Tag Archives: Israel

NDP members must push for pro-Palestinian positions

When will NDP members push back against the party leadership’s all-too friendly relations with Canada’s leading Israel lobby group?

Recently, former NDP Premier of Nova Scotia Darrell Dexter joined the board of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) while four years ago NDP foreign critic Paul Dewar and MP Robert Chisholm attended a CIJA sponsored Young Leadership Israel Advocacy Program retreat.

A 2014 calculation found that 20 NDP MPs had been to Israel on a CIJA (or its predecessor) financed tour. Since 2016 now party leader Jagmeet Singh has participated in one of these trips as have Randall Garrison and Murray Rankin, the NDP’s two executives on the Canada Israel Inter-Parliamentary Group, which has hosted lobbying events on Parliament Hill with CIJA.

NDP MPs have also taken CIJA representatives into their offices. In 2014-15 BC MP Nathan Cullen’s office took in Daniel Gans through CIJA’s Parliamentary Internship Program, which pays pro-Israel university students $18,000 to work for parliamentarians (Gans then worked as parliamentary assistant to NDP MP Finn Donnelly). In 2014 Cullen met representatives of CIJA Pacific Region to talk about Israel, Iran and other subjects. According to CIJA’s summary of the meeting, “Mr. Cullen understood the importance of a close Canada-Israel relationship.”

CIJA takes aggressive extreme, anti-Palestinian, positions. CIJA backed moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem, ripping up the Iran nuclear accord and Israeli forces killing over 120 peaceful protesters in Gaza in Spring 2018.

Before its February convention CIJA called on the NDP to “push back against marginal elements within the party” promoting Palestinian rights. The organization was likely the driving force behind a Globe and Mail article on the eve of the convention titled “Supporter of homophobic, anti-Semitic U.S. religious leader to speak at NDP convention.”

At the start of the year CIJA called on its supporters to write the government to request Canada take more Eritrean, Sudanese and other African refugees that Israel is seeking to expel. Apparently, CIJA wants an as ‘Jewish and white as possible’ state in the Middle East, but supports multiculturalism in Canada.

CIJA works with and co-sponsors events with the Jewish National Fund, which engages in discriminatory land-use policies outlawed in this country nearly seven decades ago. JNF Canada CEO Lance Davis previously worked as CIJA’s National Jewish Campus Life director and CIJA campaigned aggressively against a 2016 Green Party resolution calling on the Canada Revenue Agency to revoke the charitable status of the JNF, which owns 13% of Israel’s land and systematically discriminates against Palestinian citizens of Israel.

Beyond defending racist land-use policies abroad, CIJA has stigmatized marginalized Canadians by hyping “Islamic terror” and targeting Arab and Muslim community representativespapers, organizations, etc. In response to a 2016 truck attack in Nice, France, CIJA declared “Canada is not immune to…Islamist terror” and in 2017 they highlighted, “those strains of Islam that pose a real and imminent threat to Jews around the world.”

In a bid to deter organizations from associating with the Palestinian cause or opposing Israeli belligerence in the region, CIJA demonizes Canadian Arabs and Muslims by constantly accusing them of supporting “terror.” Last September the group said it was “shocked” Ottawa failed to rescind the charitable status of the Islamic Society of British Columbia, which CIJA accused of supporting Hamas, a group Palestinians and most of the world consider a political/resistance organization.

CIJA pushed to proscribe as a terrorist entity Mississauga-based IRFAN (International Relief Fund for the Afflicted and Needy) because it supported orphans and a hospital in Gaza through official (Hamas controlled) channels. Its 2014 press release about the first Canadian-based group designated a terrorist organization boasted that “current CIJA board member, the Honourable Stockwell Day…called attention to IRFAN-Canada’s disturbing activities nearly a decade ago.”

CIJA aligned itself 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.” CEO Shimon Fogel said the “wording of M-103 is flawed. Specifically, we are concerned with the word ‘Islamophobia’ because it is misleading, ambiguous, and politically charged.” It takes chutzpah for a Jewish community leader to make this argument since, as Rick Salutin pointed out, anti-Semitism is a more ambiguous term. But, Fogel would no doubt label as anti-Jewish someone who objected to the term anti-Semitism as “misleading, ambiguous, and politically charged.”

If NDP officials are uncomfortable severing ties to the lobbying arm of Canada’s Jewish Federations at minimum they should refuse to participate in CIJA’s parliamentary internship program and lobbying trips to Israel.

This article was written for Canadian Dimension

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Filed under Canada and Israel, Left Right

CIJA, B’nai B’rith smear Palestine activist instead of racists, anti-Semite

Part two on the smear campaign against Dimitri Lascaris.

Like British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn Canadian lawyer Dimitri Lascaris is the victim of a “Big Lie” slander campaign. Defenders of the most aggressive ongoing European settler colonialism have once again smeared a “proud, anti-racist advocate for human rights.”

In this article I offer some important context regarding the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs’ (CIJA) and B’nai B’rith’s (BB) absurd “anti-Semitism” accusations against Lascaris, which were echoed by the leaders of the four main federal political parties. But, looking at the run up to his ‘offending’ tweet suggests that Lascaris was targeted in an unprecedented smear campaign because he was exposing CIJA and BB’s soft underbelly, notably their dalliance with racist extremists. In the week before he was denounced Lascaris repeatedly challenged CIJA, BB’s and Liberal MP Michael Levitt’s association with individuals making anti-Muslim remarks, death threats against politicians and promoting a book denouncing the “Jewish menace”.

The immediate background to CIJA and BB’s campaign against Lascaris was an August 29 demonstration opposing BB’s smears against the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW). CIJA, BB and Levitt tarred that rally as being racist and threatening. Two days before the display of solidarity with CUPW Levitt issued a statement saying he was “deeply concerned”  and “disturbed” by the planned protest, announcing that he had contacted the police. Afterwards CIJA Vice President for the Greater Toronto Area, Noah Shack, thanked the police and stated: “What the Jewish community of Bathurst Manor witnessed today is a failed attempt at intimidation by a hateful group of protesters.”

But in reality, it was the counter rally of BB supporters that was racist and threatening. In the week after the rally Lascaris repeatedly called on CIJA, BB and Liberal MP Levitt to publicly repudiate the Islamophobia of the pro-BB counter protesters. Prior to his ‘offending’ tweet, Lascaris posted video of protesters making anti-Muslim comments and tweeted “B’nai B’rith can’t bring itself to condemn the white supremacists, racists & Islamophobes who support its organization and who stood at its doorstep last week screaming hatred at supporters of CUPW. Instead, it hurls baseless claims of ‘bigotry’ at its critics.”

Via twitter and Facebook Lascaris also called on them to criticize two BB supporters who called for a number of Muslim and brown politicians to face the death penalty. In a video detailing  their participation in the counter protest, Mary Forrest and a friend called for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, NDP leader Jagmeet Singh and several Muslim MPs to receive the “guillotine” or be “stoned” to death. Lascaris tweeted: “If a supporter of Palestine called for Israel’s criminal PM Benjamin Netanyahu to be put to death, B’nai B’rith and CIJA would become apopletic and call that person a ‘terrorist’. But when pro-Israel fanatics call for Canada’s PM Justin Trudeau to be killed, they say nothing.”

In another tweet before the supposed “anti-Semitic” comment, Lascaris criticized Levitt’s trip to Israel during which he met the COO of Sodastream. He wrote, “while Michael Levitt showcases Israel’s apartheid regime, supporters of his close ally B’nai B’rith called for the death penalty to be imposed on Justin Trudeau and Levitt’s Liberal colleagues Iqra Khalid, Omar Alghabra and Maryam Monsef. Shamefully, Levitt has said nothing.”

In their video about protesting in support of BB, Forrest and her friend talked about campaigning for former Rebel Media host Faith Goldy, who is running for mayor of Toronto. In fact, the white supremacist mayoral candidate attended the rally in support of BB. In April Goldy promoted a book by Romanian fascist leader Corneliu Codreanu titled For My Legionaries, which the Southern Poverty Law Center describes as one of “the canonical works of global fascism.” Published in 1937, it repeatedly attacks Jews and calls for eliminating the “Jewish threat”.

Lascaris repeatedly called on BB to denounce their supporters’ association with Goldy. He tweeted, “White supremacist Faith Goldy promoted fascist propaganda calling for eliminating ‘the Jewish menace’. Goldy was warmly received by B’nai B’rith supporters last week. And B’nai B’rith expects us to believe it speaks for Canadian Jewry?”

BB, CIJA and Levitt refused to disassociate themselves from protesters they aligned with before and after the August 29 protest. Instead they distorted an innocuous tweet about their two main allies within the Liberal Party caucus and sought to portray themselves as the victims. To the political establishment’s shame, the leaders of four political parties, as well as numerous other MPs, joined the smear of Lascaris.

Egged on by the politicians, CIJA and BB took their ‘we are victims’ silliness to embarrassing heights. CIJA CEO Shimon Koffler Fogel put out a statement implying that Lascaris’ tweet was somehow connected to Rosh Hashanah. In an attack on the activist-lawyer titled “An Urgent Note Before Rosh Hashanah: Fighting Antisemitism in 5779”, Fogel wrote: “Those who seek to demonize and ultimately dismantle the Jewish State, through BDS and other toxic forms of advocacy, are becoming bolder and more aggressive. They are letting the veil slip on the false distinction between anti-Zionism and antisemitism. And some of them openly seeking to undermine our rights as Jewish Canadians to be accepted as equals in Canadian politics, democracy, and civil society. It’s clearer than ever that the fight against the anti-Israel agenda is a fight to preserve the future of the Canadian Jewish community.”

B’nai B’rith CEO Michael Mostyn made the connection to the Jewish New Year more clear, tweeting “Two days before Rosh Hashanah, one of the holiest days in Judaism, Dimitri Lascaris hurled an antisemitic trope at Canadian leaders that was even promoted in the ‘Elders of the Protocols of Zion.’”

Mostyn followed this shameful tweet by revealing the direct political objective of the attacks against Lascaris. BB’s head tweeted, “Canadians expect ALL their elected officials across the political spectrum to refuse to interact with CJPME [Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East] until it apologizes and removes Dimitri Lascaris as their chair – this would certainly include Niki Ashton”, who Lascaris supported in the NDP leadership race.

Comparing the Left’s response to the attacks on Lascaris and activist-author Nora Loreto six months ago is informative. While both faced unprecedented backlash for publishing relatively innocuous tweets, only one of the social justice campaigners received substantial support from radical leftists.

This doesn’t bode well for the Left’s ability to respond to the accusations of anti-Semitism certain to follow Niki Ashton or someone with similar politics taking the reins of the NDP or another Left party coming close to governing. Israel lobby groups’ spectacular campaign against Corbyn in Britain and their smears against Lascaris suggests that anyone serious about building a movement for climate justice, economic inequality, indigenous rights, etc. needs to think carefully about the best ways to counter CIJA, BB, etc. smear tactics.

We need to be prepared for the next Big Lies.

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Filed under A Propaganda System, Canada and Israel

It is long past time to confront anti-Palestinianism in NDP

To effect change people need to know what and who they are up against. By nakedly suppressing debate on the Palestine Resolution at its recent convention the NDP leadership did internationalist minded party members the favour of clarifying that. They demonstrated the need to directly confront anti-Palestinianism within the party.

Over the next year NDPers who support Palestinian rights and care about party democracy should hound the leadership over their suppression of the Palestine Resolution. Every single elected representative, staffer, riding association executive and party activist needs to be prodded into deciding whether they side with Palestinian rights and party democracy or suppressing the Palestine Resolution and enabling ongoing Canadian complicity in Palestinian dispossession.

The best way to channel disgust with suppression of the Palestine Resolution is by forcing the party to sever its ties with Israel lobby organizations. NDP officials must stop participating in expenses-paid Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) lobbying trips to Israel and reject requests from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) to speak at its conferences. They also need to remove their MPs from the Canada–Israel Parliamentary Group, stop inviting Israeli Labor Party MPs to their convention and refrain from events put on by the explicitly racist and colonial Jewish National Fund.

Any MP who takes a CIJA-funded lobbying trip to Israel should receive a deluge of emails from across the country, visits to their office by local activists and the withdrawal of any form of activist support until they apologize. MPs and party representatives need to understand that these lobbying tours may be free, but they have a political cost.

Palestine solidarity activists in Victoria should immediately launch a campaign to force Randall Garrison and Murray Rankin to withdraw from the Canada–Israel Parliamentary Group. If emails don’t do the trick, visiting their offices, questioning them at community events or occupying their offices might.

At an individual level anti-Palestinian comments should be socially stigmatized. Just like members making openly sexist or homophobic statements, individuals espousing anti-Palestinian views need to feel isolated in NDP circles.

An example of the wild anti-Palestinianism accepted in the party, the president of an NDP riding association sits on the board of the explicitly racist and colonialist Jewish National Fund. President of the Windsor-Tecumseh federal NDP, Noah Tepperman is a board member of the Windsor JNF and has funded the organization’s events in other cities. Before the party convention Tepperman sent an email to all riding associations calling on them to oppose Palestine resolutions and he has tweeted that “BDS = Racism” and “Distressed to hear Canada’s Green Party endorsed the anti-free speech/anti-Zionist/anti-Semitic BDS movement.” Heir to the southern Ontario Tepperman furniture, appliance and electronics business, Noah Tepperman should be removed from his position, just as a supporter of a White nationalist group or Christian anti-abortion activist would be.

At the convention, representatives of the NDP-aligned Broadbent Institute supported the party establishment’s move to suppress debate on the Palestine Resolution. Any donor or supporter of that organization who believes Palestinians are human beings or cares about party democracy should ask if those supporting suppression of debate were acting on behalf of the Broadbent Institute. During his time as federal party leader Ed Broadbent (1975 – 89) took a number of anti-Palestinian positions. He should be prodded to apologize and distance himself from suppression of the Palestine Resolution.

Ditto for former Ontario leader (1970-78) Stephen Lewis. Probably the loudest anti-Palestinian at the NDP convention, Janet Solberg works at the Stephen Lewis Foundation and has long worked for her brother. Does Stephen Lewis agree with his sister and will he apologize for his previous anti-Palestinian statements?

While it is essential to challenge various personal and institutional ties to Palestinian dispossession, NDP officialdom’s connections to Israel lobby groups wasn’t what drove their suppression of the Palestine Resolution. Rather, as I detailed, the party establishment’s overriding concern was media backlash. But, silencing and driving out extreme anti-Palestinian voices and disrupting the party leadership’s ties to Israel lobby groups is a more achievable medium-term objective than shifting the dominant media. Additionally, getting the NDP — a powerful political institution — to forthrightly criticize Canada’s complicity in Palestinian dispossession is necessary in order to force open space within the dominant media to challenge Israeli policy.

Confronting suppression of the Palestine Resolution and the party establishment’s ties to Israel lobby groups is also essential to constrain their capacity to repeat the same anti-democratic practices at the next convention. Putting the party leadership on the defensive over the Palestine Resolution and its ties to Israel lobby organizations also increases the likelihood that they will criticize the federal government’s indifference to Israel’s killings in Gaza, detention of Palestinian children, Donald Trump’s decision to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem and opposition to proper labeling of Israeli settlement wine (issues the NDP foreign critic has recently criticized). The party leadership has taken these basic steps partly as a way to head off activist pressure. Of course, a party serious about opposing Canadian complicity in Palestinian dispossession would also challenge Canada-Israel military ties, a free trade agreement that allows settlement products to enter Canada duty-free, registered charities that channel tens of millions of dollars to projects supporting Israel’s powerful military, racist institutions and illegal settlements, etc.

At a certain level the question is which ideology and individuals are at home in the NDP: Those in favor of suppressing debate on the Palestine Resolution and Canadian complicity in Palestinian dispossession or those who support Palestinian rights and party democracy.

It is necessary, for justice and democracy’s sake, that those who thwarted the Palestine Resolution come to regret their decision. They must realize that while not in control of the party machinery or dominant media, Palestine solidarity activists have righteousness on their side and wind in their sails.

This is the final article in a four-part series on the NDP leadership’s suppression of debate on the Palestine Resolution. Here are the first, secondand third instalments on the topic.

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Filed under Canada and Israel

Hey Montréal police, respect our right to protest

The Montréal police have a problem with democracy that the new progressive city council should address.

Last Thursday I was arrested for shouting “shame; free Palestine” at the large annual pro-Israel demonstration. Three officers on bikes blocked me from walking on the sidewalk of Boulevard René Lévesque and yelling “shame, free Palestine” at people with Israeli flags on the street. After being threatened with arrest for expressing my opinion in motion, I joined a small counter-demonstration called by the Action Antifasciste Montréal (though most of the counter-demonstrators were Jewish anti-Zionist Neturei Karta). Standing just behind a row of police officers at the edge of Square Dorchester, I restarted shouting for about five minutes at which point a cop told me to move further into the park. When I refused to be muzzled again I was handcuffed, searched, put in the back of a police van and given a ticket for having continued or repeated an act that a police officer said to cease doing (“En ayant continué ou répété un acte interdit après avoir reçu l`ordre d’un agent de la paix de cesser cet acte.”).

After a half hour the police drove me a few blocks away and said if I returned to the protest site they would arrest me and take me to a detention centre. I was given a $150 fine, which I will contest. In fact, I hope to sue the police for breaching my Charter right to peacefully protest.

Of course, this incident of police overreach — in a peaceful political situation — is a relatively trivial example of the SPVM’s hostility towards protests called by student and radical left groups (Association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante, Convergence des luttes anticapitalistes, Parti communiste révolutionnaire, Collectif Opposé à la Brutalité Policière, etc.) Police repression is so common that when leaving the Bibliothèque nationale du Québec around 8:30 p.m. two Fridays ago and seeing multiple cop cars speeding down de Bleury with sirens blazing, my first thought was what demonstration would be taking place at that hour. Then I remembered seeing an announcement for a protest against the French government’s dispersal of a 10-year-old anti-capitalist environmental squat. Subsequently I discovered about a hundred mostly students marching festively along Saint Denis towards UQAM.

On my way home I passed dozens of riot cops sitting in police buses and vans. There may have been as many police as protesters! (One cop said hi to which I asked if we knew each other. In a response that seemed less than friendly he said he recognized me from previous demonstrations.)

The cost to the city was probably a thousand, maybe over ten thousand, dollars in overtime to have these cops sit around for a few hours. But, in this case at least SPVM decision makers only trampled on taxpayers rights. The Montréal police regularly undermine the democratic rights of the student and radical left. A 2005 United Nations repo​rt condemned the SPVM’s mass arrest tactics for encroaching on the right to “peacefully participate in social protests.” Six years later it came to light that the SPVM created a unit called “GAMMA” (Guet des activités des mouvements marginaux et anarchistes or surveillance of marginal and anarchist groups’ activities). During the student strike, between February 16 and September 3 2012, 3,509 demonstrators were arrested in Montréal. In Spring 2015 the SPVM fiercely repressed student-led anti-austerity mobilizations.

The city is currently facing eight class-action lawsuits totalling $20 million for mass arrests during the 2012 student strike. It already settled out of court with a student strike activist over the SPVM politically profiling her.

City council controls the police budget ($650 million) and oversees its operations. Projet Montréal (the progressive party that has a majority on council) needs to address the SPVM’s cavalier and costly attitude towards democratic rights.

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Filed under A Propaganda System

Ontario anti-racism committee members tied to racist JNF

Independent Jewish Voices and the United Jewish People’s Order’s exclusion from an Anti-Racism Directorate committee has rightly been criticized. But, the Ontario government’s more appalling decision to appoint individuals tied to an explicitly racist organization has been ignored.

Two years ago the Liberals put forward a plan titled “A Better Way Forward: Ontario’s 3-Year Anti-Racism Strategic Plan How we’re taking proactive steps to fight and prevent systemic racism in government decision-making, programs and services.” As part of the initiative, the government’s Anti-Racism Directorate set up four subcommittees last year to look at anti-Indigenous racism, anti-Black racism, Islamophobia and anti-Semitism.

A number of members of the subcommittee on anti-Semitism have personal or institutional ties to the Jewish National Fund, which practices a form of discrimination outlawed in a famed seven-decade-old Supreme Court of Canada ruling.

A member of the subcommittee, Madi Murariu, is the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs’ (CIJA) Associate Director for Ontario Government Relations and Public Affairs. CIJA and JNF Canada often work together and sponsor each other’s events. Additionally, CIJA staff fundraise for the explicitly racist organization and JNF Canada CEO Lance Davis previously worked as CIJA’s National Jewish Campus Life director.

Another subcommittee member, Karen Mock, chairs JSpaceCanada, which was a “participatingorganization” with JNF Canada on a 2016 event honouring the life of former Israeli president Shimon Peres. Mock also sat on the board of the Canadian Peres Center for Peace Foundation, which raised funds for the Israeli-based Peres Center For Peace. In Israel the Peres Center operated a slew of projects with JNF Canada and other branches of the racist group.

Zach Potashner represents the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center on the subcommittee. One of its directors, Tony Comper, was guest of honour for the 2009 Toronto JNF Negev Dinner fundraiser and a Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center Spirit of Hope Benefit chair, Ron Frisch, chaired JNF Toronto’s Campaign and Negev Dinner.

Brianna Ames, a volunteer with the Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee, represents that organization on the subcommittee. A CJPAC founder and former executive director, Josh Cooper, left the organization to become head of JNF Toronto in 2009 and subsequently CEO of JNF Canada. Another founding member of CJPAC, Michael Levitt, was a JNF Canada board member.

A co-chair of the subcommittee on anti-Semitism is Andrea Freedman, President of the Jewish Federation of Ottawa. Freedman’s organization regularly promotes JNF Ottawa events and funds the centre where it’s based (adjacent to the Jewish Federation of Ottawa offices). The other subcommittee co-chair is Bernie Farber. During Farber’s quarter century at the Canadian Jewish Congress the organization and its personnel had many ties to the JNF.

I found no support from Farber, Mock or the rest of the above-mentioned individuals for Independent Jewish Voices’ campaign to revoke JNF Canada’s charitable status (or other criticism of the explicitly racist organization). An owner of 13 per cent of Israel’s land, the JNF discriminates against Palestinian citizens of Israel (Arab Israelis) who make up one-fifth of the population. According to a UN report, JNF lands are “chartered to benefit Jews exclusively,” which has led to an “institutionalized form of discrimination.” Echoing the UN, a 2012 US State Department report detailing “institutional and societal discrimination” in Israel says JNF “statutes prohibit sale or lease of land to non-Jews.”

Indicative of its discrimination against Israelis who aren’t Jewish, JNF Canada’s Twitter tag says it “is the caretaker of the land of Israel, on behalf of its owners  — Jewish people everywhere.” Its parent organization in Israel — the Keren Kayemet LeYisrael — is even more open about its racism. Its website notes that “a survey commissioned by KKL-JNF reveals that over 70% of the Jewish population in Israel opposes allocating KKL-JNF land to non-Jews, while over 80% prefer the definition of Israel as a Jewish state, rather than as the state of all its citizens.”

JNF-style discrimination was effectively outlawed in this country in 1951. In 1948 Annie Noble decided to sell a cottage in the exclusive Beach O’ Pines subdivision on Lake Huron to Bernie Wolf, who was Jewish. During the sale Wolf’s lawyer realized that the original deed for the property restricted sale to “any person wholly or partly of negro, Asiatic, coloured or Semitic blood.” A Toronto court and the Ontario Court of Appeal refused to invalidate the racist land covenant. But Noble pursued the case — with assistance from the Canadian Jewish Congress — to the Supreme Court of Canada. In one of the most important blows to legalistic racism in this country, the Supreme Court reversed the lower courts’ ruling and allowed Noble to purchase the property. This decision led to the abolition of racist land covenants in this country.

Should we laugh or cry at an Ontario Anti-Racism Directorate subcommittee led by individuals with ties to an organization practicing discriminatory land-use policies outlawed in this country seven decades ago?

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Filed under Canada and Israel

Palestine debate symbolizes weakness of NDP internal democracy.

The NDP leadership’s suppression of debate on the Palestine Resolutionexposed the hollow nature of its democracy. It also highlighted party insiders’ extreme deference to the dominant media.

As I detail here, the party machinery employed a variety of manoeuvres to avoid debating a Palestine Resolution unanimously endorsed by the NDP youth convention, many outside groups and over 25 riding associations. Far and away the most widely backed foreign policy resolution at the party’s recent convention, it mostly restated official Canadian policy, except that it calls for “banning settlement products from Canadian markets, and using other forms of diplomatic and economic pressure to end the occupation.”

The suppression of the Palestine Resolution wasn’t an anomaly or based on arcane policy disagreement, as party apparatchiks have repeatedly claimed since the convention. For two decades the party machinery has put Palestine resolutions sponsored by the Socialist Caucus and submitted to conventions by different riding associations at the bottom of the priority list, which means they are not discussed at the convention. During more recent conventions a broad range of internationalist minded party activists have come close to rallying a sufficient number of delegates to overturn the de-prioritization of Palestine solidarity resolutions at poorly publicized sessions before the main plenary. According to the Socialist Caucus website, at the 2011 convention “delegates at the foreign policy priorities panel succeeded in moving the Canadian Boat to Gaza resolution from very low on the list up to #2 position. But minutes before we could vote on approval of the content of the resolution, party officials herded 30 to 40 MPs and staff into the room to vote it down.”

In another authoritarian anti-Palestinian move, during the 2015 federal election the NDP responded to Conservative party pressure by ousting as many as eight individuals from running or contesting nominations to be candidates 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.

Ousting a candidate elected by a riding association or suppressing debate on a widely endorsed resolution are stark examples of anti-Palestinian authoritarianism. But, a simple look at the polls highlights the party leadership’s democratic deficit on the subject. According to a 2017 poll, most NDP members have a negative or very negative view of the Israeli government and believe Canada is biased towards Israel. Even without the party taking up the issue, the Ekos poll of 1,000 Canadians found that 84% of NDP members are open to sanctioning Israel and 92% thought the Palestinian call for a boycott was reasonable.

No issue better highlights the divide between members’ wishes and leadership actions. In short, the Palestine question symbolizes the weakness of NDP internal democracy.

Various historic and current ties between the party brass and Israel lobby groups contributed to their suppressing debate on the Palestine Resolution, but while important, these relations aren’t the defining factor. Nor, is the party leadership’s hostility to members’ wishes on Palestine primarily ideological. Unlike his predecessor, party leader Jagmeet Singh isn’t anti-Palestinian. Rather, he is an ambitious politician operating in an anti-Palestinian political culture.

The main force driving the suppression of debate on the Palestine Resolution was fear of mainstream media backlash. Party leaders believe (correctly) that the Palestine Resolution’s call for a ban on settlement products, which after a half-century of illegal occupation should be entirely uncontroversial, would elicit a corporate media backlash. Additionally, they are right to fear the dominant media’s capacity to shape attitudes, especially on issues far removed from people’s daily concerns.

The dominant media can also be cynically manipulative. On the eve of the convention the Globe and Mail, probably at the prodding of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, published a story linking planned speaker Tamika Mallory to Louis Farrakhan. The story was titled “Supporter of homophobic, anti-Semitic U.S. religious leader to speak at NDP convention.” Even though Mallory was to speak as an organizer of last year’s Women’s March in Washington, half the story was about Palestine resolutions, which Mallory had nothing to do with. In fact, the convention organizers who invited her to speak confusingly renamed, deprioritized and then blocked the Palestine Resolution from being debated. To add insult to injury, most Palestine Resolution proponents would have preferred fewer convention speakers to give members more time to debate/determine party policy.

Electorally focused NDP leaders are right to fear media backlash for challenging Canada’s anti-Palestinian status quo. But, at some point members need to ask themselves why devote time, money, votes, etc. to a social democratic party, especially at a level where they’ve never formed government, if it is unwilling to push the parameters of official debate to the left? While those receiving a salary from the organization may feel differently, expanding the range of ‘politically acceptable’ discussion is a central reason for a third party’s existence.

And really, why be scared of the big bad media wolf? NDP provincial governments have legislated substantial social gains despite media-generated hysteria. The media decried the introduction of the Agricultural Land Reserve in B.C., public auto insurance in Manitoba and the party’s crowning glory, Medicare. Big media bitterly denounced the party when it implemented Medicare in Saskatchewan in 1962. During the 23-day-long doctors’ strike in response to Medicare, the Moose Jaw Times Herald ran editorials headlined: “Ugly Image of Dictators”, “Neutrality Never Won Any Fight For Freedom”, “Legal Profession Next to be Socialized” and “The Day That Freedom Died In Saskatchewan”. That editorial claimed “the people of Saskatchewan are now awakening and find that their province has been slowly, and in recent months much more rapidly, transformed from a free democracy into a totalitarian state, ruled by men drunk with power.”

In fact, the dominant media has condemned almost every progressive policy implemented by the left in the world over the past two centuries, from public schools, to banning child labour, pensions, shorter work days, daycare and more.

Leaving aside the abandonment of real left wing policy at the core of the NDP’s ‘avoid media backlash at all costs’, this may not even be the best short-term electoral strategy. The media has vilified leftist (pro-Palestinian) Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn, but he is well placed to be the next Prime Minister of Britain. On a lesser scale a similar dynamic is at play with Bernie Sanders in the US.

On the specific question of the NDP’s challenge to Canadian complicity in Palestinian dispossession, the growth of online news and global television stations makes it easier than ever — if the party cared to try — to defend critical positions. Additionally, the long-standing nature of the conflict, the growing number of Canadians from countries more sympathetic to Palestinians and decades of solidarity activism on the subject, mean there are many politically active people who are yearning for a challenge to the Liberal/Conservative status quo. They are likely to be galvanized by media attacks.

NDP Palestine policy offers a sort of barometer by which to evaluate the party’s commitment to democracy and social justice. Right now the forecast doesn’t look good.

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Filed under Canada and Israel

Is raising money for a right wing government really charity?

Is it a charity or political fundraiser for a right-wing foreign government?

People need to take a look at Canada’s Jewish Federations.

Together the United Jewish Appeal/Combined Jewish Appeal of Toronto, Montréal, Winnipeg, Windsor, Calgary, Edmonton, Hamilton, London, Ottawa, Vancouver and Atlantic Canada raise over $100 million annually. The largest in the network, UJA Toronto’s endowment and planned giving arm, has $500 million in assets and planned gifts. CJA Montréal has over $300 million on hand.

In a recent letter to the Canadian Jewish News, Morris Sosnovitch asked why UJA Toronto gives a quarter of its budget to a country with a $360-billion national budget. All Canadian taxpayers should ask why tax deductions are given for the $13.7 million UJA Toronto, $3.8 million CJA Montréal, and $1.12 million CJA Vancouver donated last year to Israel, among the world’s 25 wealthiest countries, run for the past decade by one of the most right-wing governments in the world. The Jewish Federations also oversee the United Israel Appeal Federations Canada. In 2016 that registered charity raised $80 million.

Beyond annual allotments, the Federations have repeatedly topped up their annual donations to Israel. In a particularly disturbing comment on Israel’s supporters, aggression has been good for fundraising. Following the IDF killing 2,200 Palestinians in Gaza in the summer of 2014, UJA Toronto launched an emergency appeal. Led by Fred Waks, the staunch advocate of late billionaires Bernie and Honey Sherman, the special appeal raised over $5.6 million.

Alongside its fundraising support, UJA Toronto has organized an annual Walk with Israel for 46 years. Additionally, UJA Toronto cosponsored an event under the title “We Will Not be Silent: A March Against Global Anti-Semitism.” The Times of Israel reported: “The purpose of the march was passionately summed up in Bill Glied’s closing remarks: ‘Thank God for the IDF. Thank God for Israel. And remember together we must stand. Never again!'”

The cross-country UJAs are the source of most Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs’ (CIJA) funding. While it refuses to reveal details, CIJA’s budget is between $8 and $11 million a year. To get a sense of its politics, CIJA backed moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, getting rid of the Iran nuclear accord and Israel’s 2014 assault on Gaza. Recently CIJA called on Canadian Jews to write the government to request Canada take more Eritrean, Sudanese and other African refugees that Israel is seeking to expel. Apparently, CIJA wants a state in the Middle East as Jewish as possible but supports multiculturalism in Canada.

The CJAs also fund a variety of other pro-Israel institutions. The Federations give millions of dollars every year to campus Hillels, which refuse to associate with Jews (or others) who “delegitimize, demonize, or apply a double standard to Israel; support boycott of, divestment from, or sanctions against the state of Israel.”

The Federations also provide millions of dollars to Jewish day schools that promote the Israeli nationalist narrative. A MarchCanadian 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.”

One of the five “Faces of Success” in a CJA booklet promoting Montréal Jewish schools is a man named Oliver Moore, a graduate of McGill Law who works with the notoriously right-wing 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.”

Simultaneously, the Federations suppress Jewish advocates of Palestinian rights. They largely refuse to let Independent Jewish Voices book rooms at Federation community centres. In 2009 CJA canceled an IJV room rental at the Gelber Conference Centre in Montréal for a talk by Israeli peace activist Jeff Halper, founder of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions. The Jewish Community Centre of Ottawa openly refuses to rent space to IJV because it “advocates for positions that run counter to the objectives of the Jewish Federation of Ottawa.” In 2011 UJA Toronto threatened to “sever ties” with the Morris Winchevsky Centre over a United Jewish Peoples’ Order talk by Auschwitz survivor Dr. Hajo Meyer titled “Never Again for Anyone.”

Incredibly, there has been little public criticism of UJA’s anti-Palestinianism. Despite delivering tens of millions of dollars a year to Israel and spending a comparable sum on Israel advocacy in Canada, the organization presents itself as an apolitical “charity.”

It’s past time to bring some pressure to bear on these morally odious institutions. Taxpayers should tell political leaders they don’t want to subsidize a wealthy country in the Middle East and the Canada Revenue Agency should be pushed to investigate whether Federation funding to CIJA and other politically engaged organizations contravene their rules about charities spending no more than 10 per cent of their budget on politics.

It’s time for those who care about peace and international justice to treat the Federations the same way they treat Palestinians.

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