Tag Archives: Canada

Tax subsidized schools rally children to glorify Israel colonialism

On Tuesday thousands will gather to celebrate the most aggressive ongoing European settler colonialism. Organizers of Montréal’s annual Israel Day rally claim it is the largest event of its kind in the country.

A significant proportion of the crowd will come from the city’s 15 Jewish day schools, which receive most of their funds from the public purse. Many of the kids bused downtown will carry Israeli flags and their faces will be painted in its colours. At the 2014 Israel Day rally a 12-year-old Herzliah student, Jon Frajman, told the Montréal Gazette, “if we didn’t support Israel, we wouldn’t have a place to call home.”

(A few years ago I witnessed a similar type of child abuse at an anti-abortion protest in Ottawa packed with Catholic school students.)

Herding students to a weekday rally is a visible form of activism, but it’s a small part of these schools’ crusading for Israel. A recent Canadian Jewish News cover story titled “What to teach Jewish students about Israel?” detailed the growing importance given to classes on Israel at Jewish day schools. While students have long been “taught from a young age to see Israel as the land of milk and honey”, in recent years Jewish day schools have ramped up their indoctrination in reaction to “anti-Israel student groups on campuses throughout North America.”

Head of Winnipeg’s Gray Academy of Jewish Education, Lori Binder told CJN that Israel education is taught from junior kindergarten to graduation. But, “the crescendo I guess, is a full-year course for all our Grade 12 students in a course called Israel advocacy.”

Gray Academy’s Israel advocacy course was set up eight years ago. Recently, the Combined Jewish Appeal Israel Engagement Initiative developed a program for Grade 10 students at Montréal schools called Israel Update and Vancouver’s King David High School organizes an annual trip to Israel for Grade 8 students.

One of the five “Faces of Success” in a Federation CJA booklet promoting Montréal Jewish schools is a man named Oliver Moore, a graduate of McGill Law who works with NGO Monitor in Jerusalem. Moore is quoted stating: “My experience attending Jewish high school imprinted me with a Zionist ethic and a profound appreciation for Israel’s importance. It troubles me that Israel is under constant political threat and that its legitimacy is questioned. What I find especially disturbing is that the language of human rights has been distorted to dispute its right to exist. That is why I’ve decided to go to Israel and examine this issue in depth, and when I return to Canada, to contribute to Israel advocacy.”

Day schools aren’t the only institutional setting in which the young are taught to support Israeli violence and expansionism. Some Jewish Community Centres and summer camps promote Zionism to kids.

The Jewish National Fund has long tried to convince young minds of its colonial worldview. The registered Canadian “charity” offers various youth outreach initiatives to help build the “bond between the Jewish people and their land.” The JNF has produced puzzles and board games as well as organizing kids dances and a Youth Summer experience program. According to JNF Canada’s Education Department, the group “educates thousands of young people in Israel and abroad, helping them forge an everlasting bond with the Land of Israel.”

An explicitly racist institution, the JNF promotes an expansionist vision of “Eretz Yisrael”. The mainstay of their youth outreach, JNF Blue Boxes’ include a map that encompasses the illegally occupied West Bank. Over the last century millions of Blue Boxes have been distributed around the world as part of “educating Jewish youth and involving them in these efforts in order to foster their Zionistic spirit and inspire their support for the State of Israel. For many Jews, the Blue Box is bound up with childhood memories from home and the traditional contributions they made in kindergarten and grade school.”

The best way to reverse Canada’s contribution to Palestinian dispossession is to educate and mobilize the broad public about an issue removed from most people’s daily lives. But, there’s also a need to challenge Israeli nationalist opinion within the Jewish community. One way to do so is by criticizing the indoctrination of children. One means might be to respectfully picket JNF events targeted at kids or perhaps by plastering posters about Israeli violence and expansionism around Jewish schools.

While pro-Israel groups would likely denounce such efforts as “anti-Semitic”, children at these institutions deserve to hear an alternative, universalist, anti-racist perspective. They need to know that not all Jews, Montrealers, Torontonians, Canadians, etc. support the most aggressive ongoing European settler colonialism. They need to learn to think for themselves, instead of blindly accepting the Israeli nationalist propaganda aimed their way.

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Let’s inject some left wing political boldness into NDP leadership race

A leadership race is an opportunity to promote bold ideas and invigorate a political movement. Canada’s right-wing party seems to understand this, the left not so much.

In recent months Conservative Party leadership contenders have promoted a bevy of extremist ideas. Last week the spokesperson for Conservative contender Brad Trost boasted that his candidate is “not entirely comfortable with the whole gay thing.” Maxime Bernier is pushing to abolish taxes on those who make money from their money (capital gains), end supply management and lower the corporate tax rate to 10 per cent. Kellie Leitch called for the CBC to be “dismantled” while Chris Alexander labelled most of the world “anti-Semitic” for criticizing illegal Israeli colonies.

Outside the Conservative Party, rightist groups are leveraging their heightened influence — at a time when candidates need support from more right-leaning party members — to get contenders to amplify their views. In the highest profile instance, four Conservative leadership candidates spoke at a Rebel Media rally to protest Muslims — under the guise of protesting anti-Islamophobia Motion 103. At least one person in the Toronto crowd raised his arm in a Nazi salute.

Rebel Media also drew three leadership candidates to a December rally against Alberta’s planned carbon tax. Brad Trost told the Calgary audience “this whole climate-change agenda is not science fact-based.”

A hodgepodge of other extreme right groups have sought out Conservative candidates to legitimate their cause. Kellie Leitch, for instance, recently met neo-fascist Rise Canada member Ron Banerjee.

Rebel Media, Rise Canada and other right-wing groups aren’t worried about whether leadership contenders attending their events or expressing extreme ideas harm the Conservative party’s short-term electability. Rather, they are focused on strengthening their respective causes.

The NDP race is a study in contrasts. Despite being far further from winning office, caution has been the order of the day during the early stages of the NDP leadership campaign. Few bold ideas have been presented.

No one is calling for (re)nationalizing Bombardier or other companies receiving massive public support. No one is proposing to restrict relations with institutions benefiting from illegally occupied Israeli territory. No one is demanding Canada’s 150 birthday celebration be scrapped and the $500 million be spent on educating ourselves about colonialism. No one is promoting workplace democracy. No one has expressed the need to reduce tar sands output by 10 per cent a year. Heck, not one of the four candidates has even said explicitly that they oppose building new pipelines.

In short, none of the NDP candidates are offering an alternative to the “greed is good” narrative of the hardline supporters of capitalism.

Either the NDP is simply another party supporting the economic and political status quo or it is so afraid of being called “radical” by the mainstream media that itself-censorss to the point of political blandness.

Too many people around the NDP are concerned about the leadership race’s short-term impact on the party’s electoral prospects. Few seem concerned with its impact on the left’s long-term prospects.

Progressive party members must demand more from politicians seeking their vote. If leftists can’t significantly influence the discussion during a race to lead a purported left-wing party when will we?

NDP members are right to deride the ideas flowing from the Conservative leadership race, but they are wrong to dismiss it as a circus. The boldness and willingness to amplify their agenda is something the NDP should mimic.

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Filed under Black Book of Canadian Foreign Policy

Jewish Defence League organizes hate, violence

We live in strange and dangerous times. While Toronto thugs export their violence and extremist ideology to the USA and the Jewish Defence League works with neo-fascists to bash Muslims, the dominant Canadian media has placed a cone of silence over these disturbing developments.

At the recent American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference in Washington, D.C., a mob organized by JDL Toronto attacked counter-protesters. In the worst incident, a 55-year-old Palestinian-American teacher was punched, kicked and hit with flagpoles. Bruised across his body, Kamal Nayfeh needed 18 stitches around his eye.

Thornhill JDL member Yosef Steynovitz was charged with assault causing significant injury and a hate crime.

Despite video of JDL thugs assaulting protesters in the US capital, no Canadian media except the Canadian Jewish News reported on the confrontation. Also ignored are JDL’s efforts to parlay Donald Trump’s xenophobia into a bigger presence down south. In January, JDL Toronto organized a meeting in the Big Apple. “We are trying to get something off the ground in New York. We have to resurrect it in other states in the US, in LA, Chicago, Florida, Philadelphia, I get emails from all over the US, we have to get this thing going,” JDL-Toronto leader Meir Weinstein told the New York meeting, according to a Ha’aretz story headlined “Drawing Inspiration From Trump, Far-right Kahane Movement Seeks U.S. Revival”.

The US JDL was labelled “a right-wing terrorist group” by the FBI in 2001. Its members were convicted of a series of acts of terror, including the killing of the regional director of the American Arab Anti-discrimination Committee and a plot to assassinate a congressman. A member of the JDL’s sister organization in Israel killed 29 Palestinian Muslim worshipers in the Cave of the Patriarchs Massacre two decades ago.

Most people involved in Palestinian solidarity activism in Toronto have experienced JDL thuggery. During Israel’s brutal assault on Gaza in 2014, I was shoved, had my bike damaged and lock stolen by members of the JDL at a protest on the grounds of the Ontario legislature. The following day at Queen’s Park, a JDL member who worked with children at the Schwartz/Reisman Jewish Community Centre and was on a B’nai Brith softball team, Isaac Ezra Nacson, knocked a pro-Palestinian counter demonstrator to the ground and kicked him in the face. Half an hour after Nacson’s attack, a JDL member walked some 50 metres around a barricade to where I was standing alone chanting at the pro-war rally and spat on me three times. Both incidents were caught on tape by major media outlets, but little was done.

In 2014 the JDL sparked a violent confrontation at Palestine House in Mississauga. Three years earlier the RCMP launched an investigation against a number of JDL members who were thought to be plotting to bomb Palestine House.

While they’ve organized with the far right English Defence League and Pegida UK in the past, JDL has deepened its coordination with other local white supremacists in recent months. They’ve joined the Soldiers of Odin at Nathan Phillips Square on a couple of occasions to protest M-103, the anti-Islamophobia parliamentary motion.

Despite its racism and violence, the JDL finds support from much of the organized Jewish community and other powerful institutions. JDL has cosponsored demonstrations with B’nai B’rith and provided “security” for pro-Israel rallies. Canadian Jewish News coverage of the group has often been sympathetic, including publishing video of a speech by Meir Weinstein. Two years ago Barbara Kay penned a National Post column titled “In defence of the Jewish Defence League” and six weeks ago the Toronto Sun published an article headlined “Jewish Defence League alleges hate crime”. In 2014 former Prime Minister Stephen Harper even included a JDL member in his official delegation when he traveled to Israel.

Tacitly accepted or actively supported by much of the establishment, the JDL is probably the most powerful far right group in Toronto. The group is now using its influence to build neo-fascist alliances in the city and export its toxic politics south of the border.

People should be concerned.

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NDP leadership candidates call for foreign policy debate

There has yet to be a single question about foreign policy in the NDP’s first two leadership debates, but some contenders say they want the party to devote a forum to international affairs.

During a gathering organized by Courage after the recent youth issues debate in Montreal I asked Niki Ashton whether she voted in favour of bombing Libya. The NDP leadership candidate said she and a few other MPs sought to dissuade then-leader Jack Layton from supporting the NATO war. Failing to convince him, Ashton said she couldn’t remember if she voted yes on Libya.

Here’s the background:

The NDP supported a vote in March 2011 and another in June of that year initiated by the minority Stephen Harper government endorsing the bombing of Libya. Green Party leader Elizabeth May was the only member of parliament to vote against a war in which Canada played a significant role. A Canadian general led the NATO bombing campaign, seven CF-18 fighter jets participated, two Canadian naval vessels patrolled the Libyan coast and an unknown number of Canadian special forces invaded.

Since the war Libya has descended into chaos. ISIS has taken control of parts of the country while various warring factions and hundreds of militias operate in the country of 6 million. Not only did the war destabilize that country, in 2012 the Libyan conflict spilled south into Mali and has even strengthened Boko Haram in Nigeria.

The African Union predicted as much. In opposing the invasion of Libya, AU Commission Chief Jean Ping said, “Africa’s concern is that weapons that are delivered to one side or another … are already in the desert and will arm terrorists and fuel trafficking.”

Days into the February 2011 uprising in Eastern Libya the AU Peace and Security Council sought a negotiated solution to the conflict, but was rebuffed by the US/Britain/France/Canada backed National Transitional Council, which controlled Benghazi. A week before NATO began bombing Libya, the AU Peace and Security Council put forward a five-point plan demanding: “A cease-fire; the protection of civilians; the provision of humanitarian aid for Libyans and foreign workers in the country; dialogue between the two sides, i.e. the Gaddafi regime and the National Transitional Council (NTC); leading to an ‘inclusive transitional period’ and political reforms which ‘meet the aspirations of the Libyan people.'”

Three weeks into the bombing the AU High Level Ad Hoc Committee on Libya, including four heads of state, visited Libya to pursue a ceasefire. Gaddafi agreed to the first phase of the proposal but it was rejected by the NATO-backed NTC. At a meeting with the UN Security Council three months into NATO’s war the AU High Level Ad Hoc Committee on Libya criticized the war. Delivering the AU position, Ruhakana Rugunda, Uganda’s permanent representative to the UN, said: “There has been no need for these war activities, ever since Gaddafi accepted dialogue when the AU Mediation Committee visited Tripoli on April 10. Any war activities after that have been provocation for Africa.”

In Slouching Towards Sirte: NATO’s War on Libya and Africa, Concordia University professor Maximilian Forte argues the invasion of Libya was designed to eliminate an important supporter of African unity and critic of Western militarism on the continent. Gaddafi spearheaded opposition to the United States’ Africa Command (AFRICOM), which Washington wanted to set up on the continent. A 2009 cable from the US Embassy in Tripoli called “the presence of non- African military elements in Libya or elsewhere on the continent” almost a “neuralgic issue” for Gaddafi. Eliminating Gaddafi delivered a blow to the AU and those who rejected AFRICOM.

Ashton’s inability to remember whether she voted to support the war on Libya leaves much to be desired. But I don’t want to single her out unfairly. The only reason I thought to ask Ashton about Libya is that she attended the Courage event, which is part of her plan to draw the party closer to social movements. Moreover, at the youth issues debate Ashton criticized the party leadership for “turfing” pro-Palestinian candidates during the 2015 federal election campaign.

Ashton seems to have brought up Palestine partly because the Young New Democrats of Quebec asked the party leadership to include a question in the debate about Palestine. They refused.

During my conversation with Ashton she said the party should devote more energy to discussing foreign policy issues. In response, I asked if she would publicly call for one of the planned eight leadership debates to be devoted to the subject. She agreed, writing in a follow-up message: “Grassroots members are calling for a specific debate on foreign policy or foreign policy questions at each debate and the party should listen and follow suit.”

Afterwards I emailed the three other registered contenders and potential candidate Sid Ryan to ask whether they would “support a leadership debate devoted to military and foreign policy issues” and whether they voted to support the NATO bombing of Libya. (Guy Caron and Sid Ryan were not in the House of Commons at the time of the votes so I didn’t ask them about Libya.)

Charlie Angus and Peter Julian did not reply to my question about whether they voted to bomb Libya. Angus and Julian also ignored the question about a foreign policy-focused debate.

Guy Caron’s spokesperson wrote that he’s “looking forward to getting a chance to debate foreign policy issues. While the party has not indicated specific themes for the remaining debates, I would certainly be open to having a substantive discussion on questions of foreign policy.”

For his part, Ryan expressed “concern as to why the NDP debates have completely ignored the question of foreign policy” and said he “absolutely supports the idea of holding a debate that focuses exclusively on foreign policy.”

A video Ryan recently released bemoans “billions of dollars for the NATO war machine” and shows a protest sign that says, “Stop the U.S.-Israel war”. Elsewhere, Ryan has said Canada should withdraw from NATO, which sharply contrasts with outgoing leader Tom Mulcair’s description of the NDP as “proud members of NATO.” While Mulcair pushed to strengthen sanctions against Russia, Ryan has called for an end to Canada’s military deployments in Eastern Europe. In maybe the starkest difference, Ryan has spoken at pro-Palestinian demonstrations and when he was president of CUPE-Ontario he accepted the members’ vote to support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign targeting Israel’s violation of international law. For his part, Mulcair purged a number of NDP candidates–some elected by local riding associations–that supported Palestinian rights.

There are important differences of opinion within the NDP regarding foreign policy questions. These issues deserve to be aired.

A party unable to openly debate its foreign policy is likely to support another war that devastates a small African country.

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Justin Trudeau is no friend of the environment

Today the lives of over 10 million people in the Horn of Africa are at risk due to a drought at least partly caused by climate change. A study by Britain’s Met Office concluded that human-induced climate disturbances sparked a famine in Somalia in 2011 in which over 50,000 died. For its part, the Climate Vulnerability Monitor estimated in 2012 that climate change was responsible for some 400,000 deaths per year, a number expected to hit one million by 2030.

To mitigate this downward spiral radical action is needed. Instead, here is what Justin Trudeau told oil company executives gathered in Houston earlier this month: “No country would find 173 billion barrels of oil in the ground and just leave them there.”

But, that’s precisely what should happen to Canada’s tar sands as Trudeau alluded to when campaigning for the votes of those concerned about climate change. Most of the world’s fossil fuels need to be left untouched to have any chance of avoiding catastrophic climate change and Canadian oil ought to be front of the ‘keep it in the ground’ line for a combination of ecological and equity reasons.

It takes significantly more energy to extract tar sands oil than conventional crude. The tremendous amount of energy required to bring the oily sand to the surface and separate out a useful product emits a great deal of carbon dioxide.

The narrow ecological argument for phasing out tar sands production is powerful. It’s bolstered by international equity considerations. Canada’s large current and accumulated carbon footprint is another reason to keep this country’s oil in the soil.

Per capita emissions in many African countries amount to barely one per centof Canada’s rate. In Uganda, Congo, Benin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Central African Republic, Chad, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Guinea, Lesotho, Malawi, Mali, Niger, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Rwanda and Mozambique, per capita emissions comprise less than 1/150th of Canada’s average. In Tanzania, Madagascar, Comoros, The Gambia, Liberia and Zambia per capita emissions are less than 1/80th Canada’s average.

Even more startling is the historical imbalance among nations in global greenhouse gas emissions. According to a September 2009 Guardian comparison, Canada released 23,669 million metric tons of carbon dioxide between 1900 and 2004 while Afghanistan released 77 million metric tons, Chad 7 million metric tons, Morocco 812 million metric tons and Egypt 3,079 million metric tons.

Canada’s contribution to global warming over this period was more than the combined total of every sub-Saharan African country. While the historical data is troubling, forward-looking comparisons are equally stark. If plans to nearly double tar sands production proceed, by 2030 Alberta’s project will emit as much carbon as most sub-Saharan African countries combined.

A sense of ‘carbon equity’ requires that Canadian oil remain untouched. So does economic justice.

Canada is a wealthy country that had a functioning healthcare, pension and education system prior to significant tar sands extraction, which began at the turn-of-the-century. In fact, Canada had one of the highest living standards in the world before beginning to extract sizable quantities of tar sands.

The wealthiest countries should be the first to leave fossil fuel wealth in the ground. Only a sociopath would suggest the Congo, Haiti or Bangladesh stop extracting fossil fuels before Canada.

Found in a wealthy, heavy emitting country, the tar sands are a ‘carbon bomb’ that needs to be defused. Extracting Canada’s “173 billion barrels” will drive ever-greater numbers of the planet’s most vulnerable over the edge.

With his words to oil executives Trudeau made it clear that his government has chosen business (and profits) as usual over human survival. Of course, this shouldn’t surprise anyone with a basic understanding of the Liberals who only ‘govern from the left’ if there is a movement challenging capitalism.

To seriously reduce Canada’s emissions will require hundreds of thousands in the streets pushing a political party to challenge an economic system that demands endless growth.

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Filed under Black Book of Canadian Foreign Policy, Stop Signs

NDP leadership hopefuls should debate foreign policy

Is the NDP establishment scared to have party members discuss Canada’s international posture?

At the party’s first leadership debate last weekend there wasn’t a single foreign policy question despite a host of contentious recent party positions on international affairs.

Certainly at a time when the mainstream media is giving prominence to militarist voices, many members would be keen to hear the four candidates’ positions on military spending. The party’s 2015 platform said an NDP government would “meet our military commitments by maintaining Department of National Defence budget allocations.” In addition to backing Stephen Harper’s budget allocations, the NDP aggressively promoted the National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy, a $40 billion effort to expand the combat fleet over three decades (over its lifespan the cost is expected to top $100 billion). Defence critic Jack Harris bemoaned “Conservative delays” undermining “our navy from getting wanted equipment” and the platform said the NDP would “carry forward the National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy to ensure Canada has the ships we need” even if this naval build-up strengthens Canadian officials’ capacity to bully weaker countries.

It would also be good to know the candidates’ views on the Trudeau government repeatedly isolating Canada from world opinion regarding Palestinian rights. In November, for instance, Canada joined the US, Israel, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Federated States of Micronesia and Palau in opposing UN motions titled “Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and the occupied Syrian Golan” and “persons displaced as a result of the June 1967 and subsequent hostilities.” One hundred and fifty-six countries voted in favour of the motions, but the NDP stayed silent on the UN votes.

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

The grassroots would also be interested to know the candidates’ views on Ottawa ramping up its military presence on Russia’s doorstep. The NDP backed the 2014 coup in Kiev, war in eastern Ukraine and NATO military buildup in Eastern Europe. During a 2015 election debate party leader Tom Mulcair called for stronger sanctions against Russian officials and last summer NDP defence critic Randall Garrison expressed support for Canada leading a NATO battle group to Latvia as part of ratcheting up tensions with Russia. Alongside ongoing deployments in Poland and Ukraine, 450 Canadian troops will soon be deployed to Latvia while the US, Britain and Germany head missions in Poland, Lithuania and Estonia.

Are the candidates troubled by the protracted civil war in Libya that grew out of NATO’s bombing? In 2011 the NDP supported two House of Commons votes endorsing the bombing of Libya, which was justified based on exaggerations and outright lies about the Gaddafi regime’s human rights violations (see my The Ugly Canadian: Stephen Harper’s Foreign Policy for details). Additionally, the NATO forces explicitly contravened the UN resolutions sanctioning a no-fly zone by dispatching troops and expanding the bombing far beyond protecting civilians, while Ottawa directly defied the two Libya-related UN resolutions by selling drones to the rebels.

It would also be good to hear the candidates speak out against diplomatic efforts to promote mining interests abroad or Ottawa signing Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreements (FIPAs) to protect mineral corporations in Africa.

But party insiders likely don’t want to discuss foreign policy because there is a substantial gap between members’ views on the issues and what the dominant media considers acceptable. The party’s grassroots would be open to reducing the $20 billion (plus) military budget and withdrawing from NATO. A good number would also be concerned about stoking tension with Russia and a new poll confirms that NDP members — and most Canadians — are critical of Israel and open to the Palestinian civil society’s call to boycott that country.

Fundamentally, party insiders do not want to rock the foreign policy status quo boat. The media backlash that would result from adopting progressive foreign policy positions terrifies the NDP establishment. Even debating the subjects mentioned above would drop the party’s stock in the eyes of the dominant media.

But maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe being perceived as outside the mainstream political consensus — fresh ideas and promoters of open debate — is exactly what the NDP needs.

If a leadership campaign is not a time for a rigorous foreign policy debate, when is?

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Filed under A Propaganda System

Lester Pearson was no ‘honest broker’ or friend of Palestine

It’s no wonder Canadians are confused about their country’s place in the world when a leading advocate of the Palestinian cause praises the official most responsible for dispossessing Palestinians.

In an article about a recent poll showing Canadians have a negative attitude towards Israel, reject the notion criticizing Israel is anti-Semitic and believe the media is biased in Israel’s favour, Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East leader Tom Woodley threw in a sop to official mythology.

He wrote, “Lester B. Pearson won a Nobel peace prize for his role in mediating the Suez Crisis in 1956, and for many decades afterwards, many perceived Canada as an ‘honest broker’ in the Middle East, trusted by both Israel and the Palestinians.”

In fact, Pearson enabled the Zionist movement’s 1947/48 ethnic cleansing of Palestine. (During the Suez Crisis Pearson’s main concern was disagreement between the US and UK over the British-French-Israeli invasion, not Egyptian sovereignty or the plight of that country’s people, let alone Palestinians.)

Under growing Zionist military pressure after World War II, Britain prepared to hand its mandate over Palestine to the newly created UN. In response, the US-dominated international body formed the First Committee on Palestine, which was charged with developing the terms of reference for a committee that would find a solution for the British mandate.

Canada’s Undersecretary of External Affairs, who made his sympathy for Zionism clear in a March 1945 speech, chaired the First Committee that established the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP) in May 1947. At the First Committee Pearson rejected Arab calls for an immediate end to the British mandate and the establishment of an independent democratic country.

He also backed Washington’s push to admit a Jewish Agency representative to First Committee discussions (ultimately both a Jewish Agency and Palestinian representative were admitted). Pearson tried to define UNSCOP largely to facilitate Zionist aspirations.

The Arab Higher Committee wanted the issue of European Jewish refugees excluded from UNSCOP but the Canadian diplomat worked to give the body a mandate “to investigate all questions and issues relevant to the problem of Palestine.” A US State Department memo noted that Pearson “proved to be an outstanding chairman for [the First] Committee.”

The Canadian Arab Friendship League, on the other hand, complained that the First Committee plan for UNSCOP was “practically irresponsible and an invitation to … acts of terror on the part of Zionism.” The League continued, Arabs would “never refrain from demanding for … Palestine the same freedom presently enjoyed by other Arab states”, newly independent from colonial rule.

Opposed to the idea that representatives from Canada, Guatemala, Yugoslavia and other countries should decide their future, Palestinians boycotted UNSCOP. Despite the objection of Prime Minister Mackenzie King, Undersecretary Pearson committed Canada to sending a delegate on the UNSCOP mission to Palestine. In justifying his position to External Affairs Minister Louis St. Laurent, Pearson claimed “to have withdrawn our candidate at this moment might have been misinterpreted and have had an adverse effect on the discussion.” In fact, Pearson was significantly more willing to follow Washington’s lead than the Prime Minister.

Canada’s lead representative on UNSCOP, Ivan C. Rand, pushed for the largest possible Zionist state and is considered the lead author of the majority report in support of partitioning Palestine into ethnically segregated states.

At the end of their mission the UNSCOP majority and minority reports were sent to the special UN Ad Hoc Committee on the Palestinian Question. Not happy with Pearson’s role in the First Committee, the Prime Minister would not allow the future Nobel laureate to chair the Ad Hoc Committee on the Palestinian Question despite Washington’s request. Mackenzie King wrote that Pearson “lent himself perhaps too wholly to the desires of others,” a coded reference to the US State Department. Still, he played a major role in the Ad Hoc Committee.

At this forum Pearson rejected the Arab countries push to have the International Court of Justice decide whether the UN was allowed to partition Palestine. (Under US pressure, the Ad Hoc Committee voted 21 to 20 — with 16 abstentions — against allowing the International Court to adjudicate the matter).

The Ad Hoc Committee was split into two subcommittees with one focusing on the partition plan and the other on a bi-national state. At the Ad Hoc Committee’s Special Committee 1, Pearson worked feverishly to broker a partition agreement acceptable to Washington and Moscow.

Preoccupied with the great powers, the indigenous inhabitants’ concerns did not trouble the ambitious undersecretary. He dismissed solutions that didn’t involve partition, which effectively meant supporting a Jewish state on Palestinian land. Responding to a bi-national plan proposed by the Ad Hoc Committee’s Special Committee 2, he claimed: “The unitary state proposal meant nothing — a recommendation ‘out of the blue and into the blue.’”

Pearson said: “a [Jewish] ‘national home’ was a sine qua non [essential condition] of any settlement.” He later explained: “I have never waivered in my view that a solution to the problem was impossible without the recognition of a Jewish state in Palestine. To me this was always the core of the matter.”

Pearson played a central role in Special Committee 1’s partition plan. Both the New York Times and Manchester Guardian ran articles about his role in the final stage of negotiations. Dubbed the “Canadian plan” the final Special Committee 1 agreement between the US and USSR on how to implement partition was “a result of the tireless efforts of Lester B. Pearson,” according to a front-page New York Times article. Some Zionist groups called him “Lord Balfour” of Canada and “rabbi Pearson”. In 1960 Pearson received Israel’s Medallion of Valour and after stepping down as prime minister in 1968, he received the Theodore Herzl award from the Zionist Organization of America for his “commitment to Jewish freedom and Israel.”

By supporting partition he opposed the indigenous population’s moral and political claims to sovereignty over their territory. Down from 90% at the start of the British mandate, by the end of 1947 Arabs still made up two-thirds of Palestine’s population.

Despite making up only a third of the population, under the UN partition plan Jews received most of the territory. Pearson pushed a plan that gave the Zionist state 55% of Palestine despite the Jewish population owning less than seven percent of the land. According to Israeli historian Illan Pappe, “within the borders of their UN proposed state, they [Jews] owned only eleven percent of the land, and were the minority in every district. In the Negev [desert]…they constituted one percent of the total population.”

Undersecretary Pearson was not supported by the Prime Minister, who wanted to align Canada more closely with London’s position. While King was concerned about Britain, other government officials sympathized with the Palestinians. Justice Minister J.L. Isley said he was “gravely concerned” the push for partition did not meet the Arabs “very strong moral and political claims”.

The only Middle East expert at External Affairs, Elizabeth MacCallum, claimed Ottawa supported partition “because we didn’t give two hoots for democracy.” MacCallum’s opinion wasn’t popular with Pearson who organized late-night meetings allegedly to make it difficult for her to participate. Despite failing to convince her boss at External Affairs MacCallum displayed sharp foresight. At the time of the partition vote, notes The Rise and Fall of a Middle Power, “MacCallum scribbled a note and passed it to Mike (Pearson) saying the Middle East was now in for ‘forty years’ of war, due to the lack of consultation with the Arab countries.” She was prescient, even if she did underestimate the duration of the conflict.

Far from being an “honest broker”, a representative from the Canadian Arab Friendship League explained: “Our Canadian government at one time also favoured the creation of a federated State of Palestine which had at least some resemblance to a democratic solution. … Mr. Lester B. Pearson and Mr. Justice Ivan C. Rand changed that official position of our government. Instead of the democratic solution, these gentlemen did their utmost to impose upon the Arabs the infamous partition scheme. The Arab world, I am sure, will remember them.”

A huge boost to the Zionist movements’ desire for an ethnically-based state, the UN partition of British Mandate Palestine contributed to the displacement of at least 700,000 Palestinians. Scholar Walid Khalidi complained that UN (partition) Resolution 181 was “a hasty act of granting half of Palestine to an ideological movement that declared openly already in the 1930s its wish to de-Arabise Palestine.”

What spurred Pearson’s support for Israel? Jewish lobbying played only a small part. The son of a Methodist minister, Pearson’s Zionism was partly rooted in Christian teachings. His memoirs refer to Israel as “the land of my Sunday School lessons” where he learned that “the Jews belonged in Palestine.” One book on Pearson notes “there was a lot said at Sunday school about the historic home of the Jews but nothing about the Arab inhabitants.” At one point Canada’s eminent statesman said he knew more about the geography of the holy land than of Ontario and in a 1955 speech Pearson called Israel (alongside Greece and Rome) the source of Western values.

More practically, Israel’s creation lessened the pressure on a widely anti-Semitic Ottawa to accept post-World War II Jewish refugees. At the end of the war the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) was supposed to help resettle a couple hundred thousand displaced European Jews. When he was ambassador in Washington Pearson represented Canada at a number of UNRRA meetings where he faithfully defended the government’s position against Jewish immigration. After a meeting to discuss European refugees was moved from Ottawa to Bermuda, None is Too Many notes, “[Ambassador to Washington] Pearson exultingly wired [Undersecretary Norman] Robertson that the pressure was off and that, ‘in the circumstances,’ Ottawa was no longer ‘a possibility’ [to host the meeting]. And, he added, of even greater importance, Canada would not even be asked to take part in the conference.” Pearson believed sending Jewish refugees to Palestine was the only sensible solution to their plight.

But the refugee issue was less of a concern than US-British relations. In 1947 Pearson was concerned with Anglo-American disunity over Palestine, more than the Palestinian crisis itself. “I wasn’t thinking of trouble in terms of a war in Palestine,” he explained. “I was thinking of trouble in terms of a grave difference of opinion between London and Washington. That always gives a Canadian nightmares, of course.” Pearson worried that disagreement between Washington and London over Palestine could adversely affect the US-British alliance and the emerging North Atlantic alliance.

Above all else, the ambitious diplomat wanted to align himself and Canada with Washington, the world’s emerging hegemon. “Pearson usually coordinated his moves with the Americans,” explains Personal Policy Making: Canada’s role in the adoption of the Palestine Partition Resolution. To determine their position on the UN Ad Hoc Committee, for instance, Canada’s delegation “found it especially important to know the American’s position.” A member of the Canadian delegation explained: “[we] will have nothing to say until after the United States has spoken.”

Of central importance to Canadian support for partition was the belief that a Middle Eastern Jewish state would serve Western interests. An internal report circulated at External Affairs during the UN negotiations explained:

“The plan of partition gives to the western powers the opportunity to establish an independent, progressive Jewish state in the Eastern Mediterranean with close economic and cultural ties with the West generally and in particular with the United States.”

In a 1952 memo to cabinet Pearson repeated this thinking. “With the whole Arab world in a state of internal unrest [after the overthrow of the British-backed monarchy in Egypt] and in the grip of mounting anti-western hysteria, Israel is beginning to emerge as the only stable element in the whole Middle East area.”

He went on to explain how “Israel may assume an important role in Western defence as the southern pivot of current plans for the defence” of the eastern Mediterranean. Pearson supported Israel as a possible western ally in the heart of the (oil-producing) Middle East.

Pearson does not signify an evenhanded, let alone justice-oriented, policy towards Palestinians. Instead, he should be placed atop a long list of Canadian officials who’ve aided and abetted their dispossession.

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Filed under Black Book of Canadian Foreign Policy, Canada and Israel, The Truth May Hurt