White privilege masquerades as anti-racism

Why does a demonstration of hundreds of people against “anti-Semitism” in Toronto seem more like a march for white supremacy than a rally against racism?

On August 20, reported the Canadian Jewish News, several thousand took to Bathurst Street under the slogan “We Will Not be Silent: A March Against Global Anti-Semitism.” The demonstration was organized by United Jewish Appeal Federation of Greater Toronto, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, B’nai Brith Canada, Canada Israel Experience, March of the Living Canada and the Jewish National Fund (JNF) Canada.

If one were to take the organizers’ slogan seriously this demonstration was among the largest anti-racist mobilizations in recent Canadian history. But, unfortunately it was little more than a group of “white” people calling for the further subjugation of “brown” folk.

Photos and articles suggest that many among the racially homogenous crowd carried Israeli flags and celebrated that country’s recent military onslaught on Gaza. The Times of Israel reported: “The purpose of the march was passionately summed up in Bill Glied’s closing remarks: ‘Thank God for the IDF. Thank God for Israel. And remember together we must stand. Never again!’”

Despite shrill voices claiming otherwise, most objective evidence reveals anti-Semitism to be a mere shadow of its former oppressive character. (An example of this ‘if I scream loud enough people may believe me’ tactic, Toronto businessman and board member of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, Michael Diamond, wrote in the Canadian Jewish News last month that “we Jews are under siege right now – on campus, in Israel, in the media, even in our high schools and on the street.”)

Well, how does this compare to seven decades ago when “none is too many” was the order of the day in Ottawa, which rejected Jewish refugees escaping Nazi concentration camps. This hostile anti-Semitic climate continued into the 1950s with some neighborhoods excluding Jews from owning property through land covenants and institutions such as McGill University in Montreal imposing quotas on Jewish students.

Fortunately, Christianity’s decline, combined with a rise in anti-racist politics has significantly undercut anti-Semitism as a social force in Canada.
Today, Jews are largely seen as “white” people. Canada’s Jewish community is well represented among institutions of influence in this country and there is very little in terms of structural racism against Jews (which is not to say there isn’t significant cultural stereotyping, which must be challenged). In fact, among elite business, political and professional circles Jewish representation far surpasses their slim 1.3% of the Canadian population.

Canadian Jews are twice as likely as the general population to hold a bachelors degree and three times more likely to earn over $75,000. In The Encyclopedia of the Jewish diaspora: origins, experiences, and culture Mark Avrum Ehrlich claims that a fifth of the wealthiest Canadians were Jewish and Toronto’s Shalom Life reported that six of the 24 Canadians who made Forbes’ 2011 list of global billionaires were Jewish.

Even the sad history of structural anti-Semitism in this country should be put into proper context. When Jewish immigrants were blocked from entering Canada so were most non-Europeans. Similarly, the land covenants that excluded Jewish property ownership usually took aim at other groups as well and throughout the university quota period few South Asians or blacks had any access to higher learning. During this period of institutional discrimination against Jews, Status Indians were unable to vote and the Indian Act prohibited First Nations from practicing their religious/cultural ceremonies (such as potlatches, pow-wows, sweat lodges and sun dances).

It would be disingenuous at best to claim anti-Semitism has or had anywhere near the effect of racism against First Nations or other people of colour in Canada.

A little over-zealous defence of one’s own “tribe” could perhaps be forgiven, but not when accompanied by a ringing endorsement of the racist militarism sweeping Israeli society. Over the past two months the Israeli military has killed some 1,700 Palestinian civilians in Gaza and there has been an upsurge in racist outbursts targeting those seen as a threat to the Jewish character of the state (mostly Palestinian citizens of Israel but also African refugees and anti-Zionist Jews).
One of the groups that organized the Toronto protest has long promoted Jewish/white supremacy in the Middle East. The Jewish National Fund may be the only openly racist registered charity operating in this country.

While it was made illegal to restrict the sale of property to certain ethnic or religious groups in Canada a half-century ago, the JNF does just that in Israel today. The JNF’s bylaws and lease documents contain a restrictive covenant stating its property will not be leased to non-Jews. A 1998 United Nations Human Rights Council report found that the JNF systematically discriminates against Palestinian citizens of Israel, who make up about 20 percent of the country’s population. According to the UN report, JNF lands are “chartered to benefit Jews exclusively,” which has led to an “institutionalized form of discrimination.”

More recently, the US State Department’s 2012 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices detailed “institutional and societal discrimination” in Israel. The report noted, “Approximately 93 percent of land was in the public domain, including approximately 12.5 percent owned by the NGO Jewish National Fund (JNF), whose statutes prohibit sale or lease of land to non-Jews.”

In Israel, as in Canada, Jewish/white privilege is a much greater social problem than anti-Semitism. It’s time to check that privilege.

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Supporting ‘terror tourism’ to Israel gets Canadian tax credits

When is a Canadian who leaves this country to join a foreign military force and participate in the killing of innocent civilians, including children, called a “terror tourist” and sent to jail? The answer is: Only when that person joins a military force the Conservative government disagrees with.

Numerous ministers in the current federal government have loudly denounced the radicalization of Canadian youth in foreign wars. Last year, the Conservatives passed a law that sets a maximum fifteen year prison sentence for “leaving or attempting to leave Canada” to commit terrorism. Jason Kenney, the minister for multiculturalism, recently said the government is trying “to monitor networks that recruit and radicalize youth.”

Last month, Somali-Canadian Mohamed Hersi was sentenced to ten years in prison for attempting to join the al-Shabab militia in Somalia. Arrested at Toronto’s Pearson airport before leaving, Hersi was not found guilty of committing or plotting a specific act of violence, but according to the presiding judge, was “poised to become a terror tourist.”

Yet our government does nothing to hundreds of other Canadians who join a different foreign military force which daily terrorizes millions of people and often uses explosives to kill thousands — most of whom are civilians.

It’s unknown exactly how many Canadians are participating in Israel’s ongoing attacks on Gaza but an Israeli military spokesperson has said there were 139 Canadians in the Israeli military in 2013. The Nefesh B’Nefesh Lone Soldiers Program, an organization supporting the Israeli military, has referred to 145 Canadians in the Israeli military. That figure, however, only refers to what the organization calls Canadian “lone soldiers” — soldiers without family in Israel.

Breaking the stereotype of radicalized youth who join terror groups, recent media reports suggest that most of the Canadians joining the Israeli military are children of lawyers, doctors and other professionals. When thirty individuals attended the 2012 launch of a Toronto support group for Parents of Lone Soldiers, it took place at the home of Perla and Ron Riesenbach. The latter is a vice-president at the University of Toronto’s Baycrest Health Sciences Centre.

Earlier this month the French language website La Presse quoted a McGill University law student, Menachem Freedman, who recently completed a stint with the Israeli military and now does legal work for the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association.

A partner in a Toronto law firm, Audrey Shecter has two kids with Israeli military experience. According to the National Post, Shecter’s son completed 27 months with the Israeli military in February and her daughter, Orli Broer, currently serves on a base in the illegally occupied West Bank.

Broer, a 19-year-old Torontonian, who is in a unit that processes visas and other paperwork, helps to deny Palestinians freedom of movement in their own homeland. “It’s my home and I have to protect my home,” the Canadian born and raised Broer told the National Post.

While the Foreign Enlistment Act technically prohibits Canadians from recruiting for a foreign army, there are a number of organizations that help individuals enlist in the Israeli military. At its Toronto office, the Friends of Israeli Scouts’ Garin Tzabar program provides Hebrew lessons and support services, as well as help with transport and accommodation in Israel, for twenty-five to thirty Canadian “lone soldiers” each year.

According to a Garin Tzabar spokesperson who spoke to La Presse, the recent killing and destruction in Gaza has prompted a flood of inquiries about joining the Israeli military.

Part of the tab for lone soldier support services is picked up by Canadian taxpayers through tax credits for “charitable” donations. The Israel-based Lone Soldier Center has Canadian charitable status through the Ne’eman Foundation. So does the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem, which has, according to its website, sponsored “fun activities” for “lone soldiers.”

Financial backing for lone soldiers reaches the top echelons of the Canadian business world. Billionaire Toronto couple Gerry Schwartz and Heather Reisman created the Heseg Foundation for Lone Soldiers. Reisman and Schwartz provide up to $3 million per year for post-military scholarships for these non-Israeli soldiers.

Members of the Israeli high command — Heseg’s board has included a number of generals and a former head of the secret service Mossad — say “lone soldiers” are of value beyond their military capacities. Foreigners volunteering to fight for Israel are a powerful symbol to reassure Israelis weary of their country’s violent behavior. Schwartz and Reisman’s support for Heseg has spurred a campaign to boycott the Indigo, Chapters and Cole bookstore chain they own.

Canadians in the Israeli military benefit from various Canadian-financed support programs and may also find other Canadians stocking their equipment. Approximately 150 Canadians serve as volunteers on Israeli army supply bases each year through the Zionist organization Sar-El. That organization takes out ads in the Canadian Jewish News calling on individuals to “Express your Zionism by serving as a civilian volunteer on an Israeli army supply base.”

There are a number of other registered Canadian “charities” that aid the Israeli army. Money sent to Disabled Veterans of Israel or Beit Halochem (Canada) and Canadian Magen David Adom for Israel support the Israeli military in different ways. Established in 1971, the Association for the Soldiers of Israel – Canada, which gives tax receipts through the Canadian Zionist Cultural Association, provides financial and “moral” support to active duty soldiers.

Various Canadian organizations have long supported the Israeli military and individuals from this country have directly participated in its violence. At least 25 volunteers from the Greater Toronto Area fought in Gaza during Operation Cast Lead, the three-week assault in late 2008 and early 2009, which left some 1,400 Palestinians dead.

Canada’s military contribution to the conquest of Palestine predates the creation of Israel.

During the First World War, Québec City-born Lieutenant General Sir Charles MacPherson Dobell, fresh from leading the Anglo-French conquest of German West Africa, was given a command position in the 1917 Egyptian expeditionary force sent to seize Gaza from the Ottomans. Additionally, as many as four hundred Canadians (approximately half recruited specifically for the task) fought in British General Edmund Allenby’s Jewish Legion that helped conquer Palestine.

A number of Canadians, with at least tacit support from the Ottawa authorities, played a direct role in “de-Arabizing” Palestine in 1947 and 1948. Representatives from the Haganah, the primary Zionist military force behind the Nakba — the ethnic cleansing leading to Israel’s foundation — recruited three hundred experienced Canadian soldiers.

The heir to the menswear firm Tip Top Tailors, Ben Dunkelman, was Haganah’s main recruiter in Canada. He claimed that “about 1,000” Canadians “fought to establish Israel.” During the Nakba, Israel’s small air force was almost entirely foreign, with at least 53 Canadians, including 15 non-Jews, enlisted.

Given this country’s past, perhaps today’s double standard about “terror tourism” is not surprising. But those of us who want a just Canadian foreign policy must nonetheless expose our government’s hypocrisy.

While al-Shabab has committed many reprehensible acts and espouses a terribly repressive ideology, the group’s growth and radicalization is largely a response to the 2006 US-sponsored foreign invasion of Somalia that has left tens of thousands of Somalis dead and hundreds of thousands displaced.

On the other hand, it’s as if the Canadians fighting with Israel are unsatisfied with their and their ancestors’ dispossession of First Nations in North America and now want to help colonize yet another indigenous people.

The double standard is extreme. It is illegal for Somali Canadians to fight in that country but it is okay for Canadian Jews to kill Palestinians in Gaza. And the government will give you a charitable tax credit if you give money to support the latter.

Fortunately, activists in one country have made strides on this issue. A Palestine solidarity group in South Africa recently launched a case against citizens of that country who have served in the Israeli military.

Some have suggested another solution. Eminent Canadian historian Jack Granatstein recently said: “In my view, no one who is a Canadian should be able to enlist in some other country’s military and keep his Canadian citizenship.”

Canadians of good conscience must at least insist upon fairness and an end to an outrageous double standard.

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Israel has turned a progressive community into warmongers

From a left-wing community once at the forefront of struggles against racism, unconditional support for Israel has turned a significant proportion of Toronto Jews into promoters of hatred against “Arabs” and into allies of right wing, bigoted, homophobic Christian Bible literalists.

During 15 years of activism in Montréal, Ottawa and Vancouver I haven’t seen anything equivalent to the racist, militarist pro-Israel movement experienced recently in Toronto. And sadly the quasi-fascistic organization driving the charge seems increasingly enmeshed within a community that once led the fight against racism and fascism in the city.

On Saturday at Queen’s Park (the grounds of the Ontario legislature) I was shoved, spat on, had my bike damaged and lock stolen by members of the Jewish Defense League (JDL), a hate group that is banned in the U.S. and Israel. My offence was to chant “kill more Palestinian children” as hundreds of JDL and B’nai B’rith supporters rallied to applaud the onslaught on Gaza in a counter demonstration to those opposed to Israel’s massacres.

The following day, also at Queen’s Park, a JDL member knocked a pro-Palestinian counter demonstrator to the ground and kicked him in the face. Half an hour after this happened, a JDL member walked some 50 metres around a barricade to where I was standing alone chanting at the pro-war rally and spat on me three times. Both incidents were caught on tape by major media outlets.

New to pro-Palestinian activism in Toronto, I was unaware of just how aggressive and organized the JDL had become. It’s reached the point where some Palestinian solidarity groups avoid publicizing pickets out of fear they might disrupt them.

In the US the JDL has been outlawed since 2001. Its members have been convicted in a series of acts of terror, including the killing of the regional director of the American Arab Anti-discrimination Committee and a plot to assassinate a Congressman. A member of the JDL’s sister organization in Israel killed 29 Palestinian Muslim worshipers in the Cave of the Patriarchs Massacre twenty years ago. In 2011 the RCMP launched an investigation against a number of JDL members who were thought to be plotting to bomb Palestine House in Mississauga.

Despite the group’s links to terrorism, the JDL appears to find support from much of the organized Jewish community and even in Ottawa. In a significant boost to the group, Stephen Harper included a member in his official delegation on a recent trip to Israel; recent Canadian Jewish News coverage of the group has been sympathetic; rabbis attended the JDL/B’nai B’rith sponsored counterdemonstration Saturday; on Sunday the group provided “security” for the Canadians for Israel rally. Rather than being an isolated fringe group the Jewish mainstream tries to ostracize, the JDL seems to be gaining influence.

The growth of Canada’s JDL parallels the increasingly extreme violence of the Israeli government and the resulting worldwide outrage over that country’s aggressive expansionism. The mainstream Jewish community is marching in lockstep with the Israeli state and Stephen Harper’s Conservatives have not only accepted it, they have promoted it. Over the past three weeks Israel has killed over 1,300 Palestinians in Gaza, displaced more than a tenth of the population and destroyed most of the area’s electricity and water supply. Yet, the Israeli government still receives unequivocal support from the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, B’nai B’rith and other leading Canadian Jewish organizations. As part of its support for the recent killings in Gaza the United Jewish Appeal Federation of Greater Toronto, the community’s main philanthropic arm, has added $2.25 million to its annual aid to Israel.

While the JDL would likely back the complete incineration of Gaza, one wonders just how far the more mainstream groups are willing to go in cheering on Israel’s current onslaught, its third large-scale assault on Gaza in five years. Will the Jewish establishment withdraw support if 2,000 Palestinian are killed? Or is the breakpoint 5,000? Or maybe B’nai B’rith and the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs would back the Israeli military all the way to 50,000 dead?

While one might want to believe that the warmongering promoted by dominant Jewish organizations is not widely shared by the community they claim to represent, I’ve seen too many sizable pro-war rallies and witnessed too many outbursts of anti-Arab racism over the past three weeks in Toronto to be hopeful in this regard. Wide swaths of Toronto’s Jewish community seem to be mimicking the Israeli public’s racist militarism. (Google stories about Israelis chanting “death to the Arabs”, celebrating military blasts on Gaza from hilltops nearby or beating peace activists.) On Bloor Street two weeks ago a middle-aged man walking with his partner crumbled a leaflet I handed him, pointed at two older Arab looking men who responded, and yelled “barbarians”. In a similarly bizarre racist outburst, a man who was biking past the Saturday demonstration stopped to engage and soon after he was pointing at a young Arab looking child close by and telling me that I was indoctrinating him to kill. And then on Sunday an older woman interrupted a phone conversation I was having about Israel’s destruction of Gaza and yelled she hoped Israel kills “10,000 more”.

The idea that Toronto’s Jewish community in 2014 would be front-and-centre in backing racist militarism is profoundly depressing and quite the historic reversal. Seven decades ago righteous Jewish youth fought back against fascist thugs terrorizing non-Anglo-Saxons in the 1933 Christie Pits Riot. Two decades after that the Canadian Jewish Congress helped win the famous Noble v. Alley Supreme Court case, which prompted Ontario to pass a law voiding racist land covenants, a major victory in the battle for racial equality.

But, while six decades ago Jewish organizations fought racist land restrictions, today there is no other community that so strongly and openly backs racist supremacy in land use. Six months ago some 4,500 people packed the Toronto Convention Centre to honour Stephen Harper at a Jewish National Fund fundraiser. Owner of 13% of Israel’s land, the Jewish National Fund excludes Palestinian citizens of Israel and other non-Jews from its properties.

In 2014 “respectable” members of the pro-Zionist Jewish community fundraise for an organization with racist land covenants, work together with Christian fundamentalists and defend Israel’s slaughter of civilians in Gaza, while the harder edge youth attend JDL demonstrations or enlist as “lone soldiers” with a murderous foreign army.

Shame.

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Canadian arms sale promotes misogyny, royal repression

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper claims to take “strong, principled positions in our dealings with other nations, whether popular or not.” But, even the most ardent Conservative supporters must wonder what principled position is behind the recent government-sponsored arms deal with Saudi Arabia that will send over $10 billion worth of Light Armoured Vehicles to one of the most anti-woman and repressive countries in the world.

Saudi Arabia is ruled by a monarchy that’s been in power for more than seven decades. The House of Saud has outlawed labour unions and stifled independent media. With the Qur’an ostensibly acting as its constitution, over a million Christians (mostly foreign workers) in Saudi Arabia are banned from owning Bibles or attending church while the Shia Muslim minority face significant state-sanctioned discrimination.

Outside its borders, the Saudi royal family uses its immense wealth to promote and fund many of the most reactionary, anti-women social forces in the world. They aggressively opposed the “Arab Spring” democracy movement through their significant control of Arab media, funding of authoritarian political movements and by deploying 1,000 troops to support the 200-year monarchy in neighbouring Bahrain.

The Conservatives have ignored these abuses, staying quiet when the regime killed “Arab Spring” protesters and intervened in Bahrain. Worse still, the Harper government’s hostility towards Iran and backing of last July’s military takeover in Egypt partly reflects their pro-Saudi orientation. In a stark example of Ottawa trying to ingratiate itself with that country’s monarchy, Foreign Minister John Baird recently dubbed the body of water between Iran, Iraq and the Gulf states the “Arabian Gulf” rather than the widely accepted Persian Gulf.

Ottawa hasn’t hidden its affinity for the Saudi royal family. Baird praised a deceased prince for “dedicat[ing] his life to the security and prosperity of the people of Saudi Arabia” and another as “a man of great achievement who dedicated his life to the well-being of its people.”

“I am very bullish on where the Canadian-Saudi Arabian relationship is going,” Ed Fast told the Saudi Gazette in August. On his second trip to the country in less than a year, Canada’s International Trade Minister boasted about the two countries’ “common cause on many issues.”

Fast is not the only minister who has made the pilgrimage. Conservative ministers John Baird, Lawrence Cannon, Vic Toews, Maxime Bernier, Gerry Ritz, Peter Van Loan, and Stockwell Day (twice) have all visited Riyadh to meet the king or different Saudi princes.

These trips have spurred various business accords and an upsurge in business relations. SNC Lavalin alone has won Saudi contracts worth $1 billion in the last two years.

As a result of one of the ministerial visits, the RCMP plan to train Saudi Arabia’s police in “investigative techniques.” The Conservatives have also developed military relations with the Saudis. In January 2010, HMCS Fredericton participated in a mobile refueling exercise with a Saudi military vessel and, in another first, Saudi pilots began training in Alberta and Saskatchewan with NATO’s Flying Training in Canada in 2011.

The recently announced arms deal will see General Dynamics Land Systems Canada deliver Light Armoured Vehicles (LAVs) to the Saudi military. Canada’s biggest ever arms export agreement, it’s reportedly worth $10-13 billion over 14 years.

The LAV sale is facilitated by the Canadian Commercial Corporation, which has seen its role as this country’s arms middleman greatly expanded in recent years. The Conservative government has okayed and underwritten this deal even though Saudi troops used Canadian built LAVs when they rolled into Bahrain to put down pro-democracy demonstrations in 2011.

This sale and the Conservatives’ ties to the Saudi monarchy demonstrate exactly what principles Harper supports: misogyny, military repression, monarchy over democracy and commercial expediency, especially when it comes to the profits of a U.S.-owned branch plant arms dealer.

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Filed under The Ugly Canadian

New book provides real understanding of Rwandan tragedy

The Rwandan genocide — think you know the story?

Deep-seated ethic enmity erupted in a 100-day genocidal rampage by Hutus killing Tutsis, which was only stopped by the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF). A noble Canadian general tried to end the bloodletting but a dysfunctional UN refused resources. Washington was caught off guard by the slaughter, but it has apologized for failing to intervene and has committed to never again avoid its responsibility to protect.

In Rwanda and the new scramble for Africa Robin Philpot demolishes this version of history.

Philpot points out that while the official story begins April 6, 1994, any serious investigation must go back to at least October 1, 1990. On that day an army of mostly exiled Tutsi elite invaded Rwanda. The Ugandan government claimed 4,000 of its troops “deserted” to invade (including the defence minister and head of intelligence). This unbelievable explanation has largely been accepted since Washington and London backed Uganda’s aggression.

More than 90 per cent Tutsi, the RPF could never have gained power democratically in a country where only 15 per cent of the population was Tutsi. Even military victory looked difficult until International Monetary Fund economic adjustments and Western-promoted political reforms weakened the Rwandan government.

The RPF also benefited from the United Nations Assistance Mission For Rwanda (UNAMIR) dispatched to keep the peace. According to Gilbert Ngijo, political assistant to the civilian commander of UNAMIR, “He [UNAMIR commander General Romeo Dallaire] let the RPF get arms. He allowed UNAMIR troops to train RPF soldiers. United Nations troops provided the logistics for the RPF. They even fed them.”

On April 6, 1994, the plane carrying Rwandan Hutu President Juvénal Habyarimana and Burundian Hutu President Cyprien Ntaryamira was shot down. A French judge pointed the finger at Paul Kagame and the RPF. But the head of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), Canadian Louise Arbour refused to investigate evidence implicating the RPF. When the ICTR prosecutor who took over from Arbour, Carla del Ponte, did look at the RPF’s role in shooting down Habyarimana’s plane the British and Americans had her removed.

Habyarimana’s assassination sparked mass killings (but no planned genocide, according to the ICTR). Five days after Habyarimana’s death an internal US memorandum warned of “hundreds of thousands of deaths,” but Philpot notes, “even though they knew that the massacres would occur and that millions would flee to other countries, the Americans devoted all their efforts to forcing the United Nations to withdraw its UNAMIR troops.”

UNAMIR would have blocked the RPF from capturing Kigali, something Washington supported to undermine French influence and to improve the prospects of North American companies in the nearby mineral-rich eastern Congo.

Rarely heard in Canada, Philpot’s version of events aligns with that of former UN head Boutros Boutros-Ghali, civilian head of UNAMIR Jacques-Roger Booh Booh and many French investigators. Presumably, many Rwandans’ also agree but it’s hard to know as Paul Kagame ruthlessly suppresses opponents, regularly labeling them génocidaire.

Ottawa has supported this witch-hunt. Philpot points to the example of a former Rwandan prime minister denied a Canadian visa: “The Prime Minister of the government that supposedly ended the genocide had now become a génocidaire. Canada had already received Prime Minister Faustin Twagiramngu with all honours in December 1994 when he was looking for funding to rebuild Rwanda under the RPF. Either Canada’s institutional memory is short and selective or, more likely, the country has a policy of supporting the RPF government at all costs.”

This book is an invaluable resource for understanding the Rwandan tragedy and countering those who cite it to justify Western military interventions.

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Private automobiles and public health

When a plane carrying 239 people disappears and everyone is presumed dead, the world’s TV networks devote hours of coverage to the tragedy. Newspapers run long and detailed stories. Experts are interviewed to discuss probable causes and remedies.

Government safety boards investigate and produce reports. There seems a genuine attempt to learn from what happened in order to prevent the same death and destruction from ever occurring again.

Contrast that to the reaction of death by automobile.

The latest year for which we have statistics (2010) 1,240,000 people died in vehicle crashes across the globe. That’s 3,397 people per day or 142 per hour. Vehicles kill more people every two hours of every single day than died in the Malaysian Airlines crash. And that’s only counting so-called accidents.

Hundreds of thousands more are felled by cancers and other ailments linked to automobile emissions. According to an MIT study, in the US alone 53,000 people die every year from illness attributed to automobile pollutants.

The greenhouse gases emitted by vehicles have also put millions at risk from diseases, disasters and droughts tied to climate disturbances. The Climate Vulnerability Monitor estimates that climate change is responsible for some 400,000 deaths per year, a number expected to hit one million by 2030.

But the deadliest feature of an automobile-dependent transportation system is the resulting sedentary lifestyle. The World Health Organization calculates physical inactivity is the fourth-leading risk factor for global mortality, causing an estimated 3.2 million deaths annually.

Researchers at St. Michael’s Hospital recently concluded that diabetes and obesity rates are up to 33 per cent higher in suburban areas of Toronto with poor “walkability”. Another study published in Diabetes Care found that new immigrants who moved to a neighborhood with poorly connected streets, low residential density and few stores close by were 50 percent more likely to develop diabetes than long-term residents of walkable areas.

The rise of the private car has greatly undermined active forms of transport. At the start of the 1900s the typical US resident walked three miles a day; today the average is less than a quarter mile. As a result, most adults fail to meet the minimum recommended levels of physical activity (30 min. of light activity five days a week).

The major reason for the reduction in walking is that the private car’s insatiable appetite for space has splintered the landscape. Distances between living spaces, work and commerce have simply become too far to make walking or biking practical.

But there is another reason people have stopped walking: Cars have made us lazy. The more we use them the more we cannot fathom traveling without them. One survey suggests the extent of psychological dependence is extreme. An average American is only willing to walk about a quarter mile and in some instances (such as errands) only 400 feet. Otherwise, the people private vehicles have created, let’s call them Homo Automotivis, take the car.

The true extent of auto-dependence is revealed by drivers willing to wait five minutes for the closest parking spot to where they are going rather than park a block away and walk. The car has produced a state of mind where walking a few extra feet is a defeat.

It has also produced a paranoid state of mind, particularly among those caring for the young. A recent British study of four generations of eight-year-old children in Sheffield found a drastic decline in the average child’s freedom to roam. In 1926 an eight-year-old in the Thomas family was allowed to go six miles from his home unaccompanied, while today’s child, notes The Daily Mail, “is driven the few minutes to school, is taken by car to a safe place to ride his bike and can roam no more than 300 yards from home.”

Canadian children are much less likely to walk to school than their parents’ generation. According to Active Healthy Kids Canada, 58 per cent of today’s parents walked to school when they were young while only 28 per cent of their children do. Partly as a result, only 5 per cent of Canadian children get the recommended 60 minutes of physical activity a day.

Driving children to school is an outgrowth of the greater distances that have come with automotive focused urban planning. But it is not only children living far from school who aren’t walking. One US study found that 87 percent of students living within a mile of school walked in 1969 while today only a third make the same trek.

It is less that children cannot walk to school and more that Homo Automotivis parents, fearing for their children’s safety, prefer to drive them. The most commonly cited fear? Not bullying or kidnapping. The major reason cited by parents for restricting unaccompanied travel: traffic danger.

But when parents use cars to protect their children from other cars, it results in notoriously dangerous schoolyard pickup areas and the very justification for driving their kids to school: a deadly vicious circle.

How have we gotten ourselves into this auto-produced mess? More important, how do we escape?

A  start might be taking death by car as seriously as we take plane crashes.

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Why did Canada help overthrow Haiti’s government?

This is the last in a four part series leading up to the 10th anniversary of the February 29 2004 overthrow of Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s government in Haiti.

Why did Canada help overthrow Haiti’s elected government? That’s a question I heard over and over when speaking about Canada in Haiti: Waging War on the Poor Majority, a book I co-authored with Anthony Fenton. Most people had difficulty understanding why their country — and the U.S. to some extent — would intervene in a country so poor, so seemingly marginal to world affairs. Why would they bother?

I would answer that Canada participated in the coup as a way to make good with Washington, especially after (officially) declining the Bush administration’s invitation (order) to join the “coalition of the willing” that invaded Iraq in 2003. Former Foreign Affairs Minister Bill Graham explained: “Foreign Affairs view was there is a limit to how much we can constantly say no to the political masters in Washington. All we had was Afghanistan to wave. On every other file we were offside. Eventually we came on side on Haiti, so we got another arrow in our quiver.”

It is also worth noting that at the start of 2003 the Haitian minimum wage was 36 gourdes ($1) a day, which was nearly doubled to 70 gourdes by the Aristide government. Of course, this was opposed by domestic and international capital, which used Haiti’s lowest wages in the hemisphere as a way to beat back workers’ demands in other countries. Canadian capital was especially hostile to raising the minimum wage. One of the largest blank T-shirt maker in the world, Montréal-based Gildan Activewear was the country’s largest employer after the state, employing up to 8,000 Haitians (directly and indirectly) in Port-au-Prince’s assembly sector by 2007. Most of Gildan’s work was subcontracted to Andy Apaid, who led the Group 184 domestic “civil society” that opposed Aristide’s government. Coincidentally, two days after the coup, Foreign Affairs stated “some Canadian companies are looking to shift garment production to Haiti.”

It is also clear that some Canadian mining companies saw better opportunities with a post-Aristide government. In 2007, reported the Toronto Star, “Another Canadian-backed company recently resumed prospecting in Haiti after abandoning its claims a decade ago. Steve Lachapelle — a Québec lawyer who is now chair of the board of the company, called St. Genevieve Haiti — says employees were threatened at gunpoint by partisans of ex-president Jean-Bertrand Aristide.”

Another reason for the intervention came out of the contempt, heightened during the country’s 200-year anniversary of independence, directed at Haiti ever since the country’s 1791-1804 revolution dealt a crushing blow to slavery, colonialism and white supremacy. The threat of a good example — particularly worrisome for the powers that be, since Haiti is so poor — contributed to the motivation for the coup. Aristide was perceived as a barrier to a thorough implementation of the free market agenda, particularly because of his opposition to the privatization of the country’s five remaining state-owned companies. The attitude seems to have been, “if we can’t force our way in Haiti, where can we?”

But one must look at the history of Canadian foreign policy to fully understand why Canada helped overthrow the elected Haitian government.

The Canadian government, from its beginning, was part of the command and control apparatus of the world economic system. At first Canada served as an arm of the British Empire, but given the country’s location as well as racial and economic makeup, it quickly became intertwined with the USA. Canada’s role over the past six decades, as assigned by the dominant power, has typically been some sort of “policing” operation, usually called peacekeeping. Since Canada has primarily been a “policing” rather than “military” power one must look to the language of policing to discover the motivations for our Haitian policy.

Over the past decade there has been much discussion of something called “pulling our weight” in external affairs. In laymen’s terms this means spending more of the country’s resources on defending and expanding the ability of Canadian capitalists in particular, but also for the system in general, to make a profit around the world. While the less sophisticated neoconservatives simply call for more military spending and a pro-U.S. foreign policy, the more liberal Canadian supporters of capitalism have been busy creating an ideological mask, called the “responsibility to protect” that will accomplish the same end.

The “responsibility to protect” is essentially a justification for imperialism using the dialect of policing instead of the old language of empire and militarism. It says there are “failed states” that must be overthrown because they do not provide adequately for their own citizens and because they threaten world order. This is the international equivalent of the “zero tolerance” (also called the “broken window”) strategy of the New York City police department. The policy is to aggressively police petty crimes in order to create an environment that discourages more serious law breaking. In the same fashion, the international community should go after “failed states” not because they threaten other countries with invasion but since they create an environment where “crime” may thrive. (Noam Chomsky has used the Mafia analogy to explain the less sophisticated, older imperialist version of this policy. Any and all challenges, even minor ones, must be met with violence until “order” is established. The “responsibility to protect” differs in form but not in substance.)

The coup in Haiti was a Canadian-managed experiment in the use of the “responsibility to protect” doctrine. Aristide was overthrown precisely because Haiti is so unimportant to the world economic system and because cracking down on it is the international economic equivalent of the New York City police cracking down on graffiti writers. Once again Haiti was an example to the rest of the world, a message from the world’s rich and powerful: “We, the 0.01%, run the world in our interests and you better listen to what we say.”

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