Tag Archives: Canada

Critical voices needed at development studies conference

Are they critical thinkers or cheerleaders pretending to be independent of the government that funds them? Given the title conference organizers chose — “Is Canada Back: delivering on good intentions?” — one would guess the latter. But, an independent researcher keeps an open mind.

Publicity for the mid-September conference organized by the Canadian Council for International Co-operation (CCIC) and the Canadian Association for the Study of International Development (CASID) notes: “Inspired by Justin Trudeau’s 2015 proclamation ‘Canada is Back’, we are presenting panels that illustrate or challenge Canada’s role in global leadership. Are we doing all that we could be doing in the world?”

Formulating the question this way seems like a sop to the government that provides their funding. Conference organizers must be aware of the Trudeau government’s arms sales to Saudi Arabia’s monarchy, backing for brutalmining companies, NATO deployments, antagonism towards Palestinian rights, efforts to topple the Venezuelan government, failure to end Canada’s ‘low level war’ on Iran, refusal to support nuclear weapons controls, promotion of military spending, etc.

The reality is that while the two conference sponsors are supported by some labour unions, left groups and internationalist-minded young people, they are heavily dependent/tied to Canada’s official foreign policy apparatus.

To understand government influence over the NGO/development studies swamp requires wading through acronym-filled historical waters. An umbrella group representing dozens of major development NGOs, the CCIC was created fifty years ago with financing from the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA, now part of Global Affairs Canada). The aid agency expected it to coordinate relations with the growing NGO network and build domestic political support for the aid program. While it has challenged government policy on occasion, the CCIC is highly dependent on government funds. Shortly after it publicly complained the government created a “chill” in the NGO community by adopting “the politics of punishment … towards those whose public views run at cross purposes to the government,” the CCIC’s $1.7 million CIDA grant was cut in 2012. This forced it to lay off two thirds of its staff.

CASID and international development studies programs more generally have received significant support from CIDA and the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), a Crown Corporation. In 2015 CASID’s president thanked “IDRC for its support of CASID over the past decade and more.” As part of one contract, IDRC gave CASID $450,000 between 2012 and 2015.

In the mid-1990s IDRC sponsored an initiative to enhance university undergraduate international development programs. This led to the creation of the Canadian Consortium for University Programs in International Development Studies (CCUPIDS), which has as its primary objective to “strengthen the position of International Development Studies.” CIDA also funds CCUPIDS conferences.

CCUPIDS is a branch of CASID, which publishes the Canadian Journal of Development Studies. In the introduction to a journal special issue on Canadian universities and development, editors Leonora Angeles and Peter Boothroyd write:

Thanks mostly to grant funding from the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) and the International Development Research Council (IDRC), Canadian academics have been able to engage intensively in development work for over three decades.

CIDA and IDRC also directly fund international development studies initiatives. In the late 1960s CIDA sponsored a study with the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (AUCC) to investigate what schools offered development studies courses. According to IDRC: 40 years of ideas, innovation, and impact, “early on, it began funding Canadian area and development studies associations, their conferences, journals, and research — gathering and communication activities.” The Canadian Association of African Studies, Canadian Association of Latin American and Caribbean Studies, Canadian Asian Studies Association and Canadian Association of Studies in International Development all “received substantial core funding from IDRC, intermittently in the 1970s and 1980s, and continuously since 1990.”

Significant sums of aid money continue to flow to international development studies programs. The website of the McGill Institute for the Study of International Development lists a dozen contracts worth more than $600,000 from CIDA, as well as $400,000 in contracts from IDRC and Foreign Affairs. An NGO and CIDA training ground, these programs often include internships and volunteer opportunities funded by development aid. The Students for Development Internships is “offered through the AUCC and CIDA, and students are funded to work for up to four months with an NGO anywhere in the world.” Queen’s Global Development Studies exchange program, for instance, received $270,000 from CIDA in 2011.

Individuals who participated in aid agency-funded projects, notably the government-backed Canadian University Services Overseas (CUSO), spurred or launched international development studies programs. In Canada’s Global Villagers: CUSO in Development, 1961-86 Ruth Compton Brouwer writes:

CUSO staff and RV’s [returned volunteers] contributed substantially to the establishment of university-level courses and programs related to global issues and the centres for international education and development studies. These are now such ordinary features of Canadian universities that it is difficult to conceive of how novel they were when they began in the 1960s.”

Led by CUSO’s former West Africa coordinator Don Simpson, University of Western Ontario opened an office of international education in 1969, which “operated in collaboration with CIDA.” Similarly, “valued friends of CUSO” instigated development studies programming at the universities of Ottawa and Toronto.

Canadian aid also directly shapes international development studies research. Half of the respondents to a 2002 survey of 64 scholars reported that CIDA’s six development priorities influenced their research focus. A professor or student who aligns their pursuits with those of the aid agency or IDRC is more likely to find funding or a fellowship. And IDRC/Global Affairs Canada’s priorities don’t include challenging Canadian foreign policy.

Given the sponsors ties to the foreign policy apparatus it is likely that the September conference will offer little more than cheerleading for the Trudeau Liberals’ foreign policy. Still, one can’t be certain and, having been invited by a Facebook friend to attend, I emailed the conference organizers to ask if they would allow me to present a critical look at Trudeau’s foreign policy. Thus far they have not accepted my offer.

If you agree that answering the question “Are we doing all that we could be doing in the world?” requires some critical voices, please email (ac.cicc@stneve) and ask them to allow Yves Engler to speak on Justin Trudeau’s foreign policy at your upcoming conference.

I love a good debate and maybe both sides will learn something new.

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When Israel backers claim to be anti-racist, one needs to ask questions

What to call someone who claims to oppose racism, except for that directed against Palestinians?

Judge someone by what they have done and continue to do. Consider the source. These thoughts ran through my mind as I struggled to write about Bernie Farber’s standing among some Left/liberals.

After Israel recently solidified its apartheid regime, a Facebook friend posted an opinion by illustrious pianist and conductor Daniel Barenboim titled“Today, I Am Ashamed to Be an Israeli.” While expressing opposition to its recent entrenchment of Jewish supremacism, the story effectively denied the ethnic cleansing of Palestine by claiming, “the founding fathers of the State of Israel who signed the Declaration [of independence] considered the principle of equality as the bedrock of the society they were building.”

More than this sop to colonial history, my leftist Facebook friend’s post piqued my ire because it highlighted that the article came from Farber, who worked at the now defunct Canadian Jewish Congress (CJC) between 1984 and 2011. In response to my complaint about citing the former CJC CEO approvingly, Farber wrote, “I will continue to work for mutual understanding and do my best to see all sides. You will of course see what you wish from your one-sided pedestal and be critical of anyone who remains a progressive Zionist which I am.”

From the “pedestal” on which I observe Farber, I see an individual who has repeatedly labelled supporters of Palestinian rights as racist. After the Canadian Union of Public Employees (Ontario) passed a 2009 motion in support of the Palestinian led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement Farber claimed, “anti-semitism is once again amongst us.” For Farber the resolution was “bigoted and discriminatory and anti-Jewish” because only one country was targeted. “The sole target is Jews, is Israel,” he said.

In a 2010 letter to the Toronto Star denouncing Israeli Apartheid Week CJC’s CEO wrote, “Anything that promotes the destruction, demonization and delegitimization of Israel, the world’s only Jewish state, is inherently anti-Semitic. To falsely accuse Israel, and by extension the vast majority of the world’s Jews who support the Jewish state, of ‘apartheid,’ is a form of anti-Semitic bullying.”

When the Israeli military killed 1,400 Palestinians (including 345 children) over 22 days in 2008-09 Farber denounced those protesting the slaughter across the country for their purported “vile, disgusting, hateful rhetoric of the kind that should be absolutely frightening to Canadians.” Further stoking anti-Arab/Muslim sentiment, he labeled the protests “uncivil, un-Canadian, that demonize Jews and Israelis.” Farber called on the police to investigate the burning of an Israeli flag and a small number of individuals with signs deemed “pro-Hamas” or comparing Israel’s actions to the Nazis.

In 2003 Farber lobbied for noted Islamophobe and anti-Palestinian activist Daniel Pipes to speak at York University. “It would have set a very, very unacceptable precedent to cancel it because of students who didn’t like or what he had to say,” said the then executive director of CJC Ontario. In 1996 Pipes asserted that Islam “would seem to have nothing functional to offer” and six years earlier said: “Western European societies are unprepared for the massive immigration of brown-skinned peoples cooking strange foods and maintaining different standards of hygiene … All immigrants bring exotic customs and attitudes, but Muslim customs are more troublesome than most.” The year before speaking at York University Pipes launched Campus Watch, which created “dossiers” on professors and academic institutions viewed as critical of Israel and more recently, wrote a piece titled “How 99 Percent of ‘Palestine Refugees’ Are Fake.”

Farber certainly didn’t support Pipes as a principled defender of free speech. In fact, Farber repeatedly promoted hate speech restrictions and a few years later the CJC pressured the York administration against holding an academic conference entitled Israel/Palestine: Mapping Models of Statehood and Paths to Peace. Farber also applauded the Stephen Harper government’s 2009 move to block former British MP George Galloway from speaking in Canada, writing: “George Galloway enables terrorism.”

After Adbusters juxtaposed photos of the World War II Warsaw Ghetto with images of Gaza, Farber penned a National Post op-ed titled “Selling anti-Semitism in the book stores”. It urged people to complain to stores selling the Vancouver-based magazine and a week later Shoppers Drug Mart told Adbusters it would no longer sell its magazine.

Aligning himself with Doug and Rob Ford, in 2010 Farber called on Toronto Pride to ban Queers Against Israeli Apartheid from its parade. In an over-the-top Toronto Star opinion piece he (co)wrote, “you’ve got to hand it to the organizers of Toronto’s annual gay pride parade. With their cowardly volte face in allowing Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (QuAIA) to march, organizers have pulled off the PR nightmare hat-trick: bowing to the bullying of political correctness; violating their own core philosophy by readmitting a group rooted in hate and demonization; and shifting media focus off their main objective.”

As executive director of CJC Ontario Farber joined US Jewish groups’ campaign to suppress the 1998 publication of A Nation on Trial: The Goldhagen Thesis and Historical Truth, which was a rebuttal of Daniel Jonah Goldhagen’s widely distributed Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust. The Norman Finkelstein-led project included an expanded version of an article by Ruth Bettina Birn, chief historian for Canada’s Nazi war crimes unit. Farber claimed that Birn was lending her name to Finkelstein’s “anti-Israel outbursts“, which were “an insult” to Jews. The CJC tried to intimidate the longstanding Nazi hunter through her government employer.

In another attempt to punish those in any way associated with Finkelstein, Farber threatened to take the York Region education board to the human-rights commission if it did not dismiss a Palestinian-Canadian from its race relations committee. Farber was angry that Bader Abu Zahra distributed a review of Finkelstein’s The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering at a teachers’ conference to discuss including “Holocaust and Anti-racist education in History, English and Social Science courses.”

When former Assembly of First Nations (AFN) head David Ahenakew made anti-Semitic comments in 2002 Farber (correctly) criticized them. But he also used Ahenakew’s abhorrent comments to smear Palestine solidarity activists. Alluding to the September 2002 protest against Benjamin Netanyahu at Concordia University and support for the second Palestinian intifada, Farber claimed Ahenakew “felt comfortable at the time to say what he’s been thinking for a long time.” Farber then used Ahenakew’s anti-Semitic comments to push AFN leaders to support a state stealing indigenous Palestinians’ land. As part of AFN/CJC rapprochement Grand Chief Phil Fontaine participated in a CJC organize tour to Israel.

Farber attacked the United Church of Canada for supporting Palestinian rights and Independent Jewish Voices (IJV). “It almost sends shivers down our spine that the United Church of Canada won’t speak out against documents which on their face are anti-Semitic,” said Farber, regarding a number of Palestine solidarity resolutions submitted to its 2009 national meeting. Amidst an aggressive campaign targeting the United Church, the CJC head opined, “that a mainstream Christian faith group would provide funding to create an anti-Zionist, and anti-Jewish group is absolutely astounding.”

Farber has repeatedly denigrated IJV, which supports the Palestinian civil society’s call to put economic and diplomatic pressure on Israel. He called IJV a “small, radical rump group”, “a rump on the edge of Jewish society”, a “fringe group” that spews “vile, anti-Zionist” rhetoric, “a minuscule, fringe group” that backs the “anti-Semitic” claim that Israel practices apartheid, etc.

At the same time that he disparaged IJV, Farber gave political cover to the Jewish Defence League (JDL), which recruited in Jewish high schools and participated in Toronto’s Annual Israel Walk. According to Andy Lehrer, JDL head Meir Weinstein spoke glowingly of Farber. After being asked to do so for years, Farber finally distanced himself and the CJC from the JDL in 2011. Highlighting the tension between those who back its anti-Palestinian posture, but oppose the JDL’s alliances with fascist/white supremacist organizations, Farber denounced the group after it rallied in support of Britain’s extremist English Defence League.

In response to my posting some of the above information on Facebook Farber complained that, “I haven’t worked at the CJC for over 7 years. And you have no idea of my work since then.” While Farber is no longer a leading proponent of the idea that expressing support for Palestinians is “anti-Semitism”, now challenges some of the Islamophobia he previously stoked and is offside with the JDL, it would be a stretch to say he’s broken from his CJC past. In 2015 Farber’s Mosaic Institute co-hosted an event with the Consulate of Israel in Toronto and last year he supported the exclusion of IJV and the United Jewish People’s Order from an Ontario anti-Semitism committee he co-led. In February Farber was a spokesperson for a JSpace Canada press release callingon the NDP convention to oppose a resolution that called for boycotting products from illegal Israeli settlements.

Despite this anti-Palestinian activity, many left/liberals partner with him. Alt weekly Toronto Now regularly publishes Farber’s articles; anti-racist journalist/activist Desmond Cole spoke with him at a recent forum put on by Farber’s Mosaic Institute; Judy Rebick, Sandy Hudson, Jerry Dias and others co-authored an op-ed with Farber calling on “Progressive Voters To Rally Around Andrea Horwath”; A slew of individuals have supported the new Farber-chaired Canadian Anti-Hate Network; the Treyf podcast interviewed him twice last year; the Torontoist quoted him in an article titled “Toronto’s Jewish Left is Alive and Well and Resisting Extremism.”

Of course, one could argue there is nothing wrong with interviewing someone you disagree with, partnering on an issue even if you differ on other subjects or citing a former pro-Israel activist to highlight that country’s eroding support.

But, ask yourself this: Would a pro-union publication give voice to a prominent union-basher? And if that union-basher claimed to have changed, wouldn’t the pro-union publication question him/her about the reasons for the change and their current opinion regarding unions?

It seems to me that supporters of Palestinian rights must, at a minimum, ask Farber similar questions before giving him voice as a “progressive” and “anti-racist”.

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Trudeau’s broken promise part of build-up to war against Iran

Another Liberal broken promise. Before becoming prime minister, Justin Trudeau promised to re-engage with Iran. His government has failed to do so and is beginning to echo the warmongers in Washington and Tel Aviv.

I would hope that Canada would be able to reopen its mission [in Tehran],” Trudeau told the CBC in June 2015. “I’m fairly certain that there are ways to re-engage [Iran],” he said.

Nearly three years into their mandate the Liberals haven’t restarted diplomatic relations with Iran. Nor has Trudeau removed that country from Canada’s state sponsor of terrorism list (Syria is the only other country on the list).

Numerous Canadian sanctions targeting Iran remain and Ottawa continues to present a yearly UN resolution critical of the human rights situation in Iran. Similarly, Liberal MPs participate in the annual “Iran Accountability Week” on Parliament Hill, which showcases individuals such as Mark Dubowitz, CEO of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, which helped kill the nuclear deal and is pushing harsh sanctions against any country doing business with Iran.

Dubowitz is a senior research fellow at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs. In 2015 Global Affairs Canada gave the Munk School’s Digital Public Square $9 million to expand an anti-Iranian initiative, which the Trudeau government appears to have maintained.

Trudeau has continued important components of the Stephen Harper government’s “low-level war against Iran”. One major exception had been on the rhetorical front, but that’s changing. In January foreign minister Chrystia Freeland put out a statement saying, “Canada is deeply troubled by the recent deaths and detentions of protesters in Iran” and two months ago tweeted, “Our government is committed to holding Iran to account for its violations of human and democratic rights.” Last month Liberal parliamentarians supported a Conservative MP’s private member’s motion that “strongly condemns the current regime in Iran for its ongoing sponsorship of terrorism around the world, including instigating violent attacks on the Gaza border.” In effect, the resolution makes Iran responsible for Israel killing Palestinians peacefully protesting the US Jerusalem embassy move, siege of Gaza and historic theft of their land. The motion also called on Canada to “immediately cease any and all negotiations or discussions with the Islamic Republic of Iran to restore diplomatic relations” and to make the highly provocative move of listing the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist entity.

The Liberals hardline on Iran coincides with Trump withdrawing from the “p5+1 nuclear deal” with Iran and re-imposing tough new sanctions. Now, Washington is threatening to sanction any country that buys Iranian oil. (If the US succeeds Tehran says it will seek to block oil shipments through the Strait of Hormuz.)

The US and Israel recently created a “working group” to foment internal protests in Iran. (Demonstrating once again the hypocrisy of US complaints about other countries interfering in its elections.) According to Axios, “Israel and the United States formed a joint working group a few months ago that is focused on internal efforts to encourage protests within Iran and pressure the country’s government.” In May the Washington Free Beacon reported on a three-page paper discussed by the US National Security Council to spark regime change in Iran.

Three weeks ago Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, called for regime change at a National Council of Resistance of Iran conference in Paris. (Harper also spoke at an event led by the Mujahedin-e Khalq, a cultish groupthat was previously deemed to be a terrorist organization.) Previously Giuliani said, “we got a president who is tough, who does not listen to the people who are naysayers, and a president who is committed to regime change [in Iran].” (In “Follow The Money: Three Billionaires Paved Way For Trump’s Iran Deal Withdrawal” Eli Clifton describes the role of arch Zionist donors, notably casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, in shaping US Iran policy.)

In April Trump appointed John Bolton as his national security advisor. An important proponent of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Bolton has called for bombing Iran, penning an op-ed in the New York Times headlined “To StopIran’s Bomb, Bomb Iran”.

By breaking his promise to restart diplomatic relations with Iran Trudeau has enabled US-Israeli hawks. In taking up their rhetoric the Liberal Party is further empowering those hurtling towards a major conflict. Shame.

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Filed under Black Book of Canadian Foreign Policy

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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NDP MPs must stop being ‘friends’ with Israel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Expanding powers of CSE more about imperialism than security

The Trudeau government is seeking to empower an influential, if little-known, arm of Canadian imperialism.

Bill C-59 would authorize the Communications Security Establishment to carry out offensive operations “to degrade, disrupt, influence, respond to or interfere with the capabilities, intentions or activities” of foreign actors. In effect, the Department of National Defence-run intelligence agency could seek to take a government offline, shutter a power plant, knock a drone out of the sky, or interfere in court proceedings and elections in countries Ottawa doesn’t deem “democratic.” The law forbids offensive cyber activities that could cause injury or death or “obstruct, pervert or defeat the course of justice or democracy,” but these limitations don’t apply if CSE receives approval of the foreign minister or conducts its cyber-attacks on behalf of a Canadian military operation. And CSE is allowed to do “anything that is reasonably necessary to maintain the covert nature of the activity.”

Established at the end of the Second World War, CSE has a $600-million budget and employs more than 2,000 mathematicians, engineers, linguists, analysts, computer scientists, etc. In 2011, CSE moved to a $1.2-billion, 110,000-square-metre, seven-building complex connected to the Canadian Security Intelligence Service’s headquarters in Ottawa.

Unlike CSIS, CSE is largely foreign-focused. It gathers international signals intelligence (which it defines as “intelligence acquired through the collection of electromagnetic signals”) and monitors phone calls, radio, microwave and satellite signals, emails, chat rooms and other forms of Internet exchanges. It engages in various forms of data hacking, sifting daily through millions of videos and online documents. Or as Vice reporter Patrick McGuire put it, CSE “listens in on phone calls and emails to secretly learn about things the Canadian government wants to secretly learn about.”

CSE has become increasingly aggressive over the past 15 years. The agency’s website says it played a “vital role” in the 2001-14 occupation of Afghanistan, and CSE head John Adams boasted that the agency was responsible for more than half the “actionable intelligence” Canadian soldiers used in Afghanistan. That included monitoring Taliban forces and leaders as well as allied Afghan government officials. Information CSE provided protected Canadian troops from attack and helped special forces assassinate Afghans.

CSE also aided the deployment to Iraq and Syria that began in 2014. The agency probably hacked ISIL computers and smartphones and CSE officials likely staffed a state-of-the-art intelligence centre in Kuwait. (Presumably, CSE supported Canada’s 2011 bombing of Libya, 2004 coup in Haiti and other military deployments, but I can’t confirm that.)

Former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden revealed that CSE hacked Mexican computers and spied on Brazil’s Department of Mines and Energy. CSE also planted sophisticated malware on mobile phones and hacked into computers abroad to attack targets without being detected.

Snowden also revealed that Canadian diplomatic posts house SIGINT equipment as part of spying efforts led by its U.S. counterpart. One NSA document claimed CSE operated clandestine surveillance activities in “approximately 20 high-priority countries.” In a 1994 book, former CSE officer Michael Frost describes CSE listening posts at a number of embassies or consular posts, while a 2000 paper cited Abidjan, Beijing, Bucharest, Rabat, Kingston (Jamaica), Mexico City, Rome, San Jose (Costa Rica), Warsaw and Tokyo as diplomatic posts where CSE (probably) collected information.

Since the start of the 1960s, CSE has listened to Cuban leaders’ conversations from an interception post in the embassy in Havana. A senior Canadian official, writes author Dwight Hamilton in Inside Canadian Intelligence: Exposing the New Realities of Espionage and International Terrorism, “admitted that the U.S. made ‘far greater use’ of our intelligence during the [October 1962] Cuban Missile Crisis than has been revealed.” In the 1980s, CSE planned to open a communications site in Algeria to help the NSA spy on Muammar Gaddafi’s Libya.

In addition, CSE gathered intelligence on Palestinians for Israel. Frost notes that “[former Palestinian Liberation Organization chairman] Yasser Arafat’s name, for instance, was on every [CSE] key-word list. NSA was happy about that.” According to files released by Snowden, CSE also spied on Israel’s enemies and shared the intelligence with that country’s SIGINT National Unit.

Bill C-59 is a troubling expansion of Canadian imperialism.

This story first appeared in Canadian Dimension

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