Tag Archives: Jagmeet Singh

NDP defence critic ignores party policy

Why does the NDP defence critic promote militarism and anti-Palestinian racism? Shouldn’t all critics promote their party’s policies? And if they don’t, what should the party leader do?

Randall Garrison complained to the Hill Times that the government’s recent budget didn’t devote enough to the military. In “Opposition MPs say they’re worried about lack of defence spending in budget, as experts to future of NORAD” he’s quoted saying: “Defence doesn’t change just because there’s a pandemic. … We spent a decade not providing the military with an adequate operating budget to do the work we already asked them to do. It’s time to fix that.”

Garrison has repeatedly demanded more resources for the military, which has more than 10 times the budget of Environment and Climate Change Canada. When the Liberals announced a 70 per cent increase in military spending in 2017 Garrison criticized the announcement for not putting up more money immediately, bemoaning (incorrectly) that “the money you’re proposing will not keep pace with the rate of inflation.”

Garrison supports spending $19 billion — $77 billion over their lifecycle — on 88 new aggressive, climate destroying, fighter jets. Garrison’s most egregious position concerns the Canadian Surface Combatants (CSC) procurement, which could cost $286 billion over their lifecycle. He stayed silent on the issue after the Parliamentary Budget Officer estimated in February that the cost of acquiring 15 highly armed CSCs at over $77 billion, five times the initial estimate. And $77 billion is just the sticker price. Former Assistant Deputy Minister of Materiel at DND and Assistant Deputy Minister, Supply Operations Service in Public Works and Government Services Canada, Alan Williams, suggests the full life-cycle cost of the CSC will be an eye popping $286 billion.

Garrison has also ignored media reports about extreme secrecy in the CSC procurement process. Nor has he commented on its radar tying the vessels into US Ballistic Missile Defense or arming the frigates with Tomahawk missiles that travel 1,700 kilometers.

None of this aligns with the views of most NDP members.

In mid-April 85% of NDP convention delegates voted for the Palestine Resolution. 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.”

In response to Israel’s ethnic cleansing in East Jerusalem, attacks on the Al-Aqsa mosque and violence in Gaza, NDP leader Jagmeet Singh called for an arms embargo on Israel and the party promoted a petition making this demand, which most MPs shared.

Garrison stayed quiet on the arms embargo and convention resolution. He also failed to criticize Israel’s violence and ethnic cleansing. Instead, he signed a statement at the end of May designed to shield Israel from criticism, which was promoted by anti-Palestinian lobby group Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA). The statement Garrison signed was connected to his position on an unofficial task force lobbying social media firms to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) anti-Palestinian working definition of anti-Semitism.

Garrison is also vice-chair of the Canada-Israel Interparliamentary Group (CIIG). Three years ago 200 well-known musicians, academics, trade unionists and NDP members called on NDP MPs to withdraw from CIIG. Most ultimately did so. Garrison has refused to leave a group that promotes “greater friendship” and “cooperation” between the Canadian and Israeli parliaments. As I detailed, 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 — have been stridently anti-Palestinian. Garrison’s ties to anti-Palestinian lobbying groups go beyond his role as vice-chair of CIIG. Garrison has participated in initiatives with the staunchly anti-Palestinian Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center and CIJA. He has also repeatedly promoted the notion that pro-Palestinian activism is anti-Jewish. Last summer Garrison was one of two NDP MPs who refused to sign Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East’s pledge to oppose Israel’s plans to annex the West Bank.

Garrison is clearly out of step with NDP members on Palestinian rights. His militarism is also not shared by most in the party.

It’s time Jagmeet Singh removed Garrison as defence critic.

 

Please take one minute to send a letter to the NDP leadership calling for Garrison’s removal as defence critic.

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Filed under Israel Lobby, Military, NDP

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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Filed under Canada and Israel, Israel Lobby, NDP

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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Filed under Israel Lobby, NDP

Challenging the NDP on Palestine during the election campaign

Screen Shot 2019-09-11 at 9.34.38 PM

Last week I interrupted Jagmeet Singh at a public event to criticize the NDP’s suppression of Palestine solidarity activism.

Holding a placard with the words “Jagmeet, Palestinian Lives Matter”, I demanded the NDP leader apologize for overturning the vote of members who elected Rana Zaman to represent the Dartmouth-Cole Harbour ridding because she defended Palestinians mowed down by Israeli snipers. I also asked him to apologize for suppressing debate at last year’s convention on the modest “Palestine Resolution: renewing the NDP’s commitment to peace and justice”, which which was unanimously endorsed by the NDP youth convention, many affiliated groups and two dozen riding associations. I also criticized his refusal to heed the 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).

While my intervention was a bit chaotic — there was a concurrent disruption and my phone rang — it served its purpose. It was mentioned in a La Presse story and Global News did a 2 ½ minute clip titled “Protester asks Jagmeet Singh for apology over removal of former NDP candidate in Halifax.” Two hundred people in the room heard the criticism and the video I shot of the intervention was viewed more than 3,000 times online.

In his response, Singh claimed he wasn’t responsible for ousting Zaman but rather a party committee. While technically correct, it’s hard to imagine he didn’t okay it, particularly considering NDP National Director Melissa Bruno – quoted justifying Zaman’s ouster – was Singh’s chief of staff as deputy leader of the Ontario NDP between 2012 and 2017. (Bruno took a break to be “part of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 Presidential campaign”, notes her bio.) Similarly, during the 2018 convention Singh mobilized his family and dozens of members of his community to vote against allowing debate on the Palestine Resolution at the convention. Additionally, Singh explicitly rejected the call for the NDP to withdraw from CIIG.

Zaman is not the only candidate the NDP blocked from running at least partly because they support Palestinian rights. A number of individuals who signed the open letter calling on the NDP to withdraw from CIIG had their bids sabotaged. Robbie Mahood and Barry Weisleder were formally disallowed while Saron Gebresellassi and Sid Ryan’s bids to run in the upcoming election were subverted. Christeen Elizabeth who didn’t sign the open letter but supports the Palestinian led boycott movement was also blocked.

The recent decision to block pro-Palestinian candidates follow on the heels of the NDP stopping as many as eight individuals from running or contesting nominations to be candidates in 2015 for defending Palestinian rights. Back then at least the NDP had the excuse that it was the official opposition and atop the polls with Thomas Mulcair explicitly positioning the party as the mainstream alternative to Stephen Harper’s Conservatives. Today, after the Liberals campaigned to their left in the last election, the NDP has the third most seats in the House of Commons, is languishing below 10% in the polls and the Green Party is polling ahead of them. Many NDP MPs are not running again and the Liberals are portraying themselves as the only credible “left” alternative to the Conservatives.

While it is clear that most voters have decided there is little point to a ‘Liberal-lite’ brand of the NDP, the party brass seems determined to follow the same anti-democratic, anti-Palestinian, centrist script that proved a dead end before. It seems they are more eager to play to the dominant media than party members.

But, there’s a better way. When the Liberals recently ousted Hassan Guillet as a candidate for challenging Israeli apartheid, the NDP should have asked the high-profile Imam to run for the party. The winner of the Saint-Leonard—Saint-Michel riding nomination gained global notoriety for his sermon at the memorial for the victims of the 2017 Québec City mosque attack. Offering Guillet a spot would have embarrassed the Liberals, brought many Quebec Muslims into the NDP fold and increased the party’s chance of winning Saint-Leonard—Saint-Michel or another Montréal riding. It would be good for the NDP to be seen as willing to challenge the Israel lobby, dominant media and Liberals over the issue.

Pro-Palestinian supporters of the NDP should not be afraid of challenging the party leadership during the election campaign. Having seen Singh in action during a confrontation, as well as Justin Trudeau and Andrew Scheer, I can tell you the NDP leader performs better than the others. Rather than have security usher me out, he at least responded by expressing sympathy towards the plight of Palestinians.

The right wing, Israeli lobby will be active during the election campaign. So too must the Palestinian solidarity movement.

While B’nai B’rith can garner coverage of their criticism of the NDP by releasing a statement, Palestine solidarity activists must disrupt public events for the media to take interest. If that means wherever he goes across the country Jagmeet Singh is confronted by Palestine solidarity activists raising the name of Rana Zaman, the Palestine Resolution and the Canada Israel Interparliamentary Group, so be it. Palestinian lives matter. Certainly, more than the comfort of politicians and political parties.

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Filed under Activism, Israel, NDP

NDP Suppresses Palestinian Solidarity Again

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Rana Zaman

One side is playing for keeps. They oust elected representatives and block members from voting on efforts to challenge a brutal occupation. On the other side, members defending a morally righteous cause twist themselves in knots to avoid directly criticizing nakedly authoritarian party leaders.

Recently, the NDP national office overturned the vote of party members in Dartmouth-Cole Harbour after they elected Rana Zaman to represent the ridding in the upcoming federal election. Party ‘leaders’ excluded the Muslim woman of Pakistani heritage from running because she defended thousands of Palestinians mowed down by Israeli snipers during last year’s “Great March of Return” in the open-air Gaza prison. A prominent local activist, Zaman represented the party provincially in 2017.

In May the leadership of the Ontario NDP blocked a resolution on Palestinian rights from being debated at their biannual convention. According to party member Moe Alqasem, the resolution “was pushed to the very bottom of its list of resolutions on block 4” despite having “as many endorsements as the top resolution on that same list … The appeals committee refused to re-prioritize it on the list, a speech was given in favor of the re-prioritization and the room erupted into cheers and chants for a few minutes. The committee’s decision was next to be challenged on the main floor of the convention, but the chair ‘conveniently’ decided that we were behind on time. There were several attempts to amend the agenda or the order-of-the-day to allow for the membership to challenge the committee’s decision again, conveniently however the chair decided that it was not possible. The chair spent 20 minutes refusing us the opportunity to speak for 1 minute on the resolution. Knowing full well that the membership was supportive of Palestine. Later on during that convention, somehow the order-of-the-day was amended in favour of another resolution and the committee’s decision was challenged in front of the general membership. Several other rules were amended, the same privileges were not afforded to the Palestinians and the Palestine-Solidarity members within the party.”

Recently, the NDP hierarchy undermined former Toronto mayoral candidate Saron Gebresellassi’s bid to represent the party in Parkdale-High Park possibly because she signed an open letter calling on the NDP to withdraw from the Canada-Israel Interparliamentary Group. The national office took 141 days to vet her candidacy, giving her only 23 days to sign up new members to vote. Then a good number of the 400 members she registered were disenfranchised beforehand and at the riding association vote. At the centre of the sordid affair was Parkdale-High Park president Janet Solberg who was maybe the loudest anti-Palestinian at the NDP’s 2018 federal convention. According to Myles Hoenig, “Janet Solberg, sister of Stephen Lewis, leader of the Ontario NDP for most of the 70s who kicked out the leftist contingent known as The Waffle, played a leadership role in officiating this election. In a 3 way call to the candidates, she openly expressed her hostility to Saron by stating how she won’t support her.” A former Ontario NDP president, vice president and federal council member, Solberg pushed to suppress debate on the “Palestine Resolution: renewing the NDP’s commitment to peace and justice”, which was endorsed by more than two dozen riding associations before the federal convention. The motion 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.”

Six months after suppressing the Palestine Resolution, NDP foreign affairs critic Hélène Laverdière and party leader Jagmeet Singh participated in an unprecedented smear against one of Canada’s most effective advocates for Palestinian rights. After Dimitri Lascaris called on two Liberal MPs to denounce death threats made by B’nai B’rith supporters against a number of Liberal MPs and the Prime Minister, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs called on MPs to attack him, prompting Laverdière to call Lascaris “anti-Semitic” while Singh inferred as much.

In the lead up to the 2015 federal election the NDP leadership ousted as many as eight individuals from running or contesting nominations to be candidates because they publicly defended Palestinian rights. The most high-profile individual blocked from seeking an NDP nomination was Paul Manly, a filmmaker and son of a former NDP MP. Manly recently delivered a blow to the NDP by winning the Nanaimo-Ladysmith byelection as a candidate for the Green Party.

In another Palestine-related development, four NDP MPs (quietly) withdrew from the Canada Israel Interparliamentary Group (CIIG). They did not do so because someone politely convinced them it was immoral to participate in a group promoting “greater friendship” with a belligerent, apartheid, state, but because they were directly challenged through an open letter signed by more than 200 prominent individuals, as well as other campaigning.

NDP MP Randall Garrison remains vice-chair of CIIG and a prominent anti-Palestinian voice within the party. Any NDP activist with an internationalist bone in their body should hope Victoria-area Palestine solidarity campaigners help defeat him in the October election. There must be a price to pay for egregious anti-Palestinianism. In a similar vein, individuals such as Solberg should be confronted on their anti-Palestinianism.

At the end of May I learned Jagmeet Singh was making a major announcement in Montréal. With a hastily drawn placard in my bag, I attended thinking of interrupting the event to decry NDP participation in CIIG and suppression of the 2018 Palestine Resolution. I hesitated for a series of reasons, notably a sense that disrupting a major announcement by the social democratic party was too extreme. I now regret not walking in front of the cameras to denounce NDP anti-Palestinianism at the launch of their climate plan. Unfortunately, this is the type of action required to force party leaders to have second thoughts about blithely ousting pro-Palestinian candidates and suppressing debate on resolutions opposing Palestinian subjugation. NDP leaders fear anti-Palestinian individuals and groups’ no holds barred brand of politics. They need to know the Palestine solidarity side is also prepared to ruffle feathers.

Enough of walking on egg shells. In Alqasem’s devastating report about the Ontario NDP suppressing discussion of a resolution upholding Palestinian rights he begins by letting the perpetrators off the hook. He writes, “the following is not an attack on the membership, the party or administrators within.” But, how can one not politically “attack” the NDP “administrators” who just suppressed internal democracy in order to enable the subjugation of a long-suffering people?

After the federal convention 18 months ago I wrote: “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.” These words still ring true, even if they may trouble many pro-Palestinian elements within the party (recent developments should be added to the discussion, of course).

For those sympathetic to the Palestinian cause, but reluctant to openly challenge the party leadership, ask yourself these two questions:

Since polling reveals a higher percentage of Canadians support Palestinian rights than vote for the NDP federally, why won’t party officials allow a clear statement of support for Palestinian liberation?

Is there a point when explicitly antidemocratic behavior that contributes to Palestinian subjugation will no longer be tolerated in a party claiming the mantra of social justice?

It is time the NDP leadership listened to its membership.

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Filed under Canada and Israel, Israel, Middle East

Mainstream media boosts Trudeau’s popularity over Venezuela

US presidents have bombed or invaded places like Grenada, Panama, Iraq and Sudan to distract from domestic scandals or to gain a quick boost in popularity. But, do Canadian politicians also pursue regime change abroad to be cheered on by the dominant media as decisive leaders?

In a discussion on regime change in Venezuela after last Monday’s “Lima Group” meeting in Ottawa, Conservative foreign affairs critic Erin O’Toole praised Canadian policy but added that the Liberals used the meeting of countries opposed to Nicolas Maduro’s government to drown out criticism of their foreign policy. O’Toole claimed the “Lima Group” meeting was “put together quite quickly and I think there are some politics behind that with some of the foreign affairs challenges the Trudeau government has been having in recent months.” In other words, O’Toole believes the Liberals organized a gathering that concluded with a call for the military to oust Venezuela’s elected president to appear like effective international players.

Understood within the broader corporate and geopolitical context, O’Toole’s assessment appears reasonable. After being criticized for its China policy, the Liberals have been widely praised for their regime change efforts in Venezuela. In a sign of media cheerleading, CTV News host Don Martin began his post “Lima Group” interview with foreign minister Chrystia Freeland by stating “the Lima summit has wrapped and the object of regime change is staying put for the time being” and then he asked her “is [Venezuelan President Nicolas] Maduro any step closer to being kicked out of office as a result of this meeting today?” Later in the interview Martin applauded the “Lima Group’s” bid “to put the economic pincers around it [Venezuela’s economy] and choking it off from international transactions.”

In recent days Ben Rowswell, a former Canadian ambassador in Caracas, has been widely quoted praising the Liberals’ leadership on Venezuela. “It’s clear that the international community is paying attention to what Canada has to say about human rights and democracy,” Rowswell was quoted as saying in an article titled “Trudeau’s Venezuela diplomacy is a bright spot amid China furor”.

Rowswell heads the Canadian International Council, which seeks to “integrate business leaders with the best researchers and public policy leaders”, according to its billionaire financier Jim Balsillie. Long an influential voice on foreign policy, CIC hosted the above-mentioned forum with O’Toole that also included the Liberal’s junior foreign minister Andrew Leslie and NDP foreign affairs critic Hélène Laverdière. CIC’s post “Lima Group” meeting forum was co-sponsored with the Canadian Council of the Americas, which is led by Kinross, Kinross, ScotiaBank, KPMG and SNC Lavalin. On the day of the “Lima Group” meeting CCA head Ken Frankel published an op-ed in the Globe and Mail headlined “Venezuela crisis will be a true test of Canada’s leadership in the hemisphere.” Frankel told CPAC he was “always supportive of Canadian leadership in the Hemisphere” and “the Venezuela situation has presented … a perfect opportunity for the Trudeau government to showcase the principles of its foreign policy.”

At the CCA/CIC forum Laverdière made it clear there’s little official political opposition to Ottawa’s regime change efforts. The NDP’s foreign critic agreed with Canada’s recognition of Juan Guaidó as president of Venezuela, as she did on Twitter, at a press scrum and on CPAC during the day of the “Lima Group” meeting in Ottawa. (Amidst criticism from NDP activists, party leader Jagmeet Singh later equivocated on explicitly recognizing Guaidó.)

With the NDP, Conservatives, CIC, CCA, most media, etc. supporting regime change in Venezuela, there is little downside for the Liberals to push an issue they believe boosts their international brand. To get a sense of their brashness, the day of the “Lima Group” meeting the iconic CN Tower in Toronto was lit up with the colours of the Venezuelan flag. A tweet from Global Affairs Canada explained, “As the sun sets on today’s historic Lima Group meeting, Venezuela’s colours shine bright on Canada’s CN Tower to show our support for the people of Venezuela and their fight for democracy.”

The Liberals drive for regime change in Venezuela to mask other foreign-policy problem is reminiscent of Stephen Harper’s push to bomb Libya. Facing criticism for weakening Canada’s moral reputation and failing to win a seat on the UN Security Council, a Canadian general oversaw NATO’s war, seven  CF-18s participated in bombing runs and two Royal Canadian Navy vessels patrolled Libya’s coast.

The mission, which began six weeks before the 2011 federal election, may have helped the Conservatives win a majority government. At the time Postmedia published a story titled “Libya ‘photo op’ gives Harper advantage: experts” and Toronto Star columnist Thomas Walkom published a commentary titled “Libyan war could be a winner for Harper”.  He wrote: “War fits with the Conservative storyline of Harper as a strong, decisive leader. War against a notorious villain contradicts opposition charges of Conservative moral bankruptcy. The inevitable media stories of brave Canadian pilots and grateful Libyan rebels can only distract attention from the Conservative government’s real failings.”

Similar to Venezuela today, the regime change effort in Libya was unanimously endorsed in Parliament (three months into the bombing campaign Green Party MP Elizabeth May voted against a second resolution endorsing a continuation of the war). “It’s appropriate for Canada to be a part of this effort to try to stop Gadhafi from attacking his citizens as he has been threatening to do,’’ said NDP leader Jack Layton. After Moammar Gaddafi was savagely killed six months later, NDP interim leader Nycole Turmel released a statement noting, “the future of Libya now belongs to all Libyans. Our troops have done a wonderful job in Libya over the past few months.”

Emboldened by the opposition parties, the Conservatives organized a nationally televised post-war celebration for Canada’s “military heroes”, which included flyovers from a dozen military aircraft. Calling it “a day of honour”, Prime Minister Stephen Harper told the 300 military personnel brought in from four bases: “We are celebrating a great military success.”

Today Libya is, of course, a disaster. It is still divided into various warring factions and hundreds of militias operate in the country of six million.

But who in Canada ever paid a political price for the destruction of that country and resulting destabilization of much of the Sahel region of Africa?

A similar scenario could develop in Venezuela. Canadian politicians’ push for the military to remove the president could easily slide into civil war and pave the way to a foreign invasion that leads to a humanitarian calamity. If that happened, Canadian politicians, as in Libya, would simply wash their hands of the intervention.

Canadians need to reflect on a political culture in which governing parties encourage regime change abroad with an eye to their domestic standing.

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Filed under A Propaganda System, Playing Left Wing, Uncategorized

Right position for NDP on Venezuela is a left one

What should the leader of Canada’s left wing party say about what’s happening in Venezuela? Here are a few suggestions: “Canada should respect international law in its dealings with Venezuela.” Or, “Canada shouldn’t select the president of Venezuela.” How about, “The US has a long history of overthrowing governments in Latin America and Canada should never take part.”

Any (or all) of these statements would be clear, reasonable positions for a social democratic party that claims to be in favour of international law and to represent the interests of ordinary people, rather than billionaires, to express. Instead, NDP leader Jagmeet Singh has issued vague, contradictory words about the Liberal government’s aggressive effort to topple Venezuela’s elected president.

Over the past two years Justin Trudeau’s government has steadily ramped up their campaign to oust Nicolas Maduro’s government. Ottawa has adopted illegal sanctionssupported opposition groups, built an anti-Venezuela regional coalition, pressured Caribbean countries to join their campaign and taken a complaint about the Venezuelan government to the International Criminal Court. Last week it recognized a little-known opposition politician — who has never garnered even 100,000 votes — as president of the country. And before making this Trumpian, anti-democratic, over-the-top-interference-in-another-country’s-internal-affairs decision, Canadian diplomats spent months preparing the move with the opposition to ratchet up tensions in the South American country. It seems the “Trudeau Doctrine” has been proclaimed, similar in purpose to the USA’s “Munroe Doctrine” first issued in 1823.

All of which should have offered a wonderful opportunity for a political party of the left to differentiate itself from the pro-big business, pro-American, pro-imperialist Liberals. But, despite Ottawa openly violating the UN and Organization of American States charters, the NDP leadership has barely mustered any criticism of Canadian policy. After Ottawa recognized National Assembly head Juan Guaido as president of Venezuela last week Jagmeet Singh tweeted a largely meaningless general message. Under pressure from activists — and with NDP MP Niki Ashton, as well as current candidates Svend Robinson and Jessa McLean, making much stronger interventions —the party subsequently published a slightly better statement.

The Canadian Green and Communist parties’ statements are far better. So are those released by the Canadian Union of Public Employees, Canadian Labour Congress, Vancouver and District Labour Council, Common Frontiers, Rights Action, Kingston Peace Council, Hugo Chavez People’s Defence Front, Canadian Network on Cuba, Canadian Voice of Women for Peace and the NDP Courage Coalition.

While many of the party’s activists are probably confused by the leadership’s indifference to Canada’s push for a coup/invasion, NDP foreign-policy is run by a former Canadian diplomat who has aligned herself with Venezuela’s far right. A year ago I published an article Canadian Dimension titled “Has it become NDP policy to support US-backed coups in Latin America?” Among numerous criticisms of Venezuela’s government, foreign affairs critic Hélène Laverdière called the vice-president “a drug lord” from whom “the American government has seized billions of dollars of his assets for drug trafficking.” Laverdière should have been removed as foreign critic the day after repeating this obviously absurd claim from Venezuela’s lunatic far right. (In what may be the first ever resolution to an NDP convention calling for the removal of a party critic, the NDP Socialist Caucus submitted a motion to last February’s convention titled “Hands Off Venezuela, Remove Hélène Laverdière as NDP Foreign Affairs Critic.”)

Beyond Laverdière, the party leadership is largely aligned with the foreign policy establishment or those, as long time NDP MP Libby Davies put it, who believe a “Time Magazine version” of international affairs. As I detail in Left, Right: Marching to the Beat of Imperial Canada, the party leadership fears corporate media backlash and only challenges official international policy when activists force the issue. (Can you imagine if the NDP never challenged government policy inside Canada? There would be no reason, aside from providing a third set of faces, for the party to exist.)

On Venezuela the party leadership would probably prefer the issue simply disappear from public discussion. But, that’s unlikely. The Liberal government has made Venezuela, reports the Globe and Mail, “one of the government’s top foreign policy priorities.” In a town hall speech on Thursday that Global News headlined “Trudeau says clause in Venezuela constitution shows Guaido is interim president”, the PM boasted that “I’ve been making calls to a significant number of global leaders” (including the heads of France, Spain, Ireland, Colombia, Italy and the EU) to convince them to join their campaign against Venezuela.

For his part, Donald Trump, reports the Wall Street Journal, has “long viewed Venezuela as one of his top three foreign-policy priorities, including Iran and North Korea.” The clique of extremists driving US policy have set up a situation that may require an invasion to succeed.

On Monday the “Lima Group” of governments opposed to Venezuela’s elected government are meeting in Ottawa. A protest is planned there, as well as in at least two other Canadian cities. Before the “Lima Group” summit the NDP should release a statement challenging Canada’s coup planning and Niki Ashton, or another MP, should be allowed to speak at the rally.

It’s not too late to do the right thing.

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Pro-Israel MPs flout NDP policy

Do New Democrat MPs who belong to the Canada-Israel Interparliamentary Group (CIIG) have carte blanche to flout party policy?

Last week CIIG executive member Murray Rankin participated in a press conference calling for a new round of Canadian sanctions on Iran. The Victoria MP joined CIIG chair  Michael Levitt, vice-chair David Sweet and executive member Anthony Housefather for an event led by former CIIG executive Irwin Cotler.

Rankin’s role in this anti-Iranian effort runs counter to the NDP’s opposition to illegal sanctions on Iran, call for Canada to re-establish diplomatic relations with that country and support for the 2015 “p5+1 nuclear deal”. (Justin Trudeau has failed to maintain  his election promise to restart diplomatic relations with Iran.)

Rankin’s departure from NDP policy takes place amidst the Donald Trump administration’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal and bid to force others to adhere to its illegal sanctions, threatening to sanction any country that buys Iranian oil.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently said the US would seek to starve Iranians until the country’s decision-makers accept their demands. Last month Pompeo told the BBC, “the [Iranian] leadership  has to make a decision that they want their people to eat.”

Along with punishing its economy, the US and Israel are seeking to foment unrest in Iran. According to a July Axios story, “Israel and  the United States formed a joint working group a few months ago that is focused on internal efforts to encourage protests within Iran and pressure the country’s government.”

The other NDP member on CIIG’s executive also recently departed from the party’s position by condemning the Palestinian solidarity movement. Randall Garrison tweeted, “Nick Cave: cultural boycott of Israel is ‘cowardly and shameful’” and linked to an article quoting the Australian musician who has criticized a growing list of prominent individuals – from Lorde to Natalie Portman – refusing to whitewash Israeli apartheid.

Garrison’s comment seems to run counter to the NDP’s vote against a 2016 House of Commons resolution condemning the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. It certainly angered many rank-and-file party members.

After the backlash to Garrison’s attack on the Palestine solidarity movement, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs put out a statement calling on people to defend the NDP MP.

It said,

“last night MP Randall Garrison tweeted an anti-BDS article, calling boycotts of Israel ‘cowardly and shameful’. Since then, the comment section of the tweet has been filled with hateful pro-BDS messages from anti-Israel trolls.”

The timing of Garrison’s tweet made it especially egregious. The day before CIIG’s vice-chair attacked Palestine solidarity activists the Israeli Knesset voted down (71 votes to 38) a bill titled the “Basic Law: Equality”, which stated, “the State of Israel  shall maintain equal political rights amongst all its citizens, without any difference between religions, race, and sex.”

The bill was partly a response to the explicitly racist Nation-State law passed in the summer. (The bulk of Garrison and Rankin’s colleagues on CIIG’s Israeli partner — the Israel-Canada Inter-Parliamentary Friendship Group — most likely  voted against equality.)

Three weeks ago Garrison spoke at an event organized by the Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee (CJPAC). CIIG’s chair also spoke. On Twitter, Michael Levitt noted:

“Had an amazing time talking to the CJPAC Fellowship Conference last night. Over 50 Jewish and non-Jewish university students who are pro-Israel and politically engaged.”

In his hostility to Palestine solidarity activism, Garrison has taken to blocking NDP members on Twitter. After Garrison’s attack against the BDS movement, prominent lawyer and Palestinian rights advocate, Dimitri Lascaris, wrote:

“No other Canadian MP has blocked me even though I have said far harsher things about other Canadian MPs than I have ever said about Garrison.”

Last summer NDP leader Jagmeet Singh refused to heed a call by 200  well-known musicians, academics, trade unionists and party members for the NDP to withdraw from CIIG.

Perhaps if Singh had supported the open letter signed by Roger Waters, Linda McQuaig, Maher Arar, Noam Chomsky, etc. it would have sent a message and lessened the likelihood that Garrison and Rankin would flout party policy.

It is not too late for Singh to reevaluate his position on the Canada-Israel Interparliamentary Group.

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NDP will be judged by the friends they keep in Israel

Who exactly is the NDP making friends with in Israel?

In refusing to heed a call from 200 well-known musicians, academics, trade unionists and NDP members to withdraw from the Canada-Israel Interparliamentary Group (CIIG) the party leadership cites the need for “dialogue”. But, when Jagmeet Singh, Hélène Laverdière, Murray Rankin and others call for “dialogue” they don’t specify who they are talking to.

A quick Google search of CIIG’s Israeli partner — the Israel-Canada Inter-Parliamentary Friendship Group — shows that all 13 of its members have expressed views or proposed laws that most NDP members would consider odious. Below is a snapshot of the Israel-Canada Inter-Parliamentary Friendship Group members — none of whom are from parties that represent Palestinian citizens of Israel — that Canadian MPs are creating relationships with:

Robert Ilatov proposed a bill in May to stop “harassment by left-wing operatives of Israeli soldiers” by criminalizing those who film Israeli troops repressing Palestinians. The bill states: “Anyone who filmed, photographed, and/or recorded soldiers in the course of their duties, with the intention of undermining the spirit of IDF soldiers and residents of Israel, shall be liable to five years imprisonment.” Born and raised in the former Soviet Union, Ilatov also sponsored a bill to strictly limit the call to prayer from mosques and, in another attack against the 20-25% of Muslim and Christian Israelis, said it should be mandatory for judges to sing Israel’s national anthem and adhere to “the idea of the State of Israel as a Jewish state.”

Yisrael Eichler called the assimilation of US Jews a “quiet Holocaust” and labelled criticism of men who refuse to sit next to women on El Al flights “anti-Semitic” and a form of “terrorism”. In 2009 Eichler demanded a “stop [to] this wave that is turning Israel into a refuge for Russian and African non-Jews as well as criminals who flee from their native countries.” In an anti-Jewish outburst, Eichler called a fellow Knesset member “a Jewboy who tattles on his fellow Jews.”

Yoav Ben Tzur told the Knesset in 2017: “it is time to stop being afraid. It is time to apply the law to Judea and Samaria [illegally occupied Palestinian West Bank] as an inseparable part of the state of Israel.” In a stunt that required a major military mobilization and led to a Palestinian being killed, Tzur was part of a mass prayer at Joseph’s Tomb near the occupied Palestinian city of Nablus.

Yitzchak Vaknin told the Centre for Israel and Jewish affairs in 2013: “I do not support negotiations on Jerusalem at all. Jerusalem is our capital and of course we are forbidden to speak on Jerusalem because if we speak about Jerusalem then we can discuss any other city in Israel.” In 2011 Vaknin co-sponsored a bill to annex the illegal Jewish settlements of Beitar Illit, Ma’ale Adumim, Giv’at Ze’ev, Gush Etzion and Efrat to the municipality of Jerusalem. Vaknin also co-sponsored two bills  to forbid gay pride parades and in 2014 Vaknin called South Africa’s Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein “erev rav”, a derogatory term translated as “mixed multitude” or “mixed mob” of non-Jews who followed the Biblical Hebrews from Egypt and made their lives miserable.

Elazar Stern told Belgian newspaper L’Echo in January that “all embassies should be” in Jerusalem and that Europe should “stop supporting Palestinian terrorism.” Stern co-sponsored a recent bill calling on Israel to withhold some Palestinian customs duties it gathers as the occupying power.

Nachman Shai repeatedly justified the killing of Palestinians during his time as the Israeli military’s chief spokesman between 1988 and 1991. In 2015 he ran to chair the explicitly racist Jewish National Fund/Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael and called the term leftist “a stain.”

Tali Ploskov proposed a bill to deter Israeli human rights groups that give tours detailing the mistreatment of Palestinians by increasing the penalty on unlicensed tour guides. She also co-sponsored a bill designed to fight the “legal intifada” by raising the fees for Palestinians to petition Israel’s top court and another law empowering the Minister of the Interior to revoke the residency status of Palestinians in occupied Jerusalem for “Breach of Allegiance”.

Mickey Levy, then commander of the Jerusalem police, ordered the 2002 execution of a Palestinian who had been captured and disarmed before he could detonate a suicide vest. Levy said Israel should stop returning the bodies of Palestinians they kill in acts of resistance and that their families should be expelled to Gaza “if they have relatives there.” When Arab Knesset member Hanin Zoabi called Israeli soldiers “murderers” in 2016, reports the Jerusalem Post, Levy “rushed at Zoabi, nearly reaching her before he was stopped by Knesset ushers, shouting ‘You are filth!’ several times.”

Oded Forer initiated the April impeachment of Haneen Zoabi from the Knesset and legislation to disqualify Arab Knesset candidates for “calling Israel racist and calling upon countries to boycott and sanction it.” Saying “the [Arab] Joint List continues to prove that its MKs do not belong in the Knesset,” Forer claimed “the Knesset has become a place for terrorists and their supporters to sit in without fear.” Forer also submitted a bill — largely targeting tenured professors — that could impose up to 10 years in prison for those who incite violence against the state.Forer said: “the expansion of incitement to public events has become a real danger. Calls for incitement and for harm to be caused to the State of Israel should not be heard among the masses and certainly not in events and places financed with the money of Israeli taxpayers.”

Meirav Ben-Ari said the government should “help” Jews living in a Tel Aviv neighbourhood with many Africans. “You go to the south of Tel Aviv, it’s a different state,” Ben-Ari said. “It’s like Sudan mixed with Eritrea mixed with Darfur.” Ben-Ari added that she doesn’t go there because it’s too dangerous. In 2015 she called for the prosecution of an Arab member of the Knesset. “A member of Knesset who acts against the Knesset and the State of Israel, his immunity should be reconsidered.”

Sharren Haskel wrote recently about “Palestinians’ desire to obliterate the Jewish future in the Middle East” and told CBC she “would love to see Canada move its embassy” to Jerusalem. In July Haskel initiated a government program “to prevent miscegenation” (romantic relationships between Jews and non-Jews). Using a Hebrew word that literally translates as “assimilation,” but is commonly used as a euphemism for miscegenation, she told Israel Hayom paper: “Young [Jewish] men and women from all over the world will arrive and form relationships with local young men and women, in order to prevent assimilation and strengthen the connection to Judaism.”

In this article I detail some of the views of the two chairs of the Israel-Canada Inter-Parliamentary Friendship Group. The more openly racist and anti-Palestinian of the two, Anat Berko just put forward a bill to jail individuals who display Palestinian flags at demonstrations and expressed support for a former soldier who shot and killed a wounded Palestinian in Hebron in 2016.

Which is the best way for the NDP to promote justice and peace? To accept and normalize such views and policies by making friends with these politicians? Or to withdraw from the CIIG to send a message that the State of Israel is currently on a path that is unacceptable to the NDP and its members?

Please ask Randall.Garrison@parl.gc.ca,murray. rankin@parl.gc.ca, cheryl.hardcastle@parl.gc.ca, gord.johns@parl.gc.ca and peter.julian@parl.gc.ca to withdraw from the Canada–Israel Interparliamentary Group.

 

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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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