Tag Archives: Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs

Cotler led Anti-Semitism Summit seeks to deflect criticism of Israeli apartheid

Last week the Trudeau government announced it would hold an emergency National Summit on Anti-Semitism. The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) and B’nai B’rith (BB) were delighted as they’ve campaigned for the summit since the upsurge of pro-Palestinian activism last month. That the objective of the summit all along was to discredit antiracist and anticolonial Palestine solidarity activism was confirmed when Irwin Cotler was appointed to lead it.

Speaking from his apartment in Jerusalem, Cotler was the keynote speaker at a May 13 online rally in support of Israeli violence in which the moderator lauded Montrealers’ fighting in the Israeli military. On June 30 Cotler is scheduled to speak at a B’nai B’rith conference on “Current Issues in Jewish and Pro-Israel Advocacy” while on May 27 he published a column in the Times of Israel celebrating Israel’s violence. In it he wrote, “while the deliberate and indiscriminate bombardment of Israeli civilians — underpinned by genocidal antisemitism and incitement — have been the trigger for this latest war, there is a longer and underlying proximate cause: the Hamas Terrorist War of Attrition against Israel since 2000.”

Cotler backed attacks that left nearly 4,000 dead in Gazza in 2014 and 2009 as well as its war on Lebanon in 2006. He has sought to pressure the International Criminal Court against investigating Israeli war crimes, supports moving Canada’s embassy to Jerusalem and attends fundraisers for the explicitly racist Jewish National Fund.

The Cotler-led anti-Semitism summit is a transparent effort to deflect criticism from Israel’s ethnic cleansing and violence, as well as an encouragement to those promoting that violence and ethnic cleansing against Palestinians. It is also (less directly) an encouragement of Islamophobia, which lead to an entire family being killed recently in London, Ontario.

The anti-Semitism summit is the outgrowth of weeks of disingenuous claims from the Israel lobby that are often in and of themselves racist. Under the guise of fighting anti-Semitism B’nai B’rith has relentlessly linked Arabs to terrorism in recent weeks. “For the third week in a row, antisemitism and support for terrorism were on display Saturday at a massive protest in downtown Toronto”, they tweeted. In a statement to the Winnipeg Sun BB CEO Michael Mostynsaid, “it is unacceptable that anti-Jewish taunts and support for a banned terrorist group be expressed outside the Manitoba legislature.”

B’nai B’rith has also pushed the argument that anti-Semitism is being “imported” to Canada, which is a coded reference to Arab and Muslim immigrants. Hours before the murder of the Afzaal family in London came to light, they tweeted “we cannot import the conflict to Canada. … and [must stay] united in our stand against antisemitism.” In a National Post opinion article three weeks ago Mostyn wrote:

Over the past two decades, tens of thousands of Jews have fled France due to out-of-control anti-Zionism and society’s reluctance to address it. Some of those French Jews thought they had found refuge in Canada, particularly in Quebec — but what are they to think given what they are now seeing? The anti-Semitic murders of French Jews such as Ilan Halimi and Sarah Halimi (no relation), the terror attacks on Jewish schools and stores in France — none of this emerged from a vacuum, but was rather the inevitable result of a culture of hate and impunity that was allowed to fester.”

Anti-Muslim bigotry from B’nai B’rith and CIJA isn’t new. In a bid to deter organizations from associating with the Palestinian cause or opposing Israeli belligerence in the Middle East, CIJA and BB regularly target Arab and Muslim community representatives, papers, organizations, etc.

They did so again when Imam Munir El-Kassem innocuously stated at the end of Tuesday’s vigil for the Muslim family killed in London that “you all said everything that needs to be said except one angle I would like to share with our officials. Now there’s a reason why they say the world is a small village. Every country has a foreign policy. I just want to say whatever is happening in Jerusalem and Gaza, is related to whatever happened in London, Ontario.” BB tweeted or re-tweeted a dozen messages condemning what Mostyn described as El-Kassem’s “inflammatory remarks”. The other messages called El-Kassem’s comment “disgusting”, “contemporary bloodlibel”, “vile hatred”, “the vigil for the victims was used as an opportunity to vent Jew-hatred”, etc.

CIJA and BB regularly hype “Islamic terror” and openly aligned with the xenophobic backlash against the term “Islamophobia in bill M-103, which called for collecting data on hate crimes and studying the issue of “eliminating systemic racism and religious discrimination including Islamophobia.” In a 2017 BuzzFeed article titled “Zionist Groups in Canada Are Jumping On The ‘Creeping Sharia’ Bandwagon” Steven Zhou detailed CIJA, B’nai Brith and other pro-Israel groups backlash to M-103 and “how Muslim Canadians define Islamophobia.”

A “summit” about anti-Semitism led by Irwin Cotler will have a pre-determined outcome. It will conflate criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism. It will encourage those promoting ethnic cleansing and violence against Palestinians. It will be used by the Israel lobby to stoke even more Islamophobia.

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Filed under Israel Lobby, Justin Trudeau

Anti-Palestinian bigotry overshadowed by anti-Semitism uproar

Greg Nisan, a member of JDL aligned motorcycle club

In response to the recent upsurge in pro-Palestinian activism basically every major Canadian media outlet has published stories about rising anti-Semitism. Many politicians have made statements on the matter and the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) has called on “our federal government to convene an emergency summit to address growing antisemitism.” B’nai B’rith claims there were more violent anti-Semitic incidents in May than all of last year.

But comparatively little attention has been devoted to anti-Palestinian bigotry despite the publicly verifiable evidence that suggests Palestinian Canadians or those identified with them have faced greater discrimination and violence. And once again, CIJA and B’nai B’rith muddy the waters of understanding racism by conflating criticism and actions against Israel with anti-Semitism.

Let’s take a look at the record over the past few weeks:

  • On May 13 a group of Israeli flag waving individuals in Thornhill are on video trying to fight and threatening to “run over” a small group of Palestinian activists. At one-point police pull their guns apparently fearing an Israel supporter was going to hit them with his vehicle in a bid to reach the Palestinians.
  • On May 15 a Jewish Defence League (JDL) supporter interviewed prior to the pro-Palestinian rally said he was looking to brawl. He then tells a passerby, “I used to rape guys like you in prison, bro.” Subsequently, a pro-Israel individual is caught on camera swinging a stick wildly at someone. At another point an older JDL-aligned individual is caught on camera with a knife and bat.
  • On May 16 a Zionist was photographed with a hammer in his hand at a protest in Montréal. At the same pro-Israel rally an individual rips a Palestinian flag from the man’s hand and the crowd cheers.
  • A Palestinian family in Hamilton that put up a sign on their lawn with a Palestinian flag saying: “We support human rights. #FreePalestine #OngoingNakba” had it stolen on May 24 and a note was left saying: “KEEPYOUR POLITICS AND ANTI-SEMITIC RACISM OUT OF MY COUNTRY AND MY NEIGHBOUR-HOOD. IF YOU DON’T LIKE MY COUNTRY, GO BACK TO WHERE YOU CAME FROM!” The theft was not caught on camera but there is a photo of the note and stolen sign.
  • On May 25 a recent immigrant from Gaza in Calgary with a Palestinian flag in his rear window films his car being cut off and stopped by a pickup truck. The motorist slams on his window, demanding to fight as he yells “terrorist fuck”, “terrorist ass” and “I have a picture of Mohammed in my car Alah”. He then laughs manically as he rips off the Palestinian Canadian’s windshield wiper.

These instances don’t count individuals — such as a social justice teacher in Toronto put on home assignment, McGill students on a blacklist, a doctor in Toronto smeared and threatened with being fired — for standing up for Palestinian rights. Nor do the above-mentioned examples count anti-Palestinian police racism. In Halifax, Windsor, Calgary, Hamilton and possibly elsewhere the police ticketed dozens of individuals simply for attending Palestine solidarity protests. A report from Windsor suggests — though I have no recorded proof — that cars playing Arabic music were specifically targeted by the police. There’s also a report from Hamilton suggesting that women with Hijabs received eight of 12 tickets given out at a rally.

Before detailing/evaluating the main purported incidents of anti-Semitism it’s important to mention both the discrepancy of resources the two “sides” have to document abuses and their impulse to do so. B’nai B’rith, Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center, CIJA and the Jewish Federations’ operate hotlines to tabulate incidents of anti-Jewishness and have significant capacity to communicate perceived acts of discrimination. They send individuals to video and photograph pro-Palestinian protests with the express purpose of discovering “proof” of anti-Jewish acts.

Not only does the official Israel lobby have greater resources to document perceived abuses and promote them through the media, it has a greater interest in focusing the discussion this way. As Israeli oppression of Palestinians has become ever more difficult to defend, the lobby’s emphasis on driving the discussion towards anti-Semitism has grown. For its part, the pro-Palestinian movement is more focused on discussing the violence meted out against Palestinians.

With that in mind, let’s look at the most high-profile incidents of “anti-Semitism” cited by supporters of Israel:

  • After massive Palestine solidarity demonstrations on May 15, a knife and bat wielding JDL aligned individual was beaten up after apparently picking a fight (his photo was actually on the cover — subsequently removed — of a May 16 press release titled “CIJA Concerned by wave of violence and antisemitism connected to conflict in the Middle East”). But, even if CIJA’s showcased victim had not been associated with the violent JDL, swung a bat or held a knife would his beating have been an act of bigotry? When a counter protester fights with someone on the other side is that a political disagreement that elevates to violence or an act of bigotry? (During protests against Israel’s brutal 2014 assault on Gaza that left over 2,100 Palestinians dead, I was shoved, spat on, had my bike damaged and lock stolen by members of the JDL in Toronto. Were those acts of bigotry or would it only have been an act of bigotry if I had punched or spat back?)
  • On May 26 Global did a two-minute video report and accompanying article on a Vancouver restaurant owner who claimed to have been a victim of discrimination. Israeli immigrant Ofra Sixto took to Facebook and the nightly news to cry discrimination, but according to credible accounts she was the racist. When a Palestinian solidarity car caravan happened to pass her Denman street restaurant, she yelled some variation of “this is how they are in their countries”, which was heard by a white male, sympathetic to the Palestinian cause, walking past and another woman sitting with her family at a cafe next door heard. They objected. The man later left a negative review of Ofra’s Kitchen online saying that the owner was racist. There’s a variety of screenshots and corroborating evidence suggesting the owner instigated the racism while Sixto hasn’t provided any external evidence, screenshots or other proof of her claims. (And it’s also not exactly clear how anyone was supposed to know the restaurant was Jewish owned).
  • On May 16 — a day after thousands of pro-Palestinian protesters took over downtown Montréal — a small pro-Israel rally was held downtown. Pro-Palestinian counter protesters reportedly threw objects (rocks according to some) at the pro-Israel group. I could not find video of objects being thrown but there is video of minor scuffles between pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian individuals and, as I mentioned above, a photo of a Zionist with a hammer and an individual snagging a Palestinian flag. There is also a great deal of video of the Montréal riot squad trying to disburse Palestine solidarity protesters, which suggests they were treated as the aggressors.
  • On May 18 the Montréal municipality of Côte-Saint-Luc, which is heavily Jewish, robocalled all residents to tell them not to be worried about an upsurge of anti-Jewishness (In other words, they frightened people by telling them not to be worried!) Aside from the massive pro-Palestinian demonstration on May 15 and clashes at the May 16 rally, the reason for the robocall was that two men allegedly drove through the municipality yelling anti-Jewish slurs and an Israeli flag flying on a municipal building was removed. I could not find any video evidence of the vehicle though the police detained two individuals.
  • In Edmonton Adam Zepp told Global News he was walking out of his parents’ driveway at 9 p.m. on May 16 when a car drove by with young men yelling “Free Palestine”. Forced to loopback due to the neighborhood layout, Zepp says the men subsequently said, “are there any Jews here? Any Jews live here? Where do the Jews live?” There’s no indication Zepp took down the car’s license plate or recorded the incident. In an interview a representative of Edmonton’s Jewish Federation claimed rather vaguely that others also saw a car passing by.
  • Another widely cited act of discrimination is a TikTok video of two young Arab women, reportedly students at Laurier University, dancing as they burn an Israeli flag, flush it down the toilet, puke over it and fake stab it. Purported outrage over these students “promoting violence” is extremely cynical. The groups calling this “anti-Semitism” frequently justify Israeli violence and often promote the Israeli military in Canada.
  • Many of the lesser incidents presented are placards that in one way or another link Israel to the Nazis. (Of course Nazi comparisons are generally in poor taste, but the Israel lobby regularly invokes the Nazi Holocaust so it’s hypocritical of them to complain about that.)

While all forms of racism, including anti-Semitism, must be condemned, readers can judge for themselves who are the primary victims of hatred and discrimination in Israel, as well as here in Canada.

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Filed under Israel Lobby

Why do politicians align with extremist JDL?

Was he a victim of an anti-Semitic attack or a violent, racist, right-wing provocateur?

On Saturday evening some 5,000 international justice minded individuals packed Toronto’s Nathan Phillips Square. Dozens, maybe hundreds, within the pro-Palestinian crowd were Jewish.

At the same time a counterprotest was held by Canada’s most influential and best organized fascistic group. About 100 Jewish Defence League members and supporters rallied in the hope of provoking or instigating a conflict. They succeeded and by the next morning the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) and B’nai B’rith were claiming a 55-year old Jewish man was beaten by pro-Palestinian protesters. By Sunday evening Toronto Mayor John Tory, Ontario premier Doug Ford, Conservative party leader Erin O’Toole and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had all tweeted out about anti-Semitism at protests.

There is, of course, more to this story. Footage has emerged of the main “victim” – who is actually on the cover of a press release titled “CIJA Concerned by wave of violence and antisemitism connected to conflict in the Middle East” — wielding a knife and swinging a bat. Another video shows a JDL member swinging a stick wildly at another individual.

It is altogether unsurprising that the JDL would instigate a confrontation and then other Israel lobby groups would claim Jews were being attacked. A variation of this has taken place on numerous occasions. What was different on this occasion is that the JDL thugs appear to have bit off a bit more than they could chew and ended up running away.

With the tacit support of the Jewish establishment, the JDL have been a thuggish, racist, force in Toronto for half a century. During a stint living in Toronto in 2014 I was shocked to see the JDL in action and it altered my perspective on what drives Canadian policy on Israel. Amidst Israel’s brutal assault on Gaza that left over 2,100 Palestinians dead that year, 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.

Since that time the JDL has engaged in numerous violent acts and deepened its ties to the racist, far right. In the highest profile incident, a mob organized by JDL Toronto attacked counter-protesters at the 2017 American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference in Washington, DC. They burned a Quran and tore a Palestinian flag. 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.

Last summer JDL supporter Tamara Foster vandalized Foodbenders, a sandwich shop with “I Love Gaza” painted on its window. Similar to what Jewish supremacist settlers do to Palestinian homes in the occupied West Bank, Foster painted the Star of David onto the restaurant window. Soon after Foster’s vandalism, the JDL held a rally in front of the restaurant and during their hate fest they scrubbed off “Palestinian Lives Matter” and “Free Palestine” markings while making racist remarks.

As part of preparing a defamation lawsuit against the JDL on behalf of Foodbenders, lawyer Stephen Ellis has dug into the organization and its long-time leader, Meir Weinstein’s, history of violence and racism:

  • In 1976 JDL members were arrested for setting off a bomb at the Toronto home of anti-Jewish mayoral candidate Don Andrews.
  • Five years later the JDL announced its members were arming themselves and engaging in target practice in farms around Toronto, reported the Globe and Mail in a story titled “Leader of JDL says members arming selves”.
  • In 1983 twenty JDL members “shouted, kicked doors and cut a television cable at the Willowdale home of Nicaragua’s Consul-General”, reported the Globe and Mail. They claimed the leftist Sandinista government was anti-Jewish.
  • In 1986 JDL members attempted to assault anti-Semitic activist Terry Long.
  • In 2001 JDL was thought to be responsible for death threats leveled against the pro-Palestinian Concordia Student Union.
  • In 2007 two JDL activists were arrested for assaulting anti-Jewish activist Paul Fromm.
  • In 2011 the RCMP launched an investigation against at least nine members of the JDL who were thought to be plotting to bomb Palestine House in Mississauga. On July 3, 2014 the JDL sparked a violent confrontation at Palestine House.
  • Three years later, a JDL member assaulted journalist Kevin Metcalf and another made death threats against him as he was photographing a demonstration at Nathan Philipps Square.
  • In the lead up to the 2019 Walk for Israel Weinstein publicly threatened to “break the legs” of anyone counterprotesting.
  • Later in 2019 Weinstein shoved a demonstrator at York University and another JDL sympathizer threatened another student “if you do that, I’ll fucking step on your face”.
  • JDL Canada maintains direct ties to extremist Jewish supremacists in Israel who have been attacking Palestinian citizens of Israel and chanting “death to the Arabs” in recent days. On a recent trip there JDL Canada’s number two, Zaza Vili, took pictures with supporters of the outlawed Kahane Chai party. For his part, Weinstein has repeatedly met Baruch Ben Yosef (Andy Green), who was jailed for plotting to blow up the Dome of the Rock in 1980 and is suspected in the 1985 murder of Palestinian American anti-discrimination activist Alex Odeh.
  • During a 2015 meeting in Montréal Weinstein rejected a question about disassociating from the organization’s violent past by comparing himself and the JDL to Menachem Begin and the Irgun, an extremist Zionist group that launched numerous deadly terrorist attacks in the 1940s. On another occasion Weinstein responded to a question about whether it was a violent organization by comparing the JDL to a martial arts club.
  • Group members are openly racist. In 2009 Weinstein joined and participated in a Facebook group called “Death to Arabs” and four years later he wrote on Facebook that violence is “in the Arabs DNA”. In 2010 Weinstein said, “if the Arabs won’t acknowledge Israel as a Jewish state, then they will have to go.” (Imagine someone saying, “if First Nations won’t recognize Canada as a white, Christian state, they will have to go.”) During a 2017 meeting Weinstein referred to Syrian refugees and other Arabs as “snakes” while a participant led the crowd in a chant of “No Arabs, No Terror” and “They Must Go, They Must Go.” At a counter protest to the 2017 Al Quds event in Toronto Weinstein claimed “these people [largely Muslim marchers] want us dead” to which someone among the JDL crowd yelled “we want them dead too.”
  • The JDL has repeatedly disparaged the Black Lives Matter movement. In February 2020 Weinstein announced that the group would travel to New York City to confront black leaders who he claimed were “anti-Semitic”.
  • Over the past decade the JDL has hosted numerous racist, far right, speakers. In 2011 they organized a support rally for the anti-Muslim English Defence League featuring known racist Tommy Robinson via Skype. JDL Canada has also hosted high-profile anti-Muslim activist Pamela Geller, as well as Robert Spencer and Andrew Bostom. In 2014 they hosted Moshe Feiglin who previously called Arabs “a gang of bandits that never produced anything and never wanted to produce anything” and whom the UK Home Secretary refused entry to Britain on the grounds he would likely “foment or justify terrorist violence”.
  • In 2015 the JDL organized a meeting with a leader of the anti-Muslim group PEGIDA UK, Paul Weston, and in 2017 they hosted the National Citizens Alliance’s Stephen Garvey who told the crowd that “[Muslims] will never be Canadians.”
  • To oppose the construction of a mosque in Newmarket, the JDL organized a town hall in the Toronto suburb in 2007. A decade later they held a demonstration against Motion 103, which they claimed was an effort by the Justin Trudeau government to introduce Islamic superiority. In 2018 the group organized an anti-Muslim rally after a mass shooting on the Danforth by a mentally unstable individual born to parents of Pakistani origin.
  • In recent years the JDL has coordinated with various racist, far right organizations and individuals on different initiatives. In 2012 they allied with Mark Vandermas and Gary McHale who actively opposed justice for the Mohawks of Six Nations of the Grand River during the high-profile land dispute in Caledonia. They’ve worked closely with anti-Muslim activist, Sandra Solomon, and allied with the white supremacist Soldiers of Odin for a 2018 rally at Nathan Philips Square. During the 2018 Toronto mayoral election the JDL endorsed racist candidate Faith Goldy and made several appearances for her.

JDL Canada’s sister organizations in the US and Israel have been responsible for even more serious violence and hate crimes. In 2001 the FBI labeled the JDL a “right-wing terrorist group” after its members were convicted in 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, Kach, killed 29 PalestinianMuslim worshipers in the Cave of the Patriarchs Massacre in 1994. Kach was set up by Meir Kahane who also co-founded the JDL in the US.

In 1984 Weinstein tried to help Kahane enter Canada illegally after the federal government rejected the American’s admission to this country. At the end of the 1980s Weinstein sought to formally establish a Kach party in Canada.

In discussing Palestinian citizens of Israel, Kahane told a TV interviewer in 1990: “The only answer is OUT. I want them OUT. I want them out ALIVE and if not ALIVE, DEAD. But I want them out. Better a dead Arab than a dead Jew.”

After Kach member and former US JDLer, Baruch Goldstein, murdered 29 Palestinians JDL Canada refused to condemn the 1994 Hebron mosque massacre. Weinstein said, “our organization does not condemn the attack. It condemns the Israeli government for not providing adequate protection for settlers.”

Despite all this racism and violence, the JDL is tacitly or actively supported by much of the Canadian Jewish establishment and other powerful institutions. They have co-sponsored demonstrations with B’nai B’rith and provided “security” for pro-Israel rallies. The JDL participates in the annual Walk for Israel organized by United Jewish Appeal of Greater Toronto. In a bid to get the Toronto city council to block Al Quds Day in 2019, Weinstein coordinated with B’nai B’rith leader Michael Mostyn, Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) Vice President Noah Shack and city councillor James Pasternak, as highlighted in a photo of the four together at the city’s executive committee.

JDL has been allowed to recruit in Jewish schools and for many years the former head of the Canadian Jewish Congress, Bernie Farber, gave the group political cover. The same can be said for former Canada-Israel Committee board member Warren Kinsella, who spoke at a JDL meeting in 2009. These prominent liberals were fine with the JDL intimidating Palestinian solidarity activists but oppose its alliance with other racist, far right, groups.

Canadian Jewish News coverage of the group has often been sympathetic, including publishing video of a speech by Weinstein. In 2015 Barbara Kay penned a National Post column titled “In defence of the Jewish Defence League” and Honest Reporting Canada defended the group when the CBC’s coverage of them was critical. In 2017 the Toronto Sun published an article headlined “Jewish Defence League alleges hate crime” and after they stoked violence at York in November 2019 B’nai B’rith, CIJA and much of the rest of the Israel lobby accused pro-Palestinian activists of anti-Semitism. Despite much of it being caught on camera, JDL violence and racism was ignored.

In a similar vein, CIJA couldn’t bring itself to criticize the JDL thugs who beat a 55-year-old Palestinian professor and a younger Jewish activist outside AIPAC’s conference in 2017. Despite film of the attacks, CIJA spokesperson Martin Sampson responded to a National Post inquiry by simply stating, “the approach adopted by the JDL is not reflective of the mainstream Canadian Jewish community.”

The JDL has support at the highest levels of the Conservative party. During a 2015 meeting in Montréal JDL representative Julius Suraski claimed four Conservative MPs had recently attended a Passover dinner at his home. In 2014 former Prime Minister Stephen Harper brought Suraski on his official delegation when he traveled to Israel.

Considering their influence and racist, violent, ways there’s been far too little critical scrutiny or push back against the JDL. Yes, they have been banned from Facebook and Twitter on a number of occasions and York banned Weinstein from its campus. But the police have turned a blind eye to a number of their criminal acts and major media outlets and antiracist groups have generally ignored the JDL.

It’s time for this to change. The Jewish Defence League is a violent, racist, thuggish group that deserves to be treated like the dangerous, fascistic organization it is.

On Friday, May 21 at 7pm Yves Engler will be speaking at a Canadian Foreign Policy Institute event on “The Innumerable Ways Canada Supports Israeli Apartheid”

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Filed under Israel Lobby

Israel lobby paralyzed by anti-recruitment campaign

What are the primary Israel lobby groups in Canada afraid of?

When their favoured colonial outpost in the Middle East is maligned the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, B’nai B’rith and Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre (FSWC) are usually quick to attack. In recent months they’ve put out statements labeling a modest NDP resolution a “toxic obsession with Israel”, a University of Toronto graduate students’ motion “institutional anti-Semitism” and a small restaurant’s Instagram posts and “I Love Gaza” sign “antisemitic statements” and “antisemitic tropes”.

But when a Member of Parliament sponsors a House of Commons petition suggesting the Israel lobby is breaking Canadian law by promoting recruitment into a military that “has repeatedly contravened the Fourth Geneva Convention, and illegally attacked Syria and Lebanon” they respond with … silence. No press releases, no tweets, nothing. Nor did they bother to offer a comment when the Canadian Jewish News wrote about NDP MP Matthew Green’s parliamentary petition calling for an investigation into illegal recruitment for the Israeli military.

An MP sponsoring a parliamentary petition suggesting Israel lobby criminality is certainly more significant than the University of Toronto graduate student union passing a resolution or a sandwich shop putting a pro-Palestinian message in their window. So why aren’t they bemoaning Green’s “bias”, “obsession”, “defiance of IHRA definition of anti-Semitism”, etc.?

It’s not fear of confronting Green. When he tweeted about Israel demolishing a COVID testing centre in the Palestinian city of Hebron in the summer CIJA and B’nai B’rith attacked Green.

The lack of reaction isn’t about who sponsored the petition but rather the subject. The Israel lobby doesn’t want to draw attention to an issue that divides their conservative base.

The parliamentary petition is part of a multi-faceted campaign that began in the fall with a formal complaint and open letter signed by Noam Chomsky, Roger Waters, author Yann Martel, poet El Jones and more than 150 others. The letter called on the federal government to apply charges under the Foreign Enlistment Act against those recruiting Canadians for the Israeli military.

For over six months CIJA, B’nai B’rith and FSWC have ignored suggestions their crew is engaged in criminal activity despite the campaign generating nearly two dozen stories, a response from the justice minister and multiple action alerts, including a parliamentary petition that has garnered nearly three times the signatures required to be read in Parliament in its first week.

How to explain their lack of reaction?

Discomfort with the legal question partly explains their silence. Drawing on information accessible through a simple Google search, the Israeli consulate, United Jewish Appeal of Greater Toronto and Federation Combined Jewish Appeal Montréal have all violated the Foreign Enlistment Act over the past year and a half. Additionally, Hebrew Academy, TanenbaumCHAT and other Toronto and Montréal schools have enticed youngsters into the Israeli military in possible contravention of the law. A proper police investigation would likely uncover far more evidence regarding violations of the Foreign Enlistment Act.

Nonetheless, it’s exceedingly unlikely anyone will be prosecuted, let alone convicted, for these violations of Canadian law. There is little political will to do so in relation to Israel and no one has ever been convicted under the legislation. So, the discomfort is not about anyone fearing spending time in jail but rather the bad press that comes from potentially breaking the law.

Tied to this is the political logic underpinning the Foreign Enlistment Act. While the 1937 act was written to stop leftist Canadians from fighting against Franco’s fascists in Spain, the Foreign Enlistment Act is the successor to an 1870 British act that applied in Canada. That legislation was the outgrowth of rising nationalism in Europe (which later stoked Zionism). It’s common for governments to seek to deter their citizens from joining other countries’ militaries.

On top of the Foreign Enlistment Act, the Canadian government restricts registered charities from supporting other countries militaries. Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) guidelines note, “increasing the effectiveness and efficiency of Canada’s armed forces is charitable, but supporting the armed forces of another country is not.”

Promoting a foreign army rests uneasily with right-wing nationalist thinking, which is generally sympathetic to an anti-Palestinian outlook. In a 2014 interview about Canadians fighting in Israel, Syria and elsewhere, prominent military historian Jack Granatstein, said “in my view no one who is a Canadian should be able to enlist in some other country’s military and keep his Canadian citizenship.” That would put a stop to recruitment for the IDF!

The lack of response to Green and the recruitment campaign is also influenced by other considerations such as the fact the parliamentary petition was submitted by a Rabbi (David Mivasair) and has yet to penetrate the most important media. (The campaign has generated significant coverage in left, pro-Palestinian, Jewish and mainstream Québec outlets, but none in major English Canadian media.)

More than other Palestine-related demands, the anti-recruitment campaign puts the anti-Palestinian lobby on the backfoot. Part of its power is in its Canadian centric demand, which offers a broader lesson for pro-Palestinian campaigners.

Though little discussed, the most important support Canada has offered Israel in recent decades is tax deductible charitable donations. Since the federal government introduced deductions for charities in 1967 billions of dollars in subsidized donations have gone to Israel. In 1991 the Ottawa Citizen estimated that Canadian Jews sent more than $100 million a year to Israel and possibly as much as $200 million (with inflation this number would have doubled). Assuming $100 million has been sent to Israel yearly since 1967 and with approximately 30% of the $5.4 billion total subsidized by the taxpayer that’s around $1.7 billion in Canadian public support.

But there’s little discussion of the public funds that have gone to Israel through charitable donations in recent years. With the exception of the campaign to revoke the charitable status of the Jewish National Fund of Canada, which won a partial victory recently, there’s been almost no activism targeting Canadian charitable support for Israel. This despite some of these donations violating Canadian charity law. Funds supporting West Bank settlements, explicitly racist institutions and the Israeli military probably contravene CRA regulations. Without any direct pressure from the Palestine solidarity movement, Beth Oloth Charitable Organization lost its charitable status two years ago for “increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of the Israeli armed forces” and funding projects in the occupied West Bank. A registered charity since 1980, the Toronto-based organization had $61 million in 2017 revenue.

While not against current CRA regulations, there’s a strong argument to be made against Canadian taxpayers subsidizing donations to hospitals, universities, etc. in “Israel proper”. Is it right for all Canadians to pay a share of some individuals’ donations to a country with a GDP equal to Canada’s? How many Canadian charities funnel money to Sweden or Japan? Is the Israeli government subsidizing Canadian orchestras, museums, guide dog centres, nature conservatory, universities, hospitals, etc?

(Canadian Friends of the Israel Guide Dog Center for the Blind, Canadian Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, Canadian Friends of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, Canadian Association For Labour Israel and Canadian Friends of the Israel Museum are among the many registered charities that raised over a quarter billion dollars for Israel-focused projects in 2018.)

Irrespective of CRA regulations, activists who promote the aims of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement should push to outlaw donations to Israel until that country complies with international law. As they’ve done with other countries, federal government sanctions on Israel should seek to cut off the flow of money from Canada (in compliance with international law).

Drawing attention to subsidized charitable donations, like IDF recruitment, puts the Israel lobby in an uncomfortable position. It is rooted in Canadian law and the Canadian centric nature of the demand undercuts their tired talking points, particularly the idea Israel is being ‘singled out’ unfairly. In fact, these issues demonstrate how the Israel lobby “singles Israel out” sometimes in contravention of Canadian law and often on the taxpayers’ dime.

 

If you are a citizen or permanent resident of Canada please sign the parliamentary petition calling for an investigation into illegal Israeli military recruitment.

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NDP votes for Palestine

 

On Saturday New Democratic Party members delivered a victory for Palestinian rights and a blow to the Israel lobby in Canada.

Over 80% of convention delegates voted for a resolution calling for “Ending all trade and economic cooperation with illegal settlements in Israel-Palestine” and “Suspending the bilateral trade of all arms and related materials with the State of Israel until Palestinian rights are upheld.”

A few hours after the vote CBC News Network’s ticker said NDP members “voted to sanction Israel over settlements” and a subsequent clip on their site was titled “Would Singh make delegate resolution on sanctioning Israel an NDP position?”. Numerous outlets also picked up The Canadian Press’ report that “a resolution that demands Canada suspend arms dealing with Israel and halt trade with Israeli settlements passed with 80 per cent support.”

In response, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) put out a churlish release titled “NDP resolution highlights an ongoing toxic obsession with Israel”. If anyone missed the point in the headline, the release condemned the party’s “toxic obsession with Israel”, “pathological preoccupation with Israel” and “obsessive concern with Israel”, which they labeled “shameful”. On Twitter Rabbi David Mivasair derided CIJA’s release as the “definition of hypocrisy”, adding that the “Israel lobby in Canada, whose entire raison d’etre is to push Israel on us, says NDP is ‘obsessed with Israel’.”

CIJA’s post-resolution release and reaction to the NDP convention more broadly highlights how Israel has lost progressives and its lobby is ever more reliant on intimidating those who support Palestinian rights by calling them anti-Semitic. More than a month before the NDP convention CIJA began publicly pressuring the party leadership to suppress a resolution critical of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) anti-Palestinian definition of antisemitism. The ferocious campaign to suppress NDP members’ ability to debate a document designed to suppress discussion of Palestinian rights succeeded in scaring the NDP leader into erasing the long-oppressed Palestinians (theIHRA resolution never made it to the debate stage). A week ago Jagmeet Singh was asked on CBC’s The House about resolutions submitted to the NDP convention regarding “Canada’s relationship to Israel and the Palestinian territory”. Instead of responding to the question, he mentioned “anti-Semitism” four times. Asked again about “resolutions that in a sense condemn Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians”, Singh again failed to mention Palestine or Palestinians. Instead, he talked about “increased hate crimes also against people of the Jewish faith”.

The disastrous interview generated a burst of criticism regarding the party leadership’s anti-Palestinianism and gave momentum to pro-Palestinian forces within the party prior to the convention. In a significant reversal, the morning after the convention vote Singh defended the resolution that CBC’s chief political correspondent Rosemary Barton described as “your party voted overwhelmingly to slap sanctions on settlements and to ban arms sales to Israel.” Marshaling the legitimacy of “human rights groups”, Singh said it was important to “apply pressure on Israel to respect the rights of Palestinians.” While he equivocated somewhat in fully endorsing the Palestine Resolution, Singh repeated the importance of applying “pressure” on Israel three times.

An empty vessel on this issue, Singh goes wherever pushed. That’s the case for most of the NDP caucus. Two days ago MP Charlie Angus tweeted, “I keep getting mentioned by some who want the NDP to oppose the international definition of anti-semitism. This is not the way to go. I support motions calling for justice for the Palestinian people. But I also remain deeply concerned about the growing threat of anti-semitism.”

As far as I can tell no one said Angus backed the anti-IHRA definition resolution. Rather they pointed out that in January a Conservative member of the Ontario Legislature and a top Israeli diplomat both used the IHRA definition to attack Angus for sharing a Guardian article critical of Israel’s failure to vaccinate Palestinians for Covid 19. Angus’ name was raised as a concrete example of how the IHRA definition tramples on Palestinian rights. But, Anguscowardly threw those who defended him from smears under the Israel lobby bus.

Still, Angus’ formulation is worth reflecting on. With most of the backlash focused against the anti-IHRA definition resolution the Palestine Resolution seemed reasonable. Multi-pronged campaigns can be effective.

It took immense effort by a broad array of activists to get more than 30 (Palestine Resolution) and 40 (IHRA resolution) riding associations, as well as numerous other groups, to endorse these resolutions but it was worth it. The NDP convention confirms there is significant popular support for Palestinian rights. Polls have shown that Canadians are widely sympathetic to bringing pressure to bear on Israel for its colonization. My bet is that most of the 15% of NDP delegates who voted against the Palestine Resolution did so out of concern for the backlash, not the substance of the resolution.

While the Palestine resolution was a win for Palestinian rights and blow to the Israel lobby, it was also a small victory for grassroots democracy and proof that people can be mobilized by calls for justice in international affairs.

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Why couldn’t Jagmeet Singh say “Palestine”?

On CBC’s The House on Saturday Jagmeet Singh was asked about resolutions submitted to next week’s NDP convention regarding “Canada’s relationship to Israel and the Palestinian territory”. Instead of responding to the question, he mentioned “anti-Semitism” four times. Asked again about “resolutions that in a sense condemn Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians”, Singh again failed to mention Palestine or Palestinians. Instead, he talked about “increased hate crimes also against people of the Jewish faith”.

Singh’s complete erasure of the long-oppressed Palestinians is hard to listen to. After an outpouring of criticism, he took to Twitter to calm an enraged party base with a clarification that included some customary Israel/Palestine talking points.

While the House interview was appalling, Singh’s anti-Palestinian record is long-standing. In the summer he refused to endorse a pledge, supported by 70 MPs, to oppose Israel’s plan to annex the Palestinian West Bank. During the 2019 election the party leadership blocked a half-dozen candidates from running partly or entirely because of their support for Palestinian rights. A year earlier Singh explicitly rejected a call from 200 prominent individuals, labour leaders and party members — including Roger Waters, Noam Chomsky, Linda McQuaig and Maher Arar — for the NDP to withdraw from the Canada Israel Interparliamentary Group (CIIG). At the 2018 convention Singh mobilized his family and dozens of members of his community to vote against allowing debate on the modest “Palestine Resolution: renewing the NDP’s commitment to peace and justice”, which was unanimously endorsed by the NDP youth convention, many affiliated groups and two dozen riding associations.

Singh has been decidedly deferential to leading anti-Palestinian lobby group the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA). Last month he stoked a CIJA attack against leftist NDP MP Niki Ashton and Singh previously participated in a CIJA “antisemitism” smear against Dimitri Lascaris, one of Canada’s most effective advocates for Palestinian rights. At a December 2019 event with CIJA Singh said he considered the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) anti-Palestinian working definition of anti-Semitism a useful “guiding educational lens”. In an article breaking down that CIJA meeting Sheryl Nestel explained, “the overwhelming takeaway from the CIJA podcast is that Singh is intent on demonstrating the degree to which he identifies with Israel. The NDP leader’s aim, it seems, was to quell any concerns that CIJA and its supporters might have about the possibility of his extending solidarity to the Palestinians.”Prior to becoming leader of the party, Singh went on a CIJA-sponsored trip to Israel.

Singh’s response to the CBC represents an over-the-top bid to appease CIJA, which has been running an aggressive campaign to pressure the NDP leadership to suppress debate regarding a convention resolution critical of the IHRA’s anti-Palestinian definition of antisemitism. But, his clarification on Twitter suggests Singh and his handlers know he went too far in appeasing those promoting what Israel’s leading human rights group B’Tselem recently dubbed “A regime of Jewish supremacy from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea: This is apartheid”.

Most delegates to NDP conventions are not anti-Palestinian bigots. So, it is a bad idea to generate a burst of criticism regarding the party leadership’s anti-Palestinianism days before you are angling to suppress debate of pro-Palestinian resolutions. To succeed in suppressing debate at the convention requires delegates to be naïve/trusting in the leadership. If it wasn’t already clear to anyone mildly engaged in NDP affairs, the leadership prefers to align with right wing anti Palestinian groups that smear progressives than a membership increasingly supportive of Palestinian rights.

It will be interesting to see what the NDP leadership is prepared to do to block members from debating widely supported pro-Palestinian resolutions at the convention. Hopefully, Singh’s House interview riles up delegates to aggressively challenge the NDP leadership and do what’s right.

 

 

Join more than 900 individuals who have emailed the NDP leadership asking them to resist efforts to suppress debate on Palestinian rights at the convention. On April 5 the Canadian Foreign Policy Institute is hosting an online event on “Palestine Solidarity: Why the NDP Convention Matters.”

 

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Israel lobby’s bid to suppress NDP debate reflects their strength and weakness

At the upcoming NDP convention the social democratic party’s members should have the opportunity to vote on two widely endorsed pro-Palestinian resolutions. But Canada’s pro-Israel lobby groups are pressuring the party leadership to suppress debate regarding a resolution critical of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) anti-Palestinian working definition of antisemitism. They want to suppress NDP members ability to debate a document designed to suppress discussion of Palestinian rights!

Recently B’nai B’rith sent a statement to party leader Jagmeet Singh urging him “to ensure that resolutions rejecting the IHRA definition of antisemitism are, themselves, rejected.” An earlier Times of Israel oped titled “NDP radicals should stop politicizing antisemitism” claimed former NDP MPs Svend Robinson and Libby Davies were “peddling” “antisemitism” by promoting the anti-IHRA resolution. For their part, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) has put out a statement criticizing the NDP, tweeted about it and published an op-ed critical of the party’s IHRA resolution. CIJA also sponsored a letter signed by 100 Jewish organizations pressuring Singh to suppress the anti-IHRA resolution.

Employing progressive sounding language claiming Jews should define their own oppression, the letter signers completely ignore Palestinians whose rights the IHRA definition tramples on. A member of the Ontario Legislature and top Israeli diplomat have already used the IHRA definition to attack NDP MP Charlie Angus for sharing a Guardian article critical of Israel’s failure to vaccinate Palestinians. Recently Israeli MK Michal Cotler-Wunsh — daughter of Irwin Cotler — wrote that the International Criminal Court investigation into Israeli crimes violates the IHRA definition.

On its face the Israel lobby’s bid to subvert NDP democracy is an over-the-top reaction to a somewhat symbolic resolution. They have escalated the IHRA issue to the point where it has drawn significant attention and anyone committed to party democracy will demand it be debated.

More broadly, their frenzied response is out of proportion with the seeming consequences if it passes. A powerful state, Israel is not on the precipice of collapsing because of pro-Palestinian NDP resolutions. Its GDP per capita is greater than France and Japan and only $500 less than Canada’s. The economic divide between Israel and Gaza is almost certainly the largest of any bordering peoples on the planet. In the military sphere, Israel is one of nine countries that possesses nuclear weapons. It has the sixth or seventh strongest armed forces in the world with far and away the deadliest destructive capacity in the region. Additionally, the USA, the global hegemon, is legally required to guarantee Israel’s military supremacy over the rest of the region!

In the country in which the IHRA resolution outburst is taking place, the government is firmly anti-Palestinian. The Trudeau government has expanded a trade agreement that treats settlements in the occupied West Bank as part of Israel, turns a blind eye to the illegal recruitment of Canadians for the Israeli military and subsidizes hundreds of millions of dollars in donations annually to Israeli charities, including some that support the IDF, West Bank settlements and explicitly racist organizations. In November leading anti-Palestinian activist Irwin Cotler, who Hill Times recently counted among the 50 most influential Canadians on foreign policy, was appointed Special Envoy on Preserving Holocaust Remembrance and Combatting Antisemitism.

Canada’s main opposition Conservatives are more supportive of Israel and the sovereigntist Bloc Québecois has more MPs than any party on the Canada Israel Interparliamentary Group. After a battle over Palestinian rights that nearly split the Green party, the Israel lobby’s preferred candidate recently became its leader. Last week Annamie Paul attended an Israeli Wine and Canadian Cheese lobbying event hosted by CIJA, Hillel Ottawa and Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee (CJPAC).

In the economic sphere the lobby is well placed as well. A number of the 100 richest Canadians are proud pro-Israel activists while I’m unaware of any on that list who are openly pro-Palestinian.

At the institutional level CIJA, B’nai B’rith, Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center, Honest Reporting Canada, StandWithUs, Christians United for Israel Canada, Israel on Campus, etc., all have more money and staff than ever before. The same goes for softer arms of the lobby such as United Jewish Appeal Toronto and Federation Combined Jewish Appeal Montréal, as well as Leo Baeck, Hebrew Academy and other private Jewish day schools as well as Hillel and CJPAC.

The lobby’s institutional capacities have enabled their NDP campaign, of course. But just because you have the power to create a political storm doesn’t mean you have to. So why intervene so forcefully in NDP affairs?

Despite working on behalf of a powerful state backed by the global hegemon, the Israel lobby is vulnerable on the ideological plane. The facts on the ground are overwhelming and polls show Canadians are increasingly sympathetic to Palestinians. As such, the Israel lobby has become ever more dependent on intimidating people from discussing what B’Tselem recently dubbed “a regime of Jewish supremacy from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea” by weaponizing anti-Semitism.

The lobby’s substantial power rests uneasily alongside the injustice they seek to maintain. Like most bullies they get angry when their target wants to talk. They don’t want to hear the other’s point of view. Hopefully, NDP members stand up to the bully and do what’s right.

 

 

On April 5 the Canadian Foreign Policy Institute will be hosting a discussion on “Palestine Solidarity: why the NDP convention matters

 

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Israel lobby group has no credibility to lecture NDP on racism

 

It’s heating up. With a month to go before the NDP convention the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) has twice attacked Palestine solidarity and the left of the party.

In a Twitter thread on Tuesday the official advocacy arm of Canada’s Jewish federations promoted the idea that Canada’s first ever openly gay member of parliament and a 20-year MP were “antisemitic.” CIJA attacked Svend Robinson and Libby Davies for sponsoring a resolution against the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) anti-Palestinian definition of antisemitism to the April NDP convention. In a series of aggressive tweets CIJA linked to a Times of Israel story titled “NDP radicals should stop politicizing antisemitism” that claimed Robinson and Davies “peddled” “antisemitism.” The logic (if you can call it that) is that it is anti-Jewish to oppose a definition of anti-Semitism designed to maintain the subjugation of Palestinians.

Former Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL) head Sid Ryan recently reported that 55 NDP electoral associations, the president of CUPE Ontario, leadership of OFL, several District Labour Councils, Independent Jewish Voices, Palestine House, Palestinian Canadian Congress, Just Peace Advocates, several NDP MPs and many more have endorsed the anti-IHRA resolution. “There has never been this much broad based support for a resolution submitted to a NDP convention in its 60 year history”, Ryan wrote on Facebook.

At the same time another resolution to the convention dubbed the “Palestine Resolution” has been supported by 33 riding associations and numerous groups. It calls for “ending all trade and economic cooperation with illegal settlements in Israel-Palestine” and “suspending the bilateral trade of all arms and related materials with the State of Israel until Palestinian rights are upheld.” The resolution effectively urges the NDP to adopt the policy recommendations of the Canadian Labour Congress on the issue.

In a sign of the pressure CIJA is putting on the party leadership to suppress the IHRA and Palestine resolutions, they released a statement that targeted Davies and Robinson. In a release last week that was a clearly designed to marginalize the left within the NDP, CIJA CEO Shimon Fogel noted: “Jeremy Corbyn is toxic. The invitation to the disgraced leader [a March 20 webinar between MP Niki Ashton and Corbyn] is more evidence that Svend Robinson, Niki Ashton, Libby Davies and a few others want to take the NDP in a direction that is antithetical to basic Canadian values. This small group is actively undermining NDP leadership.”

While a definition of anti-Semitism designed to maintain Palestinian subjugation is obviously odious, the anti-IHRA campaign makes me somewhat uncomfortable. It’s too defensive. Rather than being on the backfoot, anti-racists should loudly proclaim that lobbyists for Israel’s “regime of Jewish supremacy” (B’Tselem) have zero credibility on racism.

Alas, Canadian political culture is what it is. CIJA is not done attacking the NDP. As the convention approaches expect op-eds, tweets, press releases, etc. that seek to link Davies, Robinson, Ashton or the NDP more generally to real or perceived anti-Semitism. At recent conventions CIJA has organized breakfasts and brought in ‘progressive’ Israeli officials. How this plays out during this virtual convention is unclear.

In deference to CIJA and the dominant media, expect the party leadership to seek to suppress the IHRA and Palestine resolutions. At the 2018 convention the Palestine Resolution, which was endorsed unanimously by the NDP youth convention and by over 24 riding associations, was blocked from even being discussed by the party hierarchy. (The resolution mostly restated official Canadian policy, except that it called for “banning settlement products from Canadian markets, and using other forms of diplomatic and economic pressure to end the occupation.”) NDP House Leader Guy Caron mobilized an unprecedented number of current and former MPs, including Alexandre Boulerice, Randall Garrison, Craig Scott, Tracey Ramsey, Hélène Laverdière, Murray Rankin and Nathan Cullen, to vote against even debating the most widely endorsed foreign policy resolution at the convention. Additionally, members of Jagmeet Singh’s family, Stephen Lewis foundation’s Janet Solberg, Broadbent Institute’s Rick Smith and their allies all attended the early morning session to stop the Palestine Resolution from being discussed at the main plenary.

Internationalists participating in the upcoming convention should plan to overcome every trick in the book from the party hierarchy to suppress Palestine solidarity. Courage anti-racists!

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Judge cozies up to Israel lobby in conflict of interest

Thomas Cromwell

Even the appearance of a conflict of interest should be enough to dissuade any prudent public official, especially a judge, from an action.

As such, it’s baffling that former Supreme Court Justice Thomas Cromwell would accept an invitation to speak at two Israel lobby groups’ conference while overseeing an inquiry into whether a former official of the organizations acted improperly.

In a report on conflicts of interest within the public service a government commission of inquiry explained, “A perceived or apparent conflict of interest can exist where it could be perceived, or appears, that a public official’s private interests could improperly influence the performance of their duties — whether or not this is in fact the case.”

On February 9 Cromwell is scheduled to be the keynote speaker at a Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA)/United Jewish Appeal of Greater Toronto conference on “The Rule of Law in Times of Crisis.” At the same time he is speaking at this forum, Cromwell is overseeing an investigation into a highly politicized dispute over a job offer that was rescinded by the University of Toronto law school. Last summer Valentina Azarova had an offer to head its International Human Rights Program withdrawn after reported pressure from Tax Court of Canada judge David Spiro, former co-chair of CIJA Toronto and chair of UJA Toronto’s Public Affairs Committee. Spiro was hostile towards Azarova because of her defence of Palestinian rights.

Spiro’s influence over the University of Toronto largely comes from his family’s wealth. His uncle, Larry Tanenbaum, owner of the Toronto Raptors, financed the University’s Anne Tanenbaum Centre for Jewish Studies. One of the wealthy donors that founded CIJA, Larry Tanenbaum and his brother have given the University of Toronto at least $10 million and helped raise $10 million more.

The Azarova incident has drawn widespread condemnation. Over 1,000 academics and lawyers signed an open letter in support of Azarova while Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and others have criticized the university. The Canadian Association of University Teachers Council recently moved closer to taking the rare step of censuring — which includes a call for academics to boycott — the University of Toronto over the affair. Spiro’s conduct in the affair is being investigated by the Canadian Judicial Council, which may remove him as a Tax Court of Canada judge.

Within the University of Toronto, the issue is a hot potato. The individual initially appointed to lead the inquiry resigned under pressure and Cromwell was picked to replace them.

Cromwell’s participation in an event put on by two organizations with close ties to an individual at the centre of an investigation he’s overseeing raises serious questions about his impartiality in the Azarova inquiry. And there’s another reason why Cromwell should not participate in this conference on the “Rule of Law”. Le Journal de Montréal recently reported on UJA Toronto’s role in possibly criminal acts. On 4 June UJA Toronto publicized a webinar by Nefesh-B’Nefesh titled “Joining the IDF”, which claimed to offer participants “everything you need and want to know about joining the IDF”. Yet the Foreign Enlistment Act clearly outlaws recruiting for a foreign military. It states: “Any person who, within Canada, recruits or otherwise induces any person or body of persons to enlist or to accept any commission or engagement in the armed forces of any foreign state or other armed forces operating in that state is guilty of an offence.” Evidence of UJA Toronto’s violation of the Foreign Enlistment Act was recently delivered to the RCMP and over 700 people have written a letter to press the RCMP commissioner to investigate the matter.

A few days ago lawyer John Philpot informed Cromwell about UJA Toronto’s role in illegal recruitment for the IDF and that speaking at the conference would impact the perception of his role within the Azarova inquiry. Writing on behalf of Just Peace Advocates, Canadian Foreign Policy Institute and Palestinian and Jewish Unity, Philpot asked Cromwell to withdraw from the CIJA/UJA Toronto conference.

I followed up to ask Cromwell if he was aware that an individual at the centre of the investigation he lead had been a top official of both CIJA and UJA Toronto and whether he was being paid to speak at the CIJA/UJA event. He answered “no” to both questions. In response I asked, “in light of David Spiro’s former position as CIJA Toronto board member and UJA Toronto Public Affairs Committee chair are you considering withdrawing as keynote speaker?” He didn’t respond to my email by the time the story went to press.

So, readers will be left wondering why a former Supreme Court Justice would address a conference put on by two organizations with close ties to an individual at the centre of a highly politicized investigation he is overseeing?

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End the Canada Israel Free Trade Agreement

 

images

On Sunday a demonstration is planned in Montréal against the Canada Israel Free Trade Agreement (CIFTA). Under the banner “Against Israel’s annexation of the Jordan Valley. No to the Canada Israel Free Trade Agreement!”, the march is seeking to politicize CIFTA amidst Israel’s plan to formally annex parts of the West Bank.

The march follows an open letter released last month by over 100 Montréal artists and activists calling for the cancellation of CIFTA.

Signed in 1997, CIFTA was Canada’s fourth free trade agreement and first outside the Western hemisphere (US, NAFTA and Chile). In an implicit recognition of the occupation, the free trade agreement includes the West Bank as a place where Israel’s custom laws are applied. Canada’s trade agreement is based on the areas Israel maintains territorial control over, not on internationally recognized borders. The European Union’s trade agreement with Israel, on the other hand, explicitly excludes products from territory Israel captured in the 1967 war and occupies against international law.

The Liberals “modernized” Canada’s FTA with Israel. International trade minister Jim Carr boasted the new accord “strengthens bilateral ties between Canada and Israel.” Liberal MPs on Parliament’s Standing Committee on International Trade rejected an NDP amendment to the trade accord’s legislation stipulating its implementation “shall be based on respect for human rights and international law.” They also rejected an NDP amendment to the deal that would have required distinct labels on products originating from “Palestinian territory that has been illegally occupied since 1967.”

In July 2019 Palestine Liberation Organization Executive Committee member Hanan Ashrawi wrote, “the Palestinian leadership calls on the Canadian government to act in accordance with Canadian and international laws and amend, without delay, the Canada-Israel Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act (Bill C-85), which affords products originating from illegal Israeli settlements tariff free status, in flagrant violation of Canada’s obligations under international law, including the Fourth Geneva Convention, and United Nations Security Council resolutions, including resolution 2334 (2016).”

In July 2017 the federal government said its FTA with Israel trumped Canada’s Food and Drugs Act after the Canadian Food Inspection Agency called for accurate labelling of wines produced in the occupied West Bank. After David Kattenburg repeatedly complained about inaccurate labels on two wines sold in Ontario, the CFIA notified the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) that it “would not be acceptable and would be considered misleading” to declare wines produced in the Occupied Palestinian Territories as “products of Israel”. Quoting from longstanding official Canadian policy, CFIA noted that “the government of Canada does not recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the territories occupied in 1967.” In response to pressure from the Israeli embassy, Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs and B’nai Brith, the government announced that it was all a mistake made by a low level CFIA official and that the Canada-Israel FTA governed the labelling of such wine, not CFIA rules. “We did not fully consider the Canada-Israel Free Trade Agreement,” a terse CFIA statement explained. “These wines adhere to the Agreement and therefore we can confirm that the products in question can be sold as currently labeled.”

In other words, the government publicly proclaimed that the FTA trumps Canada’s consumer protections. But, this was little more than a pretext to avoid a conflict with B’nai B’rith, Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs and Israeli officials, according to Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives Trade and Investment Research Project director Scott Sinclair. “This trade-related rationale does not stand up to scrutiny,” Sinclair wrote. “The Canadian government, the CFIA and the LCBO are well within their legal and trade treaty rights to insist that products from the occupied territories be clearly labeled as such. There is nothing in the CIFTA that prevents this. The decision to reverse the CFIA’s ruling was political. The whole trade argument is a red herring, simply an excuse to provide cover for the CFIA to backtrack under pressure.”

If the Canadian government does indeed support a rules-based international order as Prime Minister Trudeau has proclaimed then the Canada Israel Free Trade Agreement should be scrapped.

Information on the demonstration “Against Israel’s annexation of the Jordan Valley. No to the Canada Israel Free Trade Agreement!” is available here.

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Filed under Canada and Israel, Israel, Justin Trudeau, Middle East