Category Archives: Canada and Israel

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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Canada offers tax deduction for promoting ethnic nationalism, war

What do you call an organization that teaches children an exclusive religious or ethnic nationalism and promotes war and other forms of violence to get its way?

Many people would say an extremist group or a right-wing cult. Many people would think we were talking about something like the Ku Klux Klan.

But while the KKK did have a youth corps where children were taught “patriotism” and “Christian values,” but weren’t “brainwashed” – in the words of one “imperial wizard” – we are talking about a group the Canada Revenue Agency finds worthy of awarding tax-deductible status for “charitable” donations.

The Jewish National Fund would also deny “brainwashing” children, but there is no doubt it tries to convince young minds of its exclusivist worldview.

JNF Montreal recently organized a “tree-a-thon” with the stated aim of restoring lands damaged by last year’s forest fires in Israel. Participants were promised “great prizes, great food, great fun,” and students were told they could “earn community service hours.”

The registered “charity” offers various youth education initiatives promoting Zionism, Israel’s state ideology. JNF Canada’s website boasts of how it helps young people “forge an everlasting bond with the land of Israel.”

The JNF has long promoted an expansionist vision of the “land of Israel” – a term that can be found on the Blue Boxes that it uses in fundraisers.

Maps on JNF Blue Boxes distributed in recent years encompass the occupied West Bank. The first map on the Blue Box, designed in 1934, depicted an area reaching from the Mediterranean into present-day Lebanon and Jordan.

Blue Boxes – tins for collecting money – are the mainstay of JNF youth outreach. Over the last century millions of them have been distributed around the world.

An official description explains: “Since its debut in 1901 as JNF’s official fundraising pushke [collection box], the Blue Box has represented JNF and its efforts to develop the land and roads, build communities, strengthen agriculture and create water reservoirs in Israel. It is also a vehicle for 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.”

While youth pursuing “community service” sounds benign, the JNF is, in fact, a racist, colonial institution that has no place in the 21st century. An owner of 13 percent of the land in Israel and with influence over much of the rest, the JNF discriminates against Palestinian citizens who make up one-fifth of the state’s population.

According to a United Nations report from 1998, JNF lands are “chartered to benefit Jews exclusively,” which has led to an “institutionalized form of discrimination.”

For their part, JNF Canada officials are relatively open about the discriminatory character of the organization. In 2009, JNF Canada’s then head Frank Wilson explained, the “JNF are the caretakers of the land of Israel on behalf of its owners, who are the Jewish people everywhere around the world.”

In addition to racist land-use policies, JNF Canada lobbies for war.

Shortly after Israel killed 2,200 Palestinians – mostly civilians – in Gaza during 2014, the JNF brought Shaul Mofaz to speak in Toronto.

As well as being a former defense minister, Mofaz was in charge of the Israeli military from 1998 to 2002. In that capacity, he oversaw the brutal oppression of the second intifada, including a series of attacks on the main cities in the occupied West Bank.

In 2007, the JNF sponsored a cross-Canada speaking tour by Zeev Raz, a colonel who led Israel’s 1981 bombing of Iraq’s nuclear reactor and who has subsequently worked for Israel’s arms industry. The aim of the tour was to build momentum for an attack against Iran.

“Sanctions against Iran are not effective,” Raz argued. “Sanctions are too vulnerable to cheating. The only solution to the Iran problem is for there to be an effort of the US and other forces to invade Iran from the ground.”

JNF Canada has described 2016 as “our best year yet.” More than $21 million was raised.

Similar to other formerly powerful, but now discredited, institutions, the JNF seeks to convince vulnerable young minds of its racist worldview.

It’s time to free the children and abolish the JNF. Or at least revoke its tax-deductible status.

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Lester Pearson was no ‘honest broker’ or friend of Palestine

It’s no wonder Canadians are confused about their country’s place in the world when a leading advocate of the Palestinian cause praises the official most responsible for dispossessing Palestinians.

In an article about a recent poll showing Canadians have a negative attitude towards Israel, reject the notion criticizing Israel is anti-Semitic and believe the media is biased in Israel’s favour, Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East leader Tom Woodley threw in a sop to official mythology.

He wrote, “Lester B. Pearson won a Nobel peace prize for his role in mediating the Suez Crisis in 1956, and for many decades afterwards, many perceived Canada as an ‘honest broker’ in the Middle East, trusted by both Israel and the Palestinians.”

In fact, Pearson enabled the Zionist movement’s 1947/48 ethnic cleansing of Palestine. (During the Suez Crisis Pearson’s main concern was disagreement between the US and UK over the British-French-Israeli invasion, not Egyptian sovereignty or the plight of that country’s people, let alone Palestinians.)

Under growing Zionist military pressure after World War II, Britain prepared to hand its mandate over Palestine to the newly created UN. In response, the US-dominated international body formed the First Committee on Palestine, which was charged with developing the terms of reference for a committee that would find a solution for the British mandate.

Canada’s Undersecretary of External Affairs, who made his sympathy for Zionism clear in a March 1945 speech, chaired the First Committee that established the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP) in May 1947. At the First Committee Pearson rejected Arab calls for an immediate end to the British mandate and the establishment of an independent democratic country.

He also backed Washington’s push to admit a Jewish Agency representative to First Committee discussions (ultimately both a Jewish Agency and Palestinian representative were admitted). Pearson tried to define UNSCOP largely to facilitate Zionist aspirations.

The Arab Higher Committee wanted the issue of European Jewish refugees excluded from UNSCOP but the Canadian diplomat worked to give the body a mandate “to investigate all questions and issues relevant to the problem of Palestine.” A US State Department memo noted that Pearson “proved to be an outstanding chairman for [the First] Committee.”

The Canadian Arab Friendship League, on the other hand, complained that the First Committee plan for UNSCOP was “practically irresponsible and an invitation to … acts of terror on the part of Zionism.” The League continued, Arabs would “never refrain from demanding for … Palestine the same freedom presently enjoyed by other Arab states”, newly independent from colonial rule.

Opposed to the idea that representatives from Canada, Guatemala, Yugoslavia and other countries should decide their future, Palestinians boycotted UNSCOP. Despite the objection of Prime Minister Mackenzie King, Undersecretary Pearson committed Canada to sending a delegate on the UNSCOP mission to Palestine. In justifying his position to External Affairs Minister Louis St. Laurent, Pearson claimed “to have withdrawn our candidate at this moment might have been misinterpreted and have had an adverse effect on the discussion.” In fact, Pearson was significantly more willing to follow Washington’s lead than the Prime Minister.

Canada’s lead representative on UNSCOP, Ivan C. Rand, pushed for the largest possible Zionist state and is considered the lead author of the majority report in support of partitioning Palestine into ethnically segregated states.

At the end of their mission the UNSCOP majority and minority reports were sent to the special UN Ad Hoc Committee on the Palestinian Question. Not happy with Pearson’s role in the First Committee, the Prime Minister would not allow the future Nobel laureate to chair the Ad Hoc Committee on the Palestinian Question despite Washington’s request. Mackenzie King wrote that Pearson “lent himself perhaps too wholly to the desires of others,” a coded reference to the US State Department. Still, he played a major role in the Ad Hoc Committee.

At this forum Pearson rejected the Arab countries push to have the International Court of Justice decide whether the UN was allowed to partition Palestine. (Under US pressure, the Ad Hoc Committee voted 21 to 20 — with 16 abstentions — against allowing the International Court to adjudicate the matter).

The Ad Hoc Committee was split into two subcommittees with one focusing on the partition plan and the other on a bi-national state. At the Ad Hoc Committee’s Special Committee 1, Pearson worked feverishly to broker a partition agreement acceptable to Washington and Moscow.

Preoccupied with the great powers, the indigenous inhabitants’ concerns did not trouble the ambitious undersecretary. He dismissed solutions that didn’t involve partition, which effectively meant supporting a Jewish state on Palestinian land. Responding to a bi-national plan proposed by the Ad Hoc Committee’s Special Committee 2, he claimed: “The unitary state proposal meant nothing — a recommendation ‘out of the blue and into the blue.’”

Pearson said: “a [Jewish] ‘national home’ was a sine qua non [essential condition] of any settlement.” He later explained: “I have never waivered in my view that a solution to the problem was impossible without the recognition of a Jewish state in Palestine. To me this was always the core of the matter.”

Pearson played a central role in Special Committee 1’s partition plan. Both the New York Times and Manchester Guardian ran articles about his role in the final stage of negotiations. Dubbed the “Canadian plan” the final Special Committee 1 agreement between the US and USSR on how to implement partition was “a result of the tireless efforts of Lester B. Pearson,” according to a front-page New York Times article. Some Zionist groups called him “Lord Balfour” of Canada and “rabbi Pearson”. In 1960 Pearson received Israel’s Medallion of Valour and after stepping down as prime minister in 1968, he received the Theodore Herzl award from the Zionist Organization of America for his “commitment to Jewish freedom and Israel.”

By supporting partition he opposed the indigenous population’s moral and political claims to sovereignty over their territory. Down from 90% at the start of the British mandate, by the end of 1947 Arabs still made up two-thirds of Palestine’s population.

Despite making up only a third of the population, under the UN partition plan Jews received most of the territory. Pearson pushed a plan that gave the Zionist state 55% of Palestine despite the Jewish population owning less than seven percent of the land. According to Israeli historian Illan Pappe, “within the borders of their UN proposed state, they [Jews] owned only eleven percent of the land, and were the minority in every district. In the Negev [desert]…they constituted one percent of the total population.”

Undersecretary Pearson was not supported by the Prime Minister, who wanted to align Canada more closely with London’s position. While King was concerned about Britain, other government officials sympathized with the Palestinians. Justice Minister J.L. Isley said he was “gravely concerned” the push for partition did not meet the Arabs “very strong moral and political claims”.

The only Middle East expert at External Affairs, Elizabeth MacCallum, claimed Ottawa supported partition “because we didn’t give two hoots for democracy.” MacCallum’s opinion wasn’t popular with Pearson who organized late-night meetings allegedly to make it difficult for her to participate. Despite failing to convince her boss at External Affairs MacCallum displayed sharp foresight. At the time of the partition vote, notes The Rise and Fall of a Middle Power, “MacCallum scribbled a note and passed it to Mike (Pearson) saying the Middle East was now in for ‘forty years’ of war, due to the lack of consultation with the Arab countries.” She was prescient, even if she did underestimate the duration of the conflict.

Far from being an “honest broker”, a representative from the Canadian Arab Friendship League explained: “Our Canadian government at one time also favoured the creation of a federated State of Palestine which had at least some resemblance to a democratic solution. … Mr. Lester B. Pearson and Mr. Justice Ivan C. Rand changed that official position of our government. Instead of the democratic solution, these gentlemen did their utmost to impose upon the Arabs the infamous partition scheme. The Arab world, I am sure, will remember them.”

A huge boost to the Zionist movements’ desire for an ethnically-based state, the UN partition of British Mandate Palestine contributed to the displacement of at least 700,000 Palestinians. Scholar Walid Khalidi complained that UN (partition) Resolution 181 was “a hasty act of granting half of Palestine to an ideological movement that declared openly already in the 1930s its wish to de-Arabise Palestine.”

What spurred Pearson’s support for Israel? Jewish lobbying played only a small part. The son of a Methodist minister, Pearson’s Zionism was partly rooted in Christian teachings. His memoirs refer to Israel as “the land of my Sunday School lessons” where he learned that “the Jews belonged in Palestine.” One book on Pearson notes “there was a lot said at Sunday school about the historic home of the Jews but nothing about the Arab inhabitants.” At one point Canada’s eminent statesman said he knew more about the geography of the holy land than of Ontario and in a 1955 speech Pearson called Israel (alongside Greece and Rome) the source of Western values.

More practically, Israel’s creation lessened the pressure on a widely anti-Semitic Ottawa to accept post-World War II Jewish refugees. At the end of the war the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) was supposed to help resettle a couple hundred thousand displaced European Jews. When he was ambassador in Washington Pearson represented Canada at a number of UNRRA meetings where he faithfully defended the government’s position against Jewish immigration. After a meeting to discuss European refugees was moved from Ottawa to Bermuda, None is Too Many notes, “[Ambassador to Washington] Pearson exultingly wired [Undersecretary Norman] Robertson that the pressure was off and that, ‘in the circumstances,’ Ottawa was no longer ‘a possibility’ [to host the meeting]. And, he added, of even greater importance, Canada would not even be asked to take part in the conference.” Pearson believed sending Jewish refugees to Palestine was the only sensible solution to their plight.

But the refugee issue was less of a concern than US-British relations. In 1947 Pearson was concerned with Anglo-American disunity over Palestine, more than the Palestinian crisis itself. “I wasn’t thinking of trouble in terms of a war in Palestine,” he explained. “I was thinking of trouble in terms of a grave difference of opinion between London and Washington. That always gives a Canadian nightmares, of course.” Pearson worried that disagreement between Washington and London over Palestine could adversely affect the US-British alliance and the emerging North Atlantic alliance.

Above all else, the ambitious diplomat wanted to align himself and Canada with Washington, the world’s emerging hegemon. “Pearson usually coordinated his moves with the Americans,” explains Personal Policy Making: Canada’s role in the adoption of the Palestine Partition Resolution. To determine their position on the UN Ad Hoc Committee, for instance, Canada’s delegation “found it especially important to know the American’s position.” A member of the Canadian delegation explained: “[we] will have nothing to say until after the United States has spoken.”

Of central importance to Canadian support for partition was the belief that a Middle Eastern Jewish state would serve Western interests. An internal report circulated at External Affairs during the UN negotiations explained:

“The plan of partition gives to the western powers the opportunity to establish an independent, progressive Jewish state in the Eastern Mediterranean with close economic and cultural ties with the West generally and in particular with the United States.”

In a 1952 memo to cabinet Pearson repeated this thinking. “With the whole Arab world in a state of internal unrest [after the overthrow of the British-backed monarchy in Egypt] and in the grip of mounting anti-western hysteria, Israel is beginning to emerge as the only stable element in the whole Middle East area.”

He went on to explain how “Israel may assume an important role in Western defence as the southern pivot of current plans for the defence” of the eastern Mediterranean. Pearson supported Israel as a possible western ally in the heart of the (oil-producing) Middle East.

Pearson does not signify an evenhanded, let alone justice-oriented, policy towards Palestinians. Instead, he should be placed atop a long list of Canadian officials who’ve aided and abetted their dispossession.

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Israel apologists claiming to support refugees are hypocrites

It is strange how supporters of Israel are responding to Donald Trump’s Muslim and Syrian refugee ban. Some have applauded it, effectively acknowledging that Israel cheerleading is a right wing cause. Others have sought to be seen taking the side of anti-racism and religious tolerance, all the while ignoring Israel’s terrible treatment of Palestinian, Syrian and other refugees.

The case of Bernie Farber illustrates the difficulties this left/liberal camp faces. On Facebook the former Canadian Jewish Congress president and self-styled refugee rights advocate recently wrote, “while Trump is barring Syrian refugees…” and contrasted the move by posting a Times of Israel story titled “Israel said readying to take 100 orphaned Syrian refugees.”

In fact, Israel has an appalling record on helping with Syrian refugees. All the other states bordering Syria have accepted thousands of times more people fleeing the conflict. Over two million Syrian refugees are in Turkey. Far poorer and less populous than Israel, Jordan has around one million Syrian refugees while Lebanon has over one million. Even Iraq, which has three million internally displaced, has over 200,000 Syrian refugees.

Despite signing the 1951 Refugee Convention and 1967 refugee protocol, Israel announced in 2011 it would block anyone crossing into the Golan Heights, which violates the principle of non-refoulement (not forcing those seeking asylum to return to a country in which they are likely to be persecuted). Instead of adhering to its international legal responsibilities, Israel re-fortified a 90-kilometre fence in the occupied Golan Heights and laid new minefields to deter crossings. It also added a 30 km long fence on part of its border with Jordan partly to block Syrians from coming through that country and in 2013 completed a 200 km barrier along its border with Egypt largely to stop East African migrants (Israel already has a fence on its border with Lebanon and another one in the West Bank).

A June 2016 Financial Times story titled “Israel: walled in” depicts the numerous barriers the country has erected partially to deter refugees. The British paper quoted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu calling for Israel to surround itself with fence “to defend ourselves against wild beasts” in the region.

Now, six years into the conflict, Israel is saying it will take 100 Syrians. Only someone afflicted by ‘Israel worship’ could claim to support refugee rights and applaud this disgraceful record.

In a September 2015 story titled “One country that won’t be taking Syrian refugees: Israel” the Los Angeles Timesquoted Netanyahu’s rationale for shutting the door on those fleeing the humanitarian tragedy. Netanyahu claimed his country’s “lack of demographic and geographic depth” made it impossible to accept any refugees. (With 60% of Israel’s population, half its landmass and a sixth of its GDP, Lebanon has taken over one million Syrians.)

In Ynet Netanyahu’s former Director of Communications and Public Diplomacy, Yoaz Hendel, elaborated on why “Israel can’t take in refugees.” Hendel writes, “the demographic threat is real, and the need to preserve the Jewish nation state’s character as a democracy doesn’t allow for large minorities. The current numbers of Muslims pose a complicated challenge even without additions.”

In effect, Syrian refugees threaten what Farber et al. euphemistically call Israel’s “right to exist”. As non-Jews, particularly Arabs, they threaten the Jewish supremacist character of the state. Any Jew living comfortably in Toronto or Montréal, whose family migrated to Canada from Eastern Europe a century ago, can immigrate to Israel tomorrow. But, Israel lacks the “demographic and geographic depth” to offer temporary (or permanent) shelter to individuals fleeing a conflict 50 km away.

Israel’s response to the humanitarian tragedy on its border reflects its status as a 19th century European colonial outpost. Even the European and North American colonial states that spawned and promoted Zionism have become more racially and ethnically accommodating. There are some 200,000 Syrian refugees in Germany, 5,000 in Britain, 15,000 in the US and 40,000 in Canada.

Israel has taken fewer Syrians than countries 10,000 kilometres away. Venezuela announced it would accept 20,000 Syrians while Brazil proposed a multi-year plan to take up to 100,000 Syrian refugees.

Despite its unconscionable record, Farber found cause to applaud Israel. Rather than contrasting Trump’s ban with Israel’s openness, if the former head of the Canadian Jewish Congress truly embraced universal human rights he would criticize the US president for mimicking Israeli policy.

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Conservative hopefuls in pro-Israel circus, but real action is in NDP race

The Conservative party leadership campaign has unleashed pro-Israel quackery, but it is the NDP race that could have greater impact on Canada’s Palestine policy.

Aping Donald Trump, former Conservative minister Kellie Leitch recently asked her Twitter followers to “join me in calling on the Government of Canada to immediately move our embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.” This would likely contravene international law.

For her part, former cabinet minister and fellow leadership candidate Lisa Raitt dubbed the recently passed UN Security Council Resolution (2334) on Palestine “disgusting”. Offering Israel a diplomatic blank cheque, Raitt said her government would make sure Canada’s voice was heard “loud and clear all over the world as Israel’s best friend and ally – no matter what.”

Another former member of cabinet running to be party leader labelled most of the world anti-Semitic. Chris Alexander called Resolution 2334, which passed 14-0 with a US abstention, “yet another round of UN anti-Semitism.”

A Facebook ad for former foreign minister and leadership frontrunner, Maxime Bernier, was titled “my foreign-policy is simple: put Canada first”. It linked to a petition saying, “foreign policy must focus on the security and prosperity of Canadians — not pleasing the dysfunctional United Nations … which for years has disproportionately focused its activities on condemning Israel.” Evidently, putting “Canada first” means advancing Israel’s diplomatic interests.

While ‘I heart Israel’ and ‘I really heart Israel’ bile flows out of Republican Party North, it is the NDP contest that’s more likely to shape the Palestine debate going forward. Since party members rejected leader Thomas Mulcair, who once said “I am an ardent supporter of Israel in all situations and in all circumstances”, the Canadian Jewish News has run an editorial, front-page story and column expressing concern about how the NDP’s leftward shift will impact Israel policy.

As the NDP race revs up expect Palestine to be debated in a way that troublesIsraeli nationalists. 

“Sid Ryan for NDP Leader”, a website launched to enlist the former head of the Ontario Federation of Labour to run for the head of the party, notes: “Sid Ryan’s advocacy for the Palestinian people, starting in his days in CUPE where he endorsed the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement, shows that an NDP leader could muster broad support for a process where Canada is non-aligned, expresses solidarity with Palestinians and other oppressed nations in the Global South, and champions a foreign policy based on peace, democracy, social justice and human rights.” If Ryan enters the race. his support of Palestinian rights will set the bar fairly high on this important international issue. 

Another individual discussing a run, Jagmeet Singh, was the only member of the Ontario legislature to speak out against an Ontario legislature vote to condemn BDS in December. Singh criticized a Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs backed motion supporting the spurious “Ottawa Protocol on Combating Anti-Semitism” and rejecting “the differential treatment of Israel, including the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement.” Cognizant of party members’ support for Palestinian rights, Singh likely had a federal leadership bid in mind when he addressed the Ontario legislature.

The only individual officially in the race, Peter Julian, has said little on the subject. As a former critic and NDP House Leader, Julian needs to clearly distance himself from Mulcair’s shadow on the issue or it will dog his campaign. 

Another sitting MP who will likely seek the leadership, Charlie Angus, has been more vocal on Palestinian rights. At the start of last year he criticized an effort to condemn BDS in the House of Commons and in 2014 Angus denounced the “undue influence” that sponsored tours of Israel were having on MPs. During Israel’s onslaught on Gaza in 2014 Angus wrote on his Facebook page: “Our thuggish prime minister pumps his chest while people die in Gaza. He may think there are votes to be had by cheering on Netanyahu from the sidelines.”

The Green Party’s recent stand in favour of Palestinian rights demonstrates that progressives want action on the issue. Despite opposition from the media and popular party leader Elizabeth May, Green members voted overwhelmingly to support “economic measures such as government sanctions, consumer boycotts, institutional divestment, economic sanctions and arms embargoes” to pressure Israel. Progressives are less and less likely to be confused or intimidated by pro-Israel groups and their media lackeys. At this point a backlash against an NDP candidate’s support for Palestinian rights would likely increase their chance of winning the leadership. (In a somewhat relevant parallel, Jeremy Corbyn seems to have benefited from pro-Israel media attacks during his bid to lead the British Labour Party).

The considerable disconnect between the corporate media and engaged progressive opinion on Palestinian rights makes it important for the solidarity movement to politicize the subject when politicians are seeking the support of progressive party members. It is during the leadership fight that the Palestinian solidarity movement has the most leverage to force politicians to articulate a clear position.

In this vein, I suggest a modest Palestine litmus test: no NDP leadership candidate deserves support if they fail to call on the federal government to adhere to UN Resolution 2334. Passed by the Security Council, it has the force of international law (unlike General Assembly motions) and its narrow focus should make it fully palatable to mainstream opinion (it says nothing about the rights of Palestinians ethnically cleansed in 1948 or the inequities faced by Palestinian citizens of Israel). Resolution 2334 “reaffirms that the establishment by Israel of settlements in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, has no legal validity and constitutes a flagrant violation under international law.” 

For NDP candidates the relevant part of the resolution is the demand it places on other countries. Resolution 2334 calls on “all states … to distinguish, in their relevant dealings, between the territory of the State of Israel and the territories occupied since 1967.”

While past governments have made halting efforts to do as much, Ottawa doesn’t currently differentiate between “Israel proper” and the Occupied Territories. The two-decade old Canada–Israel free trade agreement allows settlement products to enter Canada duty-free. The European Union trade agreement, on the other hand, explicitly precludes Israel from putting “made in Israel” on goods produced in the occupied West Bank. Nor does Ottawa distinguish between Israel and the Occupied Territories in immigration policy. Individuals who live in illegal settlements are able to enter Canada without a visa like all Israelis. Additionally, a number of registered Canadian charities raise funds for projects supporting illegal Israeli settlements.

Since all NDP candidates likely claim to support international law calling on Ottawa to implement a Security Council resolution shouldn’t be tough. While 2334 is a low bar, Canada’s tilt in favour of Israel is so pronounced that getting NDP candidates to commit to take action against illegal settlements would have significant ripples. Its long-term impacts would certainly outweigh the ‘I heart Israel’ ravings from the Conservative Party.

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