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On Oct. 7, as the first images from Hamas’ rampage through southern Israel began to pour in, Toronto Mayor Olivia Chow tweeted. “I unequivocally condemn Hamas’ horrific attacks on Israeli civilians,” she wrote. “At this time, Toronto Police are not aware of threats to Jewish communities in Toronto and are working to ensure the safety of Jewish communities in the city.”

Two hours passed.

Then Ms. Chow tweeted again: “We must also acknowledge Palestinian pain and severe loss of life at this time. Our thoughts are with Toronto citizens, both Jewish and Palestinians, who have loved ones backhome. Please share the emergency contact info for Canadians abroad below.”

A few hours later, she deleted both tweets, “because of the harm and confusion they caused.”

Then she had a third go: “I unequivocally condemn Hamas’ horrific terrorist attacks on Israel. I mourn the loss of all innocent civilians, both Israeli and Palestinians. My thoughts are with Torontonians who have loved ones who may be in danger.”

After Hamas gunmen invaded Israel, corporate leaders, university heads, union bosses and local politicians – people with real jobs at important institutions, but having no responsibility for or connection to the issue, and often even less knowledge of it – all felt compelled to take a position and put out a statement. Why?

It is the disease of our time. And so to social media they went.

Most of them would have done better to have said nothing. Or more precisely, to have said, look, I’m the mayor of Tinytown, or the president of Tinytown U, or the CEO of Acme Metal Stamping, or the shop steward of the Amalgamated Union of Acme Metal Stampers – and this isn’t my job. I may have personal views, but you’re talking to me in my professional capacity.

Some local politicians were like Edmonton Mayor Amarjeet Sohi, who used many words to say as little as possible.

“When events unfold across the globe, they can have a deep impact on people who live in our city,” he tweeted Oct. 8. “The attacks taking place in Israel and Gaza targeting innocent civilians are horrific. I know that many Edmontonians have friends and family in these areas, and I am extending my support and empathy to them.”

It was a political Hallmark card, from the section of the drugstore display marked: “I’m Not Taking Sides; I Just Wanted You to Know I Care.”

But if Mr. Sohi was trying to say nothing, maybe he should have just said … nothing?

A mayor is responsible for making sure streets are paved, parks are clean, garbage gets picked up, neighbourhoods are safe, public transit runs, and so much more. These things are the fabric of our lives. Municipal government is an exceptionally important, deeply underappreciated job. It’s just that it doesn’t come with responsibility for Canada’s foreign policy.

Even mayors who issued clear statements denouncing Hamas, like Vancouver’s Ken Sim and Calgary’s Jyoti Gondek, left me wondering if forbearance might have been the better course. Not because I disagreed with what they said, but because you can’t only weigh in once. The progress of events won’t let you.

Also, the more the people in charge of making sure the garbage gets picked up devote themselves to other things, the less attention they’re going to pay to picking up the trash. Performative politics is very time consuming. You may be old enough to remember when Canadian municipal governments debated, as if it actually mattered, whether to declare themselves “nuclear-weapons free zones.”

Some institutions were of course thrilled by the opportunity to down tools and share their insightful opinions on the Middle East.

“Palestine is rising; long live the resistance,” tweeted CUPE Local 3906, on the day Hamas murdered close to a thousand civilians. The union represents academic workers (but not professors) at McMaster University.

Later in the day, that tweet was deleted. But in response to what it called a “backlash over a message of solidarity with Palestinians,” the union executive issued a statement “developed with profound care,” after “conversations unpacking our responsibilities as settler and Indigenous workers dedicated to living decolonized realities.”

It is 867 words long. It claims the union is being “targeted” by the “highly organized Zionist lobby.” It also asserts that when Hamas tore down the fence between Israel and Gaza, it was merely “breaking down colonial barriers” that are “separating the Gaza Strip from the rest of Occupied Palestine.”

For those joining us late, the towns on the other side of the border from Gaza, where all those civilians were killed, are within the internationally recognized state of Israel. Gaza is not Israel. Israel is. But this union executive’s position is that Israel isn’t Israel. It’s Occupied Palestine.

Which is an opinion anyone is entitled to hold. And in Canada, where free speech is the law, it’s even an opinion you’re entitled to express.

More interesting for me, and more troubling, is why all sorts of important institutions, with real jobs, are devoting so much energy to crafting empty statements on so many issues far outside their mission, miles beyond their competence and light years away from their ability to influence.

It sure beats working.

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