Category Archives: Canada and Israel

Flying Israeli flag in high school causes hatred and division

Should “Jewish Heritage Month” be used as a cover for Israeli nationalism and to suppress Palestinian protest?

A recent incident at a Toronto high school demonstrates the depravity of the pro-Israel lobby. It also illustrates their use of Canadian cultural and “diversity” initiatives to promote a country that declares itself to be the exact opposite of diverse.

Amidst the recent slaughter of nonviolent protesters in Gaza, a half-century illegal occupation of the West Bank and weekly bombings in Syria, an Israeli flag marked with “Jewish Heritage Month” was hoisted in the main foyer of Forest Hill Collegiate Institute. After a couple days the flag created by Israeli nationalist students was moved – possibly due to complaints from other students – to a less prominent location where Jewish Heritage Month events were taking place. In response, B’nai Brith, Hasbara Fellowships, Simon Wiesenthal Centre for Holocaust Studies and Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) all claimed persecution. “Discrimination has absolutely no place in our schools”, noted a CIJA spokesperson with regards to moving the Israeli flag to a less prominent location in the school. For their part, the Wiesenthal Center said our “objective is to ensure that TDSB [Toronto District School Board] adheres to its own values of equity and inclusivity for all students” while B’nai Brith’s press release decried the “Jewish students who have had their heritage denigrated.” That group then published a story titled “Forest Hill Collegiate Has History of Alienating Jewish Students, Former Pupil Says.”

After the uproar, the flag was returned to the Forest Hill Collegiate Institute’s main foyer and the TDSB apologized. At an assembly to discuss the matter, in which the principal and TDSB representative spokestanding behind a podium adorned with an Israeli flag, a student apparently yelled “Free Palestine”. B’nai Brith immediately denounced the brave, internationalist-minded highschooler, tweeting: “This morning, before an assembly about the removal of a #JewishHeritageMonth banner at Forest Hill Collegiate, a student yelled ‘Free Palestine’ during the morning announcements. We have been assured that this was not approved by the school and that an investigation is underway.”

In another Twitter post, B’nai Brith claimed the Israeli flag flap made a “mockery of Canada’s first Jewish Heritage Month.” Their statement highlights a mindset that views gaining official sanction of cultural initiatives as a way to strengthen their campaign to support a violent, European colonial outpost in the Middle East.

Earlier this year the House of Commons unanimously adopted May as “Jewish Heritage Month”. The motion was sponsored by York Centre MP Michael Levitt who is chair of the Canada IsraelInterparliamentary Group and a former board member of the explicitly racist Jewish National Fund. Two weeks ago the Liberal MP issued a statement, partly rebutting the prime minister, that blamed “Hamas incitement” for Israeli forces shooting thousands of peaceful protesters, including Canadian doctor Tarek Loubani.

The bill’s other sponsor was Linda Frum. Last year the Conservative Party senator called Iran “one of themost malign nations in the world” and labeled a Palestinian-Canadian 2014 art exhibit at Ottawa’s city hall “a taxpayer-funded tribute to a Palestinian terrorist” and “the murder of innocent civilians.”

Leaving aside the background of those driving the initiative, the likely political effect of creating Jewish Heritage Month should have been obvious. The Canadian Jewish News report on the House of Commons resolution noted that May was chosen to celebrate Jewish Heritage Month because of the “various events on the Jewish calendar, including the UJA Walk for Israel, the Toronto Jewish Film Festival, Jewish Music Week and Israel’s Independence Day.” Similarly, when Ontario adopted May as Jewish Heritage Month in 2012 United Jewish Appeal Federation of Greater Toronto president Ted Sokolsky linked it to the group’s Israel campaigning. He said, “this announcement will call for an extra celebration at this year’s UJA Walk with Israel, which for 45 years has taken place in May.”

Despite the initiative being steeped in colonialist politics, the NDP voted in favor of the bill creating Jewish Heritage Month. During discussion of the motion NDP MPs, Jenny Kwan and Randall Garrissonclaimed it would enhance cultural/religious understanding. Garrisson said, “Jewish heritage month will help contribute to better understanding of just how diverse we Canadians are, and in doing so contribute to building a Canada free from hatred and division.”

Of course, this would be a laudable goal, but putting up an Israeli flag in a public high school while that country is murdering unarmed Palestinian demonstrators can only cause hatred and division. And it is an affront to thousands of Jewish-Canadians who do not support Israel.

The flag flap at Forest Hill Collegiate illustrates how pro-Israel groups have weaponized Jewish cultural initiatives to amplify their anti-Palestinianism. Those who seek justice for Palestinians need to recognize this fact and figure out ways to push back.

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NDP MPs must stop being ‘friends’ with Israel

Is it appropriate for NDP Members of Parliament to be working for “greater friendship” with a country that is killing and maiming thousands of non-violent protestors?

Would it have been appropriate for any elected member of the party to be a “friend” with South Africa’s government during the apartheid era?

Victoria area MPs Randall Garrison (left) and Murray Rankin are members of the Canada Israel Interparliamentary Group (previously named Canada-Israel Friendship Group).

Garrison is vice-chair of a group designed to promote “greater friendship” and “cooperation” between the two countries’ parliaments.

The chair of the group is York Centre MP Michael Levitt, a former board member of the explicitly racist Jewish National Fund, who issued a statement blaming “Hamas incitement” for Israeli forces shooting thousands of peaceful protesters, including Canadian doctor Tarek Loubani.

The Interparliamentary Group is one of many pro-Israel lobbying organizations in Canada. In conjunction with the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) and Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee, the Interparliamentary Group has hosted wine and cheese lobbying events on Parliament Hill. Three hundred parliamentarians and parliamentary staff attended their 2014 “Israeli Wine Meets Canadian Cheese” gathering in the East Block courtyard.

The group regularly meets the Israeli Ambassador and that country’s other diplomats. Representatives of the Group also regularly visit Israel on sponsored trips. For their part, Garrison and Rankin both participated in CIJA-organized trips to Israel in 2016.

The Interparliamentary Group works with its Israeli counterpart the Israel-Canada Inter-Parliamentary Friendship Group. In 2016 the Group sent a delegation to the Israeli Knesset and last year they organized a joint teleconference with Israel-Canada Inter-Parliamentary Friendship Group co-chairs Yoel Hasson and Anat Berko.

Last month Hasson responded to Meretz party Chairwoman Tamar Zandberg’s call for an investigation into the Israel Defense Forces’ killing of non-violent Palestinian protesters by tweeting, “there was nothing to investigate, the IDF is doing what’s necessary to defend the Gaza border.”

Chairman of the Zionist Union Knesset faction, Hasson opposed the UN resolution on a Palestinian state. When the Knesset voted to strip Arab MK Hanin Zoabi of parliamentary privileges for participating in the 2010 Gaza flotilla Hasson and MK Carmel Shama “nearly came to blows” with Zoabi and her fellow Balad party MK Jamal Zahalka. Hasson later called Zoabi a “terrorist”.

Berko is even more openly racist and anti-Palestinian. A Lieutenant-Colonel in the IDF reserves prior to her election with Likud, Berko openly disparaged African refugees. In February Israel National News reported, “Berko said that the MKs should see the suffering that African migrants have caused South Tel Aviv residents before jetting off to Rwanda” to oppose an effort to deport mostly Eritrean and Sudanese refugees to the small East African nation.

In January Berko co-sponsored a bill to bypass a High Court ruling that Israeli forces cannot use the bodies of dead Palestinian protesters as bargaining chips. The aim of the bill was to make it harder for the bodies to be given over for burial, which should happen as soon as possible under Muslim ritual, in the hopes of preventing high profile funerals. In a 2016 Knesset debate Berko make the ridiculous claim that the absence of the letter “P” in the Arabic alphabet meant Palestine did not exist since “no people would give itself a name it couldn’t pronounce.”
In response Richard Silverstein noted, “Apparently, the fact that the word is spelled and pronounced with an ‘F’ (Falastin) in Arabic seems to have escaped her. It’s worth noting, too, that according to her logic, Israeli Jews do not exist either, since there is no letter ‘J’ in Hebrew.”

Garrison and Rankin must immediately withdraw from the Canada–Israel Interparliamentary Group. If the NDP MPs refuse to disassociate themselves from the pro-Israel lobby organization, party leader Jagmeet Singh should replace them as (respectively) NDP defence and justice critics.

Israel’s slaughter in Gaza should lead to an end of the NDP’s anti-Palestinian past.

Please join me in asking Garrison (Randall.Garrison@parl.gc.ca) and Rankin (Murray.Rankin@parl.gc.ca) to withdraw from the Canada–Israel Interparliamentary Group. Make sure to cc Jagmeet Singh (jagmeet@ndp.ca)

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It is long past time to confront anti-Palestinianism in NDP

To effect change people need to know what and who they are up against. By nakedly suppressing debate on the Palestine Resolution at its recent convention the NDP leadership did internationalist minded party members the favour of clarifying that. They demonstrated the need to directly confront anti-Palestinianism within the party.

Over the next year NDPers who support Palestinian rights and care about party democracy should hound the leadership over their suppression of the Palestine Resolution. Every single elected representative, staffer, riding association executive and party activist needs to be prodded into deciding whether they side with Palestinian rights and party democracy or suppressing the Palestine Resolution and enabling ongoing Canadian complicity in Palestinian dispossession.

The best way to channel disgust with suppression of the Palestine Resolution is by forcing the party to sever its ties with Israel lobby organizations. NDP officials must stop participating in expenses-paid Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) lobbying trips to Israel and reject requests from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) to speak at its conferences. They also need to remove their MPs from the Canada–Israel Parliamentary Group, stop inviting Israeli Labor Party MPs to their convention and refrain from events put on by the explicitly racist and colonial Jewish National Fund.

Any MP who takes a CIJA-funded lobbying trip to Israel should receive a deluge of emails from across the country, visits to their office by local activists and the withdrawal of any form of activist support until they apologize. MPs and party representatives need to understand that these lobbying tours may be free, but they have a political cost.

Palestine solidarity activists in Victoria should immediately launch a campaign to force Randall Garrison and Murray Rankin to withdraw from the Canada–Israel Parliamentary Group. If emails don’t do the trick, visiting their offices, questioning them at community events or occupying their offices might.

At an individual level anti-Palestinian comments should be socially stigmatized. Just like members making openly sexist or homophobic statements, individuals espousing anti-Palestinian views need to feel isolated in NDP circles.

An example of the wild anti-Palestinianism accepted in the party, the president of an NDP riding association sits on the board of the explicitly racist and colonialist Jewish National Fund. President of the Windsor-Tecumseh federal NDP, Noah Tepperman is a board member of the Windsor JNF and has funded the organization’s events in other cities. Before the party convention Tepperman sent an email to all riding associations calling on them to oppose Palestine resolutions and he has tweeted that “BDS = Racism” and “Distressed to hear Canada’s Green Party endorsed the anti-free speech/anti-Zionist/anti-Semitic BDS movement.” Heir to the southern Ontario Tepperman furniture, appliance and electronics business, Noah Tepperman should be removed from his position, just as a supporter of a White nationalist group or Christian anti-abortion activist would be.

At the convention, representatives of the NDP-aligned Broadbent Institute supported the party establishment’s move to suppress debate on the Palestine Resolution. Any donor or supporter of that organization who believes Palestinians are human beings or cares about party democracy should ask if those supporting suppression of debate were acting on behalf of the Broadbent Institute. During his time as federal party leader Ed Broadbent (1975 – 89) took a number of anti-Palestinian positions. He should be prodded to apologize and distance himself from suppression of the Palestine Resolution.

Ditto for former Ontario leader (1970-78) Stephen Lewis. Probably the loudest anti-Palestinian at the NDP convention, Janet Solberg works at the Stephen Lewis Foundation and has long worked for her brother. Does Stephen Lewis agree with his sister and will he apologize for his previous anti-Palestinian statements?

While it is essential to challenge various personal and institutional ties to Palestinian dispossession, NDP officialdom’s connections to Israel lobby groups wasn’t what drove their suppression of the Palestine Resolution. Rather, as I detailed, the party establishment’s overriding concern was media backlash. But, silencing and driving out extreme anti-Palestinian voices and disrupting the party leadership’s ties to Israel lobby groups is a more achievable medium-term objective than shifting the dominant media. Additionally, getting the NDP — a powerful political institution — to forthrightly criticize Canada’s complicity in Palestinian dispossession is necessary in order to force open space within the dominant media to challenge Israeli policy.

Confronting suppression of the Palestine Resolution and the party establishment’s ties to Israel lobby groups is also essential to constrain their capacity to repeat the same anti-democratic practices at the next convention. Putting the party leadership on the defensive over the Palestine Resolution and its ties to Israel lobby organizations also increases the likelihood that they will criticize the federal government’s indifference to Israel’s killings in Gaza, detention of Palestinian children, Donald Trump’s decision to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem and opposition to proper labeling of Israeli settlement wine (issues the NDP foreign critic has recently criticized). The party leadership has taken these basic steps partly as a way to head off activist pressure. Of course, a party serious about opposing Canadian complicity in Palestinian dispossession would also challenge Canada-Israel military ties, a free trade agreement that allows settlement products to enter Canada duty-free, registered charities that channel tens of millions of dollars to projects supporting Israel’s powerful military, racist institutions and illegal settlements, etc.

At a certain level the question is which ideology and individuals are at home in the NDP: Those in favor of suppressing debate on the Palestine Resolution and Canadian complicity in Palestinian dispossession or those who support Palestinian rights and party democracy.

It is necessary, for justice and democracy’s sake, that those who thwarted the Palestine Resolution come to regret their decision. They must realize that while not in control of the party machinery or dominant media, Palestine solidarity activists have righteousness on their side and wind in their sails.

This is the final article in a four-part series on the NDP leadership’s suppression of debate on the Palestine Resolution. Here are the first, secondand third instalments on the topic.

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Ontario anti-racism committee members tied to racist JNF

Independent Jewish Voices and the United Jewish People’s Order’s exclusion from an Anti-Racism Directorate committee has rightly been criticized. But, the Ontario government’s more appalling decision to appoint individuals tied to an explicitly racist organization has been ignored.

Two years ago the Liberals put forward a plan titled “A Better Way Forward: Ontario’s 3-Year Anti-Racism Strategic Plan How we’re taking proactive steps to fight and prevent systemic racism in government decision-making, programs and services.” As part of the initiative, the government’s Anti-Racism Directorate set up four subcommittees last year to look at anti-Indigenous racism, anti-Black racism, Islamophobia and anti-Semitism.

A number of members of the subcommittee on anti-Semitism have personal or institutional ties to the Jewish National Fund, which practices a form of discrimination outlawed in a famed seven-decade-old Supreme Court of Canada ruling.

A member of the subcommittee, Madi Murariu, is the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs’ (CIJA) Associate Director for Ontario Government Relations and Public Affairs. CIJA and JNF Canada often work together and sponsor each other’s events. Additionally, CIJA staff fundraise for the explicitly racist organization and JNF Canada CEO Lance Davis previously worked as CIJA’s National Jewish Campus Life director.

Another subcommittee member, Karen Mock, chairs JSpaceCanada, which was a “participatingorganization” with JNF Canada on a 2016 event honouring the life of former Israeli president Shimon Peres. Mock also sat on the board of the Canadian Peres Center for Peace Foundation, which raised funds for the Israeli-based Peres Center For Peace. In Israel the Peres Center operated a slew of projects with JNF Canada and other branches of the racist group.

Zach Potashner represents the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center on the subcommittee. One of its directors, Tony Comper, was guest of honour for the 2009 Toronto JNF Negev Dinner fundraiser and a Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center Spirit of Hope Benefit chair, Ron Frisch, chaired JNF Toronto’s Campaign and Negev Dinner.

Brianna Ames, a volunteer with the Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee, represents that organization on the subcommittee. A CJPAC founder and former executive director, Josh Cooper, left the organization to become head of JNF Toronto in 2009 and subsequently CEO of JNF Canada. Another founding member of CJPAC, Michael Levitt, was a JNF Canada board member.

A co-chair of the subcommittee on anti-Semitism is Andrea Freedman, President of the Jewish Federation of Ottawa. Freedman’s organization regularly promotes JNF Ottawa events and funds the centre where it’s based (adjacent to the Jewish Federation of Ottawa offices). The other subcommittee co-chair is Bernie Farber. During Farber’s quarter century at the Canadian Jewish Congress the organization and its personnel had many ties to the JNF.

I found no support from Farber, Mock or the rest of the above-mentioned individuals for Independent Jewish Voices’ campaign to revoke JNF Canada’s charitable status (or other criticism of the explicitly racist organization). An owner of 13 per cent of Israel’s land, the JNF discriminates against Palestinian citizens of Israel (Arab Israelis) who make up one-fifth of the population. According to a UN report, JNF lands are “chartered to benefit Jews exclusively,” which has led to an “institutionalized form of discrimination.” Echoing the UN, a 2012 US State Department report detailing “institutional and societal discrimination” in Israel says JNF “statutes prohibit sale or lease of land to non-Jews.”

Indicative of its discrimination against Israelis who aren’t Jewish, JNF Canada’s Twitter tag says it “is the caretaker of the land of Israel, on behalf of its owners  — Jewish people everywhere.” Its parent organization in Israel — the Keren Kayemet LeYisrael — is even more open about its racism. Its website notes that “a survey commissioned by KKL-JNF reveals that over 70% of the Jewish population in Israel opposes allocating KKL-JNF land to non-Jews, while over 80% prefer the definition of Israel as a Jewish state, rather than as the state of all its citizens.”

JNF-style discrimination was effectively outlawed in this country in 1951. In 1948 Annie Noble decided to sell a cottage in the exclusive Beach O’ Pines subdivision on Lake Huron to Bernie Wolf, who was Jewish. During the sale Wolf’s lawyer realized that the original deed for the property restricted sale to “any person wholly or partly of negro, Asiatic, coloured or Semitic blood.” A Toronto court and the Ontario Court of Appeal refused to invalidate the racist land covenant. But Noble pursued the case — with assistance from the Canadian Jewish Congress — to the Supreme Court of Canada. In one of the most important blows to legalistic racism in this country, the Supreme Court reversed the lower courts’ ruling and allowed Noble to purchase the property. This decision led to the abolition of racist land covenants in this country.

Should we laugh or cry at an Ontario Anti-Racism Directorate subcommittee led by individuals with ties to an organization practicing discriminatory land-use policies outlawed in this country seven decades ago?

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Palestine debate symbolizes weakness of NDP internal democracy.

The NDP leadership’s suppression of debate on the Palestine Resolutionexposed the hollow nature of its democracy. It also highlighted party insiders’ extreme deference to the dominant media.

As I detail here, the party machinery employed a variety of manoeuvres to avoid debating a Palestine Resolution unanimously endorsed by the NDP youth convention, many outside groups and over 25 riding associations. Far and away the most widely backed foreign policy resolution at the party’s recent convention, it mostly restated official Canadian policy, except that it calls for “banning settlement products from Canadian markets, and using other forms of diplomatic and economic pressure to end the occupation.”

The suppression of the Palestine Resolution wasn’t an anomaly or based on arcane policy disagreement, as party apparatchiks have repeatedly claimed since the convention. For two decades the party machinery has put Palestine resolutions sponsored by the Socialist Caucus and submitted to conventions by different riding associations at the bottom of the priority list, which means they are not discussed at the convention. During more recent conventions a broad range of internationalist minded party activists have come close to rallying a sufficient number of delegates to overturn the de-prioritization of Palestine solidarity resolutions at poorly publicized sessions before the main plenary. According to the Socialist Caucus website, at the 2011 convention “delegates at the foreign policy priorities panel succeeded in moving the Canadian Boat to Gaza resolution from very low on the list up to #2 position. But minutes before we could vote on approval of the content of the resolution, party officials herded 30 to 40 MPs and staff into the room to vote it down.”

In another authoritarian anti-Palestinian move, during the 2015 federal election the NDP responded to Conservative party pressure by ousting as many as eight individuals from running or contesting nominations to be candidates because they defended Palestinian rights on social media. In the most high profile incident, Morgan Wheeldon was dismissed as the party’s candidate in a Nova Scotia riding because he accused Israel of committing war crimes in Gaza, when it killed 2,200 mostly civilians in the summer of 2014.

Ousting a candidate elected by a riding association or suppressing debate on a widely endorsed resolution are stark examples of anti-Palestinian authoritarianism. But, a simple look at the polls highlights the party leadership’s democratic deficit on the subject. According to a 2017 poll, most NDP members have a negative or very negative view of the Israeli government and believe Canada is biased towards Israel. Even without the party taking up the issue, the Ekos poll of 1,000 Canadians found that 84% of NDP members are open to sanctioning Israel and 92% thought the Palestinian call for a boycott was reasonable.

No issue better highlights the divide between members’ wishes and leadership actions. In short, the Palestine question symbolizes the weakness of NDP internal democracy.

Various historic and current ties between the party brass and Israel lobby groups contributed to their suppressing debate on the Palestine Resolution, but while important, these relations aren’t the defining factor. Nor, is the party leadership’s hostility to members’ wishes on Palestine primarily ideological. Unlike his predecessor, party leader Jagmeet Singh isn’t anti-Palestinian. Rather, he is an ambitious politician operating in an anti-Palestinian political culture.

The main force driving the suppression of debate on the Palestine Resolution was fear of mainstream media backlash. Party leaders believe (correctly) that the Palestine Resolution’s call for a ban on settlement products, which after a half-century of illegal occupation should be entirely uncontroversial, would elicit a corporate media backlash. Additionally, they are right to fear the dominant media’s capacity to shape attitudes, especially on issues far removed from people’s daily concerns.

The dominant media can also be cynically manipulative. On the eve of the convention the Globe and Mail, probably at the prodding of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, published a story linking planned speaker Tamika Mallory to Louis Farrakhan. The story was titled “Supporter of homophobic, anti-Semitic U.S. religious leader to speak at NDP convention.” Even though Mallory was to speak as an organizer of last year’s Women’s March in Washington, half the story was about Palestine resolutions, which Mallory had nothing to do with. In fact, the convention organizers who invited her to speak confusingly renamed, deprioritized and then blocked the Palestine Resolution from being debated. To add insult to injury, most Palestine Resolution proponents would have preferred fewer convention speakers to give members more time to debate/determine party policy.

Electorally focused NDP leaders are right to fear media backlash for challenging Canada’s anti-Palestinian status quo. But, at some point members need to ask themselves why devote time, money, votes, etc. to a social democratic party, especially at a level where they’ve never formed government, if it is unwilling to push the parameters of official debate to the left? While those receiving a salary from the organization may feel differently, expanding the range of ‘politically acceptable’ discussion is a central reason for a third party’s existence.

And really, why be scared of the big bad media wolf? NDP provincial governments have legislated substantial social gains despite media-generated hysteria. The media decried the introduction of the Agricultural Land Reserve in B.C., public auto insurance in Manitoba and the party’s crowning glory, Medicare. Big media bitterly denounced the party when it implemented Medicare in Saskatchewan in 1962. During the 23-day-long doctors’ strike in response to Medicare, the Moose Jaw Times Herald ran editorials headlined: “Ugly Image of Dictators”, “Neutrality Never Won Any Fight For Freedom”, “Legal Profession Next to be Socialized” and “The Day That Freedom Died In Saskatchewan”. That editorial claimed “the people of Saskatchewan are now awakening and find that their province has been slowly, and in recent months much more rapidly, transformed from a free democracy into a totalitarian state, ruled by men drunk with power.”

In fact, the dominant media has condemned almost every progressive policy implemented by the left in the world over the past two centuries, from public schools, to banning child labour, pensions, shorter work days, daycare and more.

Leaving aside the abandonment of real left wing policy at the core of the NDP’s ‘avoid media backlash at all costs’, this may not even be the best short-term electoral strategy. The media has vilified leftist (pro-Palestinian) Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn, but he is well placed to be the next Prime Minister of Britain. On a lesser scale a similar dynamic is at play with Bernie Sanders in the US.

On the specific question of the NDP’s challenge to Canadian complicity in Palestinian dispossession, the growth of online news and global television stations makes it easier than ever — if the party cared to try — to defend critical positions. Additionally, the long-standing nature of the conflict, the growing number of Canadians from countries more sympathetic to Palestinians and decades of solidarity activism on the subject, mean there are many politically active people who are yearning for a challenge to the Liberal/Conservative status quo. They are likely to be galvanized by media attacks.

NDP Palestine policy offers a sort of barometer by which to evaluate the party’s commitment to democracy and social justice. Right now the forecast doesn’t look good.

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Is raising money for a right wing government really charity?

Is it a charity or political fundraiser for a right-wing foreign government?

People need to take a look at Canada’s Jewish Federations.

Together the United Jewish Appeal/Combined Jewish Appeal of Toronto, Montréal, Winnipeg, Windsor, Calgary, Edmonton, Hamilton, London, Ottawa, Vancouver and Atlantic Canada raise over $100 million annually. The largest in the network, UJA Toronto’s endowment and planned giving arm, has $500 million in assets and planned gifts. CJA Montréal has over $300 million on hand.

In a recent letter to the Canadian Jewish News, Morris Sosnovitch asked why UJA Toronto gives a quarter of its budget to a country with a $360-billion national budget. All Canadian taxpayers should ask why tax deductions are given for the $13.7 million UJA Toronto, $3.8 million CJA Montréal, and $1.12 million CJA Vancouver donated last year to Israel, among the world’s 25 wealthiest countries, run for the past decade by one of the most right-wing governments in the world. The Jewish Federations also oversee the United Israel Appeal Federations Canada. In 2016 that registered charity raised $80 million.

Beyond annual allotments, the Federations have repeatedly topped up their annual donations to Israel. In a particularly disturbing comment on Israel’s supporters, aggression has been good for fundraising. Following the IDF killing 2,200 Palestinians in Gaza in the summer of 2014, UJA Toronto launched an emergency appeal. Led by Fred Waks, the staunch advocate of late billionaires Bernie and Honey Sherman, the special appeal raised over $5.6 million.

Alongside its fundraising support, UJA Toronto has organized an annual Walk with Israel for 46 years. Additionally, UJA Toronto cosponsored an event under the title “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!'”

The cross-country UJAs are the source of most Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs’ (CIJA) funding. While it refuses to reveal details, CIJA’s budget is between $8 and $11 million a year. To get a sense of its politics, CIJA backed moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, getting rid of the Iran nuclear accord and Israel’s 2014 assault on Gaza. Recently CIJA called on Canadian Jews to write the government to request Canada take more Eritrean, Sudanese and other African refugees that Israel is seeking to expel. Apparently, CIJA wants a state in the Middle East as Jewish as possible but supports multiculturalism in Canada.

The CJAs also fund a variety of other pro-Israel institutions. The Federations give millions of dollars every year to campus Hillels, which refuse to associate with Jews (or others) who “delegitimize, demonize, or apply a double standard to Israel; support boycott of, divestment from, or sanctions against the state of Israel.”

The Federations also provide millions of dollars to Jewish day schools that promote the Israeli nationalist narrative. A MarchCanadian 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.”

One of the five “Faces of Success” in a CJA booklet promoting Montréal Jewish schools is a man named Oliver Moore, a graduate of McGill Law who works with the notoriously right-wing 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.”

Simultaneously, the Federations suppress Jewish advocates of Palestinian rights. They largely refuse to let Independent Jewish Voices book rooms at Federation community centres. In 2009 CJA canceled an IJV room rental at the Gelber Conference Centre in Montréal for a talk by Israeli peace activist Jeff Halper, founder of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions. The Jewish Community Centre of Ottawa openly refuses to rent space to IJV because it “advocates for positions that run counter to the objectives of the Jewish Federation of Ottawa.” In 2011 UJA Toronto threatened to “sever ties” with the Morris Winchevsky Centre over a United Jewish Peoples’ Order talk by Auschwitz survivor Dr. Hajo Meyer titled “Never Again for Anyone.”

Incredibly, there has been little public criticism of UJA’s anti-Palestinianism. Despite delivering tens of millions of dollars a year to Israel and spending a comparable sum on Israel advocacy in Canada, the organization presents itself as an apolitical “charity.”

It’s past time to bring some pressure to bear on these morally odious institutions. Taxpayers should tell political leaders they don’t want to subsidize a wealthy country in the Middle East and the Canada Revenue Agency should be pushed to investigate whether Federation funding to CIJA and other politically engaged organizations contravene their rules about charities spending no more than 10 per cent of their budget on politics.

It’s time for those who care about peace and international justice to treat the Federations the same way they treat Palestinians.

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Overcoming NDP’s shameful anti-Palestinian history

The NDP leadership’s naked suppression of debate on the “Palestine Resolution” is rooted in a long pro-Israeli nationalism history.

At last month’s convention the party machine blocked any debate of the Palestine Resolution, which mostly restated official Canadian policy, except that it called for “banning settlement products from Canadian markets, and using other forms of diplomatic and economic pressure to end the occupation.”

As I detailed previously, the Palestine Resolution was confusingly renamed, deprioritized and then blocked from being debated on the convention floor. The suppression of a resolution unanimously endorsed by the NDP youth convention, many outside groups and over 25 riding associations was the latest in a long line of leadership anti-Palestinian actions.

However, the first leader of Canada’s original social democratic party actually took a sensible humanist position, criticizing the colonialist/nationalist movement’s impact on the indigenous population. In 1938 CCF (the NDP’s predecessor) leader J. S. Woodsworth said, “it was easy for Canadians, Americans and the British to agree to a Jewish colony, as long as it was somewhere else. Why ‘pick on the Arabs’ other than for ‘strategic’ and ‘imperialistic’ consideration.”

After Woodsworth’s 1940 death the party’s stance shifted and by the end of World War II the CCF officially supported Zionism. Future CCF leader and premier of Saskatchewan Tommy Douglas and long-time federal MP Stanley Knowles were members of the Canadian Palestine Committee, a group of prominent non-Jewish Zionists formed in 1943 (future external minister Paul Martin Sr. and Alberta premier Ernest C. Manning were also members). In 1944 the Canadian Palestine Committee wrote Prime Minister Mackenzie King that it “looks forward to the day when Palestine shall ultimately become a Jewish commonwealth, and member of the British Commonwealth of Nations under the British Crown.”

Not long after 750,000 Palestinians were ethnically cleansed from their homeland. In 1947/48 CCF officials said the refugees should not be allowed to return. CCF MP Alistair Stewart said that taking in anything more than a small proportion of the refugees might destroy Israel and would be “asking more than any modern state would be prepared to accede to.”

Despite general misgivings towards arms sales, the CCF backed Canada selling 24 F-86 Sabre jets to Israel in the lead-up to its 1956 invasion of Egypt. The party justified Israel’s invasion alongside declining Middle East colonial powers Britain and France. Party leader M.J. Coldwell said:

Israel had ample provocation for her action in marching into Sinai… Egypt’s insistence that Israel be made to obey United Nations resolutions [while it had] hampered Israel’s shipping without lawful excuse. Egypt’s insistence that Israel be made to obey United Nations resolution sounds no less than cynical coming as it does from a government which for years ignored and flouted the Security Council and United Nations when they ordered free passage for Israel’s ships through Suez.

The NDP also took up Israel’s justification for invading its neighbors in 1967. They criticized Egypt’s blockade of Israeli shipping while ignoring that country’s strategic objectives, which the CIA concluded were the: (1) “Destruction of the center of power of the radical Arab Socialist movement, i.e. the Nasser regime.” (2) “Destruction of the arms of the radical Arabs.” (3) “Destruction of both Syria and Jordan as modern states.”

Despite Ottawa’s strong pro-Israel alignment, NDP leader Tommy Douglas criticized Prime Minister Lester Pearson for not backing Israel more forthrightly in the 1967 war. Describing the NDP convention shortly after the Six-Day War Toronto Star reporter John Goddard wrote, “the delegates were solidly behind Israel. I remember David Lewis leading the discussion at the Royal York Hotel, the look of steely resolve on his face, and the sense of relief in the room over the defeat of the Arab armies.”

After Israel conquered East Jerusalem in 1967 the party came out in favor of a “united Jerusalem”. “The division of Jerusalem,” said David Lewis, a significant figure in the party for four decades, “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.”

As Israel occupied the West Bank, Gaza, Golan Heights and Egypt’s Sinai, Lewis made “impassioned warnings that Israel was in danger.” During his time as federal leader from 1971 to 1975 Lewis spoke to at least one Israel Bonds fundraiser, which raised money for that state.

Just after stepping down as federal leader 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.”

After a trip to that country Tommy Douglas said “Israel was like a light set upon a hill – the light of democracy in a night of darkness – and the main criticism of Israel has not been a desire for land. The main enmity against Israel is that she has been an affront to those nations who do not treat their people and their workers as well as Israel has treated hers.” (Douglas’ 1975 comment was made after Israel had driven out its indigenous population and repeatedly invaded its neighbours.)

The NDP labelled the Palestinian Liberation Organization, which was created in 1964, a danger and vociferously opposed the UN granting it observer status in 1974. Federal party leader Ed Broadbent called the PLO “terrorists and murderers whose aim is the destruction of the state of Israel.” (Apparently, multiple players within the NDP-aligned Broadbent Institute voted against allowing the full convention to debate the Palestine Resolution at an early morning session prior to the main plenary.) In the late 1970s the NDP calledon the federal government to intervene to block Canadian companies from adhering to Arab countries’ boycott of Israel, which was designed to pressure that country to return land captured in the 1967 war.

Ontario NDP leader from 1970 to 1978, Stephen Lewis was stridently anti-Palestinian. He demanded the federal government cancel a major UN conference scheduled to be held in Toronto in 1975 because the PLO was granted observer status at the UN the previous year and their representatives might attend. 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”, Stephen Lewis denounced the UN’s “wantonlyanti-social attitude to Israel.” He told the pro-Israel audience that “the anti-Semitism that lurks underneath the surface is diabolical. The only thing to rely on is Jew helping Jew.” (Stephen Lewis’ sister, Janet Solberg, was maybe the loudest anti-Palestinian at the NDP’s recent convention. 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.)

In the 1989 book The Domestic Battleground: Canada and the Arab-Israeli Conflict Irving Abella and John Sigler write, “historically, the New Democratic Party (NDP) has been the most supportive of the Israeli cause, largely because of its close relationship to Israel’s Labour party, and to the Histadrut, the Israeli trade union movement.”

Excluding non-Jewish workers for much of its history, the Histadrut was a key part of the Zionist movement. Former Prime Minister Golda Meir remarked: “Then [1928] I was put on the Histadrut Executive Committee at a time when this big labor union wasn’t just a trade union organization. It was a great colonizing agency.” For its part, Israel’s Labor party (and predecessor Mapai) was largely responsible for the 1947/48 ethnic cleansing of Palestine, 1956 invasion of Egypt and post 1967 settlement construction in the West Bank.

Relations with Israel’s Labor party continue. Labor Knesset Member Michal Biran was photographed with NDP leader Jagmeet Singh at the recent convention. In the lead-up to that event Biran wrote:

Western progressives must not buy into the simplistic notion that peace is Israel’s gift to bestow upon the Palestinians… Palestinians must make peace with Israel as much as the converse. Here again, recognition [of a Palestinian state] achieves nothing: it will not cause Hamas to halt its missile attacks; it will not encourage the PA to cease payments to terrorists to incentivise murders of Israeli civilians; it will not convince Mahmoud Abbas to cease his antisemitic screeds and Holocaust revisionism. Unilateral recognition offers a free diplomatic gift whilst demanding no Palestinian concessions essential to peace.

When proponents of the Palestine Resolution tried to reprioritize their resolution so the convention could debate it, Singh mobilized his family and community to block it. Two dozen Sikh delegates, including members of Singh’s family, voted as a block against allowing the full convention to debate the Palestine Resolution, which failed 200 to 189. A Facebook meme by Aminah Mahmood captured the sentiment: “When they USE Brown people to vote down the Palestine Resolution.” (Later in the evening I asked Jagmeet Singh’s brother if he voted against the Palestine Resolution, but he refused to answer.)

The suppression of the Palestine Resolution should stir internationalist minded party members to finally confront the NDP’s anti-Palestinian legacy. A first step in breaking from this odious history could be ending all ties with the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, Israeli Labor Party, Canada–Israel Parliamentary Group and other Israel lobby organizations/forums. If the party believes in justice this is the least it should do.

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