Category Archives: Canada and Israel

NDP votes for Palestine

 

On Saturday New Democratic Party members delivered a victory for Palestinian rights and a blow to the Israel lobby in Canada.

Over 80% of convention delegates voted for a resolution calling for “Ending all trade and economic cooperation with illegal settlements in Israel-Palestine” and “Suspending the bilateral trade of all arms and related materials with the State of Israel until Palestinian rights are upheld.”

A few hours after the vote CBC News Network’s ticker said NDP members “voted to sanction Israel over settlements” and a subsequent clip on their site was titled “Would Singh make delegate resolution on sanctioning Israel an NDP position?”. Numerous outlets also picked up The Canadian Press’ report that “a resolution that demands Canada suspend arms dealing with Israel and halt trade with Israeli settlements passed with 80 per cent support.”

In response, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) put out a churlish release titled “NDP resolution highlights an ongoing toxic obsession with Israel”. If anyone missed the point in the headline, the release condemned the party’s “toxic obsession with Israel”, “pathological preoccupation with Israel” and “obsessive concern with Israel”, which they labeled “shameful”. On Twitter Rabbi David Mivasair derided CIJA’s release as the “definition of hypocrisy”, adding that the “Israel lobby in Canada, whose entire raison d’etre is to push Israel on us, says NDP is ‘obsessed with Israel’.”

CIJA’s post-resolution release and reaction to the NDP convention more broadly highlights how Israel has lost progressives and its lobby is ever more reliant on intimidating those who support Palestinian rights by calling them anti-Semitic. More than a month before the NDP convention CIJA began publicly pressuring the party leadership to suppress a resolution critical of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) anti-Palestinian definition of antisemitism. The ferocious campaign to suppress NDP members’ ability to debate a document designed to suppress discussion of Palestinian rights succeeded in scaring the NDP leader into erasing the long-oppressed Palestinians (theIHRA resolution never made it to the debate stage). A week ago Jagmeet Singh was asked on CBC’s The House about resolutions submitted to the NDP convention regarding “Canada’s relationship to Israel and the Palestinian territory”. Instead of responding to the question, he mentioned “anti-Semitism” four times. Asked again about “resolutions that in a sense condemn Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians”, Singh again failed to mention Palestine or Palestinians. Instead, he talked about “increased hate crimes also against people of the Jewish faith”.

The disastrous interview generated a burst of criticism regarding the party leadership’s anti-Palestinianism and gave momentum to pro-Palestinian forces within the party prior to the convention. In a significant reversal, the morning after the convention vote Singh defended the resolution that CBC’s chief political correspondent Rosemary Barton described as “your party voted overwhelmingly to slap sanctions on settlements and to ban arms sales to Israel.” Marshaling the legitimacy of “human rights groups”, Singh said it was important to “apply pressure on Israel to respect the rights of Palestinians.” While he equivocated somewhat in fully endorsing the Palestine Resolution, Singh repeated the importance of applying “pressure” on Israel three times.

An empty vessel on this issue, Singh goes wherever pushed. That’s the case for most of the NDP caucus. Two days ago MP Charlie Angus tweeted, “I keep getting mentioned by some who want the NDP to oppose the international definition of anti-semitism. This is not the way to go. I support motions calling for justice for the Palestinian people. But I also remain deeply concerned about the growing threat of anti-semitism.”

As far as I can tell no one said Angus backed the anti-IHRA definition resolution. Rather they pointed out that in January a Conservative member of the Ontario Legislature and a top Israeli diplomat both used the IHRA definition to attack Angus for sharing a Guardian article critical of Israel’s failure to vaccinate Palestinians for Covid 19. Angus’ name was raised as a concrete example of how the IHRA definition tramples on Palestinian rights. But, Anguscowardly threw those who defended him from smears under the Israel lobby bus.

Still, Angus’ formulation is worth reflecting on. With most of the backlash focused against the anti-IHRA definition resolution the Palestine Resolution seemed reasonable. Multi-pronged campaigns can be effective.

It took immense effort by a broad array of activists to get more than 30 (Palestine Resolution) and 40 (IHRA resolution) riding associations, as well as numerous other groups, to endorse these resolutions but it was worth it. The NDP convention confirms there is significant popular support for Palestinian rights. Polls have shown that Canadians are widely sympathetic to bringing pressure to bear on Israel for its colonization. My bet is that most of the 15% of NDP delegates who voted against the Palestine Resolution did so out of concern for the backlash, not the substance of the resolution.

While the Palestine resolution was a win for Palestinian rights and blow to the Israel lobby, it was also a small victory for grassroots democracy and proof that people can be mobilized by calls for justice in international affairs.

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Why couldn’t Jagmeet Singh say “Palestine”?

On CBC’s The House on Saturday Jagmeet Singh was asked about resolutions submitted to next week’s NDP convention regarding “Canada’s relationship to Israel and the Palestinian territory”. Instead of responding to the question, he mentioned “anti-Semitism” four times. Asked again about “resolutions that in a sense condemn Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians”, Singh again failed to mention Palestine or Palestinians. Instead, he talked about “increased hate crimes also against people of the Jewish faith”.

Singh’s complete erasure of the long-oppressed Palestinians is hard to listen to. After an outpouring of criticism, he took to Twitter to calm an enraged party base with a clarification that included some customary Israel/Palestine talking points.

While the House interview was appalling, Singh’s anti-Palestinian record is long-standing. In the summer he refused to endorse a pledge, supported by 70 MPs, to oppose Israel’s plan to annex the Palestinian West Bank. During the 2019 election the party leadership blocked a half-dozen candidates from running partly or entirely because of their support for Palestinian rights. A year earlier Singh explicitly rejected a call from 200 prominent individuals, labour leaders and party members — including Roger Waters, Noam Chomsky, Linda McQuaig and Maher Arar — for the NDP to withdraw from the Canada Israel Interparliamentary Group (CIIG). At the 2018 convention Singh mobilized his family and dozens of members of his community to vote against allowing debate on the modest “Palestine Resolution: renewing the NDP’s commitment to peace and justice”, which was unanimously endorsed by the NDP youth convention, many affiliated groups and two dozen riding associations.

Singh has been decidedly deferential to leading anti-Palestinian lobby group the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA). Last month he stoked a CIJA attack against leftist NDP MP Niki Ashton and Singh previously participated in a CIJA “antisemitism” smear against Dimitri Lascaris, one of Canada’s most effective advocates for Palestinian rights. At a December 2019 event with CIJA Singh said he considered the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) anti-Palestinian working definition of anti-Semitism a useful “guiding educational lens”. In an article breaking down that CIJA meeting Sheryl Nestel explained, “the overwhelming takeaway from the CIJA podcast is that Singh is intent on demonstrating the degree to which he identifies with Israel. The NDP leader’s aim, it seems, was to quell any concerns that CIJA and its supporters might have about the possibility of his extending solidarity to the Palestinians.”Prior to becoming leader of the party, Singh went on a CIJA-sponsored trip to Israel.

Singh’s response to the CBC represents an over-the-top bid to appease CIJA, which has been running an aggressive campaign to pressure the NDP leadership to suppress debate regarding a convention resolution critical of the IHRA’s anti-Palestinian definition of antisemitism. But, his clarification on Twitter suggests Singh and his handlers know he went too far in appeasing those promoting what Israel’s leading human rights group B’Tselem recently dubbed “A regime of Jewish supremacy from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea: This is apartheid”.

Most delegates to NDP conventions are not anti-Palestinian bigots. So, it is a bad idea to generate a burst of criticism regarding the party leadership’s anti-Palestinianism days before you are angling to suppress debate of pro-Palestinian resolutions. To succeed in suppressing debate at the convention requires delegates to be naïve/trusting in the leadership. If it wasn’t already clear to anyone mildly engaged in NDP affairs, the leadership prefers to align with right wing anti Palestinian groups that smear progressives than a membership increasingly supportive of Palestinian rights.

It will be interesting to see what the NDP leadership is prepared to do to block members from debating widely supported pro-Palestinian resolutions at the convention. Hopefully, Singh’s House interview riles up delegates to aggressively challenge the NDP leadership and do what’s right.

 

 

Join more than 900 individuals who have emailed the NDP leadership asking them to resist efforts to suppress debate on Palestinian rights at the convention. On April 5 the Canadian Foreign Policy Institute is hosting an online event on “Palestine Solidarity: Why the NDP Convention Matters.”

 

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Jewish Federations at helm of anti-Palestinian activism

UJA Toronto’s 2016 Walk with Israel

Oddly the most significant institutional purveyor of anti-Palestinianism in Canada operates largely below the radar of solidarity activists. In fact, some even seek to exculpate the Jewish Federations’ support for racism, colonialism and an apartheid state.

In a recent column critical of the Conservative party aligned Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) Andrew Cohen makes a remarkable claim about United Jewish Appeal/Combined Jewish Appeal of Toronto, Montréal, Winnipeg, Windsor, Calgary, Edmonton, Hamilton, London, Ottawa, Vancouver and Atlantic Canada. In “Unelected, Unaccountable, Untroubled: CIJA Says What it Wants, Then Says it Speaks For Us”, Cohen suggests Canada’s Jewish Federations may not be fully aligned with CIJA, which they fund as their official lobbying arm. The article was shared uncritically by a number of pro-Palestinian activists.

But, beyond financing the country’s leading Israel lobby group, the Federations fund and organize significant other anti-Palestinian activity. Around a quarter of the money the Federations raise is sent to Israel, a country with a $43,641 per person GDP (higher than France and Japan). UJA Toronto has organized an annual Walk with Israel for nearly a half-century while CJA Montréal also puts on an Israel Day rally. Additionally, during the 2014 war on Gaza that left 2,200 Palestinians dead UJA Toronto co-sponsored an event titled “We Will Not be Silent: A March Against Global Anti-Semitism.” The Times of Israel reported: “The purpose of the march was passionately summed up in Bill Glied’s closing remarks: ‘Thank God for the IDF. Thank God for Israel. And remember together we must stand. Never again!’”

UJA Toronto operates an Israel Engagement program. A year ago they announced that an eight-year veteran of the IDF, Eyal Shmueli, was their new Israeli emissary and the keynote speaker at UJA Toronto’s 2020 fundraising appeal closing was noted anti-Palestinian Bari Weiss.

The Federations provide tens of millions of dollars to private schools that promote the Israeli nationalist narrative. In 2018 UJA Toronto gave the principal of Robin Hebrew Academy, Claire Sumerlus, an Israel Engagement Award. Many of the schools they fund have students sing the Israeli national anthem and fly the Israeli flag. On Israel’s 70th anniversary two years ago UJA Toronto director of corporate communications, Dan Horowitz, described the Zionist ethos at one of those schools: “I drove my daughter to her Jewish day school and, upon dropping her off, I was amazed to see a veritable sea of blue and white flooding the playground, with boys and girls dressed in only those colours.”

As I recently detailed, a number of Toronto schools openly promote the Israeli military. The largest recipient of UJA Toronto school funding, TanenbaumCHAT, organizes “IDF days”. Canada’s largest private high school also has fundraisers for Israeli military initiatives and former and current Israeli soldiers talk to the students about the IDF, which sometimes appears part of the Israeli consulate’s recruitment drives.

In the Fall UJA Toronto held a webinar with Brant Slomovic, author of a recent photo book on non-Israelis fighting in the occupation force. UJA/CJA also directly promotes IDF recruitment. UJA Toronto’s website advertised a June 4 event titled “Nefesh B’Nefesh VIRTUAL Webinar: Joining the IDF.” The promotion explained that individuals would learn “everything you need and want to know about joining the IDF.” CJA Montréal promoted a similar event that took place three days later.

According to the Foreign Enlistment Act it is illegal to recruit for a foreign military. The act states, “any person who, within Canada, recruits or otherwise induces any person or body of persons to enlist or to accept any commission or engagement in the armed forces of any foreign state or other armed forces operating in that state is guilty of an offence.” (There is an ongoing campaign calling on the federal government to apply charges against those recruiting Canadians for the Israeli military.)

UJA Toronto has sought to suppress the speech of those supporting Palestinian rights. In the summer it supported a bid to bankrupt Foodbendors due to the small Toronto restaurant’s support of the Palestinian cause. In another instance, the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg canceled its sponsorship of a 2019 event by Lex Rofeberg because the fourth year rabbinical student was a member of the anti-occupation (though not anti-Zionist) US Jewish group IfNotNow (Rofeberg wasn’t even going to speak about Israel). In 2009 UJA Toronto demanded the cancellation of an international conference put on by academics at Queen’s and York Universities titled “Israel/Palestine: Mapping Models of Statehood and Paths to Peace.”

Last year UJA Toronto had a whopping $209 million in revenue and $668 million in assets and planned gifts that were, at least in part, accumulated through its charitable tax status. Also subsidized by the state, CJA Montréal is about half the size and the other federations are smaller.

Despite the heft of the national network of UJA/CJAs, there has been little public criticism of the Federations’ anti-Palestinianism. While the left compares Israel to apartheid South Africa — it is worse in many ways — there is a trepidation about directly challenging Jewish institutions that enable this racist and colonial behaviour. Imagine if during the struggle for racial equality in South Africa in the 1980s an organization in Toronto organized an annual Walk for South Africa, funded a major South African apartheid lobby group and various initiatives that promoted the South African military. There would certainly have been statements of condemnation and demonstrations at their office. Yet UJA Toronto does this and more to support an apartheid state with almost no protest.

It’s long past time to directly challenge the Jewish Federations. It’s time for those who care about peace and international justice to treat the Federations the same way they would any organization that promotes racism and colonialism.

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B’nai B’rith smears leading Palestine solidarity activist

B’Tselem report

Recently Israel’s largest human rights organization concluded the country was run based on a “regime of Jewish supremacy”. B’Tselem wasn’t only referring to the occupied West Bank but an “apartheid” system in place from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea.

A week after B’Tselem’s report was released, one of Canada’s leading lobbyists for the “regime of Jewish supremacy” smeared maybe the country’s most effective activist in challenging Canadian complicity in that racism as, well surprise, surprise … racist. B’nai B’rith put out a press release attacking Karen Rodman for “promoting the sale of Israeli wine … only because the winemaker is an Arab, rather than an Israeli Jew.”

The release is cringe worthy. It’s hard to believe a more sober minded individual within the multimillion-dollar organization failed to intercede. But the truth is much of what B’nai B’rith produces reeks of an unsophisticated bully emboldened by a complicit political culture. A number of blogs promoting the “regime of Jewish supremacy” picked up B’nai B’rith’s release declaring: “Antisemitic BDSers support selling wine from Israel — as long as it isn’t from Jews”; “Anti-Semitism: BDS Activist Promotes Israeli Wine Produced by Arabs, Not Jews”; “A ‘wineing’ hypocrisy: The BDS movement in Canada”.

Rodman’s role in selling a few bottles from a Palestinian-owned winery is not, of course, why B’nai B’rith is targeting her. That self-declared human rights organization sees it as an opportunity to attack BDS and, more particularly, to undermine Rodman’s effective activism on a series of fronts.

A former United Church of Canada minister, Rodman has campaigned to expose a 1970s agreement the church made with B’nai B’rith to inform it about Israel-related affairs or possibly even to seek their consent before implementing policy approved by the grassroots. She was also the key player in last summer’s No Canada on United Nations Security Council campaign. Rodman compiled the research contrasting Canada’s viciously anti-Palestinian voting record at the General Assembly with its competitors for the seats Ireland and Norway. She also tracked down the contacts for all the UN ambassadors and coordinated an action alert that saw over 1,300 individuals deliver letters urging them to vote against Canada’s bid due to its anti-Palestinian record. Flustered by the campaign, Canada’s representative at the international organization wrote a last-minute response to all UN ambassadors. (Another 1,000 letters were sent to UN ambassadors about other elements of Canadian foreign policy.) The security council loss was embarrassing to the Trudeau Liberals and was also a blow to the “regime of Jewish supremacy” and its Canadian lobby.

More recently, Rodman has spearheaded the campaign to challenge illegal Israeli military recruitment in Canada. Canadians have been recruited to fight in Israel’s military for three quarters of a century and only recently has there been an organized effort to stop the practice. The campaign launched with an open letter signed by numerous prominent individuals demanding the Trudeau government take action on recruitment for the Israeli military and over 2,000 emails have been sent to Justice Minister David Lametti and RCMP Commissioner Rob O’Reilly calling on them to investigate the matter. Adding further pressure, Member of Parliament Mario Beaulieu is participating in an upcoming webinar on the subject.

While one may be tempted to call B’nai B’rith’s attack on Rodman a new low, it is not. The group’s fanaticism in promoting hate is long-standing. In October 2018 B’nai Brith sponsored an event in Vancouver with Ben Shapiro — a former Breitbart News editor. Shapiro has said the “Palestinian Arab population is rotten to the core”, “Arabs like to bomb crap and live in open sewage” and Islam is an “ideological representation of third worldism … and poverty.” In response to a 2012 United Church resolution calling for a boycott of products from illegal Israeli settlements, B’nai Brith CEO Frank Dimant issued statement claiming the minimal act of solidarity with the besieged Palestinians was tantamount to “calling for ethnic cleansing of Jews from these areas.”

Just like White supremacists accuse people of colour of racism when they call for equality, B’nai Brith accuses others of what it promotes. It backs extremist elements of the “regime of Jewish supremacy” while labeling those challenging racist governance as racist. People of good conscience will see through this and demonstrate solidarity with Karen Rodman.

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Challenging illegal Israeli military recruitment

Canadian Embassy in Tel Aviv hosted party with Canadian “lone soldiers” in IDF on Jan 16 2020

There’s a Canadian law that makes it illegal to recruit soldiers for a foreign state, but you’d never know it the way Israel and its supporters operate in this country.

The Foreign Enlistment Act states: “Any person who, within Canada, recruits or otherwise induces any person or body of persons to enlist or to accept any commission or engagement in the armed forces of any foreign state or other armed forces operating in that state is guilty of an offence.”

But for three quarters of a century Canadians have been recruited inside this country to fight in Israel’s military. Finally, however, there is an organized effort to stop this practice.

Recently a formal legal complaint was delivered to Justice Minister David Lametti detailing recruitment for the Israeli military in Canada and calling on the federal government to apply charges under the Foreign Enlistment Act where appropriate. Additionally, an open letter was released last week demanding the Trudeau government take action on recruitment for the Israeli military. Signed by Noam Chomsky, Roger Waters, filmmaker Ken Loach, author Yann Martel, former MP Jim Manly, poet El Jones and more than 150 others, the open letter points out that “the Israeli consulate in Toronto has advertised on several occasions that they have an IDF representative available for personal appointments for those wishing to join the IDF.”

Last November the Israeli consulate in Toronto openly announced a military recruitment effort. According to their notice, “an IDF representative will conduct personal interviews at the Consulate on November 11-14. Young people who wish to enlist in the IDF or anyone who has not fulfilled their obligations according to the Israeli Defense Service Law are invited to meet with him.”

A number of groups help bring and support Canadians in the Israeli military. Gerry Schwartz and Heather Reisman’s Heseg Foundation for Lone Soldiers supports non-Israelis in the IDF and at its Toronto office the Friends of Israeli Scouts’ Garin Tzabar program has provided Hebrew lessons and support services, as well as help with transport and accommodation in Israel, for Canadian “lone soldiers”. Nefesh B’Nefesh’s also helps non-Israelis join the IDF.

When I was Vice President of the Concordia Student Union in 2002 Hillel, a Jewish student group, provocatively handed out flyers entitled “Volunteer for the Israeli Defense Forces!” In the aftermath of then former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu being blocked from speaking on campus, Hillel advertised a recruitment program for the Israeli army!

While the number of Canadians in the IDF is always in flux, a January estimate put it at 78. In 2017 it was 230 and during Israel’s 2014 destruction of Gaza, which killed 2,200 Palestinians, 145 Canadians were thought to be fighting in the Israeli military. At least 25 individuals from the Greater Toronto Area fought in Gaza during Israel’s 22-day 2008/2009 assault, which left 1,400 dead. During Israel’s 2006 assault on Lebanon the Canadian Jewish News reported, “Canadian youths leave home to join Israeli army.”

Israeli military recruitment in Canada is long-standing. The most important and well-documented recruitment took place during the war unleashed by the 1947 UN Partition Plan and Zionist ethnic cleansing of Palestine. Representatives from Haganah, the primary pre-state Zionist military force, recruited 300 experienced Canadian soldiers to serve in Israel’s ranks a decade after Canada adopted the Foreign Enlistment Act to stop Canadians from fighting against Franco’s fascist forces in Spain. Haganah’s main recruiter in Canada, the heir to Tiptop Tailors, Ben Dunkelman, claimed “about one thousand” Canadians “fought to establish Israel.” Dunkelman wrote, “the Haganahcommand had decided to recruit experienced combat soldiers to serve in the Jewish forces. They wanted me to get to work on recruiting an infantry brigade of English-speaking volunteers, which I would lead in action.” More than half a million dollars ($5.5 million in today’s money) was raised to pay for the travel and living costs of the Canadian troops.

During the 1948 war Israel’s small air force was almost entirely foreign, with at least 53 Canadians, including 15 non-Jews, enlisted. Montreal’s Sydney Shulemson is considered the “father of the Israeli Air Force” and, in a highly mediatized move, Canada’s top World War II fighter ace, Buzz Beurling, went to fight for Israel.

Ottawa did little to stop Canadians from joining Israel’s fight despite outlawing recruitment for a foreign army during the Spanish Civil War. Far from stopping it, Canadian diplomacy helped gain the release of Canadians detained in Lebanon en route to fight in Palestine.

Canadians engaged in the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians. “By the summer of 1948,” reports researcher Dan Freeman-Maloy, “he [Dunkelman] was in command of a Brigade actively depopulating Palestinian villages by force — a unit so heavily comprised of recruits from Canada, the United States and South Africa that it came to be known as the ‘Anglo-Saxon Brigade.’”

The Israeli military’s belligerent, violent character has not abated since then. In his 2008 book Defending The Holy Land: A Critical Analysis of Israel’s Security & Foreign Policy Zeev Maoz notes, “there was only one year out of 56 years of history in which Israel did not engage in acts involving the threat, display, or limited use of force with its neighbors.” Over the years Israel has bombed Palestine, Jordan, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Tunisia and Iraq. In recent years the Israeli military has bombed Syria on a weekly basis and has multiple boots on Palestinian necks. The Israeli military administers a brutal occupation in the West Bank and regularly kills Palestinians in Gaza.

The Liberal government needs to apply Canadian law regarding recruitment for the Israeli military. It’s long past time to disrupt the flow of Canadians killing Palestinians.

 

 

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

 

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Toronto schools push students to join Israeli military

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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Filed under Canada and Israel, Israel Lobby

Israel lobby will face blowback, eventually

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Filed under Canada and Israel, Israel Lobby

Does Stephen Lewis want Palestine to disappear?

Brian Mulroney and Stephen Lewis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Filed under Canada and Israel, Israel, NDP

End the Canada Israel Free Trade Agreement

 

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On Sunday a demonstration is planned in Montréal against the Canada Israel Free Trade Agreement (CIFTA). Under the banner “Against Israel’s annexation of the Jordan Valley. No to the Canada Israel Free Trade Agreement!”, the march is seeking to politicize CIFTA amidst Israel’s plan to formally annex parts of the West Bank.

The march follows an open letter released last month by over 100 Montréal artists and activists calling for the cancellation of CIFTA.

Signed in 1997, CIFTA was Canada’s fourth free trade agreement and first outside the Western hemisphere (US, NAFTA and Chile). In an implicit recognition of the occupation, the free trade agreement includes the West Bank as a place where Israel’s custom laws are applied. Canada’s trade agreement is based on the areas Israel maintains territorial control over, not on internationally recognized borders. The European Union’s trade agreement with Israel, on the other hand, explicitly excludes products from territory Israel captured in the 1967 war and occupies against international law.

The Liberals “modernized” Canada’s FTA with Israel. International trade minister Jim Carr boasted the new accord “strengthens bilateral ties between Canada and Israel.” Liberal MPs on Parliament’s Standing Committee on International Trade rejected an NDP amendment to the trade accord’s legislation stipulating its implementation “shall be based on respect for human rights and international law.” They also rejected an NDP amendment to the deal that would have required distinct labels on products originating from “Palestinian territory that has been illegally occupied since 1967.”

In July 2019 Palestine Liberation Organization Executive Committee member Hanan Ashrawi wrote, “the Palestinian leadership calls on the Canadian government to act in accordance with Canadian and international laws and amend, without delay, the Canada-Israel Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act (Bill C-85), which affords products originating from illegal Israeli settlements tariff free status, in flagrant violation of Canada’s obligations under international law, including the Fourth Geneva Convention, and United Nations Security Council resolutions, including resolution 2334 (2016).”

In July 2017 the federal government said its FTA with Israel trumped Canada’s Food and Drugs Act after the Canadian Food Inspection Agency called for accurate labelling of wines produced in the occupied West Bank. After David Kattenburg repeatedly complained about inaccurate labels on two wines sold in Ontario, the CFIA notified the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) that it “would not be acceptable and would be considered misleading” to declare wines produced in the Occupied Palestinian Territories as “products of Israel”. Quoting from longstanding official Canadian policy, CFIA noted that “the government of Canada does not recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the territories occupied in 1967.” In response to pressure from the Israeli embassy, Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs and B’nai Brith, the government announced that it was all a mistake made by a low level CFIA official and that the Canada-Israel FTA governed the labelling of such wine, not CFIA rules. “We did not fully consider the Canada-Israel Free Trade Agreement,” a terse CFIA statement explained. “These wines adhere to the Agreement and therefore we can confirm that the products in question can be sold as currently labeled.”

In other words, the government publicly proclaimed that the FTA trumps Canada’s consumer protections. But, this was little more than a pretext to avoid a conflict with B’nai B’rith, Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs and Israeli officials, according to Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives Trade and Investment Research Project director Scott Sinclair. “This trade-related rationale does not stand up to scrutiny,” Sinclair wrote. “The Canadian government, the CFIA and the LCBO are well within their legal and trade treaty rights to insist that products from the occupied territories be clearly labeled as such. There is nothing in the CIFTA that prevents this. The decision to reverse the CFIA’s ruling was political. The whole trade argument is a red herring, simply an excuse to provide cover for the CFIA to backtrack under pressure.”

If the Canadian government does indeed support a rules-based international order as Prime Minister Trudeau has proclaimed then the Canada Israel Free Trade Agreement should be scrapped.

Information on the demonstration “Against Israel’s annexation of the Jordan Valley. No to the Canada Israel Free Trade Agreement!” is available here.

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Filed under Canada and Israel, Israel, Justin Trudeau, Middle East

Neo-Nazi bad, left wing anti-Israel store owner much worse?

 

20200707-foodbenders.jpg-resize_then_crop-_frame_bg_color_FFF-h_400-gravity_center-q_70-preserve_ratio_true-w_600_Contrasting the Jewish establishment’s reaction to alleged bigotry from a left-wing Toronto restaurant and unambiguous hatred from a far-right politician is a sad comment on their political priorities.

As I detailed here and here, the anti-Palestinian lobby went into overdrive after Foodbenders owner Kimberly Hawkins posted to Instagram at the start of the month: “Open Now – 8 PM for non-racist shoppers #Bloordale #Bloorstreet, #Toronto, #Open, #ftp [fuck the police] #FreePalestine and #ZionistsNotWelcome.”

The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) and others claimed the #ZionistsNotWelcome hashtag discriminated against Jews. CIJA tweeted no less than 25 times about a restaurant known for supporting indigenous rights, Black Lives Matter and other social justice causes. As of writing, CIJA’s pinned tweet was a press release from July 8 largely about Foodbendors. CIJA also released a long statement regarding the small left-wing Toronto restaurant and sent an action alert asking its members to complain about Foodbendors’ to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario. The advocacy arm of Canada’s Jewish federations also called on politicians to denounce the restaurant and pushed a campaign targeting Foodbenders’ delivery services, institutional customers, website host and social media accounts.

As the Foodbendors brouhaha was mostly dying down the head of the Canadian Nationalist Party, Travis Patron, published a flyer and video titled “Beware The Parasitic Tribe”. In the video he described Jews as “inside manipulators” who “infiltrate the media, they hijack the central bank, and they infect the body politic like a parasite.” His conclusion was of an ethnic cleansing variety. “And what we need to do,” Patron exalted, “perhaps more than anything, is remove these people once and for all from our country.”

There is little ambiguity here. Patron is spewing vile anti-Semitic hatred. Additionally, Patron has been accused of violence. He’s currently before the courts on charges of aggravated assault and assault causing bodily harm for an incident in November so it’s not implausible that he could commit a violent hate crime against Jews or others he regards as targets.

While CIJA condemned Patron’s comments, they did so with considerably less vigor than Foodbenders. They only tweeted about it twice (versus 25 times for Foodbendors) and I couldn’t find a press release or action alert on the matter.

The contrast between B’nai B’rith’s reaction to Patron and to Foodbendors was similarly striking. While it tweeted about Patron twice, it put out two dozen messages about the restaurant and different ways to bankrupt it, including two tweets three weeks after the kerfuffle began. On July 24 B’nai B’rith tweeted, “Big shout out to @MrCaseDelivery to thank them for severing business ties with Foodbenders in Toronto” and then another stating, “Anti-Zionist Canadian Restaurant Owner Faces Growing Legal Woes.”

From what I can find Toronto Sun columnist Sue-Ann Levy stayed silent on Patron though she published a half dozen articles on Foodbenders. Even Bernie Farber, Chair of Canadian Anti-Hate Network and former head of the Canadian Jewish Congress, tweeted more times about Foodbendors (8) than Patron (2).

The ferociousness of the campaign against Foodbenders has been remarkable. Contrasting it with the Israeli nationalist Canadian establishment’s reaction to unambiguous anti-Semitic hatred from a far-right politician would seem to indicate that destroying a business owned by a left-wing owner is of greater priority than opposing neo-Nazis.

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Filed under Canada and Israel, Israel