Category Archives: Canada and Israel

Trudeau confuses anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism

Canada’s Prime Minister would like us to believe that the ideology that shaped Israel is designed to fight anti-Jewish prejudice. But, even when anti-Semitism was a significant political force in Canada, Zionism largely represented a chauvinistic, colonialist way of thinking.

On Israel Independence Day earlier this month Justin Trudeau delivered a speech by video to a rally in Montréal and published a statement marking the occasion. “Today, while we celebrate Israel’s independence, we also reaffirm our commitment to fight anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism”, declared the PM in a rare reference by a top politician to Israel’s state ideology.

Israel apologists often link anti-Zionism and anti-Jewishness, but it’s disingenuous. Canadian Zionism has long been comfortable with anti-Jewish sentiment and it has never been primarily an anti-prejudicial ideology.

When anti-Semitism was a social force of consequence in Canada it was not uncommon for anti-Jewish politicians to back Zionism. During a July 1922 speech to the Zionist Federation of Canada, anti-Semitic Prime Minister Mackenzie King “was effusive with praise for Zionism,” explains David Bercuson in Canada and the Birth of Israel. King told participants their aspirations were “in consonance” with the greatest ideals of the “Englishman.” According to Zachariah Kay in Canada and Palestine: The Politics of Non-Commitment, long-time Alberta Premier E.C. Manning “allowed his name to be associated with the [pre-state Zionist organization] Canadian Palestine Committee, but was known for anti-Jewish statements on his ‘back to the bible’ Sunday radio broadcasts.”

Known to support Zionism as a way to deal with the “Jewish problem,” in 1934 Prime Minister R.B. Bennett opened the annual United Palestine Appeal fundraiser with a coast-to-coast radio broadcast. Lauding the Balfour declaration and British conquest of Palestine, Bennett said, “scriptural prophecy is being fulfilled. The restoration of Zion has begun.”

At a policy level the government’s aversion to accepting post-World War II Jewish refugees was a factor in Canadian diplomats promoting the anti-Palestinian UN partition plan. An ardent proponent of the Zionist cause during the 1947 international negotiations dealing with the British mandate of Palestine, Canadian diplomat Lester Pearson believed sending Jewish refugees to Palestine was the only sensible solution to their plight.

Compared to six decades ago, anti-Semitism today barely registers in Canada. But, embers of anti-Jewish Zionism linger. Over the past decade the Charles-McVety-led Canada Christian College has repeatedly organized pro-Israel events – often with B’nai Brith – yet in the 1990s the College was in a dispute with the Canadian Jewish Congress over courses designed to convert Jews. Canada’s most influential Christian Zionist activist, McVety also heads the Canadian branch of Christians United for Israel, which believes Jews need to convert or burn in Hell upon the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.

This dancing with the enemy is nothing new. Historically some Jews aligned with anti-Jewish Zionists. During World War I many Canadian Jewish Zionists enthusiastically supported Britain and recruited young men to help conquer Palestine, even though London was allied with Russia’s notoriously anti-Semitic czar. (At that time Zionism was commonly promoted as a way for Jews to escape czarist anti-Semitism.)

After World War II some Jewish Zionists tapped into anti-Jewish sentiment to advance their cause. In Canada’s Jews: a People’s journey Gerald Tulchinsky reports, “fully cognizant of the government’s reluctance to admit Jews to Canada, the [Zionist] delegation reminded [anti- Semitic Prime Minister Mackenzie] King that in the post war years, when ‘multitudes of uprooted people … would be knocking on the doors of all countries,’ Palestine could accommodate many of the Jews who might want to come to Canada.”

It is true that the Zionist colonies in Palestine absorbed tens of thousands of refugees after World War II and provided a safe haven to many Jews escaping Nazi persecution in the 1930s. But, it’s also true that Zionists were willing to stoke anti-Semitism and kill Jews if it served their nationalistic/colonialist purposes. To foil British efforts to relocate Jewish refugees fleeing Europe to Mauritius, in 1940 the Jewish Agency, the Zionist government-in-waiting in Palestine, killed 267 mostly Jews by bombing the ship Patria. In State of Terror: How Terrorism Created Modern Israel Tom Suarez concludes that the Zionist leadership was prepared to kill Jews if it aided the cause, because “persecuted Jews served the political project, not the other way around.”

Generally presented as a response to late 1800s European anti-Semitism — “Zionism … developed in the late 19th century in response to European antisemitism”, according to a recent story on the pro-Palestinian website Canada Talks Israel Palestine — the Theodore Herzl-led Zionist movement was, in fact, spurred by the Christian, nationalist and imperialist ideologies sweeping Europe at the time.

After two millennia in which Jewish restoration was viewed as a spiritual event to be brought about through divine intervention, Zionism finally took root among some Jews after two centuries of active Protestant Zionism. “Christian proto-Zionists [existed] in England 300 years before modern Jewish Zionism emerged,” notes Evangelics and Israel: The Story of American Christian Zionism. Until the mid-1800s Zionism was an almost entirely non-Jewish movement. And yet it was quite active. Between 1796 and 1800, notes Non-Jewish Zionism: its roots in Western history, there were at least 50 books published in Europe about the Jews’ return to Palestine. The movement reflected the more literal readings of the Bible that flowed out of the Protestant Reformation.

Another factor driving Jewish Zionism was the nationalism sweeping Europe in the late 1800s. Germany, Italy and a number of eastern European states were all established during this period.

Alongside nationalist and biblical literalist influences, Zionism took root at the height of European imperialism. In the lead-up to World War I the European “scramble” carved up Africa and then the Middle East. (Europeans controlled about 10 percent of Africa in 1870 but by 1914 only Ethiopia was independent of European control. Liberia was effectively a US colony.) At the Sixth Zionist Congress in 1903 Herzl and two-thirds of delegates voted to pursue British Secretary of State for the Colonies Joseph Chamberlain’s proposal to allocate 13,000 square km in East Africa as “Jewish territory … on conditions which will enable members to observe their national customs.”

As much as it was a reaction to anti-Semitism, Zionism was an attempt by European Jews to benefit from and participate in colonialism.

In Canada today Jewish support for Zionism has little to do with combating prejudice. If Zionism were simply a response to anti-Semitism, why hasn’t the massive decline of anti-Jewishness lessened its popularity in the Jewish community? Instead, the leadership and a significant segment of Canadian Jewry have become increasingly focused on supporting a highly militarized state that continues to deny its indigenous population the most basic political rights.

In 2011 the leading donors in the community scrapped the 100-year-old Canadian Jewish Congress and replaced it with the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs. As the name change suggests, this move represented a shift away from local Jewish concerns and towards ever greater lobbying in favour of Israeli policy.

With institutional barriers to advancement overcome a half century ago and an ever more secular society, Rabbis and Jewish organizations have to find a purpose. Israel has become many people’s primary connection to Judaism. In Understanding the Zionist Religion, Jonathan Kay wrote, “In some cases I have observed, it is not an exaggeration to say that Zionism is not just the dominant factor in Jews’ political lives—but also in their spiritual lives.”

Between the late 1960s and mid-2000s there was an inverse correlationbetween Jewish votes and pro-Israel governments. Though they were less pro-Israel, Pierre Trudeau and Jean Chretien gained more support from Canadian Jewry than Brian Mulroney or Stephen Harper in his first victory in 2006.

The political trajectory of the Montréal riding of Mount Royal provides an interesting insight into the Jewish community’s shift towards focusing on Israel. Repeatedly re-elected in a riding that was then 50% Jewish, Pierre Trudeau distanced Ottawa from Israeli conduct more than any other prime minister before or since. Still, Pierre Trudeau was incredibly popular with the Jewish community. Representing Jewry’s ascension to the heights of Canada’s power structures, Trudeau appointed the first Jew to the federal cabinet, Herb Gray, and brought in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which strengthened religious freedoms. But, of recent the riding has become a battleground.

During the 2015 federal election Mount Royal was the only riding in greater Montréal the Conservative Party seriously contested. Even though Liberal party candidate Anthony Housefather is a staunch Israel advocate, he won his seat because of non-Jewish voters.

A similar dynamic is at play in the centre of Canadian Jewish life. Possibly the best placed of any in the world, the Toronto Jewish community faces little economic or political discrimination and has above average levels of education and income. Yet it’s the North American base of the Zionist extremist Jewish Defense League. It’s also a power base for an explicitly racist, colonialist, institution. In what was “reported to be the largest kosher dinner in Canadian history”, three years ago 4,000 individuals packed the Toronto Convention Centre to raise money for the Jewish National Fund in honour of Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

No matter what Justin Trudeau says, Zionism and anti-Jewish prejudice have little to do with each other.

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Why would NDP foreign affairs critic legitimize Israeli racism?

Should a social democratic party’s spokesperson on foreign affairs address the Israel lobby’s top annual event and legitimize an explicitly racist institution? These are questions those currently vying for leadership of Canada’s New Democratic Party must be pressed to answer.

According to the Canadian Parliament’s recently released disclosure of members’ sponsored travel, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) paid for the New Democratic Party’s foreign affairs spokesperson Hélène Laverdière to speak on a panel at its conference last year.

The notorious anti-Palestinian lobby group spent more than $740 on her flight and accommodation in Washington, DC.

Months after her AIPAC speech, Laverdière participatedin a Jewish National Fund tree-planting ceremony in Jerusalem. During a visit to Israel with Canada’s governor general, Laverdière attended a ceremony with the fund’s world chairman Danny Atar and a number of other top officials.

The Jewish National Fund controls 13 percent of Israel’s land, which was mostly seized from Palestinians forced from their homes by Zionist militias during the 1947-1948 ethnic cleansing known to Palestinians as the Nakba, Arabic for catastrophe.

The JNF systematically discriminates against Palestinian citizens of Israel, who make up a fifth of the population. According to a UN report, Jewish National Fund 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 the Jewish National Fund “statutes prohibit sale or lease of land to non-Jews.”

If Laverdière doesn’t trust the State Department or the UN’s assessments she could just read the Jewish National Fund’s own website.

Responding to Palestinian citizens’ attempts via the Israeli high court to live on land controlled by the Jewish National Fund, the website explicitly denies their right to do so, despite being supposedly equal Israeli citizens.

The court “has been required to consider petitions that delegitimize the Jewish People’s continued ownership” of the land. The website states that these lawsuits were “directed against the fundamental principles” on which the Jewish National Fund was founded.

The petitions to the court amount to a demand that the JNF, “which serves as trustee for the lands of the Jewish People,” no longer have the “right to make use of these lands for the continuation of the Zionist enterprise in the Land of Israel.”

It adds that over 80 percent of Israeli Jews “prefer the definition of Israel as a Jewish state, rather than as the state of all its citizens.”

It is a moral outrage that the New Democratic Party foreign affairs spokesperson would legitimize an organization that practices discriminatory land-use policies outlawed in Canada six decades ago.

Laverdière legitimizing the Jewish National Fund and AIPAC reflects the backroom politics that dominate the New Democratic Party. In fact, the issue of Palestinian rights goes to the very heart of democracy within the party.

During the 2015 general election, the New Democratic Party ousted several individuals from running or contesting nominations for parliament because they had defended Palestinian rights on social media.

In the most high profile incident, Morgan Wheeldon was dismissed as a party candidate in Nova Scotia because he accused Israel of committing war crimes during its summer 2014 invasion of Gaza.

More than 2,200 Palestinians, including 551 children, were killed during the Israeli attack.

Leadership candidates must commit to respecting local party democracy and ending the purge against those who defend Palestinian rights. Standing up for Palestinian rights also represents popular will.

A February poll confirms that New Democratic Party members – and most Canadians – are critical of Israel and open to the Palestinian civil society call for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) on that country.

According to the poll of 1,000 Canadians, almost 80 percent of those who expressed an opinion said they believe the Palestinians’ call for a boycott is “reasonable.”

In the context of the recent UN Security Council denunciation of settlement building in the West Bank, respondents were also asked “do you believe that some sort of Canadian government sanctions on Israel would be reasonable?”

Eighty-four percent of New Democratic Party supporters responded they were open to sanctioning Israel.

Leadership contenders must be pressed to make their position on Palestinian rights reflect members’ views. A 16 May Facebook post by leading candidate Niki Ashton is an important step.

“For more than 60 years, Palestine has been struggling to simply exist,” Ashton wrote. She added that she was “honored to stand with many in remembering the Nakba” at a recent event in Montreal that was also “a rally in solidarity with those on hunger strike in Palestine today.”

Ashton added: “The NDP must be a voice for human rights, for peace and justice in the Middle East. I am inspired by all those who in our country are part of this struggle for justice.”

In response to criticism from Israel lobby groups and Conservative Party leadership contender Brad Trost, Ashton stood by her participation in the rally.

“One must speak out in the face of injustice, whether here at home or abroad,” she said, and called for Canada to support “a balanced position and a just peace in the Middle East.”

While Ashton’s move is an important step, grassroots activists shouldn’t be naïve about the array of forces, both within and outside the party, that prefer the status quo. Asking nicely will not spark much-needed change.

Before a “youth issues” leadership debate in Montreal in March, the Young New Democrats of Québec asked the party leadership to include a question about Palestine. They refused.

At the upcoming leadership debates Palestine solidarity activists within the party should press the issue.

Contenders need to answer if they believe it is okay for the New Democratic Party foreign affairs spokesperson to speak at AIPAC or legitimize an explicitly racist institution like the Jewish National Fund.

 

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Media ignores Canada’s role in suppressing Palestinian protests

The Canadian media has mostly ignored recent Palestinian efforts to non-violently disrupt a half-century old occupation. They’ve barely reported on a prisoners’ hunger strike and associated solidarity protests, let alone Canada’s effort to suppress popular protests in the West Bank.

Around 1,000 Palestinians held in Israeli prisons have been on hunger strike since April 17. In the occupied West Bank thousands of protesters have taken to the streets and gone on strike in solidarity with the 6,500 Palestinians currently imprisoned by Israel. The issue resonates with Palestinians since Israel has arrested 40 per cent of the West Bank’s male population — 800,000 people — since 1967.

The hunger strike is directed at the occupying regime, but, it’s also a challenge to the “subcontractor of the Occupation” — the Palestinian Authority (PA) led by Mahmoud Abbas. Ramzy Baround labelled it “a revolt within Fatah against their disengaged leadership, and a frantic attempt by all Palestinians to demonstrate their ability to destabilize the Israeli-American-PA matrix of control.” Nazareth-based commentator Jonathan Cook points out that Abbas wants the hunger strike to end since it threatens his negotiations with Donald Trump and “tight security cooperation with Israel.”

Growing opposition to PA security coordination with Israel is an important backdrop to the hunger strike and recent protests. For years PA security forces have been providing information to Israel’s Shin Bet intelligence agency and Israel often arrests Palestinian activists after they’ve been released from PA detention. Israeli soldiers recent assassination of prominent activist Basel al-Araj, after being released from PA detention, sparked protests against PA security cooperation with Israel. In mid-March Amnesty International criticized a PA security assault that hospitalized 17 Palestinians protesting security cooperation with Israel after al-Araj’s death.

Like all colonial authorities throughout history, Israel has looked to compliant locals to take up the occupation’s security burden. What is unique about the PA security forces’ operations are their international ties. In a 2011 story detailing how PA security “undermine efforts by Palestinians to challenge the occupation,” Adam Shatz writes: “It is an extraordinary arrangement: the security forces of a country under occupation are being subcontracted by third parties outside the region to prevent resistance to the occupying power, even as that power continues to grab more land.”

Since the mid-2000s Palestinian security forces have been trained by US, British and Canadian troops and police at the US-built International Police Training Center in Jordan (established to train Iraqi security after the 2003 invasion). Part of the US Security Coordinator office in Jerusalem, the Canadian military mission in the West Bank also trains and aids Palestinian security forces. Dubbed Operation Proteus, Canada’s involvement includes Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers as well as officials from the foreign ministry, Justice Canada and the Canadian Border Services Agency. In a September 2010 interview with The Jerusalem Post, minister of state for foreign affairs Peter Kent said Operation Proteus was Canada’s “second largest deployment after Afghanistan” and it received “most of the money” from a five-year $300 million Canadian aid program to the PA.

With little media attention, over the past decade tens (possibly hundreds) of millions of dollars in Canadian aid money has gone to training and supporting a Palestinian security force that serves as an arm of Israel’s occupation. Internal government documents unearthed by Postmedia’s Lee Berthiaume confirm that as the overriding objective of Canada’s $300 million five-year aid program to the Palestinians.

There have been increasing references in the past months during high-level bilateral meetings with the Israelis about the importance and value they place on Canada’s assistance to the Palestinian Authority, most notably in security/justice reform,” read a November 2012 note signed by former Canadian International Development Agency president Margaret Biggs. “The Israelis have noted the importance of Canada’s contribution to the relative stability achieved through extensive security co-operation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.”

The heavily censored note suggests the goal of Canadian aid was to protect a corrupt Mahmoud Abbas, whose electoral mandate expired in 2009, from popular backlash. Biggs explained that “the emergence of popular protests on the Palestinian street against the Palestinian Authority is worrying and the Israelis have been imploring the international donor community to continue to support the Palestinian Authority.”

Berthiaume effectively confirmed that Canadian aid money is used to train a Palestinian security force to serve as an arm of Israel’s occupation, but this startling information has simply been sent down the memory hole. While Berthiaume’s article was published in a number of Postmedia papers, there was no commentary in a major paper or follow-up stories about Biggs’ internal note or Operation Proteus (with the exception of stories in small town papers covering individual police or soldiers leaving for the mission).

Two years before Berthiaume’s revelation I emailed Globe and Mail Middle East correspondent Patrick Martin about Canada’s aid/military mission to support Israel’s occupation of the West Bank. I wrote, “Hi Pat, not sure if you saw Peter Kent’s comment on Operation Proteus, Canada’s military mission in the West Bank. In a recent interview with the Jerusalem Post Kent dubbed Proteus Canada’s ‘second largest deployment after Afghanistan’ and said it receives ‘most of the money’ from a five-year $300 million Canadian aid program to the Palestinians. It’s an issue that has barely been discussed and I thought it might interest you. Below is a piece I recently wrote partly on it.”

Martin responded, “it’s a good idea,” but the Globe has yet to publish anything on Operation Proteus or Biggs’ comment that Canadian aid to the PA was designed to suppress popular protest by a people suffering under a 50-year illegal occupation. (During John Baird’s 2012 trip to Ramallah Martin quoted the then foreign minister saying Canada was “incredibly thrilled” by the West Bank security situation, which Baird said benefited Israel).

It’s not too late for the Globe and other media to cover Canada’s role in suppressing “popular protests” in the West Bank. Operation Proteus continues with Brigadier-General Conrad Joseph John Mialkowski recently appointed the new head of the military mission. When Canada’s five-year aid package to the PA concluded in 2013 the Stephan Harper government extended it and the government’s website says $30 million was dispersed to Palestinians in 2014–15 (the last year cited).

The Canadian media should cover the prisoners’ hunger strike and its challenge to PA security cooperation with Israel. Even better, it ought to report on Canada’s role in entrenching Israel’s 50-year-old occupation.

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Canada should apologize for its role in colonizing Palestine

The year 2017 marks the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, a crass expression of colonial thought that Canada helped realize.

Just before capturing Jerusalem in late 1917, British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour proclaimed support for a Jewish homeland on land occupied mostly by Muslim and Christian Palestinians. In a letter to Walter Rothschild and the Zionist Federation of Great Britain, Balfour wrote, “His Majesty’s government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object.” Balfour later explained his thinking: “In Palestine we do not propose to go through the form of consulting the wishes of the present inhabitants of the country. … The four great powers are committed to Zionism and Zionism, be it right or wrong, good or bad, is rooted in age-long tradition, in present needs, in future hopes, of far profounder import than the desire and prejudices of the 700,000 Arabs who now inhabit that ancient land.”

At war with the crumbling Ottoman Empire, in January 1916 Britain and France signed a secret accord to divvy up the Ottoman-controlled Middle East. Fresh from leading the First World War Anglo-French conquest of German West Africa, Québec City-born Lt-Gen. Charles Macpherson Dobell commanded a force that attempted to seize Gaza during the Sinai and Palestine Campaign. As many as 400 Canadians (about half recruited specifically for the task) also fought in British General Edmund Allenby’s Jewish Legion that helped conquer modern day Israel/Palestine. The Federation of Zionist Societies of Canada mobilized Jews to join Allenby’s Jewish Legion, which won sometimes beleaguered Jewish communities’ praise.

During the two decades after the Balfour Declaration, the British empire provided the Zionist movement with the necessary protective umbrella to thrive. Spurred on by British support, between 1919 and 1921, Canadians raised $458,000 ($5.8 million in 2016 dollars) to support projects colonizing Palestine. At the end of the 1920s, Canadians raised $1 million for a Jewish National Fund project to pay an absentee landlord in France for 7500 acres of coastal territory between Haifa and Tel Aviv, which would displace over 1,000 (mostly nomadic) Bedouin whose descendants had lived on the land for hundreds of years. Citizens of a British dominion, elite Canadian Jews were more active Zionists than their U.S. counterparts during this period.

Many Canadian political leaders were over- joyed by the Balfour Declaration. Several years after the First World War, Conservative Party leader Arthur Meighen, a Christian Zionist, claimed, “of all the results of the (war), none was more important and more fertile in human history than the reconquest of Palestine and the rededication of that country to the Jewish people.” A dozen years later, Prime Minister R.B. Bennett told a coast to-coast radio broadcast for the launch of the United Palestine Appeal that the Balfour Declaration and the British conquest of Palestine represented the beginning of the fulfillment of biblical prophecies.

Three decades after the release of the declaration, Canada’s representative on the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine, which was dis- patched to the region to propose a solution for the British mandate, challenged members of UNSCOP who failed to recognize the legitimacy of the Balfour Declaration. In response to criticism of his proposal to give the Zionist movement a larger piece of land than they officially requested, Canadian Supreme Court justice Ivan C. Rand argued “that since Britain had not fulfilled its obligations to the Jews, they deserved to be compensated by the United Nations.”

The Palestinian Authority and over 100,000 Brits recently petitioned London to apologize for the Balfour Declaration. The centennial is also a good time to mark Canada’s contribution to Palestinians’ loss.

This article first appeared in Canadian Dimension.

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Tax subsidized schools rally children to glorify Israel colonialism

On Tuesday thousands will gather to celebrate the most aggressive ongoing European settler colonialism. Organizers of Montréal’s annual Israel Day rally claim it is the largest event of its kind in the country.

A significant proportion of the crowd will come from the city’s 15 Jewish day schools, which receive most of their funds from the public purse. Many of the kids bused downtown will carry Israeli flags and their faces will be painted in its colours. At the 2014 Israel Day rally a 12-year-old Herzliah student, Jon Frajman, told the Montréal Gazette, “if we didn’t support Israel, we wouldn’t have a place to call home.”

(A few years ago I witnessed a similar type of child abuse at an anti-abortion protest in Ottawa packed with Catholic school students.)

Herding students to a weekday rally is a visible form of activism, but it’s a small part of these schools’ crusading for Israel. A recent Canadian Jewish News cover story titled “What to teach Jewish students about Israel?” detailed the growing importance given to classes on Israel at Jewish day schools. While students have long been “taught from a young age to see Israel as the land of milk and honey”, in recent years Jewish day schools have ramped up their indoctrination in reaction to “anti-Israel student groups on campuses throughout North America.”

Head of Winnipeg’s Gray Academy of Jewish Education, Lori Binder told CJN that Israel education is taught from junior kindergarten to graduation. But, “the crescendo I guess, is a full-year course for all our Grade 12 students in a course called Israel advocacy.”

Gray Academy’s Israel advocacy course was set up eight years ago. Recently, the Combined Jewish Appeal Israel Engagement Initiative developed a program for Grade 10 students at Montréal schools called Israel Update and Vancouver’s King David High School organizes an annual trip to Israel for Grade 8 students.

One of the five “Faces of Success” in a Federation CJA booklet promoting Montréal Jewish schools is a man named Oliver Moore, a graduate of McGill Law who works with NGO Monitor in Jerusalem. Moore is quoted stating: “My experience attending Jewish high school imprinted me with a Zionist ethic and a profound appreciation for Israel’s importance. It troubles me that Israel is under constant political threat and that its legitimacy is questioned. What I find especially disturbing is that the language of human rights has been distorted to dispute its right to exist. That is why I’ve decided to go to Israel and examine this issue in depth, and when I return to Canada, to contribute to Israel advocacy.”

Day schools aren’t the only institutional setting in which the young are taught to support Israeli violence and expansionism. Some Jewish Community Centres and summer camps promote Zionism to kids.

The Jewish National Fund has long tried to convince young minds of its colonial worldview. The registered Canadian “charity” offers various youth outreach initiatives to help build the “bond between the Jewish people and their land.” The JNF has produced puzzles and board games as well as organizing kids dances and a Youth Summer experience program. According to JNF Canada’s Education Department, the group “educates thousands of young people in Israel and abroad, helping them forge an everlasting bond with the Land of Israel.”

An explicitly racist institution, the JNF promotes an expansionist vision of “Eretz Yisrael”. The mainstay of their youth outreach, JNF Blue Boxes’ include a map that encompasses the illegally occupied West Bank. Over the last century millions of Blue Boxes have been distributed around the world as part of “educating Jewish youth and involving them in these efforts in order to foster their Zionistic spirit and inspire their support for the State of Israel. For many Jews, the Blue Box is bound up with childhood memories from home and the traditional contributions they made in kindergarten and grade school.”

The best way to reverse Canada’s contribution to Palestinian dispossession is to educate and mobilize the broad public about an issue removed from most people’s daily lives. But, there’s also a need to challenge Israeli nationalist opinion within the Jewish community. One way to do so is by criticizing the indoctrination of children. One means might be to respectfully picket JNF events targeted at kids or perhaps by plastering posters about Israeli violence and expansionism around Jewish schools.

While pro-Israel groups would likely denounce such efforts as “anti-Semitic”, children at these institutions deserve to hear an alternative, universalist, anti-racist perspective. They need to know that not all Jews, Montrealers, Torontonians, Canadians, etc. support the most aggressive ongoing European settler colonialism. They need to learn to think for themselves, instead of blindly accepting the Israeli nationalist propaganda aimed their way.

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Condemning neo-fascists is anti-Semitic? Really?

Weirdly, even some self-declared “anti-fascists” who claim to be intent on “punching Nazis” get uncomfortable when you criticize the Jewish Defense League.

In an incident akin to Canadians organizing to thwart freedom riders during the US civil rights movement, the Toronto-based JDL organized a mob that attacked protesters at last month’s American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference in Washington DC. Over the past decade the JDL has built itself up by aggressively harassing pro-Palestinian activists in Toronto, which has won them active or passive support from much of the Jewish establishment, dominant media and the city’s broader power structure. As I was slandered for discussing in a previous article, JDL Toronto is now seeking to export their extremist ideology to the USA and is building neo-fascist alliances focused on bashing Muslims in Toronto.

Until recently liberals largely treated JDL thuggery with kid gloves. For many years the former head of the Canadian Jewish Congress, Bernie Farber, gave the group political cover. The same can be said for former Canada-Israel Committee board member Warren Kinsella, who spoke at a JDL meeting in 2009. These prominent liberals supported JDL intimidation of Palestinian solidarity activists. But, they are now uncomfortable with the group’s racism against Canadian Muslims and ties to other more marginal white supremacist groups such as the English Defence League and Soldiers of Odin.

Incredibly, some people on the “left” also seem to share this opinion. Alex Hundert says it’s anti-Semitic to challenge the JDL if you’re not Jewish or Muslim. In response to my article on the JDL, he tweeted “If ur neither jewish nor muslim, and obsessed w@JDLCanada, ur definitely an anti-Semite.” He added that “a small group of Kahanist [JDL] extremists banding together can’t b excuse for Engler to target Jewish ‘Establishment.’” And to make sure no one was confused about his opinion of my article he slandered me directly, writing “I wish I had the energy to actually take on antisemites like Engler.”

Two weeks earlier some other self-described leftists became similarly defensive when an activist posted a picture in an anti-racist Facebook group of a man wearing a JDL jacket with their arm around somebody in a Soldiers of Odin jacket. A tag was added to the picture of the Toronto rally saying, “JDL and Soldiers of Odin: this has the making of a hilarious sitcom.”

A number of individuals in the forum criticized making light of the growing alliance between the JDL and Soldiers of Odin as a threat to Jews, not to the Muslims or People of Colour mostly targeted by those groups. One person wrote, “I feel really uncomfortable about this being made into a joke. … as a Jew this is less hilarious to me and more shameful – and scary, because it gives leftists ammunition against Jews and puts us in further danger.” Another individual on the private leftist anti-racism forum wrote, “this is exactly what i was afraid of – now in order to be considered one of the ‘good jews’ i have to repudiate the JDL loudly and vocally and make sure no one thinks i’m a zionist, or else no one on the left will protect me.”

While sympathetic to individuals working out their conflicted loyalties and testing their political positions, it is important to note no one was asked to “repudiate” anything in the Facebook group. And it should go without saying that anti-racist leftists would have no qualms denouncing an organization the FBI labeled “a right-wing terrorist group” in 2001.

Sensitivity towards criticism of the JDL undermines both Palestinian solidarity activism and work to counter the group’s role in rekindling fascism in the city.

But perhaps people are confused by their limited knowledge of history. Weren’t Jews the victims of fascism? It’s counter-intuitive that Jews – though some leading members of the JDL may not be Jewish – would play an important role in reviving white supremacist/fascist politics in Toronto.

But, historically, some Jews did support and even help build the original fascism. In A History of Fascism, 1914–1945 Stanley Payne writes:

The Fascist movement was itself disproportionately Jewish — that is, Jews made up a greater proportion of the party at all stages of its history than of the Italian population as a whole. Five of the 191 sansepolcristi who had founded the movement in 1919 had been Jewish, 230 Jewish Fascists had participated in the March on Rome, and by 1938 the party had 10,215 adult Jewish members.

Labeling Margherita Sarfatti “The Jewish Mother of Fascism”, Ha’aretzdescribed Benito Mussolini’s favoured and most influential mistress this way:

The aristocratic, intellectual and ambitious wife of wealthy Zionist lawyer Cesare Sarfatti, and mother of their three children, did not only share her bed with Il Duce. She also helped him forge and implement the fascist idea; she contributed advice — and Sullivan says, money — to help organize the 1922 March on Rome in which Mussolini seized power.

Additionally, Francisco Franco received support from many Moroccan Jews when he sought to oust Spain’s Republican government in 1936 and some prominent figures in Portugal’s small Jewish community backed António de Oliveira Salazar. Early on a small number of German Jewish fascists even backed Hitler. The Association of German National Jews, for instance, supported the Nazis.

Hitler’s efforts to eliminate European Jewry obviously discredited fascism in the eyes of most Jews. But, Israeli politics has seen a surge of supremacist neo-fascism in recent years, which has strengthened the JDL in Toronto.

Another explanation for why people don’t associate Jews with fascism/white supremacy is a perception that Jews are an “oppressed community”, as Anne Frank Center director Steven Goldstein recently put it on Democracy Now. But, Canadian Jews are widely viewed as white and the community is well integrated into Toronto’s power structures. Possibly the best placed of any in the world, the Toronto Jewish community faces little economic or political discrimination and has above average levels of education and income.

As such, a militant group ‘representing’ Toronto Jewry would tend to be “supremacist” rather than “defensive”. To understand this point it may help to consider similar types of groups/actions.

No matter one’s opinion about their tactics, it wasn’t supremacist when Montréal feminists aggressively disrupted Roosh V last year since the “pro-rape” blogger crassly reinforces patriarchy. Ditto for a Black Panther Party patrol. The English Defence League, on the other hand, is a supremacist organization because those it claims to be “defending” – white, English, people – actually dominate that country.

Considering their minority religious status, the history of anti-Jewish prejudice and continued cultural (if not structural) anti-Semitism, the “supremacist” character of the JDL isn’t as clear-cut as in the case of the EDL. But, when it comes to the Palestinian struggle the JDL is an entirely supremacist organization. On that issue the JDL acts as the thuggish tool of the Israeli nationalist Jewish establishment, which themselves operate within a decidedly pro-Israel Canadian political culture.

Despite film of JDL thugs beating a 55-year-old Palestinian professor and a younger Jewish activist, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs couldn’t bring itself to criticize the attacks. CIJA spokesperson Martin Sampson responded to a National Post inquiry by simply stating, “the approach adopted by the JDL is not reflective of the mainstream Canadian Jewish community.”

But, where does the JDL get its funds? Why has it been allowed to march in Toronto’s annual Walk with Israel? Why has it been allowed to recruit in Jewish schools? CIJA, B’nai B’rith and the other Zionist organizations that have enabled the JDL should be pressed to answer for its violence.

Palestinian solidarity activists should also exploit the tension between those who back the JDL’s anti-Palestinian posture, but oppose its alliances with fascist/white supremacist organizations. We must consistently point out that if you are against all forms of racism, including anti-Semitism, you must oppose all forms of fascism. History points to where that leads.

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Jewish Defence League organizes hate, violence

We live in strange and dangerous times. While Toronto thugs export their violence and extremist ideology to the USA and the Jewish Defence League works with neo-fascists to bash Muslims, the dominant Canadian media has placed a cone of silence over these disturbing developments.

At the recent American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference in Washington, D.C., a mob organized by JDL Toronto attacked counter-protesters. In the worst incident, a 55-year-old Palestinian-American teacher was punched, kicked and hit with flagpoles. Bruised across his body, Kamal Nayfeh needed 18 stitches around his eye.

Thornhill JDL member Yosef Steynovitz was charged with assault causing significant injury and a hate crime.

Despite video of JDL thugs assaulting protesters in the US capital, no Canadian media except the Canadian Jewish News reported on the confrontation. Also ignored are JDL’s efforts to parlay Donald Trump’s xenophobia into a bigger presence down south. In January, JDL Toronto organized a meeting in the Big Apple. “We are trying to get something off the ground in New York. We have to resurrect it in other states in the US, in LA, Chicago, Florida, Philadelphia, I get emails from all over the US, we have to get this thing going,” JDL-Toronto leader Meir Weinstein told the New York meeting, according to a Ha’aretz story headlined “Drawing Inspiration From Trump, Far-right Kahane Movement Seeks U.S. Revival”.

The US JDL was labelled “a right-wing terrorist group” by the FBI in 2001. Its members were convicted of a series of acts of terror, including the killing of the regional director of the American Arab Anti-discrimination Committee and a plot to assassinate a congressman. A member of the JDL’s sister organization in Israel killed 29 Palestinian Muslim worshipers in the Cave of the Patriarchs Massacre two decades ago.

Most people involved in Palestinian solidarity activism in Toronto have experienced JDL thuggery. During Israel’s brutal assault on Gaza in 2014, I was shoved, had my bike damaged and lock stolen by members of the JDL at a protest on the grounds of the Ontario legislature. The following day at Queen’s Park, a JDL member who worked with children at the Schwartz/Reisman Jewish Community Centre and was on a B’nai Brith softball team, Isaac Ezra Nacson, knocked a pro-Palestinian counter demonstrator to the ground and kicked him in the face. Half an hour after Nacson’s attack, a JDL member walked some 50 metres around a barricade to where I was standing alone chanting at the pro-war rally and spat on me three times. Both incidents were caught on tape by major media outlets, but little was done.

In 2014 the JDL sparked a violent confrontation at Palestine House in Mississauga. Three years earlier the RCMP launched an investigation against a number of JDL members who were thought to be plotting to bomb Palestine House.

While they’ve organized with the far right English Defence League and Pegida UK in the past, JDL has deepened its coordination with other local white supremacists in recent months. They’ve joined the Soldiers of Odin at Nathan Phillips Square on a couple of occasions to protest M-103, the anti-Islamophobia parliamentary motion.

Despite its racism and violence, the JDL finds support from much of the organized Jewish community and other powerful institutions. JDL has cosponsored demonstrations with B’nai B’rith and provided “security” for pro-Israel rallies. Canadian Jewish News coverage of the group has often been sympathetic, including publishing video of a speech by Meir Weinstein. Two years ago Barbara Kay penned a National Post column titled “In defence of the Jewish Defence League” and six weeks ago the Toronto Sun published an article headlined “Jewish Defence League alleges hate crime”. In 2014 former Prime Minister Stephen Harper even included a JDL member in his official delegation when he traveled to Israel.

Tacitly accepted or actively supported by much of the establishment, the JDL is probably the most powerful far right group in Toronto. The group is now using its influence to build neo-fascist alliances in the city and export its toxic politics south of the border.

People should be concerned.

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