Greens face vote on tax subsidy to Jewish National Fund

Despite a backlash evocative of those who defended the Jim Crow U.S. South, Green Party members recently voted in favour of a resolution calling on Ottawa to stop subsidizing racist land covenants. The Greens will make a final decision on whether they support the principles underlying a half-century old Supreme Court of Canada decision outlawing discriminatory land-use policies.

Two months ago Green Party member Corey Levine put forward a resolution calling on the party to pressure the Canada Revenue Agency to revoke the Jewish National Fund’s charitable status. The Independent Jewish Voices activist crafted a motion criticizing the JNF’s “discrimination against non-Jews in Israel through its bylaws which prohibit the lease or sale of its lands to non-Jews.”

In response to this exercise in party democracy, B’nai B’rith and the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs asked their supporters to email Party leader Elizabeth May to condemn “anti-Semitism.” After thousands denounced the Green Party, the Jewish Defence League, a far-right group banned in the U.S. and Israel for a series of killings, said it would protest at the party’s August convention in Ottawa.

Backlash aside, the Green’s JNF resolution affirms a principle enunciated by the Supreme Court 60 years ago. Into the 1950s, restrictive land covenants in many exclusive neighbourhoods and communities across Canada made it impossible for Jews, Blacks, Chinese, Aboriginals and other “non-whites to buy property.

In 1948 Annie Noble decided to sell a cottage in the exclusive Beach O’ Pines subdivision on Lake Huron to Bernie Wolf, who was Jewish. During the sale Wolf’s lawyer realized that the original deed for the property contained the following clause: “The lands and premises herein described shall never be sold, assigned, transferred, leased, rented or in any manner whatsoever alienated to, and shall never be occupied or used in any manner whatsoever by any person of the Jewish, Negro or coloured race or blood, it being the intention and purpose of the Grantor, to restrict the ownership, use, occupation and enjoyment of the said recreational development, including the lands and premises herein described, to persons of the white or Caucasian race.”

Noble and Wolf tried to get the court to declare the restriction invalid but they were opposed by the Beach O’ Pines Protective Association and both a Toronto court and the Ontario Court of Appeal refused to invalidate the racist covenant. But Noble pursued the case — with assistance from the Canadian Jewish Congress — to the Supreme Court of Canada. In a six-to-one decision, the highest court reversed the lower courts’ ruling and allowed Noble to purchase the property.

The publicity surrounding the case prompted Ontario to pass a law voiding racist land covenants, and in 2009 the federal government defined the Noble and Wolf v. Alley Supreme Court case “an event of national historic significance” in the battle “for human rights and against discrimination on racial and religious grounds in Canada.”

Six decades after the Supreme Court delivered a blow to racist property covenants, 62 per cent of Green members have voted for a resolution calling on Ottawa to end its support for a charity that discriminates in land use abroad.

An owner of 13 per cent of Israel’s land, JNF bylaws and lease documents contain a restrictive covenant stating its property will not be leased to non-Jews. A 1998 United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights found it systematically discriminated against Palestinian citizens of Israel (Arab Israelis) who make up a fifth of the population.

According to the UN report, JNF lands are “chartered to benefit Jews exclusively,” which has led to an “institutionalized form of discrimination.” Echoing the UN, a 2012 US State Department report detailing “institutional and societal discrimination” in Israel says JNF “statutes prohibit sale or lease of land to non-Jews.”

Yet JNF Canada, which raised $29 million in 2014, is a registered charity. As such, it can provide tax credits for donations, meaning that up to 25 per cent of their budget effectively comes from public coffers.

The Green Party should ignore the right-wing backlash and uphold the principle that discriminatory land-use policies are wrong.

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Filed under Canada and Israel, Black Book of Canadian Foreign Policy

Canada’s ‘peacekeeping’ mission killed an African independence hero

Fifty-six years ago this month the United Nations launched a peacekeeping force that contributed to one of the worst post-independence imperial crimes in Africa. The Organisation des Nations Unies au Congo (ONUC) delivered a major blow to Congolese aspirations by undermining elected Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba. Canada played a significant role in ONUC and Lumumba’s assassination, which should be studied by progressives demanding Ottawa increase its participation in UN “peacekeeping”.

After seven decades of brutal rule, Belgium organized a hasty independence in the hopes of maintaining control over the Congo’s vast natural resources. When Lumumba was elected to pursue a genuine de-colonization, Brussels instigated a secessionist movement in the eastern part of country. In response, the Congolese Prime Minister asked the UN for a peacekeeping force to protect the territorial integrity of the newly independent country. Washington, however, saw the UN mission as a way to undermine Lumumba.

Siding with Washington, Ottawa promoted ONUC and UN Secretary General Dag Hammarskjold’s controversial anti-Lumumba position. 1,900 Canadian troops participated in the UN mission between 1960 and 1964, making this country’s military one of its more active members. There were almost always more Canadian officers at ONUC headquarters then those of any other nationality and the Canadians were concentrated in militarily important logistical positions including chief operations officer and chief signals officer.

Canada’s strategic role wasn’t simply by chance. Ottawa pushed to have Canada’s intelligence gathering signals detachments oversee UN intelligence and for Quebec Colonel Jean Berthiaume to remain at UN headquarters to “maintain both Canadian and Western influence.” (A report from the Canadian Directorate of Military Intelligence noted, “Lumumba’s immediate advisers…have referred to Lt. Col. Berthiaume as an ‘imperialist tool.'”)

To bolster the power of ONUC, Ottawa joined Washington in channelling its development assistance to the Congo through the UN. Ghanaian president Kwame Nkrumah complained that this was “applying a restriction to Congo which does not apply to any other African state.” Ottawa rejected Nkrumah’s request to channel Congolese aid through independent African countries.

Unlike many ONUC participants, Canada aggressively backed Hammarskjold’s controversial anti-Lumumba position. External Affairs Minister Howard Green told the House of Commons: “The Canadian government will continue its firm support for the United Nations effort in the Congo and for Mr. Hammarskjold, who in the face of the greatest difficulty has served the high principles and purposes of the charter with courage, determination and endless patience.”

Ottawa supported Hammarskjold even as he sided with the Belgian-backed secessionists against the central government. On August 12 1960 the UN Secretary General traveled to Katanga and telegraphed secessionist leader Moise Tchombe to discuss “deploying United Nations troops to Katanga.” Not even Belgium officially recognized Katanga’s independence, provoking Issaka Soure to note that, “[Hammarskjold’s visit] sent a very bad signal by implicitly implying that the rebellious province could somehow be regarded as sovereign to the point that the UN chief administrator could deal with it directly.”

The UN head also worked to undermine Lumumba within the central government. When President Joseph Kasavubu dismissed Lumumba as prime minister — a move of debatable legality and opposed by the vast majority of the country’s parliament — Hammarskjold publicly endorsed the dismissal of a politician who a short time earlier had received the most votes in the country’s election.

Lumumba attempted to respond to his dismissal with a nationwide broadcast, but UN forces blocked him from accessing the main radio station. ONUC also undermined Lumumba in other ways. Through their control of the airport ONUC prevented his forces from flying into the capital from other parts of the country and closed the airport to Soviet weapons and transportation equipment when Lumumba turned to Russia for assistance.

In addition, according to The Cold War “[the Secretary General’s special representative Andrew] Cordier provided $1 million — money supplied to the United Nations by the U.S. government — to [military commander Joseph] Mobutu in early September to pay off restive and hungry Congolese soldiers and keep them loyal to Kasavubu during his attempt to oust Lumumba as prime minister.”

To get a sense of Hammarskjold’s antipathy towards the Congolese leader, he privately told officials in Washington that Lumumba must be “broken” and only then would the Katanga problem “solve itself.” For his part, Cordier asserted “[Ghanaian president Kwame] Nkrumah is the Mussolini of Africa while Lumumba is its little Hitler.”

(Echoing this thinking, in a conversation with External Affairs Minister Howard Green, Prime Minister John Diefenbaker called Lumumba a “major threat to Western interests” and said he was “coming around to the conclusion” that an independent Western oriented Katanga offered “the best solution to the current crisis.”)

In response to Hammarskjold’s efforts to undermine his leadership, Lumumba broke off relations with the UN Secretary General. He also called for the withdrawal of all white peacekeepers, which Hammarskjold rejected as a threat to UN authority.

A number of ONUC nations ultimately took up Lumumba’s protests. When the Congolese prime minister was overthrown and ONUC helped consolidate the coup, the United Arab Republic (Egypt), Guinea, Morocco and Indonesia formally asked Hammarskjold to withdraw all of their troops.

Canadian officials took a different position. They celebrated ONUC’s role in Lumumba’s overthrow. A week after Lumumba was pushed out prominent Canadian diplomat Escott Reid, then ambassador to Germany, noted in an internal letter, “already the United Nations has demonstrated in the Congo that it can in Africa act as the executive agent of the free world.” The “free world” was complicit in the murder of one of Africa’s most important independence leaders. In fact, the top Canadian in ONUC directly enabled his killing.

After Lumumba escaped house arrest and fled Leopoldville for his power base in the Eastern Orientale province, Colonel Jean Berthiaume assisted Lumumba’s political enemies by helping recapture him. The UN chief of staff, who was kept in place by Ottawa, tracked the deposed prime minister and informed Joseph Mobutu of Lumumba’s whereabouts. Three decades later Berthiaume, who was born in Saint-Hyacinthe, Québec, told an interviewer:

“I called Mobutu. I said, ‘Colonel, you have a problem, you were trying to retrieve your prisoner, Mr. Lumumba. I know where he is, and I know where he will be tomorrow. He said, what do I do? It’s simple, Colonel, with the help of the UN you have just created the core of your para commandos — we have just trained 30 of these guys — highly selected Moroccans trained as paratroopers. They all jumped — no one refused. To be on the safe side, I put our [Canadian] captain, Mario Coté, in the plane, to make sure there was no underhandedness. In any case, it’s simple, you take a Dakota [plane], send your paratroopers and arrest Lumumba in that small village — there is a runway and all that is needed. That’s all you’ll need to do, Colonel. He arrested him, like that, and I never regretted it.”

Ghanaian peacekeepers near where Lumumba was captured took quite a different attitude towards the elected prime minister’s safety. After Mobutu’s forces captured Lumumba they requested permission to intervene and place Lumumba under UN protection. Unfortunately, the Secretary-General denied their request. Not long thereafter Lumumba was executed by firing squad and his body was dissolved in acid.

In 1999 Belgium launched a parliamentary inquiry into its role in Lumumba’s assassination. Following Belgium’s lead, the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs should investigate Canada’s role in the Congolese independence leader’s demise and any lessons ONUC might hold regarding this country’s participation in future UN missions.

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Filed under Black Book of Canadian Foreign Policy, Canada in Africa, The Truth May Hurt

Toronto mining firm gives Canada a bad name

The ‘Ugly Canadian’ strikes again.

Toronto-based Kinross Gold recently suspended work at its Tasiast mine to protest an order from Mauritania’s government that unpermitted ‘expatriates’ stop working on the massive project.

The lead foreign firm in the sparsely populated West African nation has been embroiled in a series of power struggles with its Mauritanian workforce. During a strike last month union officials complained about the gap in pay between locals and foreigners. “There are 2,600 Mauritanian workers employed by the firm of whom 1,041 are permanent, costing the company $36 million, while there are 130 expatriate employees who cost $43 million,” workers’ spokesperson Bounenna Ould Sidi told AFP. Further irritating its Mauritanian staff, Kinross mostly houses ‘expatriate’ managers outside the country, in the Canary Islands.

On three occasions over the past five years the mineworkers have withdrawn their labour in a bid to force the world’s fifth biggest gold mining company to respect previous commitments to improve their pay and conditions. In 2011 the local workforce was angered by the company’s refusal to transfer seriously ill employees to the capital Nouakchott. When Kinross laid off 300 workers at the end of 2013 the union claimed it was done in violation of the country’s labour law and that one of those dismissed was still receiving medical treatment for a workplace injury. Demanding government action, the laid-off workers protested outside the presidential palace in Nouakchott 300 km away. After a multi-day sit-in the police raided their makeshift camp, arresting a dozen and injuring a similar number.

In 2010 two Tasiast employees were arrested after dumping toxic waste in an inhabited area near the mine. There was no independent environmental assessment of the multibillion-dollar mine and the Toronto-based company failed to certify Tasiast under the International Cyanide Management Code, a voluntary agreement that allows companies to demonstrate their commitment to properly manage the poisonous substance.

As with many other Canadian mining companies in Africa, Kinross has paid the country little and was accused of corruption. Last fall the US Department of Justice (Kinross is listed on both the New York and Toronto stock exchanges) launched an investigation into “improper payments made to government officials” at Kinross’ operations in Mauritania and Ghana. MiningWatch Canada and French anti-corruption association Sherpa submitted a long report detailing allegations of bribery and corruption to the RCMP and called for the police force to investigate Kinross’ apparent breaches of Canadian anti-corruption laws at its Mauritanian and Ghanian mines. Adding to the Mining Watch/Sherpa report, France’s Le Monde quoted a former member of the company’s African legal department saying, “the level of corruption was becoming grotesque.”

In March the Globe and Mail revealed that Kinross gave a US $50 million contract to a French/Mauritanian partnership even though their bid wasn’t the lowest. The Mauritanian company was owned by a former top government official and an internal Kinross document noted the company “took into consideration the stated preference of officials of the Government of Mauritania that the logistics contract be awarded to” the French/Mauritanian consortium.

Allegations of bribery have been swirling around Kinross’ Mauritania operations for years. When President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz criticized the company’s meagre payments to the treasury in 2013, Kinross reportedly hired a couple of his cousins to important positions. A 2013 Africa Mining Intelligence article detailed the close familial and political ties between Kinross and Aziz, who came to power by overthrowing the country’s first elected president in 2008. (The brigadier general won an election the next year that most political parties boycotted.)

How does the federal government react to such behavior by a Canadian company? With praise. In a webpage titled CSR [corporate social responsibility] ABROAD – Anti-Corruption and Bribery Global Affairs Canada describes how “Kinross’ commitment to human rights is implemented” through its adherence to the UN Global Compact, Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the company’s code of conduct.

As a result, in many parts of the world, the face of Canada has become the ruthless multinational that bullies workers, ignores environmental standards and ‘buys’ politicians. The Ugly Canadian.

 

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Filed under Black Book of Canadian Foreign Policy, Canada in Africa, The Ugly Canadian

Real ‘aid’ means ending exploitation of Africa

What is wrong here? While Canadian companies exploit African resources for their own benefit this country’s charities call on us to join Africa “hope” walks.

Last week Toronto-based Lundin Mining hired the Bank of Montreal to help it decide what to do with its stake in the massive Tenke Fungurume copper-cobalt mine in Eastern Congo (Kinshasa). Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for Toronto firms to make economic decisions that affect hundreds of thousands of Africans and for Canadian companies to exchange African mineral assets among themselves.

A number of companies based and traded here have even taken African names. African Queen Mines, Tanzanian Royalty Exploration, Lake Victoria Mining Company, African Aura Resources, Katanga Mining, Société d’Exploitation Minière d’Afrique de l’Ouest (SEMAFO), Uganda Gold Mining, East Africa Metals, Timbuktu Gold, Sahelian Goldfields, African Gold Group and International African Mining Gold (IAMGOLD) are all Canadian. With a mere 0.5 percent of the world’s population, Canada is home to half of all internationally listed mining companies operating in Africa.

Active in 43 different African countries, Canadian mining firms have been responsible for dispossessing farmers, displacing communities, employing forced labour, devastating ecosystems and spurring human rights violations. And, as I detail in Canada in Africa300 Years of Aid and Exploitation, numerous Canadian mining companies have been accused of bribing officials and evading taxes. Last year TSX-listed MagIndustries was accused of paying$100,000 to tax officials in a bid to avoid paying taxes on its $1.5-billion potash mine and processing facility in Congo (Brazzaville). In April a Tanzanian tribunal ruled that Barrick Gold organized a “sophisticated schemeof tax evasion” in the East African country. As its Tanzanian operations delivered over US$400-million profit to shareholders between 2010 and 2013, the Toronto company failed to pay any corporate taxes, bilking the country out of $41.25 million.

While Canadian companies loot (legally and illegally) African resources, government-funded “charities” (aka NGOs) and the dominant media call on Canadians to walk for “hope” in Africa. Last weekend the Aga Khan Foundation Canada organized the World Partnership Walk in 10 cities across the country. In an article titled “How the World Partnership Walk” lets Canadians bring hope to African communities the organization’s International Development Champion, Attiya Hirj, writes about visiting Aga Khan Foundation and Global Affairs Canada sponsored projects in Tanzania and Mozambique. Hirj says her “trip really opened my eyes to what rural communities truly need, which is a sense of hope.” She suggests the situation can be remedied if enough Canadians come “together to fundraise and generate awareness through activities such as the World Partnership Walk.” There is no mention of the need for African resources to be controlled by and for Africans.

Hirj’s article reflects an extreme example of Canadian paternalism towards Africans. But it’s deeply rooted in our political culture.  Gripped by a desire to rid “darkest Africa” of “nakedness” and “heathenism”, Canadian missionaries helped the European colonial powers penetrate African society. In 1893 a couple of Torontonians founded what later became the largest interdenominational Protestant mission on the continent and by the end of the colonial period as many as 2,500 Canadians were proselytizing across Africa.

Today, all the media-anointed Africa “experts” promote a similarly paternalistic version of ‘aid’ and largely ignore Canadian companies’ role in pillaging the continent’s wealth. But, Canadians concerned about African impoverishment should point their fingers at the Canadian firms controlling the continent’s resources and offer solidarity to those sisters and brothers fighting for African resources to be controlled by and for Africans.

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Filed under Canada in Africa

What we’re told to remember and why

How can you tell when “remembering” horrible events is being twisted to defend the status quo and support the powerful against the weak? When a sports network airs a Nazi Holocaust themed show.

Last week TSN ran a six-minute video feature about Hank Rosenbaum, a Polish Jew whose life was turned upside down when German troops invaded 77 years ago. The sports angle for TSN’s “Yom HaShoah, the international day of remembrance for the more than 6 million Jews who died in the Holocaust during WW II” commemoration, was that Rosenbaum became a hockey fan when he arrived in Toronto six decades ago. The sports network showed him watching his 10-year-old grandson’s house league game.

While the Rosenbaum story was horrifying and more socially meaningful than TSN’s typical fare, does it really represent a concern for human rights by the broadcaster?

TSN is not seeking out a hockey loving Kikuyu who hid in forests around Nairobi when British forces rounded up most of Kenya’s largest ethnic group in the mid-1950s (with a Canadian in charge of the police force). Nor will they interview a Herero descendent of the German concentration camps in Namibia or an East Timorese whose family was wiped out by Indonesian forces. While also crimes against humanity and analogous to Rosenbaum’s experience, these stories would shine a light on little-known imperial history and challenge authority, which is the anti-thesis of the “Holocaust Industry”.

In The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering, Norman Finkelstein argues that the American Jewish establishment has exploited the memory of the Nazi Holocaust for economic and political gain and to further the interests of Israel. Finkelstein shows how discussion of the Nazi Holocaust grew exponentially after the June 1967 Six Day war. Prior to that war, which provided a decisive service to US geopolitical aims in the Middle East, the genocide of European Jewry was a topic largely relegated to private forums and among left wing intellectuals.

Paralleling the US, the Nazi Holocaust was not widely discussed in Canada in the two decades after World War II. One study concluded that between 1945 and 1960 Canadian Jewry exhibited “collective amnesia” regarding the six million Jews killed by the Nazis. “B’nai B’rith Canada and the Canadian Jewish Congress displayed little interest [in discussing Nazi crimes] immediately after the war”, wrote Professor Henry Srebrnik in the Jewish Tribune. When a National Jewish Black Book Committee (with Albert Einstein as honourary chair) published The Black Book: The Nazi Crime Against the Jewish People in 1946, “the book went almost unnoticed in Canada. Valia Hirsch, the executive secretary of the [National Jewish Black Book] committee, voiced her concerns that no meetings had been held in the Jewish communities of Montreal,Toronto, Ottawa, or Hamilton, to bring it to the attention of the Jewish community. The Canadian Jewish Congress had ordered 100 copies of the book in the summer of 1946, but had never bothered, according to Hirsch, to obtain them from Canada Customs. The CJC indicated a year later that they were no longer interested and ‘cannot use them.’”

Numerous commentators trace the establishment Jewish community’s interest in Nazi crimes to the Six Day War. “The 1967 war,” explained Professor Cyril Leavitt, “alarmed Canadian Jews. Increasingly, the Holocaust was invoked as a reminder of the need to support the Jewish state.” President of the Vancouver Jewish Community Center, Sam Rothstein concurred. “The 1967 war … was the one development that led to a commitment by community organizations to become more involved in Holocaust commemoration. … Stephen Cummings, the founder of the Montreal Holocaust Memorial Center, said that ‘consciousness [of the Holocaust] has changed. Jews are much more proud, and that’s a post-1967 [phenomenon]. It was the event that gave Jews around the world confidence.’”

Holocaust memorials proliferated after Israel smashed Egyptian-led pan-Arabism in six days of fighting, providing a decisive service to US geopolitical aims. Nearly three decades after World War II, in 1972, the Canadian Jewish Congress and its local federations began to establish standing committees on the Nazi Holocaust. The first Canadian Holocaust memorial was established in Montreal in 1977.

Today’s Yom HaShoah ceremonies are often explicitly aligned with Israel advocacy. Standing in front of Israeli flags, at last week’s Montréal commemoration Mayor Denis Coderre criticized the “new anti-Semitism”, which he described as “singling outone state among the family of nations for discriminatory treatment.” Similarly, in a Yom HaShoah statement Conservative party leader Rona Ambrose said, we havealways been proud to support Holocaust remembrance and education both in Canada and around the world. As a Government, we took a leading role in the fight against the scourge of anti-Semitism, including against efforts to delegitimize the State of Israel.”

Beyond Israeli apologetics, the Nazi Holocaust/anti-Semitism are increasingly invoked to attack Leftist political movements. Zionist groups, media commentators and Blairites in the British Labour Party recently whipped up an “anti-Semitism” crisis to undermine Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. As part of the witch-hunt, Black-Jewish activist Jackie Walker was suspended from the Party for writing on her Facebook that her ancestors both benefited from and were victims of the transatlantic slave trade, which she described as an “African Holocaust”.

A Canadian Jewish News editorial and front page cover about the NDP supporting the Leap Manifesto suggests the Jewish community’s leading organ would pursue similar tactics if the NDP elected a left-wing leader. Already, established Canadian Jewish organizations have cried “anti-Semitism”/Holocaust desecration to attack non-Palestine focused progressive movements. During the 2012 Québec student strike some protesters responded to police repression by comparing the Service de Police de la Ville de Montréal (SPVM) to the Nazi SS secret police. Many chanted “S-S PVM, police politique!” while others mocked the police by marching in formation and extending their arm as if saluting Hitler. On what he said would have been Nazi victim and child author Anne Frank’s 83rd birthday, B’nai B’rith CEO Frank Dimant issued a statement attacking a social movement much reviled by the establishment. “We condemn, in the strongest of terms, this inexcusable display of hate by Quebec student protesters”, which Dimant said “defile[s] the memory of the Holocaust.” Similarly, Jewish representatives and Canadian officials repeatedly accused Hugo Chavez’ government of anti-Semitism. In 2009 former Liberal Minister Irwin Cotler said the Venezuelan government, which was focused on redressing inequality and lessening US dominance, was responsible for a “delegitimization from the president on down of the Jewish people and Israel.”

In their story TSN failed to mention that Rosenbaum is co-president of Canadian Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Descendants. Affiliated with the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, the survivors’ organization was established 54 years after World War II ended. For his part, Rosenbaum says he only began to talk about his experiences in Poland after watching the 1993 movie Schindler’s List.

If Rosenbaum, TSN and others publicly commemorating the Nazi Holocaust are truly motivated by a desire to prevent crimes against humanity and not simply by Israeli nationalism, I expect to see them support reparations to the victims of slavery and colonialism as well as indigenous (including Palestinian) rights.

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Filed under Canada and Israel

Exploitation of Africa often comes with a ‘humanitarian’ smile

What do you call people who try to make people believe what they say but ignore the results of what they do? How about spin-sploiters?

After a few years of research I have come to realize that there is a long and ignoble history of Westerners exploiting Africans while touting humanitarian objectives. Unfortunately, this practice is not confined to the distant past.

A leading Canadian NGO official, who then founded Québec’s largest mining company, provides a recent example.

In a 2012 Gold Report interview titled “First, Do Good When Mining for Gold: Benoit La Salle” the President of the Société d’Exploitation Minière d’Afrique de l’Ouest (SEMAFO) boasted about the company’s social responsibility. La Salle said: “SEMAFO is not a company that mines gold, ships it out and, once that is done, breaks down camp and leaves. People see SEMAFO as being a very good corporate citizen. Today, many people believe that the CSR report is more important than our annual report.”  This is a startling claim for an individual obligated to maximize investors’ returns but a cursory look at the company’s record suggests it has little basis in reality.

Those living near SEMAFO’s Kiniero mine, reported Guinée News in 2014, felt “the Canadian company brought more misfortune than benefits.” In 2008 the military killed three in a bid to drive away small-scale miners from its mine in southeast Guinea. BBC Monitoring Africa reported “the soldiers shot a woman at close range, burned a baby and in the panic another woman and her baby fell into a gold mining pit and a man fell fatally from his motor while running away from the rangers.”  Blaming the Montréal-based company for the killings, locals damaged its equipment.”

In September 2011 protests flared again over the company’s failure to hire local young people and the dissolution of a committee that spent community development monies. Demonstrators attacked SEMAFO’s facilities, causing hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage.  Some also targeted a bus carrying company employees, prompting the authorities to evacuate all expatriate staff to Bamako in neighbouring Mali.

In 2014 the Guinean government’s Comité Technique de Revue des Titres et Conventions Miniers concluded that the Montréal firm evaded $9.6 million in tax.  The Comité Technique also found that the company failed “to produce detailed feasibility studies” and was not “in compliance with new measures in the 2011 mining code.”  The Comité Technique recommended that SEMAFO be fined and stripped of its mining rights in the country.

To the east, SEMAFO opened the first industrial scale gold mine in Niger. A 2007 Montreal Gazette business article headlined “Local Miner a Major Force in Niger: It’s not every day we receive a press release from a gold mining company that includes a warm personal message from the prime minister”, reported on the close ties between SEMAFO and Hama Amadou, then Prime Minister of Niger. “We work very closely with him,” said La Salle. “We’re part of his budget every year.”

La Salle described how the prime minister helped his company break a strike at its Samira Hill mine in the west of the country. “He gave us all the right direction to solve this legally,” La Salle said. ‘We went to court, we had the strike declared illegal and that allowed us to let go of some of the employees and rehire some of them based upon a new work contract. It allowed us to let go of some undesirable employees because they had been on strike a few times.” (In mid-2008 SEMAFO’s preferred prime minister was arrested on corruption charges stemming from two unrelated incidents.)

The bitter strike led to a parliamentary inquiry regarding environmental damage caused by the mine, lack of benefits for local communities and treatment of miners. Opposition politicians accused SEMAFO of paying “slave wages”.  “The wages are very low,” explained Mohammed Bazoum, deputy chairman of Niger’s main opposition party in 2009.

SEMAFO was also accused of failing to pay both taxes and dividends to the government. Despite owning a 20% share in the Samira Hill mine, the government received no direct payments from the Montréal-based majority owner between 2004 and 2010. “Since this company started its activities, Niger has not seen a single franc despite its being a shareholder,” noted Abdoulkarim Mossi, head of a government committee set up to tackle economic and financial irregularities in the country.

Next-door, the company was close to President Blaise Compaoré who seized power in 1987 by killing Thomas Ankara, “Africa’s Che Guevara”, who oversaw important social and political gains during four years in office. La Salle worked closely with Compaoré for nearly 2 decades, traveling the globe singing the Burkina Faso government’s praise. After leaving office the Prime Minister between 2007–2011, Tertius Zongo, was appointed to SEMAFO’s Board of Directors and at a September 2014 Gold Forum in Australia SEMAFO officials lauded the government as “democratic and stable”.  The next month Compaoré was ousted by popular protest after he attempted to amend the constitution to extend term limits.

After ending Compaoré’s 27-year rule community groups and mine workers launched a wave of protests against foreign, mostly Canadian, owned mining companies. In a Bloomberg article titled “Revolt Rocks Burkina Faso’s Mines After President Flees”, SEMAFO’s director of corporate affairs, Laurent Michel Dabire, said the company was looking to fund a new police unit that would focus on protecting mining interests in the country.

SEMAFO is an outgrowth La Salle’s work for Plan Canada, part of a $1 billion a year global NGO. La Salle said that SEMAFO “was created in 1995 during my first visit to Burkina Faso as part of a mission with the NGO-Plan. I am the president of the administration council of Plan Canada and a director of Plan International. So, after the Plan organized visit to Burkina Faso provided me an opportunity to get close with national authorities, I decided to create SEMAFO to participate in the development of Burkina Faso’s mining industry.” As Plan Canada’s designated Francophone spokesperson, La Salle got to know Compaoré. “The president turned to me,” La Salle told another reporter, “and said that I should come back to his country with Canadian expertise to help his country develop its mining sector.”

La Salle procured mining expertise while Compaoré granted the Canadian a massive stretch of land to prospect. “The land package we have is way beyond what you’d see anywhere else in the world,” La Salle boasted.

Compaoré was good to La Salle. The Canadian ‘humanitarian” made millions of dollars from Burkina Faso’s (and Niger and Guinea’s) minerals. When he resigned after 17 years as president of SEMAFO in 2012, La Salle received a $3 million departure bonus, which was on top of his $1 million salary.

La Salle is just one in a long line of Westerners who’ve asked the world to believe what they say but ignore the actual results of what they do — a “spin-sploiter” — publicly professing humanitarian ideals all the while exploiting Africa.

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Could it be anti-Semitic to misuse the term ‘anti-Semitic’?

“Anti-Semitism” may be the most abused term in Canada today. Almost entirely divorced from its dictionary definition – “discrimination against or prejudice or hostility toward Jews” – it is now primarily invoked to uphold Jewish/white privilege.

In a recent Canadian Jewish News interview long time l’Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM) professor Julien Bauer slurs Arabs and Muslims as he bemoans “anti-Semitism”. “In the corridors of UQAM, there are occasionally pro-Hamas demonstrations and anti-Semitic posters, but this is relatively rare,” Bauer wrote in French. “At Concordia University, it’s an anti-Semitic festival every day of the year! This is normal because there are many more Arab and Muslim students at Concordia than UQAM.”

The Jewish community’s leading media outlet, which recently called Jews the “Chosen People”, failed to question Bauer’s racism and Islamophobia. Instead, they put his picture on the front of the Québec edition.

Over the past several weeks Jewish leaders have labeled a student General Assembly at McGill University, art depicting Palestinian resistance at York, and an effort at that university to divest from arms makers as “anti-Semitic”. Head of the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center Avi Benlolo, described the arms divestment effort at York, since it includes Students Against Israeli Apartheid, as “a malicious campaign that targets and singles out the Jewish community as a collective, demonizes Israel and Israelis, applies unfair double standards to Israel at the exclusion of other nations in the Middle East and rejects the legitimacy of Israel as the only Jewish state in the world, thereby inciting an abhorrent resurgence of anti-Semitism.”

Rather than calming the tantrum, Canadian political leaders often contribute to the hysteria of certain Jewish groups. During the recent debate to condemn the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign MPs repeatedly accused a movement demanding Israel comply with international law of being “anti-Semitic”. The terms “anti-Semitic” and “anti-Semitism” were invoked over 80 times in a debate to justify Jewish/white supremacy in the Middle East.

According to Hansard, parliamentarians have uttered the words “anti-Semitism” and “anti-Semitic” more in the past decade than “racism” or “racist”. (And many of the “racist” references describe purported prejudice against Jews.) The term “anti-blackness” was not recorded in the House of Commons during this period.

Despite widespread discussion of “anti-Semitism”, there is little discussion of Canadian Jewry’s actual place in Canadian society. Among elite business, political and professional circles Jewish representation far surpasses their slim 1.3% of the Canadian population. Studies demonstrate that Canadian Jews are more likely than the general population to hold a bachelor’s degree, earn above $75,000 or be part of the billionaire class.

While Canadian Jews faced discriminatory property, university and immigration restrictions into the 1950s, even the history of structural anti-Jewish prejudice should be put into proper context. Blacks, Japanese and other People of Colour (not to mention indigenous peoples) have been subjected to far worse structural racism and abuse. Even compared to some other “white” groups Canadian Jews have fared well. During World War I,8,500 individuals from countries part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (mostly Ukrainians) were interned while in the mid-1800s thousands of Irish died of typhus at an inspection and quarantine station on Grosse Ile in the Gulf of the St. Lawrence. Canadian Jewry hasn’t faced any equivalent abuse.

While howls of “anti-Semitism” are usually an effort to deter Palestinian solidarity, the shrill claims may also represent what a Freudian psychologist would call a “projection”. Prejudice against Arabs and Muslims appears rampant in the Jewish community. Then there are the remarkable efforts to keep the Jewish community separate and apart from others. A Canadian Jewish News article about mixed race Jews’ inability to find a match on the Jewish Tinder, JSwipe, highlights the issue.

After Israel, no subject garners more attention in the Canadian Jewish News than the importance of cloistering children by ethnicity/religion. Half of Jewish children in Montréal attend Jewish schools, which is startling for a community that represented 7% of the city’s population a century ago. (In the 1920s Yiddish was Montréal’s third most spoken language.)

Montréal’s Jewish community has segregated itself geographically as well. Without retail shops in its boundaries, Hampstead is an affluent Montréal suburb that is three quarters Jewish. Four times larger than the adjacent Hampstead, Côte Saint-Luc is a 32,000-person municipality that is two thirdsJewish.

According to Federation CJA, only 15%-17% of Jewish Montrealers live in intermarried (or common-law) households. For those under-30 it’s still only a quarter. (In Toronto, where Canada’s largest Jewish community resides, the self-segregation is slightly less extreme.)
Inward looking and affluent, the Jewish community is quick to claim victimhood. But, like an out of control child, the major Jewish organizations need a time out. Without an intervention of some sort, the Jewish community risks having future dictionaries defining “anti-Semitism” as “a movement for justice and equality.”

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