors. That similarity is how long it took for, in the case of the combat veteran whose name is Morton Waitzman, as it also was with so many Holocaust survivors, to be able to speak openly about what they endured during the war.
In Waitzman’s case, it was 50 years before he began to open up about what he had witnessed – both during combat, but even more traumatically for him, he told me, when he entered various labour and concentration camps in Germany.
Waitzman’s story reminded me of conversations I had with the three Weiss siblings: Philip, Leo, and Erna (Kimmel), when I wrote a series about their experiences during the Second World War. At the time, what I found truly remarkable was that all three siblings, along with both their parents, actually survived the war – despite the many close calls that they all experienced.
When one thinks of how random death was during that horrible period – what I’ve always pondered was whether it was sheer luck that allowed some to survive while so many others perished. Certainly, luck was an essential element for so many survivors, but when you read of individuals who seemed to have a combination of guile and inner strength (also often physical strength of a sort that is hard to imagine they possessed when you’ve actually met them) that allowed them to persevere – day after day, when most of us would have given up long ago, you can’t help but wonder about what it was they possessed that kept them going when others all around them were falling. I think in particular of Philip Weiss telling me how he would have to haul large rocks up and down a hill day after day when he was a prisoner in a German labour camp, watching as his comrades dropped dead beside him.
So, to listen to, and watch, Morton Waitzman, describe what it was like to see fellow soldiers falling into the English Channel and drown as they tried to jump from the large troop carrier they were on to the much smaller landing craft that would take them to Omaha Beach – this before a single shot was fired, serves as clear explanation why Waitzman has had nightmares all his life, even though, like so many Holocaust survivors, he persevered later in life to achieve great success in his chosen field which, in his case, was ophthalmology.

It was within the context of thinking about the “fog of war” that I also attended the viewing of a film that some members of the Jewish community (without having seen it) labeled anti-Semitic. The film was titled “1948: Creation and Catastrophe”, which is about the creation of the State of Israel through a Palestinian perspective.
Here is how the film is described: “Through riveting and moving personal recollections of both Palestinians and Israelis, 1948: Creation and Catastrophe reveals the shocking events of the most pivotal year in the most controversial conflict in the world.”
I did not know who was in the audience as I watched the film. After it was shown, there was a discussion among audience members. As one might have expected, it turned out that most of the individuals who spoke up were sympathetic to the Palestinian view that Palestinians were victims during what we, as Jews, refer to as Israel’s War of Independence.
The film consisted of actual footage taken from the period, along with a great many interviews with individuals who were witness to events during the fighting between Arabs and Jews. Many of the interviewees were Jews who had been involved in the fighting. There were former members of the Haganah, Palmach, and Irgun. What stood out for me was that they described events in a matter-of-fact way.
As a result, if one attempts to be objective, one must ask: Were Palestinians expelled from large parts of what became the State of Israel? As someone who grew up believing that the Palestinians who left their homes were persuaded to do so as a result of inducements from other Arabs – and their own leaders, in the certainty that the Jews would be defeated and they would be allowed to return to their homes in short order, it comes as a bit of a shock to listen to Jews who served in various military forces (some legal, some paralegal, as in the case of the Irgun) describe having participated in actions where Palestinians were ordered to leave their homes. There were also references to the massacre of Palestinian civilians at Dir Yassin.
It would certainly seem that leaders such as David ben Gurion were at least aware of Israeli operations involving expulsion of Palestinians from their homes. Historian Benny Morris, who is interviewed in the film, has claimed that documents exist to prove that. Whether Ben Gurion actually ordered the expulsion of Palestinians, however, has not been proven, as almost all Israeli archives dealing with that question have remained sealed.
After the movie was over, I didn’t attempt to defend what had happened to Palestinians, but I did try to make several points, including that there exist two competing narratives of history. Extending from that point, I said that it now appears there is no possible way of reconciling those two narratives, but that no matter what may have happened, it is simply impossible to conceive of any future development that would allow Palestinian refugees (of whom there are now more than 7 million if you count descendants of the original refugees, of whom there were roughly half a million) that would allow any of them to return to what may once have been their homes.

David Ben-Gurion: How much did he know about expulsion of Palestinians from their homes?

Having said that, however, I wanted others in the audience to be aware that some Jews at least attempt to understand the Palestinian perspective on what happened in 1948. The ultimate question, to my mind is: Would it have been possible to create the State of Israel without either the expulsion or the voluntary departure of the vast majority of Palestinians who were living in what became the State of Israel in 1948? Not according to David Ben Gurion, who is quoted extensively during the film and who, along with other leaders of what was then the Yishuv, knew that a Jewish State of Israel could not come about without the mass exodus of the vast majority of Palestinians living there at the time.
I also tried to make the point that the majority of so-called Palestinians had actually arrived in Palestine during the time of the vast economic expansion that occurred in Palestine during the first half of the 20th century as a result of the arrival of hundreds of thousands of Jews (but that point seems to be lost on anyone who argues that Palestine had a large Arab population for centuries, despite all the available evidence to the contrary, including a census conducted by Turkish authorities in the 19th century that completely contradicts that position.)

Regardless whether you are somewhat sympathetic to the Palestinian perspective or not, of late in Winnipeg, there has developed a faction within the Jewish community that is intolerant of any view that is the least bit critical of Israel. I have written in past issues about this group bullying its way into attempting to prevent speakers with whom they disagree even being allowed to present here (including rabbinical student Lex Rofeberg).
I also argued that the publicity that this group gave to Palestinian-American Linda Sarsour had the opposite effect that the group had intended: It raised her profile to a huge extent and it gave the appearance that Mayor Brian Bowman was acceding to pressure from certain powerful Jewish organizations in calling for Sarsour not to be allowed to speak here.

For daring to call out this group, which has taken to social media to identify and pillory its “enemies”, I have been called a “capo” by one of its members. (I noted in my response to him that the word should have been spelled “kapo”. A “capo” is a term used to designate a certain status within the Mafia. But, like so many others who engage in hurling epithets on social media, spelling and grammar is not the strong suit of this particular individual who, by the way, I don’t know.)
Our newspaper has also been called a “shtetl” newspaper by the leader of this new group of self-appointed defenders of Jews. He has also called upon subscribers to unsubscribe from this paper.
Yet, I was also asked by the editor of the Canadian Jewish News, Yoni Goldstein, to write an op-ed defending the right to have all voices heard within a Jewish newspaper – not just pro-Israel ones. I have also received emails of support from two other editors of Jewish publications in Canada, one retired, one still active. They both applauded me for daring to stand up to these on-line bullies.
That’s all well and good, but the question that needs to be asked though, is: Are these bullies intimidating our Jewish Federation into going along with their demands to keep anyone whom the bullies regard as anti-Israel from being allowed to express their views in Winnipeg? Based on what has happened so far, it would certainly seem they’re being successful in doing that.
But, as Bret Stephens noted in his thoughtful Kanee lecture earlier this month, voices on both the right and left wings of the political spectrum are drowning out voices of moderation. As one who has always tried to toe the line of moderation I admit it’s not easy attempting to provide a balance of viewpoints – but no amount of bullying from anyone is going to make me stop trying.

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