Every night, children in Buffalo huddle in their beds, knowing that their sleep may be interrupted by the rockets of Toronto. Gas masks await nearby, ready for a chemical attack – a constant reminder of the struggle between the U.S. and Canada.
The wounds are old. They go back centuries, to a time when America rose up against the British. Sympathizers to the Crown left their homes and traveled north. Brothers and sisters, cousins and neighbors were now at opposite sides of a bloody war.
The strife long continued after the Revolution. Laura Secord was born in Massachusetts to a patriot family, but later moved to Canada and became a turncoat. During the War of 1812, she alerted Canadian forces to the presence of advancing American troops. Canadians later named a candy company after her. The taste of Laura Secord’s chocolate cream-filled eggs is bitter in America’s mouth.
Time after time, America has flexed her muscles and shown military force to her northern neighbors in an attempt to protect the American way of life. In return, they toss Molotov cocktails made in Molson bottles at soldiers and civilians alike. All attempts for peaceful coexistence have proven futile. Some Americans and Canadians yearn to talk real peace over steaming bowls of Kraft Macaroni & Cheese, but peace eludes them. Centuries of unrest, oppression, and strife have left scars too deep.
Okay—this is ridiculous, right?
So was President Obama’s statement to reporters at a press conference with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, comparing Palestinian-Israeli relations to the relationship between Canada and the U.S.
Palestine and Israel’s conflict is nothing like our relationship with Canada. Nothing. Our leaders have had strong words for each other from time to time. We’ve been on opposites sides of a war a couple of times in the distant past, but Canada is our strongest trading partner and most faithful ally. Americans freely travel to Canada and Canadians to the US with no fear of violence – only a mutual dread of the TSA.
Sure, some Americans may complain about the ubiquitous Justin Bieber, but we remember that Canada also gave us William Shatner. Enough said. And when our Tampa Bay Lightning beat Calgary and took the Stanley Cup in 2004, my Canadian friends took it all in stride. Most of our players are French-Canadian anyway.
The problem with Obama’s gaffe is it shows a complete lack of understanding of and respect for the severity of the conflict between the Palestinians and the Israelis. This gaffe isn’t like the 57 states or the Jedi mind meld. His comments were specific, intentional, and made in the Middle East in the presence of reporters and Abbas. He spoke with authority about a subject on which he is clearly ill equipped to comment.
Community organizers take people who have basically the same backgrounds, goals, and desires and encourage them to rally around a common cause. Community organizing is about overcoming apathy.
Diplomacy is different. Read reports from Israelis or Palestinians, and you will see that apathy is not their problem. Both sides are passionate about their rights. They are passionate about the injustice of their opponents. It takes great wisdom and a deep understanding of both sides of the conflict to step into this fray. By comparing their problems to those between the U.S. and Canada, President Obama showed an embarrassing lack of understanding. His comments did not improve Middle East relations. They didn’t do much for our relationship with Canada, either.
The press was relatively kind to President Obama and gave him a pass for his comments. Social media was not nearly as understanding, with mockery flying on Twitter under the hashtag #TheCanucksareComing. How can you blame them? It’s as if Obama, like myself, is a fan of Weird Al Yankovic, but didn’t understand that Canadian Idiot was parody. FAIL!
Last Thursday morning, while President Obama was still in Israel, sirens sounded, warning people in the city of Sderot that rockets from Gaza were approaching. Citizens hunkered down and awaited the explosions. Fortunately, no one was injured, but the damage that comes from living under constant threat is ever-present.
Residents of Buffalo awoke last Thursday in relative peace. Still, with the threat from the north hovering above them, perhaps it is time for a pre-emptive strike….
Author’s note: J’aime le Canada! I love Canada. In two languages – Best. Neighbors. Evah.