Bolivia election is a blow to Trudeau’s policy

Massive support for Bolivia’s Movimiento al Socialismo at the polls is a rejection of last year’s Canadian-backed coup against Evo Morales. The vote was also a blow to Trudeau’s policy of seeking to overthrow left-wing governments in the region.

On Sunday Morales’ former finance minister, Luis Acre, won 55% of the vote for president. His MAS party also took a large majority in the Congress.

The unexpectedly large victory is a decisive rebuke of Ottawa’s support for the ouster of Bolivia’s first indigenous president. Hours after the military command forced Evo Morales to resign on November 10, then foreign affairs minister Chrystia Freeland released a celebratory statement declaring, “Canada stands with Bolivia and the democratic will of its people.”

Ottawa provided significant support for the Organization of American States’ effort to discredit Bolivia’s 2019 vote, which fueled opposition protests and justified the coup. Ottawa promoted and financed the OAS’ effort to discredit the presidential poll and two Canadian technical advisers were part of the audit mission to Bolivia. “Canada commends the invaluable work of the OAS audit mission in ensuring a fair and transparent process, which we supported financially and through our expertise”, noted Freeland at the time.

But, the OAS audit mission was designed to precipitate Morales ouster. A slew of academic and corporate media studies have demonstrated the partisan nature of the OAS audit mission and the weekend’s election results confirm it. Still, Global Affairs promoted the organization’s involvement in Bolivia’s elections. On Saturday their Canada in Bolivia account tweeted, “Canada is pleased to support the Organization of American States (OAS) electoral observation mission to Bolivia.”

For a year Ottawa stayed silent while the unelected Jeanine Anez regime ramped up repression and anti-indigenous measures as well as drastically shifted the country’s foreign policy. Worse than silence, on Bolivia’s national day in August Global Affairs claimed Canada and Bolivia’s “strong bilateral relationship is founded on our shared values of democracy, human rights and a celebration of diversity.”

Global Affairs ignored the ‘caretaker’ government’s repeated postponement of elections. Even worse, when the country’s social movements launched a general strike in August to protest the ‘caretaker’ government’s repeated postponement of elections Global Affairs echoed the coup government’s claims that the protests undermined the fight against the pandemic. Canada in Bolivia tweeted, “Canada calls for humanitarian aid to be allowed to circulate freely in Bolivia to fight #COVID19 & calls on all social actors to support the country’s democratic institutions and to use those mechanisms to resolve any disputes.” (Protesters let ambulances and other medical vehicles circulate with little disruption.)

Looking at a year of the Canada in Bolivia Twitter account I did not find a single criticism of the coup government. But, there were more than 15 posts critical of the Venezuelan government. On October 14 Canada in Bolivia tweeted, “the conditions needed for free and fair elections do not exist in Venezuela” and linked to a Lima Group statement declaring renewed “support of President Juan Guaidó.” (After usurping power Anez joined the Lima Group of countries seeking to oust Nicolas Maduro’s government.) Two months earlier the account called for “concerted international actions in support of a peaceful return to democracy in Venezuela and linked to a Lima Group statement reiterating their “firm commitment to interim president Juan Guaidó.”

Contrasting the Trudeau government’s response to an unelected, anti-indigenous, elitist government in Bolivia to that of Venezuela’s elected, pro-poor president is telling. So is their silence on the election results in Bolivia. Nearly 72 hours after the polls closed Ottawa has yet to release a statement congratulating Arce or the MAS on their massive victory.

The election results in Bolivia are a major blow to Canadian policy in that country and Ottawa’s bid to wipe out the remnants of the leftist pink tied in Latin America.

Further, the victory of MAS shows Canada for what it has always (unfortunately) been: an imperialist power seeking to maintain the world’s massively unfair status quo.

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Filed under Justin Trudeau, Latin America

Toronto schools push students to join Israeli military

Canadian law makes it illegal to recruit soldiers for a foreign state. But, the line between enticing impressionable young people to oppress Palestinians and formal recruitment is unclear.

Today an open letter signed by Noam Chomsky, Roger Waters, filmmaker Ken Loach, author Yann Martel, former MP Jim Manly, poet El Jones and more than 150 others was delivered to Justice Minister David Lametti calling on the federal government to apply charges under the Foreign Enlistment Act against those recruiting Canadians for the IDF.

The formal legal complaint names Israeli government officials operating in Canada. But, some Toronto schools that entice impressionable young minds into joining the IDF also deserve attention.

Whether or not there is a formal plan, this is how it appears to work: the elementary schools hold performances by Israeli military bands, organize fundraisers for groups supporting non-Israeli ‘lone soldiers’ and celebrate the IDF in other ways. As the kids move through high school, former and current Israeli soldiers talk to them about the IDF, which sometimes appears part of the Israeli consulate’s recruitment drives.

Netivot HaTorah elementary school promotes the IDF and non-Israelis who join it. A January Netivot HaTorah Facebook post explained that a “‘donut day’ fundraising initiative raised over $750 for an organization called Garin Chayalim — a program that supports IDF lone soldiers.” A decade ago the school’s president, Dov Rosenblum, reportedly boasted to the Canadian Jewish News that “at least 15 alumni serve in the IDF.”

Bialik Hebrew Day School also promotes the IDF. Its website notes, “Tzedakah programs such as Shai Le’chayal help students feel a sense of responsibility to the Israeli community by sending gifts to Israeli soldiers. Similarly, having the opportunity to interact with IDF Band soldiers, who visit to perform for the school, reinforces these feelings.”

The Toronto Heschel School had the IDF Nachal Band play last September and organizes other initiatives supportive of the Israeli military.

At Leo Baeck an Israeli emissary spends a year at the Toronto elementary school and when they return, noted the Canadian Jewish News, “engages with students by way of live video chat from their Israel Defence Forces barracks dressed in their military uniforms.” Students also pay “tribute to Israel’s fallen heroes” and fundraise for Beit Halochem Canada/Aid to Disabled Veterans of Israel, which supports injured IDF soldiers.

Leo Baeck and the other elementary schools feed students to high schools that promote the IDF and joining that force. The IDF Orchestra has performed at TanenbaumCHAT and Canada’s largest private high school organizes fundraisers for Israeli military initiatives. Last week its Facebook described “an effort to raise money for the IDF. Thanks to the enthusiasm and generosity of our students and staff, we are happy to report that members of an army base in the south of Israel now have a nice spot to sit and enjoy their version of ‘10-minute break.’”

The school holds regular “IDF days.” A summary of one in January noted, “Shavuah Yisrael continued today with @IDF day. The @tanenbaumchat community — under the leadership of our Schlichim [Israeli emissaries] Lee and Ariel — showed their support for the Israel Defence Forces by wearing green, eating green and donating green! Proceeds from the delicious green-sprinkled donuts that were sold during 10-minute break are being donated to help the well-being of Israeli soldiers on active duty on behalf of TanenbaumCHAT thru the Association for the Soldiers of Israel – Canada.”

The school’s website advertises a fund that assists students wanting to join the IDF. It notes, the “Continuing Studies in Israel Judy Shaviv Memorial Fund ‘Keren Yad Yehudit’ assists graduates to serve in the IDF, study or volunteer.”

The high school also celebrates graduates who have served in the IDF and has them speak about joining the Israeli military. According to its site, “During Shavua Israel (Israel Week) in February 2020, Seth Frieberg ’08 [graduate] spoke to students about his experiences as a Lone Soldier in the Israel Defense Forces. Bringing into focus his personal connection to Israel, he noted that ‘this was basically 14 months where every day I was doing something that, for me, was a meaningful and substantial way to give back to Israel.’”

Alongside the Israeli Consul General, serving Israeli colonels have also spoken at the school. In May 2019 Colonel Barak Hiram spoke to the students about “being a new recruit and a seasoned commander in the Golani Brigade.”

Serving IDF soldiers also speak at Toronto’s Bnei Akiva. Some of the high school teachers biographies state that they served in the Israeli military and the school celebrates the Israeli military in other ways. “Love Bnei Akiva?! Love the IDF?! Come run the Jerusalem Marathon with us! Bnei Akiva has partnered with Tikvot and together we are raising funds to help injured IDF soldiers and terror victims recuperate!”, reported a 2018 school Facebook post.

Bnei Akiva honours alumni who served in the IDF on its webpage. “Bnei Akiva Schools is proud to honour our alumni who have served courageously in the Israel Defense Forces”, its website explains. Its LinkedIn profile notes, “upon graduation, students typically spend at least one or more years of study in Israel, and many serve in the IDF.” The school’s Wikipedia page is even more blunt: “the school strongly encourages graduates to attend the IDF in Israel.”

The World Bnei Akiva movement has an academy in Israel that offers six-month preparation for non-Israelis planning to join the IDF. To get a sense of the religious movement’s anti-Palestinian outlook, the secretary-general of World Bnei Akiva, Rabbi Noam Perel, called for revenge after the 2014 murder of three Israeli teens. “The government of Israel is gathering for a revenge meeting that isn’t a grief meeting. The landlord has gone mad at the sight of his sons’ bodies. A government that turns the army of searchers to an army of avengers, an army that will not stop at 300 Philistine foreskins,” Perel wrote on Facebook in reference to the biblical tale of David, who killed 200 Philistines and gave their foreskins to King Saul as the bride price for his daughter. “The disgrace will be paid for with the blood of the enemy, not with our tears,” Perel concluded.

Bnei Akiva School and TanenbaumCHAT entice their students into joining the Israeli military while the aformentioned elementary schools prepare young minds to revere the IDF. It’s unclear whether Bnei Akiva School and TanenbaumCHAT’s actions – a formal investigation would no doubt uncover a great deal more evidence – contravene Canada’s Foreign Enlistment Act.

Legal questions aside, should Ontario schools funnel youngster into a foreign military engaged in a brutal 50-year occupation?

 

Please take a minute to email Justice Minister David Lametti to ask him to investigate recruitment in Canada for the Israeli military.

 

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Filed under Canada and Israel, Israel Lobby

Antiwar forces need to challenge Trudeau government, not praise it

Bob Rae and Justin Trudeau

Should antiwar forces challenge power or praise government officials in the hopes of getting some crumbs for their pet issue?

Douglas Roche’s recent Hill Times column suggests the latter. In an article extolling Canada’s new ambassador to the UN Roche writes: “When Canada lost its bid for a seat on the UN Security Council the second successive time last June, I thought a foreign policy review from top to bottom was the solution to get Canada back on track internationally. But I’ve changed my mind for two reasons: the world is in multiple crises revolving around COVID-19 that need to be acted on now, and Bob Rae has arrived on the scene. I don’t mean to present the estimable new Canadian ambassador to the UN as a world saviour, but he has quickly established himself as a champion of the UN humanitarian agenda, which centres around reducing the grotesque economic inequalities that the pandemic has worsened.”

In essence Roche is saying that a few months ago he was troubled by the world’s rejection of Canadian foreign policy but now that Rae and Prime Minister Trudeau have delivered a couple of high-minded, internationalist statements there’s little need to challenge government policy.

But things are far from all fine and dandy. The Trudeau government refused to join 122 countries at a UN conference to ban nuclear weapons in 2017 and has failed to sign the resulting treaty. They have announced a 70% increase in military spending, oversaw record (non-US) arms exports last year and dispatched troops on US and NATO missions to Iraq and Latvia (not to mention breaking their promise to rein in Canadian mining companies’ abuses, support for a repressive Haitian president, unprecedented campaign to overthrow Venezuela’s government, anti-Palestinian positions, etc.)

Rather than representing a break from the Liberals’ pro-US, pro-militarist and pro-capitalist policies, Rae’s appointment reflects a continuation of this outlook. As I detailed in “New UN ambassador Bob Rae pushes pro-US, militarist and anti-Palestinian positions”, Rae aggressively promoted bombing Libya in 2011, allied with Stephen Harper to extend the occupation of Afghanistan and has repeatedly undercut Palestinian rights.

A few high-minded speeches by Rae and other government officials does not make a just foreign policy. Rather than make nice with Rae, peace and antiwar minded individuals should directly confront the Trudeau government’s foreign policy. The two recent national days of action at dozens of MPs’ offices against purchasing new fighter jets and selling arms to Saudi Arabia are a good step. So was the “no Canada on UN Security Council” campaign.

Unfortunately, Roche’s perspective on this issue matters. A former ambassador for disarmament, Progressive Conservative MP and senator has significant influence in peace circles. He’s influential within the Canadian Network for the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons and two weeks ago Roche did an event with World Beyond War. But, Roche’s perspective is deleterious even if you stick to Roche’s main issue: nuclear disarmament.

If we are serious about forcing Ottawa to sign the UN nuclear ban treaty we need to grow the broader peace/demilitarization/anti-imperialist movement. More specifically, if many begin agitating against fighter jets and arms exports, or for Canada to leave the nuclear armed NATO alliance the government is more likely to concede to a push to sign the nuclear ban treaty.

Roche’s column praising Bob Rae should serve as a wakeup call to antiwar activists. The movement is far too focused on insider lobbying and policy wonkery. It needs to be much more oriented towards broad principled positions and social movement mobilization.

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Filed under Justin Trudeau, Military

Canadian military training in Africa is extension of US imperialism

Which is more believable as motivation to send soldiers to other countries, altruism or self-interest?

Canadian forces don’t train their African counterparts out of a commitment to professionalism or democracy but to extend this country’s influence.

Recently the Ottawa Citizen reported that Canadian special forces will continue to participate in “U.S.-led training exercises despite links to instructing troops who have been involved in two separate military uprisings in Mali. Malian soldiers forced the resignation of the country’s President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita after they launched a coup on Aug. 18. Coup leader Col. Assimi Goita, as well as many of the soldiers who took part in the uprising, had received training at the U.S.-led annual Flintlock military exercises which involves western special forces providing counter-terrorism training to African units. A former army officer has now taken over as president in Mali and Goita has declared himself vice president.”

The Canadian Special Operations Regiment (CSOR) has participated in Exercise Flintlock since 2011. Sponsored by the US Africa Command (AFRICOM) and directed by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Flintlock takes place in a different nation of the Sahel region of northern Africa each year. Although Flintlock is considered an exercise, it is really an extension of ongoing training, engagement, and operations that help prepare our close Africa partners in the fight against extremism and the enemies that threaten peace, stability, and regional security,” said the commander of the US Joint Special Operations Task Force-Trans Sahel, Colonel Kenneth Sipperly, during Flintlock 2014.

In addition to Flintlock, Canadian forces have trained thousands of African military personnel in recent years in a variety of forums and countries across the continent. Hundreds of African soldiers have also come to train in Canada through the Military Training Assistance Program (MTAP).

Canadian officials generally tell the media the aim of training other militaries is to help fight terror or the illicit drug trade but a closer look at military doctrine suggests broader strategic and geopolitical motivations. An important objective is to strengthen foreign militaries’ capacity to operate in tandem with Canadian and/or NATO forces. According to Canada’s MTAP, its “language training improves communication between NATO and other armed forces” and its “professional development and staff training enhances other countries compatibility with the CF.” At a broader level MTAP states its training “serves to achieve influence in areas of strategic interest to Canada. … Canadian diplomatic and military representatives find it considerably easier to gain access and exert influence in countries with a core group of Canadian-trained professional military leaders.”

When Canada initiated post-independence military training missions in Africa a memo to cabinet ministers described the political value of training foreign military officers. It stated: “Military leaders in many developing countries, if they do not actually form the government, frequently wield much more power and influence domestically than is the case in the majority of western democratic nations … [It] would seem in Canada’s general interest on broad foreign policy grounds to keep open the possibility of exercising a constructive influence on the men who often will form the political elite in developing countries, by continuing to provide training places for officers in our military institutions where they receive not only technical military training but are also exposed to Canadian values and attitudes.”

As part of Canada’s post British rule aid efforts, Canadian troops trained armed forces in various African countries in the 1960s. In Ghana, Nigeria, Zambia and Tanzania, Canada endeavoured “to fill in the vacuum left by the withdrawal of British officers and training facilities,” notes Professor Robert Matthews. Military historian Sean Maloney further explains: “These teams consisted of regular army officers who, at the ‘operational level,’ trained military personnel of these new Commonwealth countries to increase their professionalism. The strategic function, particularly of the 83-man team in Tanzania, was to maintain a Western presence to counter Soviet and Chinese bloc political and military influence.”

In 1966 Ghana’s Canadian-trained army overthrew Kwame Nkrumah, a leading pan-Africanist president. After Nkrumah’s removal the Canadian High Commissioner boasted about the effectiveness of Canada’s Junior Staff Officers training program. Writing to the undersecretary of external affairs, C.E. McGaughey noted, “all the chief participants of the coup were graduates of this course.” (Canadian major Bob Edwards, who was a training advisor to the commander of a Ghanaian infantry brigade, discovered preparations for the coup the day before its execution, but said nothing.)

After Ghana won its independence the CF organized and oversaw a Junior Staff Officers course and took up a number of top positions in the Ghanaian Ministry of Defence. In the words of Canada’s military attaché to Ghana, Colonel Desmond Deane-Freeman, the Canadians in these positions imparted “our way of thinking”. Celebrating the influence of “our way of thinking”, High Commissioner McGaughey wrote the undersecretary of external affairs in 1965 that “since independence, it [Ghana’s military] has changed in outlook, perhaps less than any other institution. It is still equipped with Western arms and although essentially non-political, is Western oriented.”

When today’s internal documents are made available, they will likely show that Canadian military training initiatives continue to influence the continent’s politics in ways that run counter to most Africans’ interests.

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Filed under Canada in Africa, Military

Tax dollars promote Canadian arms exports

Is it appropriate for the Canadian government to promote arms exports? And why, with its love of scandal does the dominant media not question this use of taxpayers’ dollars?

In recent days there’s been significant attention devoted to Canadian arms exports. A report by the UN’s Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen, which criticized Canadian weapons sales to Saudi Arabia, was widely covered. There has also been coverage of Streit Group’s sale of crowd control vehicles to Belarus and Ontario-based L3Harris WESCAM’s sale of sensors and laser targeting technology to the Turkish military, which have apparently been used in a number of conflicts including the ongoing war between Azerbaijan and Armenia.

The recent attention is welcome but there needs to be a broader discussion of Canadian arms exports. According to government statistics, there was $3.8 billion in “Non-U.S. Exports of Military Goods and Technology” in 2019. A similar amount of Canadian weaponry was probably delivered to the Pentagon, but the government doesn’t compile data on US exports (under the Defence Production Sharing Agreement the North American arms industry is highly integrated.) The Geneva-based Small Arms Survey consistently ranks Canada among the top 15 exporters of pistols, rifles and light machine guns. Canada’s share of global arms exports is several times greater than this country’s proportion of the world’s population.

Beyond a discussion of the size of Canadian arms exports, there is a need to assess the government’s role in promoting international sales. The Department of National Defence’s website highlights different forms of support to arms exporters. “Learn how the Department of National Defence can assist in connecting Canadian industry to foreign markets”, explains one section. Another notes, “Learn how the Department of National Defence keeps Canadian companies informed of business opportunities at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).”

Based in 30 diplomatic posts around the world (with cross-accreditation to many neighbouring countries), Canadian Defence Attachés promote military exports. According to DND’s website, these colonels who are supported by sergeants and sometimes a second officer, assist “Canadian defence manufacturers in understanding and accessing foreign defence markets … facilitate Canadian industry access to relevant officials within the Ministries of Defence of accredited countries … support Canadian industry at key defence industry events in accredited countries … provide reports on accredited country defence budget information, items of interest, and trade issues to Canadian industry.”

Arms manufacturers have participated in trade missions with the minister of trade or prime minister. Diplomats in the field have also helped weapons companies connect with foreign governments and the Trade Commissioner Service supports the weapons industry. In 2010 a Trade Commissioner was embedded within the Canadian Association of Defence and Security Industries. CADSI missions receive financial support from the Global Opportunities for Associations program and Western Economic Diversification Canada awarded CADSI funds in 2015 to enable Western Canadian companies to participate in international arms events and delegations. Officials from DND, Global Affairs Canada and the Trade Commissioner Service have participated in recent CADSI trade missions to Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Israel, UAE, etc. Representatives of DND often talk up Canadian military equipment as part of delegations to international arms fairs such as the UK’s Defence Security and Equipment International exhibition.

An objective of Royal Canadian Navy visits to international ports has been to spur commercial relations, especially arms sales. Lieutenant Bruce Fenton writes, “Canadian warships can serve as venues for trade initiatives, as examples of Canadian technology, and as visible symbols of Canadian interest in a country or region. In countries where relationships are built over time, as is the case with many Asian and Middle Eastern countries, a visit by a Canadian warship can be an important part of a dialogue that can lead to commercial opportunities for Canadian industry.”

When ships were sent to enforce sanctions on Iraq in the 1990s, they also showcased Canadian vessels to the Kuwaiti navy. According to a 1995 DND report, HMCS Calgary was employed “as a platform for SJSL [Saint John’s Shipbuilding Limited] Kuwait Offshore Missile Vessel proposals and for Ambassador [to Kuwait J. Christopher] Pool to promote Canadian industry and technology.” In the mid 1990s RCN visits to the Middle East were credited with generating tens of millions of dollars in contracts for CAE Electronics and Computing Devices Canada.

Naval frigates have been sent to the UAE during the Abu Dhabi-based International Defence Exhibition and Conference (IDEX), the largest arms fair in the Middle East and North Africa. In 2013, noted Lieutenant Jonathan Douglas, “[HMCS] Toronto played host to Emirati dignitaries and representatives of the roughly 30 Canadian defence firms attending IDEX, providing a forum for networking against the backdrop of a floating symbol of Canadian naval power.” Six years later, researcher Anthony Fenton tweeted, “Canadian Commander of Bahrain-based naval task force visits UAE arms bazaar where over 50 CDN companies are flogging their wares.”

To help the arms companies, Commander of the Bahrain-based Combined Task Force 150, Commodore Darren Garnier, led a Canadian military delegation to IDEX 2019. The arms companies also received support from “15 trade commissioners and representatives from the Government of Ontario, National Defence, Global Affairs Canada, and the Canadian Commercial Corporation.”

A crown corporation, the Canadian Commercial Corporation (CCC) facilitates global arms sales. Initially called War Supplies Limited, CCC draws Canadian arms suppliers and foreign buyers together and is the middleperson on sales, meaning the contracts are secured by the government of Canada. CCC signs thousands of contracts yearly with the US Department of Defense and other militaries. The CCC brokered the highly controversial $14 billion light armoured vehicle sale to Saudi Arabia.

CCC openly capitalizes on warfare. During the war in Afghanistan CCC president Marc Whittingham wrote in the Hill Times, “there is no better trade show for defence equipment than a military mission.” During the 1991 Gulf war CCC set up a 24-hour telephone hotline to ensure that weapons “requests from allies wouldn’t get snarled in red tape.”

Describing the Canadian Association of Defence and Securities Industries as one of four “key industry association partners”, CCC participated in CADSI trade missions in recent years to Kuwait, England, UAE and elsewhere. In his 2017 book Security Aid: Canada and the Development Regime of Security Jeffrey Monaghan writes, “CCC representatives have accompanied the Minister of International Trade to Libya, Peru, Russia, Ghana, Nigeria, and other locations to export Canadian security and military materials.”

How much money does the Canadian government spend every year on promoting arms sales? Would a majority of Canadians support this use of their tax dollars? Why does the arms industry need government subsidies? Why do right wing ‘taxpayer groups’ never criticize this as ‘government waste’ or ‘choosing winners’ in the economy? These are some of the questions that require answers.

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Israel lobby will face blowback, eventually

How much is too much? When will Israeli nationalists in North America completely discredit themselves by overusing their power to crush those defending Palestinians?

The ruthlessness of the Israel lobby is remarkable. Recently they’ve convinced Zoom to cancel a university sponsored talk, a prominent law program to rescind a job offer, a public broadcaster to apologize for using the word Palestine and companies to stop delivering for a restaurant.

A week ago Israel lobby groups convinced Zoom to cancel a San Francisco State University talk with Palestinian resistance icon Leila Khaled, former South African minister Ronnie Kasrils, director of women’s studies at Birzeit University Rula Abu Dahou and others. It is thought to be the first time Zoom has ever suppressed a university-sponsored talk.

Last month the Israel lobby pressed the University of Toronto’s law school to rescind a job offer to head its International Human Rights Program. The pressure to block the hiring committee’s candidate, Valentina Azarova, came from judge David Spiro, who was a former Toronto Co-chair of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) and whose uncle Larry Tanenbaum owns the Toronto Raptors and grandmother Anne Tanenbaum financed the University of Toronto’s centre for Jewish studies. While Spiro’s efforts were covert, B’nai B’rith has openly called on University of Toronto administrators to block the hiring committee’s decision.

CBC’s The Current recently apologized for employing the word “Palestine”. On August 18 guest anchor Duncan McCue introduced graphic artist Joe Sacco by referencing his work in Bosnia, Iraq and Palestine (Sacco has a work called Palestine). At the beginning of the next day’s edition McCue apologized for having mentioned Palestine and Honest Reporting Canada boasted about their efforts to pressure the public broadcaster from employing the P word.

As part of a bid to bankrupt a small left-wing Toronto restaurant that has a “I love Gaza” message in its window the CIJA and B’nai B’rith successfully campaigned to shutter Foodbenders delivery services, institutional contracts and social media accounts. They allied with the far-right Jewish Defense League and others who vandalized the restaurant in July.

In an August Walrus story titled “Objectivity Is a Privilege Afforded to White Journalists” former CBC journalist Pacinthe Mattar describes a senior editor stepping in to suppress an interview from Jerusalem with Ahmed Shihab-Eldin, an Emmy-nominated journalist of Palestinian descent. Many months later Mattar was blocked from an expected promotion by the “director who had decided not to run the 2017 interview from Jerusalem” who “had expressed concerns that I was biased and therefore should not be promoted, an opinion shared by some of the other committee members. And that was that.”

Anti-Plaestinian organizations are waging an aggressive campaign to have Facebook adopt the ‘stop criticizing Israel’ International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) definition of antisemitism. The explicit aim of those pushing the IHRA’s definition of antisemitism is to silence or marginalize those who criticize Palestinian dispossession and support the Palestinian civil society led Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement.

The Israel lobby cancel machine rolls along in spite of evermore overt Israeli racism, conquest and rights violations. Many of those targeted in the above-mentioned incidents have suffered emotionally and career wise yet the impacts on them are insignificant compared to the daily indignities Palestinian suffer. The Israeli state continues to steal Palestinian land in the West Bank, oversee a punishing blockade of Gaza and allow Toronto Jews to emigrate while Palestinians driven from their homes in 1948 can’t even visit, let alone emigrate.

The Israel lobby is a unique political force. Rooted in European colonialism and the US empire’s regional interests, it is backed by many zealous billionaires and a substantial portion of a generally influential ethnic/religious community. It also crassly exploits victimhood. As John Clark recently posted on Facebook, “Zionism is the only political ideology I know of that claims that disagreement with it is a hate crime.”

Fortunately, every cancel and smear campaign it wages alienates some new people and opens others’ eyes. Unfortunately, many more well-meaning individuals will suffer emotional and financial consequences before the Israel lobby cancel machine is stopped.

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Filed under Canada and Israel, Israel Lobby

Questioning Canada’s “One China” policy is not progressive

In a recent commentary Georgia Straight editor Charlie Smith suggested Green Party candidates’ path to victory was to question Canada’s “One China” policy. According to Smith, the candidates “missed an opportunity to win over the large number of Canadians who trace their roots back to Hong Kong and Taiwan and who are thoroughly disgusted with the behaviour of the Chinese government.”

Smith went on to say that if Green Party candidates’ had spoken out against the “Sinofascists in charge in China,” some of the large Hong Kong expat community in Canada “would have come out in force for any Green Party of Canada candidate who declared on their website that our country needs to respect the democratic desires of the former colony’s brave, democracy-loving residents.”

While Smith’s argument might persuade some caught up in the present wave of anti-China sentiment, the premise of his argument doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. Whatever one’s opinion of the Chinese government, it is not wise to interfere in the internal affairs of another country—especially one so big and powerful.

So why would an otherwise sensible individual write such nonsense about China? Because as beneficiaries of Anglo-American colonialism we can be blind to our arrogance. Because the US, Canada, Britain, Australia and New Zealand “Five Eyes” security agencies promote this type of thinking.

Let’s start with a little background:

Between 1841 and 1997 Hong Kong was a colony and dependent territory of the UK (with a Japanese interlude during World War II). Hong Kong was taken over at the end of the first British Opium War. That war weakened China’s central government and divided the country into foreign spheres of influence.

Taiwan’s relationship to mainland China is more complicated. Historically it was more independent from mainland China but the Kuomintang retreated there with some two million Chinese supporters in 1949 after they were defeated by Mao’s forces. For 21 years Ottawa recognized the government in Taiwan as the official representative of all China and until 12 years ago the governing party in Taiwan openly claimed it represented all of China.

From the Chinese perspective a One China policy reflects the end of the “century of humiliation” spurred by the Opium Wars. But, even after Mao’s victory largely consolidated the country and strengthened the central government, foreign powers sought to weaken China. In response to Mao’s victory, Canada sent 27,000 troops to Korea in the early 1950s where they fought Chinese troops. Canada refused to recognize the Chinese government until 1970.

More recently, Canada has pursued various measures to isolate and weaken China. Canada’s navy has run provocative patrols near its waters; Ottawa arrested one of its leading capitalists; the military has sought a small base in Singapore to keep an eye on China; Canada has troops in South Korea as part of a mission to contain China; Ottawa has sold nuclear material to India to counter China; Ottawa has failed to allow its firm to provide 5G networks, etc.

But, unlike similar destabilization/isolation campaigns against Venezuela, Iran, Haiti, etc., targeting China has limited negative impact on the target population because it is a very large country that has mostly broken from foreign domination. That doesn’t mean these efforts are benign however.

Conflict with China feeds the military/intelligence apparatus. It legitimates spending on new naval vessels and fighter jets as well as justifying the racist Five Eyes intelligence arrangement.

It has broader reverberations as well. China is so powerful that the Washington-led block’s efforts to target it undermines humanity’s efforts to mitigate the current pandemic, climate crisis and other pressing global matters.

The world doesn’t need a second Cold War. Calling for an end to Canada’s One China policy pushes us further down that path. So does calling for sanctions on China.

China is the most populous nation in the world. It’s only right that it would be among (or the) most powerful. We need to accept China’s rise and not expect a return to its previous weak and impoverished state. We also need to acknowledge its sensitivities because of the foreign interference the country had to overcome during its return to independence.

This isn’t an endorsement of the Chinese government’s policy in Hong Kong and Xinjiang or towards the “two Michaels” they’ve detained or “communist” billionaires. It’s simply the starting point for a serious, healthy, discussion of Canada-China relations.

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Filed under China, Green Party

Does Stephen Lewis want Palestine to disappear?

Brian Mulroney and Stephen Lewis

Stephen Lewis seems to want Palestine to disappear. The latest example in a long history of anti-Palestinian activism is his claim that Canada’s anti-Palestinian voting record at the UN didn’t contribute to its defeat for a seat on the Security Council.

Recently I was forwarded an email that activist Elizabeth Block shared to Independent Jewish Voices’ discussion list in which she challenged Lewis’ omission of Palestine during a recent CBC interview that dealt with Canada’s Security Council defeat. In it Brian Mulroney’s former ambassador to the UN responded, “Dear Elizabeth Block: I’m glad you wrote because it allows me to provide an answer. I didn’t include the Israel/Palestine issue because I genuinely believe that it had nothing to do with Canada’s loss of the Security Council seat. It’s as straightforward as that. There was nothing devious or manipulative in the omission. I just don’t think it applied. The items I listed had, I believe, the decisive influence in Canada’s loss.”

While Lewis denies that Canada’s extremist anti-Palestinian voting record at the UN had any impact on the vote, a slew of officials and commentators have highlighted the importance of the Palestinian question in Canada’s loss. After the vote Israel’s ambassador to the UN, Danny Danon, told the Jerusalem Post, “we are disappointed that Canada didn’t make it, both because we have close ties with the country and because of the campaign that the Palestinians ran against Canada.” In “UN snub the latest in Liberals’ rancid record” Toronto Star columnist Rick Salutin noted that Canada’s Security Council defeat was all about Canada’s anti-Palestinian record. He wrote, “there is one and only one reason, IMO [in my opinion], for the resounding defeat of Canada’s bid for a Security Council seat at the UN: Palestine.”

Canada’s voting record at the UN was at the heart of the grassroots No Canada on the UN Security Council campaign. An open letter launching the campaign from the Canadian Foreign Policy Institute noted, “since coming to power the Trudeau government has voted against more than fifty UN resolutions upholding Palestinian rights backed by the overwhelming majority of member states.” It added, “should it win a seat on the UNSC, Ottawa has stated that it will act as an “asset for Israel” on the Council.”

A subsequent open letter was signed by over 100 civil society groups and dozens of prominent individuals urging countries to vote against Canada’s bid for a Security Council seat due to its anti-Palestinian positions. The letter, organized by Just Peace Advocates, stated, “the Canadian government for at least a decade and a half has consistently isolated itself against world opinion on Palestinian rights at the UN. … Continuing this pattern, Canada ‘sided with Israel by voting No’ on most UN votes on the Question of Palestine in December. Three of these were Canada’s votes on Palestinian Refugees, on UNRWA and on illegal settlements, each distinguishing Canada as in direct opposition to the ‘Yes’ votes of Ireland and Norway.”

Just Peace Advocates organized 1,300 individuals to email all UN ambassadors asking them to vote for Ireland and Norway instead of Canada for the Security Council. In a sign of the campaign’s impact, Canada’s permanent representative to the UN, Marc André Blanchard, responded with a letter to all UN ambassadors defending Canada’s policy on Palestinian rights. When Blanchard’s letter was made public days before the vote the former vice-chair of a UN committee on the Question of Palestine and Vicar of Gaza, Robert Assaly, responded to the Canadian ambassador’s empty claims and took the opportunity to remind all the UN ambassadors about Canada’s anti-Palestinian record.

There’s no question that Canada’s anti-Palestinian voting record harmed its Security Council bid. The only serious question is how big of a role it played.

Omitting Palestine from the Security Council discussion is not motivated by a different interpretation of the facts but rather reflects the longstanding anti-Palestinian activism of Lewis and members of his family. Ontario NDP leader from 1970 to 1978, Lewis demanded the federal government cancel a major UN conference scheduled for Toronto in 1975 because the Palestine Liberation Organization was granted observer status at the UN the previous year and their representatives might attend (the conference had nothing to do with Palestine). In a 1977 speech to pro-Israel fundraiser United Jewish Appeal, which the Canadian Jewish News titled “Lewis praises [Conservative premier Bill] Davis for Stand on Israel”, Lewis denounced the UN’s “wantonly anti-social attitude to Israel” and told the pro-Israel audience that “the anti-Semitism that lurks underneath the surface is diabolical.”

At the NDP’s 2018 convention Lewis’ sister, Janet Solberg, was maybe the loudest anti-Palestinian voice. She led the charge against having the convention even discuss the “Palestine Resolution”. Former president of the Ontario NDP and federal council member, Solberg was a long time backroom organizer for her brother and works at the Stephen Lewis Foundation.

Lewis’ wife Michele Landsberg wrote anti-Palestinian diatribes. In one of her latter Toronto Star columns the prominent feminist wrote, “to keep their people primed for endless war, Palestinians have inculcated racist hatred of Jews and of Israel in school texts, official newspaper articles and leaders’ pronouncements, in language so hideous it would have made Goebbels grin.”

Stephen’s father, David Lewis, was also viciously anti-Palestinian. After Israel conquered East Jerusalem in 1967, the long-time influential figure in the NDP promoted a “united Jerusalem”. “The division of Jerusalem,” said David Lewis, “did not make economic or social sense. As a united city under Israel’s aegis, Jerusalem would be a much more progressive and fruitful capital of the various religions.”

Just after stepping down as federal leader of the NDP in 1975 David Lewis was the “speaker of the year” at a B’nai B’rith breakfast. In the hilariously titled “NDP’s David Lewis urges care for disadvantaged”, the Canadian Jewish News reported that Lewis “attacked the UN for having admitted the PLO” and said “a Middle East peace would require ‘some recognition of the Palestinians in some way.’ He remarked that the creation of a Palestinian state might be necessary but refused to pinpoint its location. The Israelis must make that decision, he said, without interference from Diaspora Jewry.”

I can’t find any evidence of Stephen Lewis distancing himself from his or his family’s anti-Palestinian activism. His bid to erase Canada’s anti-Palestinian record from the Security Council defeat suggests he is still plugging away on the issue.

Unfortunately, Lewis’ views on this subject matter. He has access to major platforms and no individual/family has had a greater impact on the NDP’s position towards Palestinians than the Lewis clan.

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Filed under Canada and Israel, Israel, NDP

Hidden history of Canada’s influence and interference in Guyana

Alcan bauxite mine near MacKenzie, British Guyana. (Henry Hamilton)

Reflecting an extreme imbalance in power, people in Guyana are well informed about Canadian activity in their country, but our media seldom mentions the Caribbean country of 800,000.

As such, it was good to see the CBC and Calgary Herald report on former Alberta Premier Alison Redford’s recent appointment to lead a review of the oil sector in the former British colony, which sits between Venezuela and Suriname on the northeastern tip of South America. The industry friendly Redford will head a team of Canadian consultants to review Exxon Mobil’s massive planned project that has been criticized for low royalty rates. In February Global Witness published “Signed Away: How Exxon’s exploitative deal deprived Guyana of up to US$55 billion.”

Redford’s appointment as “Canadian Queen’s Counsel” is controversial in Guyana. One reason is that it’s unclear, reported Stabroek News, “whether this had been as a result of Ottawa’s funding of the process.”

Ottawa intervened aggressively in a controversial recent election that paralyzed the country politically for months. Canadian officials released multiple statements critical of the previous government and the vote counting.

There was also a Canadian angle to the previous government’s fall. An MP from the governing coalition with Canadian citizenship voted in favor of a no-confidence motion tabled by the opposition. The next day he fled to Toronto, claiming to have received death threats.

Canadian influence is long-standing. In the early 1900s Ottawa tried to annex British Guyana. Despite failing to take over the country, Canada has had significant influence there. The Royal Bank and Bank of Montréal both began operating in the country more than a century ago. In the early 1900s a syndicate led by Canadian railway tycoon William Van Horne built Georgetown’s electric lighting and trolley system with $600,000 from the Bank of Montréal. For its part, the Royal Bank helped US-based Alcoa develop its Guyanese bauxite operations in 1909.

Beyond the economic sphere Canada has long trained Guyana’s military. From 1942 to 1945, Canada garrisoned a company of soldiers and a naval ship in the country. Pressure from Montréal-based Alcan, which inherited Alcoa’s operations, played a central part in Ottawa’s decision to send troops to Guyana even though the official request came from London. In January 1942 Alcan’s Fraser Bruce wrote to External Affairs that “responsible company officials at McKenzie will not feel satisfied with respect to the guarding of the works until imperial or Canadian troops are stationed there.” In a follow-up letter he bluntly referred to “our recent request for white soldiers.” The official request from London made clear the racial nature of Canada’s mission. “Local coloured guards are already provided on the ships, but United Kingdom authorities recognize that there would be an advantage if these guards could be strengthened by a small number of whites and NCOs [non-commissioned officers].”

Alcan was closely enmeshed with colonial policy until Britain lost control over Guyana in 1966. The company, notes The Caribbean Basin: An International History, “thought that because of its contribution to the colonial economy, one of its officials ought to have a seat on the legislative council.” In the early 1950s “Alcan repeatedly informed Governor [Sir Alfred] Savage of its disappointment that he was not appointing any of its people, and Alcan officers thought that governor Savage himself was far too leftist, far too sympathetic to unions and socialists, to be kept in his job by a [British] Conservative government.”

On occasion Alcan personnel directly enabled Britain’s occupation. When anti-colonial upheaval swept the country in 1953 (Guyana was a pseudo colony at the time) the British governor made prominent foreigners special constables, including Charles K. Ward, then public relations officer for Alcan’s Guyanese subsidiary and a former Royal Canadian Navy officer. As one of the few naval officers in the colony, Ward was summoned to serve as liaison with the Royal Navy. “Other Alcan personnel” notes Global Mission: The Story of Alcan “were required to patrol the dark city streets by night to guard against troubles.”

As Guyana’s leading trade partner for many years Canada benefited from the unequal international division of labour created by colonialism. Guyana’s bauxite industry provides a stark example of this inequity. In 1970 the price per ton of bauxite ore was G$18, G$160 for alumina and G$1000 for aluminum ingot. According to M. Shahabuddeen in The Nationalisation of Guyana’s Bauxite: the Case of Alcan, “the smelting and semi-fabrication stages being in Canada the result was that Guyana would obtain royalties and taxes on G$72, being the value of four tons of bauxite, while Canada would derive benefit from G$1000, being the value of the equivalent of one ton of aluminum ingot.”

While Guyana lost the value-added components of the aluminum process to Canada its workforce fell victim to the worst aspects of aluminum production. The home of Alcan’s mine, McKenzie, was the worst sort of company town. Well into the 1960s “the workers live[d] in a depressed slum area to the north called, ‘the village.’ Staff members live[d] in the plush area of Waatooka, with exclusive clubs and social amenities such as a golf club.” Those not living in the town needed to present passes to enter Mackenzie.

Alcan’s operations didn’t escape the notice of social justice activists. The Student Society of the University of Guyana organized a May 1966 demonstration in front of Alcan’s office and the Canadian High Commission (as well as a Royal Bank office). ASCRIA, the country’s foremost black nationalist movement, explained: “They [the workers] have, until recently, been bound to live in the most stratified community in Guyana, with its South African and USA idea of neighbourhood living and of white supremacy. The physical arrangements were such also that the whole imperialist machinery could be clearly seen: the extraction of the ore, the processing and added value, the shipping away of wealth, the importation of raw chemicals, the small group of expatriate decision-makers, the tokenism, the social gaps, the misery of the poorer districts, the hilltop luxury of the white population, the buying out of leaders, the divide and rule tactics, the process of exploitation which they could feel in their skin.”

From the early 1980s Canada pushed neoliberal economics in Guyana. The Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) was involved in Guyana’s first structural adjustment loan from the World Bank designed “to turn over significant sectors of the economy to the private sector, both local and foreign.” The 1982 Globe and Mail article continued, “the government denies that the program exists but copies of the agreement are widely circulated in Georgetown. … They [Canadian officials] are reluctant to discuss the effort to impose conditions, however, since it is apparently CIDA’s first foray into this sensitive area of internal economics.”

After refusing to expand this initial structural adjustment program, Guyana was blacklisted by the international financial institutions in the mid-1980s. At the same time Canadian bilateral assistance declined from $3.15 million in 1983-84 to $700,000 in 1985-86. By the late 1980s pressure from Ottawa and the international financial institutions was growing on Guyana to adopt a series of more drastic economic reforms. Ottawa chaired the Guyana Support Group and gave $60 million to a highly controversial IMF structural adjustment program.

The Canadian money was tied to Guyana’s adherence to IMF macroeconomic prescriptions. Frank Jackman, the Canadian high commissioner to Guyana, said “there is great admiration within the government of Canada for the steps that are being taken here, and for the budgetary moves, albeit unpopular, that have been introduced.” Jackman claimed Guyana was setting a “precedent” for other indebted Third World countries and told the Guyanese to “take heart” since the austerity package would encourage Canadian investments. The people failed to “take heart” and instead demonstrators threw stones at the Canadian high commission office.

After the structural adjustment programs in the 1980s some Canadian investment did flow into Guyana. Part of this foreign investment led to a terrible tragedy. In August 1995 the tailings dam at Québec-based Cambior’s Omai mine in Guyana failed. More than 1.2 billion litres of cyanide-laced sludge spilled into the Essequibo River, the country’s main waterway. Huge numbers of fish were killed and thousands of riverbank inhabitants temporarily lost their livelihood. The area was declared a disaster zone. To sidestep possible legal claims stemming from the spill the company paid off local fisherman. In November 1998 This Magazine reported: “The fishermen, who were mostly illiterate, were required to sign forms absolving Omai of any future claims in exchange for $1.50 each. About two weeks later, it was reported that [Canadian High Commissioner] Louis Gignac had pressured Guyanese Prime Minister Samuel Hinds to reduce the scope and duration of the government-sponsored commission of inquiry investigating the spill. In a closed-door meeting on September 8 in Georgetown, and later in a follow up letter leaked to the [Montréal] Gazette, he urged the Prime Minister to limit expert testimony and wrap up the inquiry in thirty days.”

Canadians who want this country to be a force for good in the world need to pay more attention to Ottawa’s influence in this small South American country. We must hold our corporations, politicians and diplomats accountable to at least the standards we demand inside Canada.

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Canadian troops in Saudi Arabia a legacy of support for Iraq war

Prince Sultan Air base Riyadh

The revelation that Canadian soldiers have been in Saudi Arabia for 17 years highlights Canada’s ties to the repressive monarchy, contribution to the Iraq war and hollowness of Canadian foreign policy mythology.

Recently researcher Anthony Fenton tweeted, “raise your hand if you knew that there was a ‘Detachment’ of Canadian soldiers serving under US auspices operating AWACS spy planes out of a Saudi Arabian air base since the war on Iraq began in 2003 to THE PRESENT DAY.”

The Canadian soldiers stationed at Prince Sultan Air base near Riyadh represent another example of Canada’s military ties to the authoritarian, belligerent monarchy. Canadian naval vessels are engaged in multinational patrols with their Saudi counterparts in the region; Saudi Air Force pilots have trained in Alberta and Saskatchewan; Montreal-based flight simulator company CAE has trained Saudi pilots in numerous locales; Canadian-made rifles and armoured vehicles have been shipped to the monarchy, etc.

According to DND, Canada’s deployment to Saudi Arabia began on February 27, 2003. That’s four weeks before the massive US-led invasion of Iraq. The Canadians stationed in Riyadh were almost certainly dispatched to support the US invasion and occupation.

In another example of Canadian complicity in a war Ottawa ostensibly opposed, it was recently reported that Canadian intelligence agencies hid their disagreement with politicized US intelligence reports on Iraq. According to “Getting it Right: Canadian Intelligence Assessments on Iraq, 2002-2003”, Canada’s intelligence agencies mostly concluded that Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction, which was the justification Washington gave for invading Iraq. While CSIS delivered a report to their US counterparts claiming Iraq was seeking nuclear weapons capabilities, more serious analyses, reported the Canadian Press, were “classified ‘Canadian Eyes Only’ in order to avoid uncomfortable disagreements with the U.S. intelligence community which would exacerbate the sensitivities affecting relations at the political level.”

As Richard Sanders has detailed, Canada supported the US-led invasion of Iraq in many ways: Dozens of Canadian troops were integrated in US units fighting in Iraq; US warplanes enroute to that country refueled in Newfoundland; Canadian fighter pilots participated in “training” missions in Iraq; Three different Canadian generals oversaw tens of thousands of international troops there; Canadian aid flowed to the country in support of US policy; With Canadian naval vessels leading maritime interdiction efforts off the coast of Iraq, Ottawa had legal opinion suggesting it was technically at war with that country.

As such, some have concluded Canada was the fifth or sixth biggest contributor to the US-led war. But the Jean Chrétien government didn’t do what the Bush administration wanted above all else, which was to publicly endorse the invasion by joining the “coalition of the willing”. This wasn’t because he distrusted pre-war US intelligence or because of any moral principle. Rather, the Liberal government refused to join the “coalition of the willing” because hundreds of thousands of Canadians took to the streets against the war, particularly in Quebec. With the biggest demonstrations taking place in Montréal and Quebecers strongly opposed to the war, the federal government feared that openly endorsing the invasion would boost the sovereignist Parti Québecois vote in the next provincial election.

Over the past 17 years this important, if partial, victory won by antiwar activists has been widely distorted and mythologized. The recent National Film Board documentary High Wire continues the pattern. It purportedly “examines the reasons that Canada declined to take part in the 2003 US-led military mission in Iraq.” But, High Wire all but ignores Canada’s military contribution to the war and the central role popular protest played in the “coalition of the willing” decision, focusing instead on an enlightened leader who simply chose to do the right thing.

The revelation that Canadian troops have been stationed in Saudi Arabia for 17 years highlights our military ties to the Saudi monarchy and warfare in the Middle East. It also contradicts benevolent Canada foreign policy mythology.

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Filed under Middle East