Tag Archives: Jagmeet Singh

Pro-Palestinian campaigner smeared by Canadian politicians

On Thursday lawyer Dimitri Lascaris called on two Liberal MPs to denounce death threats made by B’nai B’rith supporters against a number of other Liberal MPs and the Prime Minister. But instead of condemning those who called for racialized politicians to face the “guillotine” or “stoning”, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) and Canadian politicians smeared the individual drawing attention to the death threats.

And on the weekend NDP leaders participated in this unprecedented multi-party smear campaign against one of Canada’s most effective advocates for Palestinian rights. At the behest of CIJA, MP Hélène Laverdière called Lascaris “anti-Semitic” while Jagmeet Singh inferred as much.

Here’s the background: After an August 29 demonstration opposing B’nai B’rith’s smears against the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, Lascaris called  on Liberal MPs Anthony Housefather and Michael Levitt, CIJA, and others who have recently defended B’nai B’rith, to publicly repudiate two of that group’s supporters who called for a number of Muslim and brown politicians to be killed in a video detailing  their participation in a counter protest to the rally against B’nai B’rith. On Thursday Lascaris tweeted about the two B’nai B’rith supporters who “called for the death penalty to be imposed on Justin Trudeau & Liberal MPs Iqra Khalid, Omar Alghabra & Maryam Monsef” and asked Levitt and Housefather to “to denounce” the threats “but shamefully, they’ve said nothing.” Then Lascaris tweeted: “Apparently Liberal MPs Anthony Housefather and Michael Levitt are more devoted to apartheid Israel than to their own prime minister and colleagues in the Liberal caucus.”

In this tweet about Housefather and Levitt prioritizing the defence of Israeli crimes above their own party, Lascaris could also have cited the two Liberal MPs’ response to Trudeau questioning whether Israeli forces should have shot Canadian doctor Tarek Loubani in Gaza. The day after Trudeau’s May 16 comment Housefather and Levitt issued a joint statement dissociating themselves from the Prime Minister’s mealy-mouthed criticism of Israeli actions. Conservative Senator Linda Frum described it as “distancing themselves from their own government”, Globe and Mail reporter Robert Fife said they “broke with Mr. Trudeau’s criticism of Israel” and Housefather himself noted in July that he was “disappointed… with the recent statement on Gaza … [so] Levitt and I released our own statement.”The Housefather/Levitt statement claimed “the terrorist organisation Hamas bears direct moral responsibility and culpability” when Israeli troops shoot peaceful protesters, including Canadian doctors.

So, clearly the tweet by Lascaris was a fair comment/criticism of the action/inaction of two MPs and their apparent disloyalty to their own political party. Regardless, in our upside down world where those who defend racist policies in another country are supported even when they cry “racism” against those fighting that discrimination, CIJA saw Lascaris’ innocuous tweet as an opportunity to attack him and Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME). In response CIJA tweeted: “Yesterday, CJPME Chair Dimitri Lascaris accused Jewish MPs Anthony Housefather and Michael Levitt of being disloyal to Canada. This is the literal definition of antisemitism under the IHRA [International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance] definition. Will CJPME publicly retract & apologize for this antisemitic smear?”

Soon thereafter a slew of MPs, Conservative party leader Andrew Scheer and Prime Minister Trudeau jumped to Housefather and Levitt’s defence or directly smeared Lascaris. NDP foreign critic Laverdière tweeted: “I consider Michael Levitt and Anthony Housefather to be my friends as well as colleagues, & I condemn the anti-Semitic comments directed against them by Dimitri Lascaris. We can have legitimate disagreements on Canadian foreign policy without questioning anyone’s loyalty to Canada.”

Employing slightly more restrained language, NDP leader Jagmeet Singh also joined the anti-Palestinian lunacy. He tweeted: “Antisemitism has no place in Canada. I know what it’s like to experience racism & discrimination, and to have my loyalty to Canada questioned. Michael Levitt and Anthony Housefather, I stand with you today.”

But, it’s worse than that. While Laverdière, Singh and others found time to label Lascaris racist, they’ve never seen fit to question Levitt and Housefather’s ties to an explicitly racist institution. The York Centre MP is a former board  member ofthe Jewish National Fund and participated  in an event with that organization in Israel last year while Housefather did an event with the JNF  in May. The JNF systematically discriminates against Palestinian citizens of Israel, who make up a fifth of the population. According to a UN report, Jewish National Fund lands are “chartered to  benefit Jews exclusively,” which has led to an “institutionalized form of discrimination.” (During a visit to Israel in 2016 Laverdière participated in a ceremony  put on by the head of the JNF.)

Even if Lascaris had written what Trudeau, Laverdière, etc. claim, it shouldn’t be particularly controversial. Leavitt and Housefather are fairly open about the centrality of Israel to their politics. In July Housefather describes himself as a “huge supporter of Israel” and “one of the foremost advocates on behalf of support for Israel.”On August 28 he wrote in a Canadian Jewish News article that “like many in our community, there is nothing more upsetting to me than when the UN unfairly singles out Israel for condemnation.” In that same piece Housefather noted how he “works tirelessly to have Israel’s back” and boasted that the current Liberal government has the most anti-Palestinian voting record of any recent Canadian government at the UN. The Montréal MP wrote, “we have voted against 87% of the resolutions singling out Israel for condemnation at the General Assembly versus 61% for the Harper government, 19% for the Martin and Mulroney governments and 3% for the Chrétien government. We have also supported 0% of these resolutions, compared to 23% support under Harper, 52% under Mulroney, 71% under Martin and 79% under Chretien.”

For his part, Levitt chairs the Canada Israel Interparliamentary Group, has by far the most official parliamentary contact with Israel lobby group CIJA, travels regularly to Israel, attends events with the Israeli AmbassadorConsul  General, Tel Aviv Mayor, etc., attends “walks with Israel”, says he “stands with Israel”, lobbied Canada to withdraw its logo from the 2016 World Social Forum in Montréal because of criticism of Israel, lobbied to have the Canadian Food Inspection Agency improperly label wines from illegal Israeli settlements, co-founded the Canadian Jewish Public Affairs Committee “to engage Jewish and pro-Israel Canadians”, etc.

Since 2016 Lascaris has been repeatedly smeared by Israel lobby groups. In August of that year he led a push within the Green Party to support elements of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement. A resolution he proposed at their convention sparked a backlash that saw party leader Elizabeth May demand a convention redo to rescind the resolution, which Lascaris successfully defended.

Lascaris’ effective activism is a problem for the Israel lobby. So are his credentials.Lascaris was named one of the 25 most influential lawyers by Canadian Lawyer Magazine in 2012 and the next year Canadian Business Magazine dubbed him one of the 50 most influential people in Canadian business, labelling him the “fiercest legal  advocate for shareholder rights.” In 2016 he quit a lucrative law career to devote himself to activism and journalism on issues ranging from climate change to Canadian foreign policy.

Singh and Laverdière should apologize for participating in CIJA’s scurrilous attack on a leading social justice campaigner. And shame on all the Canadian politicians who have fallen for this sickening smear campaign!

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Pressure must be kept on Victoria MP to exit pro-Israel group

Randall Garrison is refusing to heeda call from 200 well-known musicians, academics, trade unionists and NDP members to withdraw from the Canada-Israel Interparliamentary Group (CIIG). To justify his pro-Israel campaigning the Victoria MP has cited that country’s relatively gay friendly policies even as he promotes a bastion of Canadian homophobia.

Garrison is vice-chair of a group that promotes “greater friendship” and “cooperation” between the Canadian and Israeli parliaments. As I detailed here, CIIG has organized events with other pro-Israel lobby organizations and the co-chairs of its Israeli counterpart — the Israel-Canada Inter-Parliamentary Friendship Group — are stridently anti-Palestinian.

Garrison’s ties to anti-Palestinian lobbying groups goes beyond his role as vice-chair of CIIG.In May Garrison, Liberal MP Marco Mendicino and Conservative MP David Sweet co-sponsored an event with the staunchly anti-Palestinian Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center (FSWC). Israel’s Ambassador Nimrod Barkanspoke at the event on Parliament Hill.

That month Garrison also spoke at an event put onby the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs(CIJA) and Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee (CJPAC). The guest of honour was Irwin Cotler who, notes Max Blumenthal, “spent his career defending Israeli human rights crimes.”

At the NDP’s convention in February Garrison was one of the MPs who voted to suppress debate on the most widely supported foreign policy resolution. Endorsed unanimously by the NDP youth convention and by over 25 riding associations,the “Palestine 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.”

In 2017 Conservative Party Senator Linda Frum, who labeled a Palestinian-Canadian art exhibit at Ottawa’s city hall “a taxpayer-funded tribute to a Palestinian terrorist”, praised Garrison for helping establish an officialJewish Heritage Month, which Israeli nationalist groups immediately weaponized in their campaign to support a violent, European colonial outpost in the Middle East.The previous year Garrison participated in a CIJA paid and organized trip to Israel. In 2016 he also spoke at the CIJA and CJPAC organized “Israeli Wine and Canadian Cheese party” to “celebrate the strength of the Canada-Israel relationship.”

In a private discussion with a Palestinian solidarity campaigner recounted to me Garrison pointed to Israel’s relatively LGBTQ-friendly policies as a reason for participating in CIIG and supporting that country more generally (he refused my request for an interview regarding the open letter). But that can’t be the full story because Garrison also promotes the Canadian Forces,which has long been a bastion of homophobia.

Representing the Esquimalt naval base in Victoria, “Garrison is a passionate advocate for the Canadian military”, according to the Canadian Defence Review. The NDP defence criticheld his 2015 election night party and other events at the Esquimalt Legion. Part of the Canadian NATO Parliamentary Association and Vice-Chair of the Standing Committee on National Defence, Garrisoncriticized the Liberals’ 2017 announcement that they would increase military spending by 70 per cent over the next decade because more money wasn’t given immediately. Garrison bemoaned that “all we have is promises for future [military spending] increases” and in another interview said “the money you’re proposing will not keep pace with the rate of inflation.”A proponent of Canada leading a NATO battle group to Latvia, Garrison also criticized the Liberals for failing to immediately follow its defence policy review’s recommendation to upgrade a multi-billion dollar early-warning radar system used by the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), which is a military alliance that has drawn Canadian personnel into supporting numerous US wars.

As Garrison surely knows, the CF has long been a bastion of homophobia. The military played a big part in a late 1960s research initiative to develop a “fruit machine” that would detect queers who would then be fired. Until 1992 members suspected of being gay were systematically purged from the CF.An impending hearing before the Federal Court prompted the government to ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in the CF, but the military leadership resisted until the end. In response to the changes, Chief of Defense Staff John de Chastelain said the policy would not prevent the military from refusing to tolerate “sexual misconduct which can be demonstrated to have a disruptive effect on operational effectiveness.” While tolerance has grown, queers still face substantial stigma in the CF.

Garrison’s promotion of the Canadian military and Israel should be understood as two sides of one coin. An under-discussed explanation for Canada-Israel ties is militarists’ affinity for that country. They are impressed by the large political, cultural and economic role Israel’s military plays in the country’s affairs. In recent years Canada-Israel military ties have grown. During a speech at a Toronto synagogue in May Canada’s ambassador to Israel, Deborah Lyons,said she sees Canadian generals in Tel Aviv on a regular basis.At the same time there has been increased ties between arms manufacturers in the two countries.

It’s hard to imagine that Garrison, who represents a base community, is NDP defence critic and Vice-Chair of the Standing Committee on National Defence, wouldn’t be influenced by Canadianmilitarists’ pro-Israel disposition. It’s also unsurprising that he portrays his pro-Israel campaigning as “gay friendly” to progressives rather than as militaristic or imperialistic.

But if he really wants to be supported by progressive people Garrison should heed the call by 200 well-known musicians, academics, trade unionists and NDP members to withdraw from the Canada-Israel Interparliamentary Group. And if hecontinues to refuse progressives in Victoria should confront him.

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

 

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