Category Archives: Israel

Canada’s leading apologist for Israeli war crimes disrupted

cotler_protest

Irwin Cotler at Concordia University

Last week members of Quebec Movement for Peace disrupted a speech by Irwin Cotler on “Canada as a Human Rights leader” (at the last-minute ‘deputy’ foreign minister, Rob Oliphant, canceled his participation). With “Free Palestine” signs in hand, filmmaker Malcolm Guy and I took the stage to denounce Cotler’s anti-Palestinian positions and support for intervention in Venezuela and Iran. After we were ushered off the stage lawyer Dimitri Lascaris rose to interrogate the supposed human rights activist for refusing to criticize injustices inflicted upon Palestinians. Part of the way through Lascaris’ grilling a handful of us at the back of the room began chanting “Cotler, Cotler, you will see Palestine will be free”, as one can hear in this video viewed over 10,000 times.

The Electronic Intifada, Media Coop, Algemeiner and Canadian Jewish News (twice) reported on the intervention (CPAC was purportedly live streaming the event). Prominent anti-Palestinian activists such as Gerald Steinberg, Hillel Neuer, Avi Benlolo and Bernie Farber decried our challenge of their hero. Head of the Canada Israel Interparliamentary Group (CIIG), Michael Levitt created the Twitter hashtag StandWithCotler and called on other MPs to support it, which was duly followed by his CIIG colleagues, including disgraceful NDP MP Randall Garrison. In the House of Commons CIIG Vice-Chair David Sweet asked the government to condemn our disruption of Cotler. The Conservative MP noted, “on Monday he was disrupted and berated during a speech at Concordia University in an attempt by protesters to shut him down.” (After 10 minutes we voluntarily left the room and Cotler spoke extensively.) Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs Oliphant, who was scheduled to speak alongside Cotler, expressed the government’s solidarity with the former Liberal party justice minister.

Cotler is a vicious anti-Palestinian who aggressively criticizes “enemy” states while largely ignoring rights violations committed by Canada and the US. In “Canadian apologist for Israeli war crimes nominated for Peace Prize” I detail Cotler’s long-standing devotion to Israeli violence and recent promotion of war on Iran and regime change in Venezuela. But, since that story was published in March more details have emerged about Cotler’s ethno-centrism and promotion of violence. In recent days Cotler has been widely quoted criticizing the use of the term “genocide” in the Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.

According to an Israel National News story, Cotler supports relocating Canada’s embassy to Jerusalem. During “Keep Jerusalem” leader Chaim Silberstein’s visit to Canada last month, Cotler reportedly “expressed enthusiasm” for moving the Canadian embassy and “promised to help promote” the idea within the Liberal party.

In response to our action activist Ron Saba shared a photo of Cotler at last year’s Jewish National Fund fundraiser in Toronto. The explicitly racist JNF excludes the 20-25% of non-Jewish Israelis from its vast landholdings mostly stolen from Palestinians in 1948. In 2017 the Canada Revenue Agency initiated an (ongoing) audit of the JNF for supporting the Israeli military in contravention of Canadian charitable law.

For his part, Masud Sheikh responded to our action by uploading a video — apparently scrubbed from the Internet after previously reaching a Canadian audience — of the Nobel Peace Prize nominee advising Israel on planning a war. Just after Israel killed 1,200 Lebanese in the summer of 2006 Cotler spoke to a conference of top Israeli military officials on the importance of managing the message in modern war.

He did something similar after an earlier Israeli invasion of its northern neighbour. In an April article retired Guelph professor Michael Keefer wrote: “In the wake of Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon, in the course of which some 15,000 civilians were killed and several thousand Palestinians massacred in the refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila, Cotler participated in a 1984 Jerusalem conference on Hasbara: Israel’s Public Image. Alluding to two of the lesser PR disasters of the war—the IDF’s violation of the Canadian ambassador to Lebanon’s diplomatic immunity, and a Canadian Red Cross doctor’s allegations of Israeli atrocities—Cotler recommended, not that Israel change its behaviour, but rather that it ‘make Hasbara a priority’ and enhance its capacity to offer ‘an authoritative rebuttal’ to such stories.”

In that article Keefer points out that Antony Lerman, founding editor of Antisemitism World Report, called Cotler “one of the key figures” promoting the idea of a “new antisemitism”. Since the 1970s he’s been arguing that criticism of Israel is the “new antisemitism”.

In a remarkable 2002 essay titled “Human Rights and the New Anti-Jewishness” Cotler lays out his thinking, suggesting a confrontation between the “secular religion” of human rights and Jewish “civil religion” of Zionism. He argues that criticizing Israeli human rights violations is “the contemporary analogue to the medieval indictment of the Jew as the ‘poisoner of the wells.’ In other words, in a world in which human rights has emerged as the new secular religion of our time, the portrayal of Israel as the metaphor for a human rights violator is an indictment of Israel as the ‘new anti-Christ’ — as the ‘poisoner of the international wells’ encompassing all the ‘teaching of contempt’ for the ‘Jew among the Nations,’ this new antisemitism implies.”

Cotler further argues that antisemitism has retained its consistent essence as “an assault upon whatever is the core of Jewish self-definition at any moment in time—be it the Jewish religion at the time of classical antisemitism, or the State of Israel as the ‘civil religion’ of the Jewish people under this new anti-Jewishness.” So, because most Jews identify with Israel criticizing that country’s violence or dispossession of Palestinians is anti-Semitic.

Challenging Cotler is important. All high-profile anti-Palestinians should be asked tough questions and hopefully our intervention inspires others to take similar actions. But, it’s also about de-mystifying an individual who retains a progressive gloss. Last month NDP MP Hélène Laverdière and Green Party leader Elizabeth May attended a press conference organized by Cotler calling on Canada to impose sanctions on Iranian officials and list the country’s Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization. New NDP foreign critic Guy Caron participated in a subsequent event on Iran and NDP MP Murray Rankin and May regularly attend events led by Cotler. May and Rankin are also part of the Cotler-led Raoul Wallenberg All-Party Parliamentary Caucus for Human Rights.

The Cotler ‘brand’ should be toxic on the Left. Politicians need to know that many Canadians — as Lascaris put it in his concluding statement to Cotler — consider him “a fraud when it comes to human rights.”

Comments Off on Canada’s leading apologist for Israeli war crimes disrupted

Filed under Activism, Israel, Venezuela

NDP MP Randall Garrison’s disgraceful anti-Palestinian politics

D6EDsTiWwAImimV-1

Randall Garrison, seated left, Canada Israel Interparliamentary Group AGM

Randall Garrison is an embarrassment to everyone who supports universal human rights. The Victoria area New Democratic Party MP’s anti-Palestinian politics are beyond disgraceful.

Earlier this month Garrison was reappointed vice-chair of the Canada Israel Interparliamentary Group (CIIG). As such, he’s continuing to refuse to heed a call from Roger Waters, Noam Chomsky, Maher Arar, Linda McQuaig and 200 other musicians, academics, trade unionists and NDP members to withdraw from a group that promotes “greater friendship” between the Canadian and Israeli parliaments. In response to the public letter last summer — and other pressure — NDP MPs Peter Julian, Murray Rankin, Cheryl Hardcastle, and Gord Johns all appear to have left CIIG (Rankin is retiring).

As I detailed, CIIG has organized events with other pro-Israel lobby organizations and the co-chairs of its Israeli counterpart — the Israel-Canada Inter-Parliamentary Friendship Group — are stridently anti-Palestinian and right wing. During the recent Israeli election Israel-Canada Inter-Parliamentary Friendship Group co-chair, Anat Berko, produced a racist video in which her husband, dressed as a Palestinian ‘terrorist’, kidnaps her and she mocks an Arabic pronunciation to claim the Palestinians never had a state. (In 2016 Berko claimed 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 February the Likud MK responded to criticism that Netanyahu was hosting the right-wing prime ministers of Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic by saying, “they might be anti-Semites, but they’re on our side.”

For the Israel lobby the cross-party nature of CIIG is important. On May 8 the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) tweeted, “pleased to be at the Canada Israel Interparliamentary Group AGM on Parliament Hill today. As noted by Chair Michael Levitt along with Vice-Chairs Randall Garrison, Marco Mendicino and David Sweet, great to see so many friends from across the political spectrum here.”

As I detail here, here, here, and here, Garrison’s anti-Palestinian activities go beyond his role as vice-chair of CIIG. Adding to this pattern, Garrison attended last week’s World Jewish Congress meeting in Ottawa. The CIJA-sponsored event passed a series of resolutions targeting Iran, backing Israel’s violence in Gaza and smearing Palestine solidarity activists. The conference also included US President Donald Trump’s special envoy to the Middle East, Jason Greenblatt, who studied and was a soldier in a West Bank settlement and pushed to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem.

Last week Garrison ‘liked’ his CIIG executive colleague’s tweet claiming the Palestinian civil-society-led Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement is racist. Extremist Conservative Senator Linda Frum tweeted, “yesterday I spoke to my motion which calls on the government to STOP funding BDS. BDS is an expression of antisemitism. It is nothing less than that, and our government has no business funding antisemitism in any form.” Garrison liked this attack on Palestinians from both Frum and arch anti-Palestinian NGO Monitor’s Twitter handles. Presumably, Garrison and Frum believe the ‘antiracist’ position would be for Palestinians (and the world) to simply accept Israeli theft of their lands and destruction of their lives.

Garrison’s position seems to run counter to the NDP’s vote against a 2016 House of Commons resolution condemning the BDS movement. Last year the Socialist International, which the NDP/CCF was a member of for nearly seven decades, endorsed BDS. The group of 140 political parties, including 35 currently in government, called for a “total embargo on all forms of military trade and cooperation with Israel.”

Since the public letter calling on the NDP to withdraw from CIIG was launched 200 Palestinians have been killed and another 5,000 injured by live fire in peaceful March of Return protests in Gaza. Not a single Israeli has died during these protests.

Additionally, the Israeli government passed a nation state law, adding to 65 other explicitly racist Israeli laws. In March Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wrote, “Israel is not a state of all its citizens. According to the basic nationality law we passed, Israel is the nation state of the Jewish people – and only it.”

One wonders how explicit Israeli racism needs to be before Garrison would withdraw from CIIG? How about if Netanyahu produced a poster saying, “Israel is an apartheid state”?

More generally, how many Palestinians does Israel need to kill before Garrison withdraws from CIIG? If Israel killed twice the number of Palestinians they’ve killed over the past decade (5,000) would that do the trick? How about 20,000? 50,000?

But, the question of how much Israeli violence/racism will be accepted shouldn’t only be asked of Garrison. What would Israel need to do before NDP activists/members/MPs/officials/voters refuse to accept an MP participating in a group promoting “greater friendship” with Israel?

The Communist Party candidate in Garrison’s riding of Esquimalt–Saanich–Sooke, Tyson Strandlund, has committed to raising the issue in the campaign. The Green Party candidate in Esquimalt David Merner, who ran for the Liberals in the last election, told me he will not join CIIG if elected. Green MPs Elizabeth May and Paul Manly are not part of CIIG and nor are Bloc Québecois MPs.

Supporters of Palestinian rights in Victoria should up their campaign against Garrison’s participation in CIIG. His support for Israel’s racist laws, oppression and killing of Palestinians must be pointed out to his potential election campaign activists, most of whom would be troubled to learn of their MP’s role in supporting such crimes. A message must be sent that there comes a point when anti-Palestinian politics will simply not be accepted in a party that claims the mantra of social justice.

 

Comments Off on NDP MP Randall Garrison’s disgraceful anti-Palestinian politics

Filed under Israel, Middle East

CIJA selective about which hate crimes it condemns

CIJA150116_CIJA_EmailBanner_Billingual-1.jpg

The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs’ response to the horrific attack on two mosques in New Zealand highlights tensions between promoting the most aggressive ongoing European settler colonialism and Jewish Canadian concern over hate crimes.

Forty-eight hours after the killings in Christchurch the Toronto Star published letters by the heads of CIJA and Toronto’s Jewish Federation under the headline “Jewish Canadians stand with Muslims.” CIJA’s quick response to the mosque attack no doubt reflected genuine horror as well as an understanding that as a minority religious group disproportionately victimized by hate crimes Jews have an interest in building solidarity against such violence. But, it also represents a cynical ‘get out ahead of the story’ type of public relations from a group that regularly demonizes Muslims in defence of Israel’s subjugation of Palestinians. CIJA, which is the lobbying arm of Canada’s Jewish Federations, claims Israel is “fighting  against the Palestinian shackles of international Islamism that has been wreaking absolute havoc all over the world.”

CIJA regularly hypes “Islamic terror”. In response to a 2017 truck attack in Nice, France, CIJA declared “Canada is not immune to… Islamist terror” and in 2018 they highlighted  “those strains of Islam that pose a real and imminent threat to Jews around the world.” At the time CIJA also aligned with the xenophobic backlash  against the term “Islamophobia in bill M-103, which called for collecting data on hate crimes and studying the issue of “eliminating systemic  racism and religious discrimination including Islamophobia.” In a BuzzFeed article titled “Zionist Groups  in Canada Are Jumping On The ‘Creeping Sharia’ Bandwagon” Steven Zhou detailed CIJA, B’nai Brith and other pro-Israel groups backlash to M-103 and “how Muslim Canadians define Islamophobia.”

In a bid to deter organizations from associating with the Palestinian cause or opposing Israeli belligerence in the Middle East, CIJA constantly targets Arab and Muslim community representatives, papers, organizations, etc. To prove that Muslim Canadians financed “Hamas terror”, CIJA pushed to proscribe Muslim charity IRFAN (International Relief Fund for the Afflicted and Needy) as a terrorist entity because it supported orphans and a hospital in the Gaza Strip through official (Hamas controlled) channels. (The federal government considers Hamas a terrorist organization but Palestinians and most  of the world consider it a political/resistance organization.) The Jewish group’s press release about the first Canadian-based group ever designated a terrorist organization alludes to ‘foreign Muslims taking advantage of Canadians’. It noted, “Canadians will not tolerate the abuse of their generosity by those who seek to bankroll terrorists.” In 2017 CIJA demanded  Ottawa rescind the charitable status of the Islamic Society of British Columbia because the Vancouver-area mosque allegedly offered support for Hamas.

While quick to attack Arabs and Muslims’ support for “terror” or “anti-Semitism,” CIJA clams up when explicit Jewish Islamophobia is brought to their attention. In 2012, the Canadian Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-CAN) asked for CIJA’s help with an aggressively anti-Muslim textbook used at Joe Dwek Ohr HaEmet Sephardic School in Toronto. It described Muslims as “rabid fanatics” with “savage beginnings,” but CIJA refused to respond.

Last summer lawyer Dimitri Lascaris repeatedly called on CIJA to disassociate from a number of individuals it aligned with at a protest who made anti-Muslim remarks and death threats against mostly Muslim and brown politicians in a video about the rally. CIJA responded by orchestrating an unprecedented  smear campaign against the prominent pro-Palestinian activist.

CIJA Québec failed to respond to my request for comment about the Jewish Public Library in Montréal, a constituent agency of the city’s Jewish Federation it officially represents, hosting  anti-Muslim activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali next month. Among a slew of extremist statements, Ali said “violence is inherent in Islam—it’s a destructive, nihilistic cult of death. It legitimates murder.”

CIJA has stayed mum about the recent scandal over the head of the Toronto Hebrew School Teachers Federation, Aviva Polonsky, escorting a class from the Community Hebrew Academy to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference in Washington. Polonsky posted photographs of her and students meeting with noted Islamophobe Sebastian Gorka and wearing “Make America Great Again” hats.

CIJA ignores Islamophobia by groups it defends or represents. It also stokes anti-Muslim sentiment as part of its bid to defend Israeli colonialism and violence. On the other hand, Canadian Jewry, which CIJA claims to represent, has a strong self-interest in building broad opposition to hate crimes.

Which side is this organization on? Is it always against perpetrators of hate-crimes, so-called “White nationalists” and governments that favour one religion or ethnicity over others? Or does it make exceptions for its supporters and Israel?

Comments Off on CIJA selective about which hate crimes it condemns

Filed under Israel