A first step in ending global warming — ban automobile ads

A Metro should never be wrapped in car ads.

On this past week, the whole front of Montréal’s Metro paper promoted Kia. All of page 2 and the back of a paper targeted at the city’s transit riders also promoted an unhealthy, lethal, inefficient and utterly unsustainable mode of transportation.

Incredibly, public transit systems regularly glorify the private automobile. Car ads are not uncommon on buses or in metros. During a trip to Philadelphia a few years ago, the great hall at the city’s beautiful old train station was covered with a 50 ft x 30 ft car ad. It seemed more than a little out of place. Would you see a promotion for trains at a car dealership?

On the contrary, the automotive industry has regularly disparaged mass transit. In the mid-1990s GM ran ads in US subways with pictures of the Aurora under the headline “Tear Up Your Monthly Pass” while more recently BMW covered bus shelters with the statement: “In the land of the bus shelter the guy with a car is king.” Numerous TV and online auto spots have depicted men unable to find dates because they bike or ride the bus and don’t have cars.

The auto industry has long been the biggest advertiser. Whether you’re at a party, online, at the mall, playing videogames, at the movies or even writing checks, there is an endless promotion of both brand names and automobility. Car advertisers have conquered nearly every sphere of human consciousness.

The scope of the industry’s promotion can be startling. On May 14 2007 Montreal daily La Presse devoted 43 pages entirely to cars: a twenty six page auto section; an eight page Mercedes broadsheet pullout; an eight page Mazda supplement in tabloid format.

There was also a full page car ad as well as a Porsche ad taking up a tenth of a page (in an eight page sports section). In addition to the 43 pages entirely devoted to cars, the front page of the business section had a seventh of a page devoted to a Hyundai dealership ad.

Add to this the eight page Actuel section where nearly half a page was dedicated to auto classifieds. In the sixteen page front section, a fifth of page two was an Accura ad; an eighth of a page five was another Acccura ad; a third of a page nine was a Ford ad; a sixth of page ten was a Lexus ad; more than half of page eleven was a Honda dealership ad; and nearly half of page twelve was a Chevrolet ad. Finally, three quarters of page sixteen was devoted to Subaru.

Imagine if all the money used to sell cars were put into promoting cycling and mass transit. To even the playing field, health and environmental agencies could run public education campaigns describing the private automobiles’ dangers, pollutants, space consumption, financial burdens, toll on the climate, etc. Malmö Sweden, for instance, ran a “No Ridiculous Car Trips” campaign to reduce journeys of less than five kilometres.

Public transit agencies should be pushed to devote their space to anti-car messages. How about covering light rail with: “Cars Pollute. Take the Train” or buses with: “Free the City. Kill the Car”. Transit authorities could also give bike makers a discount to put up messages that challenge the cultural dominance of the automobile. Heck, maybe Nike would pay to cover bus stops with “Just Do It. Ditch your car.”

Those who want a landscape more amenable to pedestrians, cyclists and trolley riders must challenge the promotion of a product many times more damaging than cigarettes. Car advertising should be (as with tobacco) steadily eliminated (and immediately appropriated).

The dominant media, ad agencies, and carmakers will no doubt resist bitterly so let’s build momentum towards this end by prodding media outlets with ethical advertising guidelines (campus newspapers, green groups etc.) to get rid of car ads. Public transit agencies should also be encouraged to reject auto advertising.

In a world where temperature records are broken each month, advertising cars should be criminal.

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Sordid tales of Canada-UN history in Africa

Canadian officials have long done as they pleased in Africa, loudly proclaimed this country’s altruism and only faced push back from hard rightists who bemoan sending troops to the  “Dark Continent” or “dens of hell”.

With many Canadians normally opposed to war supporting anything called “peacekeeping”, unless troops deployed with an African UN mission are caught using the N-word and torturing a teenager to death (the 1993 Somalia mission) they will be portrayed as an expression of this country’s benevolence. So, what should those of us who want Canada to be a force for good in the world think about the Trudeau government’s plan to join a UN stabilization mission in Mali, Congo, Burundi, Sierra Leone, Central African Republic or South Sudan?

First, we have good reason to be cynical.

On his recent five country African “reconnaissance” tour defence minister Harjit Sajjan included an individual whose standing is intimately tied to a military leader who has destabilized large swaths of the continent. Accompanying Sajjan was General Romeo Dallaire, who backed Paul Kagame’s Rwandan Patriotic Front in 1993/94 and continues to publicly support the “Butcher of the Great Lakes”.

In his 2005 book Le Patron de Dallaire Parle (The Boss of Dallaire Speaks), Jacques-Roger Booh Booh, a former Cameroon foreign minister and overall head of the mid-90s UN mission in Rwanda, claims Dallaire ignored RPF violence, turned a blind eye to the weapons they received from Uganda and possibility shared UN intelligence with the Ugandan sponsored rebels. Dallaire doesn’t deny his admiration for Kagame. In Shake Hands with the Devil, published several years after Kagame unleashed unprecedented terror in the Congo, Dallaire wrote: “My guys and the RPF soldiers had a good time together” at a small cantina. Dallaire then explained: “It had been amazing to see Kagame with his guard down for a couple of hours, to glimpse the passion that drove this extraordinary man.” Dallaire’s interaction with the RPF was not in the spirit of UN guidelines that called on staff to avoid close ties to individuals, organizations, parties or factions of a conflict.

Included on the trip because he symbolizes Canadian benevolence, Dallaire hasn’t moved away from his aggressive backing for Kagame despite the Globe and Mail reporting on Kagame’s internal repression, global assassination program and proxies occupying the mineral rich Eastern Congo. The recently retired Senator has aligned his depiction of the 1994 Rwandan tragedy to fit the RPF’s simplistic, self-serving, portrayal and Dallaire even lent his name to a public attack against the 2014 BBC documentary Rwanda’s Untold Story. In February the former senator met with the Rwandan dictator in Toronto.

Three weeks ago the ruling party in Burundi released a statement criticizingthe Canadian general’s role in Rwanda and his inclusion on Sajjan’s trip. Still, I’ve yet to see any mention of Dallaire’s backing of Kagame or the fact his ally in Kigali has significant interest in the UN mission in Eastern Congo.

Another piece of history that should be part of any debate about a UN deployment to the continent is Canada’s link to the UN force in the Congo, which is an outgrowth of the mid-1990s foreign invasion. In 1996 Rwandan forces marched 1,500 km to topple the regime in Kinshasa and then re-invaded after the Congolese government it installed expelled Rwandan troops. This led to an eight-country war between 1998 and 2003, which left millions dead. Since then Rwanda and its proxies have repeatedly invaded the Eastern Congo.

Kigali justified its 1996 intervention into the Congo as an effort to protect the Banyamulenge (Congolese Tutsi) living in Eastern Congo from the Hutus who fled the country when the RPF took power. As many as two million, mostly Hutu, refugees fled the summer 1994 RPF takeover of Rwanda.

The US military increased its assistance to Rwanda in the months leading up to its fall 1996 invasion of Zaire. In The Great African War: Congo and Regional Geopolitics, 1996-2006 Filip Reyntjens explains:

The United States was aware of the intentions of Kagame to attack the refugee camps and probably assisted him in doing so. In addition, they deliberately lied about the number and fate of the refugees remaining in Zaire, in order to avoid the deployment of an international humanitarian force, which could have saved tens of thousands of human lives, but which was resented by Kigali and AFDL [L’Alliance des forces démocratiques pour la libération du Congo, a Rwandan backed rebel force led by Laurent-Désiré Kabila].

Ottawa played an important part in this sordid affair. In late 1996, Canada led a short-lived UN force into eastern Zaire, meant to bring food and protection to Hutu refugees. The official story is that Prime Minister Jean Chrétien organized a humanitarian mission into eastern Zaire after his wife saw images of exiled Rwandan refugees on CNN. In fact, Washington proposed that Ottawa, with many French speakers at its disposal, lead the UN mission. The US didn’t want pro- Joseph Mobutu Sese Seko France to gain control of the UN force.

On November 9, 1996, the UN Security Council backed a French resolution to establish a multinational force in Eastern Congo. Four days later, French Defence Minister Charles Millon, urged Washington to stop stalling on the force. ‘‘Intervention is urgent and procrastination by some countries is intolerable,’’ Millon said in a radio interview. ‘‘The United States must not drag its feet any longer.’’

Canada’s mission to the Congo was designed to dissipate French pressure and ensure it didn’t take command of a force that could impede Rwanda’s invasion of the Eastern Congo. “The United States and Canada did not really intend to support an international force,” writes Belgian academic Filip Reyntjens. “Operation Restore Silence” was how Oxfam’s emergencies director Nick Stockton sarcastically described the mission. He says the Anglosphere countries “managed the magical disappearance” of half a million refugees in eastern Zaire. In a bid to justify the non-deployment of the UN force, Canadian Defence Minister Doug Young claimed over 700,000 refugees had returned to Rwanda. A December 8 article in Québec City’s Le Soleil pointed out that this was “the highest estimated number of returnees since the October insurrection in Zaire.”

The RPF dismantled infrastructure and massacred thousands of civilians in the Hutu refugee camps, prompting some 300,000 to flee westward on foot from refugee camp to refugee camp. Dying to Live by Pierre-Claver Ndacyayisenga describes a harrowing personal ordeal of being chased across the Congo by the RPF and its allies.

Ultimately, most of the Canadian-led UN force was not deployed since peacekeepers would have slowed down or prevented Rwanda, Uganda and its allies from triumphing. But, the initial batch of Canadian soldiers deployed to the staging ground in Uganda left much of the equipment they brought along. In Le Canada dans les guerres en Afrique centrale: génocides et pillages des ressources minières du Congo par le Rwanda interposé (Canada in the wars in Central Africa: genocide and looting of the mineral resources of the Congo by Rwanda interposed) Patrick Mbeko suggests the Ugandan Army put the equipment to use in the Congo.

Prior to deploying the Canadian-led multinational force, Commander General Maurice Baril met with officials in Kigali as well as the Director of the Joint Staff at the Pentagon. Hinting at who was in the driver’s seat, the New York Times reported that Baril “cancelled a meeting with United Nations officials and flew instead to Washington for talks.” In deference to the Rwandan-backed forces, Baril said he would only deploy UN troops with the rebels’ permission. ‘‘Anything that I do I will coordinate with the one who is tactically holding the ground,’’ Baril noted.

Much to Joseph Mobutu’s dismay, Baril met rebel leader Laurent Kabila who was at that time shunned by most of the international community. The meeting took place in a ransacked mansion that had belonged to Zaire’s president and as part of the visit Kabila took Baril on a tour of the area surrounding Goma city. Baril justified the meeting, asserting: “I had to reassure the government of Canada that the situation had changed and we could go home.”

The book Nous étions invincibles, the personal account of Canadian special forces commando Denis Morrisset, provides a harrowing account of the Joint Task Force 2 (JTF2) operation to bring Baril to meet Kabila. The convoy came under attack and was only bailed out when US Apache and Blackhawk helicopters retaliated. Some thirty Congolese were killed by a combination of helicopter and JTF2 fire.

Despite the bizarre, unsavory, history outlined above, Canada’s short-lived 1996 UN force to the Congo is little known. The same can largely be said about Dallaire (and Ottawa’s) support for the RPF during the mid-90s UN mission in Rwanda or Canada’s role in the UN force that helped kill Congolese independence leader Patrice Lumumba.

Widespread ignorance enables a political culture that gives politicians immense latitude to pursue self-serving policies, present them as altruistic and face few questions. Unless progressives upend this culture the loud expressions of Canadian benevolence are unlikely to align with reality.

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Filed under Black Book of Canadian Foreign Policy, Canada in Africa

Tax dollars used to shape the news

Last Saturday the Ottawa Citizen published a feature titled “The story of ‘the Canadian vaccine’ that beat back Ebola”. According to the article, staff reporter Elizabeth Payne’s “research was supported by a travel grant from the International Development Research Centre.” The laudatory story concludes with Guinea’s former health minister thanking Canada “for the great service you have rendered to Guinea” and a man who received the Ebola vaccine showing “reporters a map of Canada that he had carved out of wood and displayed in his living room. ‘Because Canada saved my life.’”

A Crown Corporation that reports to Parliament through the foreign minister, the International Development Research Centre’s board is mostly appointed by the federal government. Unsurprisingly, the government-funded institution broadly aligns its positions with Canada’s international objectives.

IDRC funds various journalism initiatives and development journalism prizes. Canada’s aid agency has also doled out tens of millions of dollars on media initiatives over the years. The now defunct Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) has funded a slew of journalism fellowships that generate aid-related stories, including a Canadian Newspaper Association fellowship to send journalists to Ecuador, Aga Khan Foundation Canada/Canadian Association of Journalists Fellowships for International Development Reporting, Canadian Association of Journalists/Jack Webster Foundation Fellowship. It also offered eight $6,000 fellowships annually for members of the Fédération professionnelle des journalistes du Québec, noted CIDA, “to report to the Canadian public on the realities lived in developing countries benefiting from Canadian public aid.”

Between 2005 and 2008 CIDA spent at least $47.5 million on the “promotion of development awareness.” According to a 2013 J–Source investigation titled “Some journalists and news organizations took government funding to produce work: is that a problem?”, more than $3.5 million went to articles, photos, film and radio reports about CIDA projects. Much of the government-funded reporting appeared in major media outlets. But, a CIDA spokesperson told J-Source, the aid agency “didn’t pay directly for journalists’ salaries” and only “supported media activities that had as goal the promotion of development awareness with the Canadian public.”

One journalist, Kim Brunhuber, received $13, 000 to produce “six television news pieces that highlight the contribution of Canadians to several unique development projects” to be shown on CTV outlets. While failing to say whether Brunhuber’s work appeared on the station, CTV spokesperson Rene Dupuis said another documentary it aired “clearly credited that the program had been produced with the support of the Government of Canada through CIDA.”

During the 2001–14 war in Afghanistan CIDA operated a number of media projects. A number of CIDA-backed NGOs sent journalists to Afghanistan and the aid agency had a contract with Montréal’s Le Devoir to “[remind] readers of the central role that Afghanistan plays in CIDA’s international assistance program.”

The military also paid for journalists to visit Afghanistan. Canadian Press envoy Jonathan Montpetit explained, “my understanding of these junkets is that Ottawa picked up the tab for the flight over as well as costs in-theatre, then basically gave the journos a highlight tour of what Canada was doing in Afghanistan.”

A number of commentators have highlighted the political impact of military sponsored trips, which date back decades. In Turning Around a Supertanker: media-military relations in Canada in the CNN age, Daniel Hurley writes, “correspondents were not likely to ask hard questions of people who were offering them free flights to Germany” to visit Canadian bases there. In his diary of the mid-1990s Somalia Commission of Inquiry, Peter Desbarats made a similar observation. “Some journalists, truly ignorant of military affairs, were happy to trade junkets overseas for glowing reports about Canada’s gallant peacekeepers.”

The various arms of Canadian foreign policy fund media initiatives they expect will portray their operations sympathetically. It’s one reason why Canadians overwhelmingly believe this country is a benevolent international actor even though Ottawa long advanced corporate interests and sided with the British and US empires.

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Filed under Black Book of Canadian Foreign Policy

‘Repressive regime’ in Ethiopia no ‘sea of stability’

Last Tuesday members of the Ethiopian community in Winnipeg called on Canada to sanction the North East African country. The protesters are angry about the regime’s violent crackdown in the Oromiya and Amhara regions of northern Ethiopia. Hundreds of peaceful protesters have been killed and many more jailed since unrest began over a land dispute 10 months ago.

As protesters called for sanctions in Winnipeg, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Development Katrina Gould was in Addis Ababa. During a meeting with the Foreign Minister she was quoted saying, “Ethiopiahas managed to be a sea of stability in a hostile region.”

Gould’s trip follows on the heels of Harjit Sajjan’s visit last month. According to an Ethiopian News Agency summary, the defence minister told Prime Minister Hailemariam Dessalegn:  “Canada values Ethiopia’s contribution in trying to bring stability to Somalia and the South Sudan.”

In 2006 50,000 Ethiopian troops invaded Somalia, which saw about 6,000 civilians killed and 300,000 flee the country. Washington prodded Addis Ababa into intervening and the US literally fuelled the invasion, providing gasoline, arms and strategic guidance as well as launching air attacks.

The invasion/occupation led to the growth of al-Shabab. Since the Ethiopia/US invasion the group has waged a violent campaign against the foreign forces in the country and Somalia’s transitional government. During this period al-Shabab has grown from being the relatively small youth wing of the Islamic Courts Union to the leading oppositional force in the country. It has also radicalized and has turned from being a national organization towards increasing ties to Al Qaeda.

The Stephen Harper Conservative government’s public comments on Somalia broadly supported Ethiopian/US actions. They made no criticism of US bombings and when prominent Somali-Canadian journalist Ali Iman Sharmarke was assassinated in Mogadishu in August 2007 then foreign minister Peter Mackay only condemned “the violence” in the country. He never mentioned that the assassins were pro-government militia members with ties to Ethiopian troops. The Conservatives backed a February 2007 UN Security Council resolution that called for an international force in Somalia. They also endorsed the Ethiopia-installed Somali government, which had operated in exile.

In what was perhaps the strongest signal of Canadian support for the outside intervention, Ottawa didn’t make its aid to Ethiopia contingent on withdrawing from Somalia. Instead they increased assistance to this strategic US ally that borders Sudan, Eritrea and Somalia. In 2009 Ethiopia was selected as a “country of focus” for Canadian aid and this status was reaffirmed in 2014. As one of the top donors, Canada has been spending over $100 million a year in the country.

Providing aid to Ethiopia has been controversial not only because of the invasion and occupation of its neighbor. An October 2010 Globe and Mailheadline noted: “Ethiopia using Canadian aid as a political weapon, rights group says.” Human Rights Watch researcher Felix Horne claimed Ottawa contravened its Official Development Assistance Accountability Act by continuing to pump aid into Ethiopia despite its failure to meet international human-rights standards. In addition to arbitrary detentions, widespread torture and attacks on political opponents, the Ethiopian government systematically forced rural inhabitants off their land. This “villagization” program cut many off from food and health services.

Canadian aid to Ethiopia faced another challenge. In February 2012 the family of a Somali-Canadian businessman sued Harper’s Conservatives to prevent them from sending aid to Ethiopia until Bashir Makhtal was released from prison. In January 2007 Makhtal was “rendered” illegally from Kenya to Ethiopia, imprisoned without access to a lawyer or consular official for 18 months and then given a life sentence. The lawsuit was a last ditch effort by the Makhtal family to force Ottawa’s hand.

Ottawa should take the recent protests by Ethiopian Canadian activists seriously. It can start by reversing its near total silence about the recent repression, which included dozens of demonstrators shot dead three days before Sajjan’s visit. While severing aid to pressure a government is often fraught with complications, Canada’s current policy seems to be enabling Ethiopia’s repressive, interventionist, policies.

Canada’s aid to Ethiopia has been a failed experiment in turning brutal dictators into democrats,” Ethiopian-Canadian human-rights activist Yohannes Berhe told the Globe and Mail. Ottawa’s policy is “tantamount to encouraging one of the most repressive regimes in Africa.”

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Filed under Canada in Africa

Globe story ignores Bata’s (and Canada’s) colonialist past

An elitist, nationalist, bias dominates all areas of Canada’s paper of record.

On the front of last weekend’s Style section the Globe and Mail profiled Sonja Bata on turning 90. Business partner and wife of the deceased Thomas Bata, the Globe lauded Sonja for the “many contributions she has made to Canada”, including the Bata Shoe Museum and various other establishment “cultural, environmental and social causes.” The article touched on the shoemaker’s early history and described how she “traveled the world building a shoe empire – between 1946 and 1960, 25 new factories were built and 1700 Bata stores opened.”

While the three-page spread included an undated photo of Sonja and her husband on the “African continent”, it ignored how the Toronto-based shoe company took advantage of European rule to set up across the continent. By the end of the colonial era Bata had production or retail facilities in Nigeria, Kenya, Morocco, South Africa, Egypt, Sierra Leone, Libya, Sudan, Algeria, Senegal, Congo, Tanzania, Rhodesia and elsewhere. In the 1940s and 50s, notes Shoemaker with a Mission, “the organization’s expansion was especially great in francophone Africa. As Mr. Bata himself noted, there was no country in that part of the world where his company was not established as the number-one supplier of footwear.” While “Mr. Bata” may not be the most objective source on the shoemaker, a government study just after independence found the company controlled 70% of the footwear market in British East Africa (Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania).

In a 1974 Saturday Night article titled “Canadians Too, Can Act like Economic Imperialists”, Steve Langdon describes the company’s operations in Kenya: “Bata seems to be undercutting decentralized rural development in Kenya, to be blocking African advance in other areas, and to be throwing its weight around politically — all at a handsome profit.” In a bid to subvert the establishment of a domestic competitor, the Toronto-based multinational wrote its overseas suppliers to discourage sales to its challenger and asked Kenyan government officials to intervene on its behalf.

Bata’s mechanized production methods squeezed out indigenous footwear producers all the while increasing imports of plastics and machinery, which came at the expense of local materials (leather) and employment. In the 1975 article Canada’s Relations with Africa Robert Matthews notes that Bata drained “money and opportunity from poor rural areas” to the benefit of a small group of locals and the Toronto head office.

When the post-independence Tanzanian government announced that it would acquire a 60 percent share of a multitude of major foreign firms Bata was the only hold out. The Toronto firm attempted to sabotage Tanzania’s push to acquire a controlling interest in the local company’s operations. In Underdevelopment and Nationalization: Banking in Tanzania James H. Mittelman explains: “Bata Shoes (a Canadian-based concern), for example, ran down stocks, removed machinery, supplied imperfect items, and later withdrew all staff, supposedly closing down for annual repairs! The Company refused to relinquish more than 49 per cent of its controlling interests, tried to set up a new wholesaling operation dependent on its firm in Kenya, and urged other foreign investors to fight.”

Bata’s aggressive reaction to Tanzania’s efforts aimed to dissuade other newly independent African countries from following a similar path. The shoemaker no doubt feared for its significant operations across the continent.

Bata received Canadian government support as well. In mid-1973 the Canadian High Commissioner in Nairobi visited Uganda to ask Idi Amin if he would attend the annual Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting taking place in Ottawa. But, the primary objective of the high commissioner’s meeting was to convince Amin to reverse his nationalization of Bata. A cable published by WikiLeaks read: “CANADIAN HIGH COMMISSIONER OLIVIER MET WITH PRESIDENT AMIN JUNE 29 TO DISCUSS GOU TAKE-OVER OF BATA SHOE FIRM. AMIN REVERSED EARLIER DECISION AND ORDERED THAT A NEW PARTNERSHIP ARRANGEMENT (51 PERCENT BATA, 49 PERCENT GOU) BE WORKED OUT.”

Through the 1970s Bata worked under the white regime in Rhodesia (Zimbabwe). It broke sanctions against Rhodesia by exporting goods manufactured there to South Africa. Even more controversial, it operated in apartheid South Africa until the late 1980s. The company broke unions and blocked black workers from semi-skilled, skilled and executive positions. Listed among the “hardline defenders of investment in South Africa” in Ambiguous Champion: Canada and South Africa in the Trudeau and Mulroney years, Bata faced an international boycott campaign. During this period Sonja Bata was quoted in the Canadian media justifying the company’s South African policy and Thomas Bata proclaimed “we expanded into Africa in order to sell shoes, not to spread sweetness and light.”

The Globe and Mail is exposing its elitist, nationalist, bias in ignoring Bata’s unsavory history.

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Filed under Black Book of Canadian Foreign Policy, Canada in Africa

Could Christian Zionism explain Green Party leader’s threats to resign?

Elizabeth May’s response to Green Party members voting to oppose Canadian support for Israeli colonialism has been wildly anti-democratic. She has not simply disagreed with a majority of members, which could reflect healthy internal processes, but publicly derided the party’s procedures and members’ clearly expressed opinions. After diluting a resolution about revoking the Jewish National Fund of Canada’s charitable status strongly endorsed by members in an online poll, May threatened to resign if the party didn’t organize another vote on a BDS resolution members strongly backed in a pre-convention online poll, convention caucus and full convention vote.

The possibility of the Green Party leader resigning over BDS has thrust the Israel boycott into the news and will turn into a highly fortuitous development for the Palestinian cause if members remain steadfast. But, May’s actions make little sense from a Green perspective.

As Maclean’s magazine pointed out, the party has more to gain by aligning with the growing number of Canadians critical of Ottawa’s support for Israeli colonialism. Only if one believes May could lose her seat in the House of Commons over the matter, which seems improbable, would embracing Palestine solidarity activism be bad electorally.

According to a poll conducted just before Israel killed 2,200 Palestinians in Gaza in 2014, 16% of Canadians sided with Palestine, while 17% sided with Israel. (The rest were undecided.) The percentage of Canadians who sided with Palestine is almost five times the 3.4% of Canadians who voted for the Greens last year. Additionally, the issue drives NDP activists to the party. The Greens have already gained a number of prominent NDP members disenchanted with that party’s support for Israeli violence.

But, even if you disagree with this electoral calculation, May’s reaction still makes little sense from the party’s perspective. Her actions have upset Palestinian sympathizers yet the media storm over the BDS vote makes it hard to imagine anyone mildly sympathetic to Israeli colonialism would vote, let alone campaign, for the Greens even if May succeeds in modifying the party’s support for BDS at a special convention.

Since her actions make little electoral sense, commentators have speculated May is driven by a combination of ego, fear of Jewish Zionist groups’ accusations of anti-Semitism, a desire to join the Liberal cabinet or her establishment foreign-policy outlook. But, the influence of Christian Zionism represents an unexplored variable in May’s position.

A practicing Anglican, May was studying to become a priest until a few years ago. She’s disparaged abortion and questioned whether Prime Minister Stephen Harper was a practicing Christian. “Being a Christian in politics is part of who I am as a person, so I don’t hide it”, May explained to the Anglican Journal in 2013.

In 2013 she praised the Jewish National Fund for “the great work that’s done in making the desert bloom.” While not explicitly Christian Zionist wording, this (anti-ecological) statement echoes its thinking.

While only May knows exactly what drives her thinking/positions, her church has a long history of Zionism, which began as a Christian movement. “Christian proto- Zionists [existed] in England 300 years before modern Jewish Zionism emerged,” notes Evangelics and Israel. Until the mid-1800s Zionism was an almost entirely non-Jewish movement. And yet it was quite active. Between 1796 and 1800 there were at least 50 books published in Europe about the Jews’ return to Palestine. The movement reflected the more literal readings of the Bible that flowed out of the Protestant Reformation.

One of May’s co-religionists Rev. William H. Hechler, chaplain to the British Embassy in Vienna, arranged for Jewish Zionist leader Theodore Herzl to meet Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm II and the Ottoman sultan, which then controlled Palestine. Another Anglican, Anthony Ashley Cooper, Earl of Shaftesbury, came up with the infamous Zionist slogan “a land without people for a people without a land”. He wanted Jews to go to their “rightful home” (Palestine) under a British protectorate. According to a Canadian Jewish News review of Allies for Armageddon: The Rise of Christian Zionism, “The Earl of Shaftesbury was the first millennariast, or restorationist, to blend the biblical interest in Jews and their ancient homeland with the cold realities of [British imperial] foreign policy.” He got Britain’s foreign secretary to appoint the first British consul to Jerusalem in 1839.

A speech in England by Anthony Ashley Cooper in 1839 or 1840 was the first encounter with Zionist thinking for Canada’s leading early proponent of the movement. At the time of Confederation Canada’s preeminent Zionist was Henry Wentworth Monk who briefly studied to become an Anglican minister. In A Coat of Many Colours: Two Centuries of Jewish Life in Canada Irving Abella explains: “Henry Wentworth Monk, an eccentric but respected businessman, spent much of his time and money crusading for a Jewish homeland. In the 1870s and 1880s — long before Theodore Herzl, the Austrian founder of [Jewish] Zionism, even thought of a Jewish state — Monk took up a campaign in Canada and England to raise funds to buy land in Palestine for European Jews. In 1881 Monk even proposed setting up a Jewish National Fund. He issued manifestoes, wrote long articles, spoke to assorted meetings and lobbied extensively in England and Canada to realize his dream.” Citing a mix of Christian and pro-British Empire rationale, Monk called on London to establish a “dominion of Israel” similar to the dominion of Canada.

Monk was not alone in Canada. Many public figures, including prime ministers Lester Pearson and Arthur Meighan, expressed Christian Zionist thinking in backing the formation of the Israeli state. The son of a minister, Pearson’s memoirs refer to Israel as “the land of my Sunday School lessons” where he learned that “the Jews belonged in Palestine.”

While Christian Zionism is now associated with right-wingers such as evangelist Charles McVety, who campaigns against sexual education in Ontario schools, Left Christian Zionism has a long history. Future CCF (the NDP’s predecessor) leaders Tommy Douglas and Stanley Knowles, as well as a number of labour leaders, were members of the Canadian Palestine Committee (CPC), a group of prominent non-Jewish Zionists formed in 1943. (Future external minister Paul Martin Sr. and the premier of Alberta, Ernest C. Manning, were also members). Many CPC members’ Zionism was partly motivated by biblical teachings. Both Knowles and Douglas were Protestant ministers and, as an indication of the extent to which religion shaped Douglas, his main biography is titled Tommy Douglas: The Road to Jerusalem. In 1975, Douglas, the “father of Medicare”, told the Histadrut labour federation: “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.” This speech was made eight years into Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip and a quarter century after 800,000 Palestinians were ethnically cleansed in 1947/48.

A decade later Canadian Labour Congress president Dennis McDermott, who referred to himself as a “Catholic Zionist”, denounced a Canadian Senate report that rebuked Israel’s 1982 invasion/occupation of Lebanon and provided mild support for the Palestinian Liberation Organization. McDermott said the 1985 Senate report, which stopped short of calling the PLO the legitimate voice of Palestinians, was an “exercise in bad judgment and, even worse, bad taste.” (A portrait of McDermott hangs in a library named after him at the trade school of the Histadrut.)

Aggressive Christian Zionism still crops up in progressive circles. When I spoke about the Conservatives’ losing their bid for a seat on the UN Security Council to a Council of Canadians meeting in Delta BC, an older woman interrupted me to ask: “are you criticizing Harper’s support for Israel? Doesn’t the Bible say Israel is the Jewish homeland?”

May, of course, would never be so crass. But, she is associated with a religious tradition that has promoted this type of thinking. Recognizing their contribution to Palestinian dispossession, some Christian groups have sought to right a historical wrong by divesting from or boycotting companies enabling Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands. Others have directly challenged Christian Zionism.

In 2013 the Anglican Church of Canada committed itself “to explore and challenge theologies and beliefs, such as Christian Zionism, which support the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories.” Last year a number of groups organized an important multi-day conference in Vancouver titled “Seeking the Peace of Jerusalem: Overcoming Christian Zionism in the Quest for Justice.”

I can’t say for sure whether Christian Zionism has influenced Elizabeth May’s thinking. But, it’s clear she’s not supporting progressive Anglicans and other Christians reassessing their contribution to Palestinian dispossession.

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Misuse of term ‘anti-Semitic’ will have repercussions

Sticks and stone may break my bones, but names will never hurt me — and they may come back to haunt the name-callers.

In finding anti-Semites behind every challenge to Canadian complicity with Israeli colonialism, mainstream Jewish organizations are emptying the term “anti-Semitism” of its historical weight.

The Green Party of Canada’s vote in favour of the anti-Semitic boycott campaign against Israel shows the party has been infected by a vicious strain of anti-Jewish hate,” said the President of Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies, Avi Benlolo. In case anyone missed his point the head of the self-described “top Jewish human rights foundation in Canada with a substantial constituency” added that the Green’s “sole foreign policy is based on anti-Semitic hatred.”

The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs and B’nai Brith released only slightly less wild statements in response to the Greens supporting “the use of divestment, boycott and sanctions (BDS) that are targeted to those sectors of Israel’s economy and society which profit from the ongoing occupation of the OPT [Occupied Palestinian Territories].”

The Greens’ resolution, which is basically official Canadian government policy — based as it is on two states and the illegality of the settlements — with a little added pressure, freaks out Israeli nationalists because they understand it is a crack in the decades-old settler-state solidarity shield of invincibility. So, establishment pro-Israel organizations are increasingly shrill in smearing the growing Palestinian solidarity movement. While supporters of Palestinian rights generally ignore these smears or reply that it’s not anti-Semitic to stand up for Palestinian rights, defensive strategies aren’t sufficient. The anti-Semitic label is too potent to not confront directly.

It seems to this writer that the name-callers are on a track that will eventually lead to a new reality, one where:

• Those who are smeared will begin to embrace the label. People will begin to understand that if they haven’t been called anti-Semitic (or self hating) they’re probably not doing enough to support justice.

• Mocking the accuser and the term will become common. Benlolo et al. will be bombarded with tweets and messages about anti-Semites at the library, gym, behind the bed etc. Jokes about anti-Semitism will undercut the word’s force.

For example: Q. What does it take to get a student union to divest from Israel’s occupation? A. A dozen hard-core Jew-hating campaigners and 3,000 anti-Semites.

• Eventually, the embrace of the term by social justice advocates will lead to a widespread re-appropriation of its meaning. It could come to have ironically positive usage like the “N-word” in certain African-American circles. Or like the word Canuck, which originally was a term of derision aimed at French Canadians in New England, perhaps it will one day be displayed proudly on hockey team jerseys.

• If right-wing Israeli nationalist groups persist in their efforts to debase the Shoah in the service of colonialism and power, dictionaries and Wikipedia will be pressed to add “a movement for justice and equality” to their definition of anti-Semitism. (Webster’s Third New International Dictionary actually included “opposition to Zionism: sympathy with opponents of the state of Israel”, as part of its definition of anti-Semitism.)

Of course, considering the historical oppression originally defined by the term, most progressive-minded folk would be discomforted by the idea of mocking and re-appropriating “anti-Semitism.” But, isn’t this inevitable when “leading Jewish organizations” publicly denounce “anti-Semitism” in inverse relation to discernible anti-Jewish animus?

When Jews fleeing Hitler’s atrocities were blocked from entering Canada, notes A Coat of Many Colours: Two Centuries of Jewish Life in Canada, the dominant Jewish organizations mostly shied away from publicly criticizing Ottawa’s prejudice. Similarly, some Jewish representatives negotiated with McGill over the cap it placed on Jews in some university programs in the 1920s, 30s and 40s.

While some Jewish activists at the time pushed for a more forceful response to this quantifiable anti-Semitism, the “leading” community representatives didn’t want to rock the boat. Their aim was largely to join the power structure.

Today, the dominant Jewish organizations are well entrenched within the ruling elite. Whether they smear a political party, university students or the World Social Forum (“an event that was widely denounced as anti-Semitic”, according to a Canadian Jewish News report about last week’s conference in Montréal), they face little pushback in mainstream political and media life.

Nor do the less extreme elements within the Jewish community devote much energy to challenging the debasement of the term anti-Semitism. With the exception of Independent Jewish Voices, some smaller activist groups and a few righteous commentators, most liberal Jews are apathetic in the face of the cynical manipulation of centuries of Christian European prejudice.

One reason, I would postulate, is a lack of genuine concern over anti-Semitism in this country. Christianity has largely lost its cultural weight and a half-dozen other ethnic/religious groups are more likely to be targeted if there were an explosion of xenophobia in this country.

Over the past half-century Canadian Jews lived experience suggests little prejudice. In fact, most Canadian Jews benefit from white privilege and, to the extent an individual is tied into the generally educated and prosperous community, they benefit from accompanying familial and social advantages. As such, individuals uncomfortable about the nonsensical claims of anti-Semitism, simply don’t consider it worth putting their neck out to challenge the obvious damage done to the term by Simon Wiesenthal Center, B’nai Brith and CIJA, which have institutional/financial reasons to monger fear.

The primary public use of “anti-Semitism” today is to denigrate those defending a people facing the most aggressive ongoing European settler colonialism. Those who seek equality and international justice need to directly confront this abuse.

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