Here comes the Mali mission media manipulation

For the military, shaping media coverage of deployments is what roasting a marshmallow is to a summer camper’s S’mores; there isn’t one without the other.

Even before beginning a small “peacekeeping” mission, the Canadian forces have an elaborate media strategy.

At the end of June, Chief of the Defence Staff Jonathan Vance brought journalists with him on a visit to Mali. They toured the facilities in Gao where an advance team was preparing for Canada’s UN deployment to the African nation. An Ottawa Citizenheadline described Vance’s trip as part of an effort at “selling the public on the Mali mission.”

The tour for journalists was followed by a “technical briefing” on the deployment for media in Ottawa. “No photography, video or audio recording for broadcast purposes” was allowed at last week’s press event, according to the advisory. Reporters were to attribute information to “a senior government” official. But, the rules were different at a concurrent departure ceremony in Trenton. “Canadian Armed Forces personnel deploying to Mali are permitted to give interviews and have their faces shown in imagery,” noted the military’s release.

None of these decisions are haphazard. With the largest PR machine in the country, the military has hundreds of public affairs officers that work on its media strategy. “The Canadian Forces (CF) studies the news media, writes about them in its refereed journals — the Canadian Army Journal and the Canadian Military Journal — learns from them, develops policies for them and trains for them in a systematic way,” explains Bob Bergen, a professor at the University of Calgary’s Centre for Military and Strategic Studies.”Canadian journalists simply do not access the Canadian Forces in the scholarly fashion that the military studies them. There are no peer-reviewed journals to which they contribute reflections on their success or failure as an industry to cover the 1991 Persian Gulf War or the 1999 Kosovo Air War.”

While the tactics have varied based on technologies, balance of power and type of conflict, the government has pursued extensive information control during international deployments, which are invariably presented as humanitarian even when motivated by geostrategic and corporate interests. There was formal censorship during the First World War, Second World War and the Korean War. In recent air wars the military largely shut the media out while in Afghanistan they brought reporters close.

Air wars lend themselves to censorship since journalists cannot accompany pilots during their missions or easily see what’s happening from afar. “As a result,” Bergen writes, “crews can only be interviewed before or after their missions, and journalists’ reports can be supplemented by cockpit footage of bombings.”

During the bombing of the former Yugoslavia in 1999 the CF blocked journalists from filming or accessing Canadian pilots flying out of Aviano, Italy. They also refused to provide footage of their operations. While they tightly controlled information on the ground, the CF sought to project an air of openness in the aftermath of the Somalia scandal. For 79 days in a row a top general gave a press conference in Ottawa detailing developments in Yugoslavia. But, the generals often misled the public. Asked “whether the Canadians had been targeted, whether they were fired upon and whether they fired in return” during a March 24 sortie in which a Yugoslavian MiG-29 was downed, Ray Henault denied any involvement. The deputy chief of Defence Staff said: “They were not involved in that operation.” But, Canadians actually led the mission and a Canadian barely evaded a Serbian surface-to-air missile.While a Dutch aircraft downed the Yugoslavian MiG-29, a Canadian pilot missed his bombing target, which ought to have raised questions about civilian casualties.

One reason the military cited for restricting information during the bombing campaign was that it could compromise the security of the Armed Forces and their families. Henault said the media couldn’t interview pilots bombing Serbia because “we don’t want any risk of family harassment or something of that nature, which, again, is part of that domestic risk we face.”

During the bombing of Libya in 2011 and Iraq-Syria in 2014-16 reporters who travelled to where Canadian jets flew from were also blocked from interviewing the pilots. Once again, the reason given for restricting media access was protecting pilots and their families.

Since the first Gulf War the military has repeatedly invoked this rationale to restrict information during air wars. But, as Bergen reveals in Balkan Rats and Balkan Bats: The art of managing Canada’s news media during the Kosovo air war, it was based on a rumour that antiwar protesters put body bags on the lawn of a Canadian pilot during the 1991 Gulf War. It likely never happened and, revealingly, the military didn’t invoke fear of domestic retribution to curtail interviews during the more contentious ground war in Afghanistan.

During that war the CF took a completely different tack. The CF embedding (or in-bedding) program brought reporters into the military’s orbit by allowing them to accompany soldiers on patrol and stay on base. When they arrived on base, senior officers were often on hand to meet journalists. Top officers also built a rapport with reporters during meals and other informal settings. Throughout their stay on base, Public Affairs Officers (PAOs) were in constant contact, helping reporters with their work. After a six-month tour in Afghanistan PAO Major Jay Janzen wrote: “By pushing information to the media, the Battalion was also able to exercise some influence over what journalists decided to cover. When an opportunity to cover a mission or event was proactively presented to a reporter, it almost always received coverage.”

In addition to covering stories put forward by the military, “embeds” tended to frame the conflict from the perspective of the troops they accompanied. By eating and sleeping with Canadian soldiers, reporters often developed a psychological attachment, writes Sherry Wasilow, in Hidden Ties that Bind: The Psychological Bonds of Embedding Have Changed the Very Nature of War Reporting.

Embedded journalists’ sympathy towards Canadian soldiers was reinforced by the Afghans they interviewed. Afghans critical of Canadian policy were unlikely to express themselves openly with soldiers nearby. Scott Taylor asked, “what would you say if the Romanian military occupied your town and a Romanian tank and journalist showed up at your door? You love the government they have installed and want these guys to stay! Of course the locals are smiling when a reporter shows up with an armoured vehicle and an armed patrol.”

The military goes to great lengths to shape coverage of its affairs and one should expect stories about Canada’s mission in Mali to be influenced by the armed forces. So, take heed: Consume what they give you carefully, like you would a melted chocolate and marshmallow-coated graham wafer.

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NDP flirts with anti-Russian extreme right

In response to Ukrainian Canadian Congress campaigning, two NDP MLAs recently convinced the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission to withdraw a brand of Russian vodka from its stores. Alberta MLAs Deron Bilous and Jessica Littlewood argued that a hammer and sickle logo on a bottle of vodka was “offensive“. Articulating a growing rightist effort to equate communism with Nazism in Eastern Europe, Ukrainian Canadian Congress Alberta chapter president, Olesia Luciw-Andryjowycz, told the Edmonton Journal that the hammer and sickle was akin to “having a swastika on a bottle of cognac.”

This is not the first attempt by a provincial NDP to ban Russian vodka. In response to the 2014 upheaval in the Ukraine, a minister in the NDP government in Manitoba discussed a provincial ban on Russian vodka. At the same time, NDP MPP Cheri DiNovo tabled a motion at the Ontario Legislature calling on government-run liquor stores to suspend sales of Russian Standard vodka.

DiNovo was one of the NDP representatives that flirted with Ukraine’s hard right. She attended a Ukrainian parade in Toronto where some marched behind a banner titled “Right Sector Canada”. Its parent organization in the Ukraine said it was “defending the values of white, Christian Europe against the loss of the nation and deregionalisation.” At another Toronto event NDP MP Peggy Nash shared a stage with a speaker from Ukraine’s Right Sector.

Over the past four years, the NDP has backed a coup in Kiev, war in eastern Ukraine and NATO military build-up in Eastern Europe. In 2014 the right-wing nationalist Euro-Maidan movement ousted Viktor Yanukovych who was oscillating between the European Union and Russia. The US-backed coup divided the Ukraine politically, geographically and linguistically (Russian is the mother tongue of 30% of Ukrainians). After Yanukovych’s ouster Russia reinforced its military presence — or “seized” — the southern area of Crimea and then organized a referendum on secession. Home to Moscow’s major Baltic naval base, Crimea had long been part of Russia and the bulk of the population preferred Moscow’s rule to the post-coup right wing nationalist government in Kiev.

The NDP echoed the US/Stephen Harper government position on Ukraine. The day after Yanukovych fled, NDP MP Olivia Chow told a Euro-Maidan Canada rally in Toronto, “we must be vigilant, we must ensure our government, our Canadian government, continues to keep an eye on the Ukraine to make sure that the Russians do not interfere.”

But, the NDP MP wasn’t bothered by Canadian interference in that country. Eighteen months after the coup the Canadian Press reported that opposition protesters were camped in the Canadian Embassy for a week during the February 2014 rebellion against Yanukovych. “Canada’s embassy in Kyiv was used as a haven for several days by anti-government protesters during the uprising that toppled the regime of former president Viktor Yanukovych,” the story noted.

Ottawa played a similar role during the “Orange Revolution” a decade earlier. In a story headlined “Agent Orange: Our secret role in Ukraine,” Globe and Mail reporter Mark MacKinnon detailed how Canada funded a leading civil society opposition group, promised Ukraine’s lead electoral commissioner Canadian citizenship if he did “the right thing” and paid for 500 Canadians of Ukrainian descent to observe the 2004-05 elections. “[Canadian ambassador to the Ukraine, Andrew Robinson] began to organize secret monthly meetings of western ambassadors, presiding over what he called ‘donor coordination’ sessions among 20 countries interested in seeing Mr. [presidential candidate Viktor] Yushchenko succeed. Eventually, he acted as the group’s spokesman and became a prominent critic of the Kuchma government’s heavy-handed media control. Canada also invested in a controversial exit poll, carried out on election day by Ukraine’s Razumkov Centre and other groups that contradicted the official results showing Mr. Yanukovych [winning].”

Indifferent to Canada’s interference in Ukrainian affairs, during the 2015 federal election leaders debate Mulcair said, “with regard to Ukraine, yes, Putin is a danger. We stand firmly with Ukraine against the aggression by Russia.” The NDP leader also reiterated the party’s call for harsher measures against Russian officials, naming two businessmen whom he said should be added to Canada’s list of Russians targeted for sanctions. In March 2014 NDP foreign critic Paul Dewar released a statement calling for “travel bans against certain Russian officials and suspending trade with Russia’s military sector.” Five months later the NDP put out a press release under the headline “Conservatives shield Russian business elite from sanctions: Toothless sanctions are out of step with Canada’s closest allies.” In 2017 NDP foreign critic Hélène Laverdière applauded a bill modeled after the US Magnitsky Actthat would further strain relations between Ottawa and Moscow by sanctioning Russian officials. NDP MPs voted for legislation Laverdière labelled an “important step to support the Global Magnitsky movement.”

In summer 2016 NDP defence critic Randall Garrison expressed support for Canada leading a NATO battle group to Latvia as part of a ratcheting up of tensions with Russia. Four hundred and fifty Canadian troops are currently leading a 1,000-strong NATO force in Latvia while the US, Britain and Germany head missions in Poland, Lithuania and Estonia. As vice-chair of Parliament’s Standing Committee on National Defence, Garrison endorsed a December report titled “Canada’s support to Ukraine in crisis and armed conflict.” It denounced Russia’s “war of aggression against Ukraine” and lauded Canada’s “support of Ukraine in its fight against Russia.”

Deploying Canadian troops to the Russian border and Alberta MLAs pushing to ban Russian vodka both empower rightists in Eastern Europe. They are part of a troubling game of brinksmanship with Russia.

Is this really in Canada’s interest? And why is the NDP enabling the agenda of extreme right forces?

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NDP’s claim to ‘dialogue’ with Palestinians a cruel joke

The NDP is refusing to heed a call from 200 well-known musicians, academics, trade unionists and party members to withdraw from the Canada-Israel Interparliamentary Group (CIIG). To justify its decision the party says it is also represented on the Canada-Palestine Parliamentary Friendship Group (CPPFG).

In response to the open letter signed by Roger Waters, Maher Arar, Noam Chomsky, Linda McQuaig, etc. calling on NDP MPs to withdraw from CIIG, anti-Palestinian groups jumped to the party’s defence. In a Canadian Jewish News article about the open letter CIIG chair Michael Levitt — a former board member of the explicitly racist Jewish National Fund and co-author of a recent statement blaming “Hamas incitement” for Israeli forces shooting thousands of peaceful protesters, including Canadian doctor Tarek Loubani — called CIIG executives Murray Rankin and Randall Garrison “mensches” and said he’s “very supportive” of their role in the group. For its part, the staunchly anti-Palestinian Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center (FSWC) released a statement defending “the federal NDP’s decision to not withdraw from the Canada-Israel Interparliamentary Group despite pressure from party members.”

In response to the open letter NDP officials told the Huffington Post, Hill Times and others they were also represented on CPPFG. Caucus Press Secretary Kathryn LeBlanc sent me a statement noting, “NDP MPs belong to both the Canada-Israel Interparliamentary Group and the Canada-Palestine Parliamentary Friendship Group. The NDP believes dialogue is the way forward to establish peace, security and justice for Palestinian and Israeli people.”

But, the claim that belonging to these two committees creates some sort of neutral balance between Israelis and Palestinians conjures up famed South African activist Desmond Tutu’s insight that “if you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”

In the case of South African apartheid the NDP never claimed this sort of “dialogue is the way forward to establish peace, security and justice.” The party supported boycotts, divestment and sanctions against South Africa to put non-violent pressure on the country to end a regime that oppressed millions.

And even the NDP’s claim to balance and “dialogue” by belonging to both committees is disingenuous at best.

The Canada-Palestine group isn’t one of 17 official parliamentary associations or groups so it doesn’t receive public support, unlike the Canada-Israel group. Without official parliamentary status, the CPPFG has few resources and little influence. Established in 2007, it went defunct and was only re-constituted last year with nine MPs, including one initial NDP member (at least one more NDP MP has joined since the re-launch). The Israel Interparliamentary group, on the other hand, was created in 1981 and has 88 MPs and Senators, including four NDP members.

CIIG works with a sister organization in Israel, the 13-member Israel-Canada Inter-Parliamentary Friendship Group. The two groups organize joint teleconferences and delegations to each other’s parliaments. As I detailed, the co-chairs of the Israel-Canada Inter-Parliamentary Friendship Group, Yoel Hasson and Anat Berko, are stridently anti-Palestinian.

CPPFG, on the other hand, works with representatives of a people without control of territory and whose politicians are often locked in Israeli jails. Dozens of Palestinian representatives Israel detains can’t “dialogue” with their NDP counterparts through CPPFG. A recent CPPFG inspired Canadian parliamentary delegation to the West Bank wasn’t able to meet with Palestinian Legislative Council member Khalida Jarrar, whose daughters have been active in Palestine solidarity campaigning in Canada, since she has been detained by Israel for most of the past three years and has been blocked from traveling internationally since 1998.

It’s unclear if the Canadian MPs would have been allowed to meet Jarrar even if she weren’t detained by Israel since she is a member of the secular leftist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). Like most Palestinian political organizations, the PFLP is a banned terrorist organization in Canada. Ottawa’s post-September 11 2001 terrorist list makes it illegal to assist the PFLP, Palestine Liberation Front, Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade, Abu Nidal Organization, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Hamas and groups associated with these organizations.

Instead of these groups, CPPFG is aligned with the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority (PA). According to PA allied media, its re-launch was “coordinated with the Palestinian General Commission in Canada” and the recent CPPFG inspired delegation of MPs to the West Bank was organized “in coordinationbetween the Palestinian National Authority.”

Heavily dependent on Western funding and Israeli support, the PA has been labeled the “subcontractor of the Occupation” (some believe even that’s too charitable, calling the PA “in lock step” with Israel’s occupation). Since the Harper government took over in 2006 half a billion dollars in Canadian aid money has gone to the PA in an explicit bid to strengthen it vis-à-vis political rival Hamas and to entrench Israel’s occupation.

There have been increasing references in the past months during high-level bilateral meetings with the Israelis about the importance and value they place on Canada’s assistance to the Palestinian Authority, most notably in security/justice reform,” read a heavily censored November 2012 note signed by former Canadian International Development Agency president Margaret Biggs. “The Israelis have noted the importance of Canada’s contribution to the relative stability achieved through extensive security co-operation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.” The note released through an Access to Information request suggests the goal of Canadian “aid” was to protect a corrupt Abbas, whose electoral mandate expired in 2009, from popular backlash. Biggs explained that “the emergence of popular protests on the Palestinian street against the Palestinian Authority is worrying and the Israelis have been imploring the international donor community to continue to support the Palestinian Authority.”

The Shin Bet vetted, CIA connected and Canadian, US and British trained PA security forces have repeatedly quelled protests opposing Israeli violence in Gaza and expansionism in the West Bank. In the latest iteration, two weeks ago PA forces fired stun grenades and teargas on a peaceful demonstration calling for the easing of punitive economic measures in Gaza. An Amnesty International staff member was arbitrarily detained and tortured alongside 18 others in what the rights group labeled a “vicious crackdown”.

After returning from the recent PA coordinated visit to the West Bank Green Party leader Elizabeth May and NDP MP Alexandre Boulerice both said the Palestinians they talked didn’t support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (the PA’s position). The delegation did not meet anyone from the Palestinian BDS National Committee, which dubs itself “the broadest Palestinian civil society coalition that works to lead and support the BDS movement for Palestinian rights.” Nor did they go to Gaza.

Claiming to be dialoguing with both sides through CPPFG and CIIG is a cruel joke. The NDP should heed 200 well-known musicians, academics, trade unionists and party members’ call to withdraw from the Canada-Israel Interparliamentary Group.

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Response of Canada’s ‘defence’ community to Trump threats: silence

A volatile leader in charge of a military behemoth prone to aggression has repeatedly attacked Canada and its prime minister in recent weeks. But, this country’s “defence” community, which often hypes Russian, Jihadist and other threats, has barely made a peep.

Citing a concern for its “national security”, the US slapped tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminum imports at the end of last month. Since then Donald Trump has repeatedly criticized Justin Trudeau and two of the US President’s top advisers called the prime minister “dishonest”, “weak” and “rogue” and said “there’s a special place in hell” for him.

The bombastic rhetoric targeting the Trudeau government is coming from a state that has substantial military capacity close to the Canadian border and has repeatedly invaded nearby nations. The US is currently dropping a bomb every 12 minutes on seven different countries and its troops are fighting/operating in dozens more. And its Commander-in-Chief is highly impulsive.

Despite this aggressive posture from Washington, Canada’s “defence” community hasn’t raised the alarm or sought to capitalize on the tension by asking for more weapons and troops. Contrast this with the academics and think tanks funded by arms companies and the Department of National Defence who regularly hype lesser threats in a bid to increase military spending.

Why the difference in treatment of “threat” assessments?

The “defence” sector ignores US threats because it is not oriented towards protecting Canada from aggression. Rather, Canada’s military, weapons companies and “defence” intellectuals/think tanks are aligned with the US Empire’s quest for global domination.

According to DND, there are “80 treaty-level agreements, more than 250 memoranda of understanding, and 145 bilateral forums on defence” between the two countries’ militaries. In 2015 CBC reported on sustained, high-level, Canadian and US military discussions to create a so-called Canada-U.S. Integrated Forces. Not shared with Canadian political leaders, the plan was to set up integrated air, sea, land and special forces to operate under a unified command when deployed internationally.

The depth of the Canada-US military alliance is such that if US Forces attacked this country it would be extremely difficult for the Canadian Forces to defend our soil. In fact, given the entanglements the Canadian Forces would likely enable a US invasion: As with the 2003 invasion of Iraq — which Ottawa officially opposed — some Canadian troops on exchange in the US might march north; As is the norm when the US invades another country, Canadian officers would likely operate NORAD systems aiding the aggression; As with the wars in Vietnam, Iraq and elsewhere, weaponry produced in Canada would certainly be used by US soldiers marching north.

The Canadian “defence” sector has tied its ship to our southern neighbour’s massive military industrial complex. But, the truth, unpalatable as it may be to some, is that the USA is the only nation that could realistically invade Canada.

This is not an argument for a military policy that views the US as a threat. Canada’s best defence against an invasion is making sure hundreds of millions of people in the US and elsewhere know this country is not their enemy. Additionally, Canadians face far more pressing dangers (cars, industrial pollutant, climate disturbances, etc.) than a foreign invasion.

Instead of responding to Trump’s belligerence by ramping up military preparedness —which the US president demanded in a letter to the Prime Minister last week — we should be debating the point of a Canadian “defence” sector unwilling to even discuss defending our country from its primary military threat.

A critical question to ask: Why do we spend over $20 billion a year on a Department of National Defence?

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Doug Ford, Israel, the ‘Jewish vote’ and Palestinian solidarity

How will the election of Doug Ford as premier of Ontario effect the pro-Palestinian movement?

In one of his first post-election moves Ford announced that he would seek to ban an annual Palestinian solidarity event. After the recent Al Quds (Jerusalem) Day protest brought over 500 people out in Toronto, Ford tweeted, “our government will take action to ensure that events like Al Quds Day, which calls for the killing of an entire civilian population in Israel, are no longer part of the landscape in Ontario.” Ignoring how Israel has been killing large numbers of Palestinian civilians — 124 to 0 in the latest round in Gaza — the premier-elect added in a subsequent tweet: “Blatantly racist or anti-Semitic ideology should never be permitted on the grounds of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario, or anywhere else in our province.”

Ford’s move isn’t surprising since he’s previously campaigned against Palestinian solidarity activism. During his stint on city council Ford sought to defund Toronto’s Pride Parade because Queers Against Israeli Apartheid was allowed to march alongside hundreds of other groups.”We don’t support hate groups, that’s our view. If they want to march in the parade, then we won’t fund them,” said the councillor.

The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, Jewish Defence League and B’nai B’rith immediately applauded or re-tweeted Ford’s call to ban Jerusalem Day protests (as did Canada’s leading Christian Zionist activist and noted opponent of sexual education, Charles McVety, who celebrated Ford’s election by tweeting, “praise God who heard our prayers and delivered victory for the sake of our children.”) During the election campaign B’nai B’rith, JDL and CIJA — to differing degrees — sought to undermine Ford’s main rivals by weaponizing claims of “anti-Semitism” against the NDP. The JDL’s Twitter account repeatedly alleged the NDP was anti-Semitic while B’nai B’rith’s Twitter did the same and its officials participated in a Conservative Party press conference to denounce the NDP’s candidate in Scarborough-Agincourt, Tasleem Riaz, for allegedly posting an Adolf Hitler meme on Facebook five years earlier. More circumspect, CIJA-organized election debates that highlighted NDP candidates’ criticism of Israel and the influential lobby group stayed mum while the Conservatives and right-wing press repeatedly claimed the NDP were anti-Semitic.

Israeli nationalist Toronto Sun columnist Sue Ann Levy wrote a handful of columns criticizing NDP candidates’ purported anti-Israel views and accusing them of being anti-Jewish. So did far-right Rebel Media and the Canadian Jewish News repeatedly mentioned NDP candidates’ support for Palestinian rights in its election coverage. A CJN response to a column detailing Ford’s bigotry called “the NDP, a party rife with anti-Israel, anti-Jewish candidates who promote the BDS (Boycott Divestment and Sanctions) narrative.”

But it was obvious to anyone familiar with Ford’s history or who followed the election closely that he was the flag bearer for racist sentiment. In the CJN Bernie Farber wrote a piece titled “The depth of Doug Ford’s bigotry,” which highlighted his stereotyping of Jews. For its part, Ricochet ran a story titled “Why Canada’s white supremacists want Doug Ford to win” and Press Progress published stories titled “This White Nationalist Says Doug Ford is Sending Him Anti-Immigrant ‘Dog Whistle’ Messages,” “Pastors Who Preached Homophobic and Anti-Semitic Views Endorse Doug Ford,” “Ontario PC candidate Andrew Lawton: gender and racial discrimination should be legal,” etc.

Softer in tone, a number of corporate media outlets published stories making similar points. “Among Doug Ford’s PCs, yet another candidate with bigoted views emerges,” noted a Toronto Star headline.

Despite associating with racists and stereotyping Jews, Ford was backed (at least implicitly) by the dominant Israeli nationalist Jewish organizations. He also appears to have won the bulk of Toronto’s sizable Jewish vote. A CJN headline noted, “Ontario Tories win big in ridings with large Jewish populations.” In Thornhill, the riding with the highest concentration of Jews in Ontario, Conservative candidate Gila Martow defeated her nearest rival by an astounding 29,000 to 9,000 votes.

Unfortunately a sizable portion of Ontario’s Jewish lobby groups have shifted to the right. This could be due to a decline in real anti-Semitism or ties to an increasingly racist and right-wing Israeli public (in recent days hundreds protested against an Arab family moving into a Jewish neighborhood in Afula, an Israeli pool admitted to maintaining separate swim times for Bedouin and Jews and a Likud member of the Knesset claimed “the whole Jewish race is the greatest human capital, and the smartest”). Whatever the reason, every person, including Jews, who believe in justice for all, must confront this reality.

So, how will all this play out for the Palestinian solidarity movement?

The election of Doug Ford has already highlighted the Jewish establishment’s preference for a Conservative “populist” over social democrats associated with Palestinian rights. It should also strengthen the link between Israel campaigning and bigoted, right-wing, politics. This will ultimately be a good thing for the Palestinian solidarity movement.

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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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The left’s naivety about Canada’s role in foreign affairs

Repeat after me: Canada is seldom a force for good in the world, Canada is seldom a force for good in the world.

Thomas Walkom’s “Canada should board Korean peace train” is yet another example of how the progressive end of the dominant media has been seduced by Canadian foreign policy mythology.

The leftist Toronto Star columnist offers an astute analysis of what’s driving rapprochement on the Korean Peninsula. He points out that the two Koreas are moving the process forward and that Pyongyang believes “complete denuclearization” of the Peninsula includes the US forces in the region aiming nuclear weapons at it.

But, Walkom’s column is cloaked in naivety about Canada’s role in the geopolitical hotspot. He ignores the international summit Ottawa and Washington organized in January to promote sanctions on North Korea. In a highly belligerent move, the countries invited to the conference in Vancouver were those that fought against North Korea in the early 1950s conflict. “We went over there and fought the war and eventually burned down every town in North Korea,” General Curtis LeMay, head of US air command during the fighting, explained three decades later. “Over a period of three years or so, we killed off … twenty percent of the population of Korea as direct casualties of war, or from starvation and exposure.”

(During another dreadful chapter in Korean history Canada supplied warmaterials to the Japanese army that occupied Korea before World War II.)

Continuing its aggressive diplomatic posture, Chrystia Freeland brought upNorth Korea at the Munich Security Conference in Germany in February and the next month Canada’s foreign minister agreed with her Japanese counterpart to send a “strong message” to Pyongyang at the upcoming Group of Seven meetings. In a subsequent get together, Freeland and Japanese officials pledged to maintain “maximum pressure” on North Korea. After “welcoming South Korea’s critical role in maintaining diplomatic and economic pressure on North Korea” in March, Freeland responded gingerly to Seoul and Pyongyang’s joint announcement last month to seek a formal end to the Korean War and rid the Peninsula of nuclear weapons. “We all need to be careful and not assume anything,” said Freeland.

Walkom also ignores the Canadian Forces currently seeking to blockade North Korea. Three weeks ago Ottawa announced it was a sending a CP-140 Aurora surveillance aircraft and 40 military personnel to a US base in Japan to join British, Australian and US forces monitoring efforts to evade UN sanctions. Earlier in the year a Vancouver Island based submarine was sent across the pond partly to bolster the campaign to isolate North Korea.

Canadians are also part of the UN military mission in Korea. The first non-US general to hold the post since the command was created in 1950, Canadian Lieutenant General Wayne Eyre was recently appointed deputy commander of the UN force stationed there.

(To be fair, Walkom hints at Ottawa’s belligerence, noting that Canada is “still technically at war with North Korea” and is among countries that “traditionally take their cue from the U.S.”)

In my forthcoming book Left, Right — Marching to the Beat of Imperial Canada I discuss how leftist intellectuals concede a great deal to the foreign policy establishment’s outlook. Laziness is a simple, though not unimportant, reason why these writers mythologize Canadian foreign policy. Buried amidst a mass of state and corporate generated apologetics, critical information about Canada’s role in the world takes more effort to uncover. And the extra work is often bad for one’s career.

A thorough investigation uncovers information tough to square with the narrow spectrum of opinion permitted in the dominant media. It’s nearly impossible to survive if you say Canadian foreign policy has always been self-serving/elite-driven or that no government has come close to reflecting their self-professed ideals on the international stage. Almost everyone with a substantial platform to comment sees little problem with Canadian power, finding it expedient to assume/imply Canada’s international aims are noble.

Rather than a story titled “Canada should board Korean peace train”, Walkom should have written about how “Canada must step off the belligerence bus”. His conscious or unconscious naivety regarding Canada’s role in Korea is part of a mainstream left trend that partly explains why Canadians overwhelmingly believe this country is a benevolent international actor despite a long history of supporting empire and advancing Canadian corporate interests abroad.

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