Quebec Terrorists, the Israeli Joint Arab List and Democracy
Just before the third round of elections in 11 months, I reflect upon the fact that we have in our Knesset legislators who seem to work against the best interests of our Jewish nation. Some praise terrorists and some seem to be working more for the Palestinian Authority (PA) than for the local electorate that put them into office. What does this say about Israeli democracy?
My mind wanders back to that day long ago when I watched from the observers’ balcony as Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau defended before Parliament the need to pass the War Measures Act to deal with a terrorist threat.
The only time I ever visited the Canadian Parliament was on that auspicious day. After my first month as an undergraduate student of political science and journalism at Carleton University in Canada, I woke up on October 16, 1970 and decided to ride my bike to Parliament to see what was doing in my nation’s capital.
For someone aspiring to be the first female ambassador of Canada to anywhere, I was remarkably unaware of the drama taking place under my own nose. Cycling gaily along the Rideau Canal that winds itself through town between the campus and Parliament, I was surprised to see army trucks plying the tree-lined elegant streets. I had not yet been to Israel so the sight of the army was totally new to me. Other than a small question mark that ruffled my brow at the sight of soldiers standing guard in front of some houses, I gave it no thought.
I parked and locked my bike next to the steps going up to the Parliament Building. Inside, guards directed me to the observer gallery and I got the last available seat. Sitting in the front row, next to a Parliamentary aide, I got a running commentary. I heard Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau defend the reasons for imposing military law on the entire nation and Tommy Douglas, head of New Democratic Party, oppose it. It passed.
A bit of background: For about seven years, the French separatist movement, the FLQ (Front for the Liberation of Quebec), had been bombing public buildings and mailboxes. They killed six people and injured many more. Twenty-three FLQ members were in prison. Suddenly, in October 1970, the FLQ kidnapped Deputy Premier of Quebec Pierre Laporte and British Diplomat James Cross, threatening to kill them if their demands for release of the prisoners and a money ransom were not met.
The government response to this escalation of terrorism was to pass the War Measures Act that gave the government unprecedented powers during peacetime. The army patrolled the streets of Ottawa and towns in Quebec. The police were able to arrest and hold suspects under administrative detention and I remember the fuss made about the arrest of a teacher in British Columbia because he expressed support for the FLQ.
At the time, there was almost unanimous support for the War Measures Act across the country and even in Quebec. The crisis was resolved three months later, with Cross released but Laporte found murdered. All those involved in the kidnapping and murder were apprehended and eventually deported to Cuba with Castro’s “blessing”. Canada went back to normal.
Canadians have the luxury of debating in retrospect the wisdom of having applied the War Measures Act. They can wonder, as did Canadian political science professor M.V. Naidu in a paper he published in 1995, about the potential for destroying democracy in the attempt to destroy the terrorist base.
How different that is from the situation in Israel! We cannot yet debate in retrospect the tension between democracy and terrorism because we are still in the throes of emergency conditions and have been for our entire history as a modern state.
Naidu asks: “Can we terrorize the terrorists into stopping their terror?” He questions whether or not a democracy can “turn the terrorists into law-abiding and peace-loving citizens, by using the instruments of fear and force”.
In Israel, we face this dilemma each and every day. Not only do we face terrorism from our neighbors, but a small number of Israeli Arab citizens have committed acts of terror themselves or have aided Palestinian Arabs from the PA to do so and there are politicians in our Knesset who do not denounce the killing of Jews (to put it mildly).
The terrorists who attack Israel from within and without are not demanding separation from the country as the FLQ was but, rather, its elimination. The Palestinian flag is raised by Israeli Arab demonstrators in the streets of Tel Aviv and Haifa, a highly provocative act hinting at a desire for the end of the Jewish state.
In view of this, it is perhaps surprising that Israeli democracy is as healthy as it is.While it is true that Arabs in the Galilee and Negev were under military rule until as late as 1966, there is no question of returning to that sad state. If Canada put the entire country under martial law after a kidnapping and ransom note, then I think we are to be congratulated. What people will write about this and how they will analyze it after we can do that retrospectively will be interesting.