Toronto mayor visits Israel

Note (May 16, 2024): Several days ago, Toronto Mayor Olivia Chow declined to attend the Jewish community’s flag-raising ceremony of an Israeli flag at City Hall, asserting that it was “divisive.” To be fair, such flag-raising ceremonies are frequent and the Mayor rarely attends them. However, it is telling that she was AWOL at an obvious opportunity to support the Jewish community and the much-maligned state of Israel. The story below tells of a former Mayor (not Jewish) who visited Israel in the 1960s and later reported on his very positive impressions.

From The Canadian Jewish News, Feb. 3, 1967

Former Toronto Mayor William Denison visited Greece, Italy and Israel in the 1960s and later described his travels on radio station CKFH. Here are his abbreviated comments about his visit to the Jewish state.

Our five days in Israel was the high watermark of our tour. Here one is soon aware that he is in a land under constant siege. Even farmers on the cooperative farms are soldiers of Israel and are always ready to guard their land from those who would burn or destroy their harvests. Every young girl as well as every young man serve a year or so in the army.

On the day we visited Jerusalem, a plane was shot down over Israel territory and its pilot was captured by UN troops. It was claimed to be a reconnaissance plane, but its pilot was handed back to Egypt by the UN forces. On the following day an ‘infiltrator,’ armed with a loaded sub-machine gun was killed by a guard on a kibbutz, one of the cooperative farms.

Inside Israel many areas are farmed by Arabs who chose to remain on their land during the 1948 war, and these farmers are living in peace as full citizens. In fact, there is little border trouble when land is under cultivation. Farmers are always too busy to fight with their neighbours. For this reason the Government is trying to fill up all arable areas near the borders with these cooperative settlements as soon as possible.

The most interesting thing about Israel is the way they guard theier precious water reserves. Water and soil conservation is being practised here on a scale and with a thoroughness never before attempted in the history of man. In this land of their fathers, acquired mainly by purchase, the Israelis are turning every arable acre into food-producing fields. They have their problems; water is often wasted, farmers sometimes do not realize the threat of water-consuming weeds such as yellow mustard, but on the whole their plans are working. . . .

On the day we were in Jerusalem, I visited the grave of Hertzl, the man whose drive and vision really produced modern Israel. It was he who arranged he first land purchases and interested wealthy Jews in many lands to establish this homeland. Hertzl was born a Jew, but he reportedly was not at first particularly interested in the problems of the Jewish people. It was not until he, as a journalist, covered the Dreyfus trail in Paris for his newspaper that he became aware of what prejudice against his people could do to justice.

After Dreyfus was convicted and sent to Devil’s Island, Hertzl really went to work to clear his name and restore him to his rank in the French army. For the ordinary man this achievement would have been enough for one lifetime, but for Hertzl it was but the beginning.

As I looked at this tomb of black marble I thought about the time many years ago when Hertzl could have purchased the entire land Israel from the Emperor of Turkey for six million dollars. Since that time a thousand million and more has been invested in this land by people all over the world who are anxious to make Hertzl’s dream come true.

As I stood by his grave and looked across the valley of Jerusalem, which was once a river, at the new university with its green campus, with Australian pine, tall wavy cypress and cedars, I thought about the green valleys of orange, cherry and apple trees and the lush farm lands all over Israel which his vision had produced. In these valleys, birds have returned which had deserted this land for hundreds of years. Their beautiful lilting songs are heard everywhere: even our old nuisance, the English sparrow, is here and, of all things, he is evolving a rather pretty yellow tinge in the former desert land. In fact, in comparison with the rather dirty, moth-eaten specimens we see in Toronto, he’s rather a nice looking bird.

The state of Israel today represents the hopes, the aspirations, the toil and tears of thousands of pioneers, who came here to rediscover their homeland and to wrest a living from a parched soil made barren by a thousand years of neglect. As a result of their toil and devotion, this desert land coming back to life again. ♦