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Saturday, April 28, 2012

My strange Israeli Independence night

About a dozen years ago, a friend of mine who was then president of a north Toronto Synagogue said that Stephen Harper had come to speak to the congregation and had impressed them with his strong commitment to the security of Israel. My friend said the young political leader was markedly sincere about a friendship based on the shared values of Canada and the middle east`s sole liberal democracy.

Years of ethnic pandering by the Trudeau and Chretien Liberals, who would make all the right noises to whichever minority they were addressing at the moment, while meaning very little of what they said, made it easy to be cynical about a politician professing any such commitment. Now, six years after Stephen Harper became Canada`s Prime Minister and almost a year into his first majority government`s term, nobody doubts that sincerity.

The absolute seriousness of the bond between Canada and Israel was strikingly evident in the speech delivered by federal Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver at a Yom Ha`atzmaut (Independence Day) celebration hosted by Toronto`s Israeli Consulate at the Liberty Grand Ballroom at Exhibition Place on Thursday night.

The cavernous, quasi-palatial venue was filled with over a thousand luminaries from the local political, diplomatic, business and social worlds. And somehow I got invited, probably the same way Hrundi V. Bakshi got invited to the party in that eponymous movie. After a mostly cloudy, intermittently wet morning and afternoon, the clear sunny early evening was too beautiful to waste in a car, so I roller bladed town to the complex near Dufferin Street and the lake shore. Fortunately the evening was cool enough so that, despite wearing a suit, I wasn't all sweaty on my arrival, unlike the circumstances of my last appearance on Sun TV's The Arena with Michael Coren.

Remarkably, I was the only person to have travelled there that way, providing a bit of a surprise to the security people and the coat check girls. The invitation I received said it was a desert reception, and in retrospect, using a travel method requiring exercise for the trip home proved to be a good idea, given the calories I packed on in the three hours of the gathering.

There must be only one decent kosher desert caterer in Toronto because the assortment of mini cheesecake tarts with three blueberries on each, the iced cake balls impaled on sticks, the lemon meringue tarts and a variety of other carbohydrate laden items looked extremely familiar. In fact, I would be surprised if I don't see them again at the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center's Spirit of Hope debate and fundraiser at the end of May.

There was a surprisingly palatable kosher red wine, full glasses of which kept finding their way into my hand. A friend of Jewish Tribune reporter Joanne Hill, who was there covering the event, had the temerity to ask me how many I'd had, necessitating an etiquette reminder that one doesn't ask such questions in polite company.

And the company was indeed polite despite the assortment of characters ranging from mushy Liberal censorship advocate and rumoured-to-be new Ontario Human Rights Commissioner Bernie Farber to Mark Steyn fan and uber-Zionist blogger Laura Rosen Cohen. Plus there was a healthy smattering of citizenry from around the world with consulates in Toronto representing their nations.

Outgoing Consul General Amir Gissin looked almost Hefneresque as he was flanked on stage by two very attractive, young, shapely, short-skirted consular officials while delivering his speech and presenting awards to local philanthropists. As it turned out, the beautiful consular employees were more than just eye candy. The Consulate's Communications Director, a stunning blond named Natalie Weed, was an articulate, poised mistress of ceremonies for the presentation. Her onstage female colleague, Cultural Affairs Director Simone Blankstein, who spoke briefly, was equally impressive. She is a raven-haired beauty who wore a frilly, low-cut, high-hemmed frilly black dress that made her look like a Bond girl dressed by the wardrobe mistress on a Gothic Tim Burton movie. Frankly, I don't remember much of the awards, because the two female presenters were far more appealing than the recipients and my empty wine glass was making me impatient for an opportunity to escape. There was a noteworthy, unusual moment when Astral Media's Sidney Greenberg declined to speak after being presented with a totem pole shaped, glass mosaic award statue.

Consul Gissin's  remarks combined an emotional personal farewell, a celebration of Israel, and a heartfelt expression of affection towards the Canadian government which has become Israel's best friend and most steadfast supporter.

The affection was enthusiastically reciprocated by Joe Oliver, who spoke on behalf of the government and described the Canadian relationship with Israel in the most effusive terms. His speech was much more than the usual tribute to a friendly nation. It reflected an understanding possessed by leaders in a world besotted by undemocratic Islamic radicalism that remains elusive to an archaic media and educational hierarchy  - that democracy  requires vigilance in the face of implacable enemies. While Canada is firmly committed to the defence of liberal democracy, Israel stands guard on the front line of a battle that is far from over.

That idea is a significant component of the new reality of Canada's relationship with Israel. The academic and media domination by useful idiots devoted to a neo-Marxist world view who see Israel as a "capitalist, imperialist outpost in the Middle East" is starting to give way to the sensibilities that the truth presents. The enmity towards Israel was an outlook that was and is promoted by the likes of radical dinosaurs such as Judy Rebick, who has admitted in a biography that her and her fellow travellers' activism is as much as anything else motivated by their own emotional and psychological deficiencies.

But Rebick and her outdated bigotry didn't make the invitation list on Thursday, and the evening was one of pure celebration.

After it was over, with my roller blades retrieved from the coat check and back on my feet, I snaked my way through the city's streets. Loud music and a friendly vibe made me pause outside a funky, very narrow bar on Spadina south of Richmond Street with what I assume is the ironic name Wide Open. A voluptuous blond woman in her 20's who had stepped outside for a cigarette decided she should help me to a bench because she thought I looked unsteady on my wheels. I wasn't, but I took the help anyway because as a matter of principle, if hot blond women want to take hold of me and guide me somewhere, I think it makes sense to say 'yes.'

She suggested I come inside the bar, and as a corollary to the aforementioned principle, I took her advice, and the night just got stranger from there. All-in-all, it was a rather entertaining Yom Ha'atzmaut in Toronto.

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