Tony Blinken’s declaration of faith in Israel made me think of Canada’s Ahmed Hussen

RASHMEE ROSHAN LALL October 12, 2023
Should Canada's international development minister have brought details of a personal nature into the exercise of his professional duties?
US secretary of state Antony Blinken and Canada's minister of international development Ahmed Hussen

When Antony Blinken declared in Jerusalem (on Thursday, October 12) that he came “not only as the United States secretary of state but also as a Jew”, I started to think of Ahmed Hussen.

Mr Hussen, Canada’s minister of international development, is not as well-known as Mr Blinken but in the worsening situation in the Middle East, he might well be.

It is Mr Hussen’s ministry that announced on the same day as Mr Blinken’s arrival in Israel “that Canada is providing an initial $10 million in funding for humanitarian assistance in response to recent appeals from experienced and trusted humanitarian partners to address urgent needs stemming from the crisis in Israel, West Bank and the Gaza Strip”.

Canada’s stance is interesting in light of the near-blanket refusal of several countries in the geopolitical West to express much sympathy for the plight of people in Gaza and the West Bank. That said, there is every indication that Canada’s “initial $10 million” for humanitarian assistance probably has nothing to do with the basics of Mr Husen’s situation.

Even so, Mr Hussen comes to mind in light of Mr Blinken’s statement in Jerusalem about how we should see him.

After Mr Blinken said what he did, I started to wonder: Should Mr Hussen have brought details of a personal nature – his faith (or lack of) – into the exercise of his professional duties? Is it relevant that he is a Canadian of Somali ethnicity? Are his cultural moorings – in Islam, in east Africa – the way we need to view Canada’s minister of international development?

No one can be so uncaring as to fail to understand the need to express empathy to people who are grieving a brutal terrorist attack or facing the siege and bombings.

After all, Israel has suffered the worst assault on its soil since 1973. And in Gaza, the Palestinians are facing a calamity.

When a politician adds specificity, the empathy sounds more authentic. So, to Mr Blinken’s comment about members of his family who suffered in the Holocaust. It was fine for him to say “I understand on a personal level the harrowing echoes that Hamas’s massacres carry for Israeli Jews and for Jews everywhere.” And again: “It’s impossible for me to look at the photos of families killed, such as the mother, father and three small children murdered as they sheltered in their home in kibbutz Nir Oz, and not think of my own children.”

But did he really need to say he stood before Israel and the world not just as US secretary of state but “as a Jew”?

Can you imagine the reaction had Mr Hussen of Canada said something along the same lines, albeit with specificity unique to him?

Also read:

Israel-Palestine: Tears and fears