Tag Archives: Palestine

NDP MPs must stop being ‘friends’ with Israel

Is it appropriate for NDP Members of Parliament to be working for “greater friendship” with a country that is killing and maiming thousands of non-violent protestors?

Would it have been appropriate for any elected member of the party to be a “friend” with South Africa’s government during the apartheid era?

Victoria area MPs Randall Garrison (left) and Murray Rankin are members of the Canada Israel Interparliamentary Group (previously named Canada-Israel Friendship Group).

Garrison is vice-chair of a group designed to promote “greater friendship” and “cooperation” between the two countries’ parliaments.

The chair of the group is York Centre MP Michael Levitt, a former board member of the explicitly racist Jewish National Fund, who issued a statement blaming “Hamas incitement” for Israeli forces shooting thousands of peaceful protesters, including Canadian doctor Tarek Loubani.

The Interparliamentary Group is one of many pro-Israel lobbying organizations in Canada. In conjunction with the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) and Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee, the Interparliamentary Group has hosted wine and cheese lobbying events on Parliament Hill. Three hundred parliamentarians and parliamentary staff attended their 2014 “Israeli Wine Meets Canadian Cheese” gathering in the East Block courtyard.

The group regularly meets the Israeli Ambassador and that country’s other diplomats. Representatives of the Group also regularly visit Israel on sponsored trips. For their part, Garrison and Rankin both participated in CIJA-organized trips to Israel in 2016.

The Interparliamentary Group works with its Israeli counterpart the Israel-Canada Inter-Parliamentary Friendship Group. In 2016 the Group sent a delegation to the Israeli Knesset and last year they organized a joint teleconference with Israel-Canada Inter-Parliamentary Friendship Group co-chairs Yoel Hasson and Anat Berko.

Last month Hasson responded to Meretz party Chairwoman Tamar Zandberg’s call for an investigation into the Israel Defense Forces’ killing of non-violent Palestinian protesters by tweeting, “there was nothing to investigate, the IDF is doing what’s necessary to defend the Gaza border.”

Chairman of the Zionist Union Knesset faction, Hasson opposed the UN resolution on a Palestinian state. When the Knesset voted to strip Arab MK Hanin Zoabi of parliamentary privileges for participating in the 2010 Gaza flotilla Hasson and MK Carmel Shama “nearly came to blows” with Zoabi and her fellow Balad party MK Jamal Zahalka. Hasson later called Zoabi a “terrorist”.

Berko is even more openly racist and anti-Palestinian. A Lieutenant-Colonel in the IDF reserves prior to her election with Likud, Berko openly disparaged African refugees. In February Israel National News reported, “Berko said that the MKs should see the suffering that African migrants have caused South Tel Aviv residents before jetting off to Rwanda” to oppose an effort to deport mostly Eritrean and Sudanese refugees to the small East African nation.

In January Berko co-sponsored a bill to bypass a High Court ruling that Israeli forces cannot use the bodies of dead Palestinian protesters as bargaining chips. The aim of the bill was to make it harder for the bodies to be given over for burial, which should happen as soon as possible under Muslim ritual, in the hopes of preventing high profile funerals. In a 2016 Knesset debate Berko make the ridiculous claim that the absence of the letter “P” in the Arabic alphabet meant Palestine did not exist since “no people would give itself a name it couldn’t pronounce.”
In response Richard Silverstein noted, “Apparently, the fact that the word is spelled and pronounced with an ‘F’ (Falastin) in Arabic seems to have escaped her. It’s worth noting, too, that according to her logic, Israeli Jews do not exist either, since there is no letter ‘J’ in Hebrew.”

Garrison and Rankin must immediately withdraw from the Canada–Israel Interparliamentary Group. If the NDP MPs refuse to disassociate themselves from the pro-Israel lobby organization, party leader Jagmeet Singh should replace them as (respectively) NDP defence and justice critics.

Israel’s slaughter in Gaza should lead to an end of the NDP’s anti-Palestinian past.

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

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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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Convention provokes rage against NDP machine

They came, mostly young people, to fight for justice. They came to support the rule of international law, to help solve a longstanding injustice through non-violent means; they came to tell an oppressed people you have not been forgotten; they came to do what is right for a left wing political party; they came to speak truth to power.

And how did the left wing party respond? By using the “machine” — orders from on high, backroom arm-twisting, opaque block voting and procedural manoeuvring — to prevent debate. Silence in class!

While NDP insiders probably feel they dodged the “Palestine Resolution” bullet at their recent convention, many party apparatchiks may come to regret their undemocratic moves. Their naked suppression of debate might stir rage against the machine they’ve proved to be. At a minimum it has provoked many to ask why.

Why, when the Palestine Resolution was endorsed unanimously by the NDP youth convention and by over 25 riding associations, did the powers that be not want it even discussed?

Given the resolution mostly restated official Canadian policy, except that it called for “banning settlement products from Canadian markets, and using other forms of diplomatic and economic pressure to end the occupation” one can only assume that the party machine either supports the indefinite Israeli occupation of Palestinian land or has some sort of problem with boycotts and economic sanctions. Clearly the NDP is not against boycotts and economic sanctions in principle since they’ve recently supported these measures against Russia, Venezuela and elsewhere.

If, after a half-century of illegal occupation, one can’t call for boycotting Israeli settlement goods, then when? After a century? Two?

Or is the problem the particular country to be boycotted? Does the NDP hierarchy believe that anti-Semitism can be the only possible motivation for putting economic pressure on Israel to accept a Palestinian state? Or perhaps it is simply a worry that the dominant media would attack the party?

Whatever the ideological reason the bottom line is the Palestine Resolution was buried to ensure it wouldn’t be discussed. When its proponents sought to push it up the priority list at an early morning session before the main plenary, the party hierarchy blocked it. In a poorly publicized side room meeting they succeeded 200 to 189. NDP House Leader Guy Caron mobilized an unprecedented number of current and former MPs, including Murray Rankin, Randall Garrison, Craig Scott, Tracey Ramsey, Alexandre Boulerice, Hélène Laverdière, Nathan Cullen and others, to vote against debating the most widely endorsed foreign policy resolution at the convention (Niki Ashton was the only MP to support re-prioritizing the Palestine Resolution.)

Apparently, the party leadership discussed how to counter the resolution at two meetings before the convention. In a comment on a Guardian story about the need for the NDP to move left, Tom Allen, a staffer for Windsor Tecumseth NDP MP Cheryl Hardcastle, describes “panicked” planning to defeat the resolution. “As for the part about the ‘party establishment (being) easily able to deflect challenges from the left.’ I would respectfully submit that this is wrong. As an NDP staffer I can tell you that it wasn’t easy at all this time and, especially with regards to the ‘Palestinian Resolution,’ which required a great deal of panicked last minute organizing to defeat (and only then by a close margin).”

Why would the party establishment risk turning off so many young activists, exactly the sort of member new leader Jagmeet Singh claims he wants to attract?

A quick look at some of the more prominent supporters of shutting down debate suggests an answer.

Victoria area MPs (defence critic) Randall Garrison and (justice critic) Murray Rankin who voted against debating the Palestine Resolution are members ofthe Canada Israel Inter-Parliamentary Group and took a Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs paid trip to Israel in 2016. After the IDF slaughtered 2,200 Palestinians in Gaza in the summer of 2014, Rankin offered words of encouragement to an emergency fundraiser for Israel.

Party foreign critic Hélène Laverdière, who voted to suppress the Palestine Resolution, took a paid trip to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s conference in Washington in 2016 and participated in a Jewish National Fund event in Israel.

British Columbia liaison and critic for democratic institutions, Nathan Cullen also voted against debating the Palestine Resolution. “I am strongly in support of Israel”, Cullen bellowed in a 2016 statement about how people should be allowed to criticize that country. In 2014-15 Cullen’s office took in Daniel Gansthrough CIJA’s Parliamentary Internship Program, which pays pro-Israel university students $10,000 to work for parliamentarians (Gans then workedas 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. Cullenunderstood the importance of a close Canada-Israel relationship.”

Maybe the loudest anti-Palestinian at the convention was former president of the Ontario NDP and federal council member Janet Solberg. Unsatisfied as a settler in Toronto, Solberg pursued a more aggressive colonial experience when she moved to historic Palestine as a young adult.

Just before the convention the President of the Windsor-Tecumseh Federal NDP, Noah Tepperman, sent out an email to all riding associations calling on them to oppose Palestine resolutions. In it he claimed, “boycotts based on religion, nationality or place of origin directly contravene the spirit of inclusiveness to which we in the NDP are committed.” He further alluded to an anti-Jewish agenda by connecting the different solidarity resolutions to “a backdrop of already-high-and-rising antisemitism here in Canada as well as abroad.” But, Tepperman sits on the board of the Windsor Jewish National Fund, which is an openly racist organization.

The truth is pro-Israel-no-matter-what-it-does NDP members in positions of power within the party won a narrow battle. How the war goes will depend on the lessons learned by those seeking a party that’s an instrument of real change, that fights against all forms of racism and oppression.

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When siding with Israel supports Trump, Canada abstains

Thank you President Donald Trump and US UN Ambassador Nikki Haley for helping end the Trudeau government’s ‘Israel no matter what’ voting pattern.

On Thursday Canada actually abstained on a UN General Assembly resolution, which affirms that any decisions and actions which purport to have altered, the character, status or demographic composition of the Holy City of Jerusalem have no legal effect, are null and void and must be rescinded in compliance with relevant resolutions of the Security Council, and in this regard, calls upon all States to refrain from the establishment of diplomatic missions in the Holy City of Jerusalem.”

Since taking office the Trudeau government has repeatedly isolated Canada with the US, Israel and a few tiny Pacific island states in voting against UN resolutions upholding Palestinian rights. Last Tuesday, for instance, Canada opposed a motion supported by 176 nations calling for Palestinian statehood. Two weeks earlier the Trudeau government also voted against a resolution on Jerusalem backed by 151 UN member states.

As RawStory pointed out, the media attention devoted to Trump and Haley’s threats against those voting in favour of the Jerusalem resolution actually drove Trudeau to abstain on Thursday instead of his usual pro-Israel vote. While Stephen Harper’s anti-Palestinian positions at the UN found support among many of the party’s base of rightwing Jews, evangelical Christian Zionists and Islamophobes, the same is not true of the Liberals. Prominent Trudeau fundraisers such as serial tax evader Stephen Bronfman and the late murder suspect Barry Sherman may want Canada to side with Israel ‘no matter what’, but younger, darker skinned and progressive Liberal supporters believe Palestinians are human beings. They overwhelmingly reject the notion that a 3,000-year-old book grants Poles, Austrians, New Yorkers, etc. the right to take a city from its indigenous inhabitants or that the world should enable Russians, French, Torontonians, etc. to gather in the Middle East to fulfill Bible literalists’ interpretation of the supposed “word of God”.

The Liberal leadership understands that party supporters and the broader public are uncomfortable with Israeli expansionism and Canada isolating itself from world opinion on the matter so the more attention devoted to their UN votes the more equivocal the Liberals’ position. Hopefully the recent attention devoted to the Trudeau government’s extreme pro-Israel voting record will spur further abstentions on Palestine votes (at this point its probably too much to expect Trudeau to vote in support of international law and official Canadian policy).

Regularly abstaining at the UN on Palestine would be a step forward, but these votes are only the tip of the iceberg in Canada’s multifaceted contribution to Israeli expansionism. The two-decade old Canada-Israel Free Trade Agreement includes the occupied West Bank as a place where Israel’s custom laws apply. Ottawa also has a wide-ranging “border management and security” agreement with Israel, even though the two countries do not share a border. Additionally, Canada’s Communications Security Establishment has long gathered intelligence on Palestinians for Israel.

Every year, registered Canadian charities channel tens of millions of dollars to projects supporting Israel’s powerful military, racist institutions and illegal settlements. The Canada Revenue Agency allows organizations whose projects contravene international law and official Canadian policy to write tax credits for these donations.

Despite a GDP per capita greater than Spain or Italy (and equal to Japan), hundreds of registered Canadian charities deliver hundreds of millions of dollars a year to Israel. How many Canadian charities funnel money to Spain or Japan?

Even a large swath of Canada’s “aid” to the Palestinians – who have one-twentieth of their occupier’s per capita GDP – is explicitly designed to advance Israel’s interests. Over the past decade Ottawa has delivered over $100 millionand sent military and police trainers to build a security apparatus to protect the corrupt Mahmoud Abbas-led Palestinian Authority from popular disgust over its compliance in the face of ongoing Israeli settlement building.

There have been increasing references in the past months during high-level bilateral meetings with the Israelis about the importance and value they place on Canada’s assistance to the Palestinian Authority, most notably in security/justice reform,” read an internal 2012 note signed by then Canadian International Development Agency president Margaret Biggs. In the heavily censored note Biggs explained that “the emergence of popular protests on the Palestinian street against the Palestinian Authority is worrying and the Israelis have been imploring the international donor community to continue to support the Palestinian Authority.”

Drawing on previously classified materials, Carleton Criminology Professor Jeffrey Monaghan details Canada’s role in turning Palestinian security forces in the West Bank into an effective arm of Israel’s occupation. In Security Aid: Canada and the Development Regime of Security, Monaghan describes a $1.5 million Canadian contribution to Joint Operating Centers whose “main focus … is to integrate elements of the Palestinian Authority Security Forces into Israeli command.” He writes about Canada’s “many funding initiatives to the PCP [Palestinian Civilian Police]” which “has increasingly been tasked by the Israeli Defence Forces as a lead agency to deal with public order policing, most recently during IDF bombings in Gaza and during Arab Spring demonstrations.”

Trump’s decision to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem may well mark the end of the spurious “peace process” and Abbas’ US–Canada–Saudi–Israel backed Palestinian Authority. Hopefully, it will also be seen as a turning point in Canada’s effort to suffocate the Palestinian liberation struggle.

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Who do you trust when it comes to NDP leadership candidates?

Like bears attracted to spawning salmon, politicians seek out power. The former needs to build stores of fat to survive the winter, while the latter must attract the resources and support necessary for successful electoral campaigns. Given the survival imperative, neither bear nor politician should be criticized too harshly for what comes naturally. But, the two best ways to judge politicians are by taking a look at whom they choose to gather resources from and what they are prepared to do to get them.

At worst politicians pander to society’s wealthiest and reactionary social forces, further solidifying their grip on the economic and political system. At best they seek out progressive grassroots and labour organizations, collecting the necessary resources from ordinary people while amplifying their influence.

It’s within this context that one should understand Ontario MPP Jagmeet Singh’s trip to Israel with the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs. At the start of the year the current NDP leadership candidate took an organized trip there and met to discuss it with Galit Baram, Israel’s consul general in Toronto.

The trip and meeting were most likely aimed at allaying particular concerns since in early December Singh was the only member of the Ontario legislature to speak out against a provincial vote to condemn the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. He criticized a CIJA-backed motion supporting the spurious “Ottawa Protocol on Combating Anti-Semitism” and rejecting “the differential treatment of Israel, including the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement.”

When speaking to NDP members recently Singh has repeatedly highlighted that move rather than the CIJA trip or consular visit. Similarly, Singh published eleven tweets about Palestine on July 16. In the best of the lot he stated: “3 yrs ago today the 2014 Gaza War made headlines when 4 Palestinian boys were killed by an Israeli military strike while playing on a beach” and “I stand for Palestinians’ right to freely determine their political status & pursue their economic, social & cultural development.” In response to two questions Independent Jewish Voices and Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East submitted to NDP leadership candidates Singh said, “I would considersupporting the use of targeted sanctions against Israel” and “I would support mandatory labeling of products originating from Israel’s colonies, and excluding these products from the benefits of CIFTA [Canada Israel Free Trade Agreement]. I am also open to considering a ban.”

(In assessing Singh’s responses to their Middle East policy questionnaire IJV gave him a B for third place while CJPME ranked him second with an –A. Niki Ashton received an A+ from both IJV and CJPME.)

Singh clearly wants average NDP members to think he’s opposed to Israeli violence and supportive of Palestinian solidarity activism. Simultaneously, however, he wants to signal to CIJA and Israeli officials that he’ll play ball.

The Palestinian question is particularly tricky for the Brampton-based politician. With some claiming that his open (Sikh) religiosity is a liability in Québec, Singh’s path to becoming leader is largely contingent on convincing members he’s best positioned to expand NDP support among the young and communities of colour. But, younger and darker NDP members/sympathizers largely oppose the current NDP leadership’s de facto support for Israeli expansionism/belligerence. A February poll found that only 17 per cent of Canadian millennials had a positive opinion of the Israeli government versus 37 per cent of those 65 plus. I’m not aware of any Canadian polling by ethnicity on the subject, but US polling provides a window into attitudes here. According to a July Newsweek headline: “Young, Black and Latino Americans Don’t Like Israel” (after the invariable push back the headline was changed to “Why More Young, Black and Latino Americans Than Ever Before Don’t Like Israel”).

To the extent that Singh can rally younger and ethnically diverse folks to the party it would tend to push the NDP towards Palestinian solidarity. On the other hand, Singh is the preferred candidate of much of the party establishment and his candidacy is heavily media-driven. The dominant media and NDP hierarchy are generally hostile to discussing Canada’s complicity in Palestinian dispossession.

At the first six leadership debates there wasn’t a single question related to the NDP’s position on Palestine. While the party hierarchy refuses to debate it, the NDP actually devotes significant energy to the subject. During the 2015 federal election the NDP ousted as many as eight individuals from running or contesting nominations because they defended Palestinian rights on social media. Last year NDP foreign critic Hélène Laverdière spoke at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s (AIPAC) annual conference in Washington and traveled to Israel with Canada’s Governor General where she attended a ceremony put on by the explicitly racist Jewish National Fund (Laverdière is backing Singh for NDP leader). Many party officials – 20 federal NDP MPs, according to a 2014 iPolitics calculation – have gone on all-expense paid trips to that country with an Israeli nationalist organization.

So, party representatives can travel halfway across the globe to investigate the conflict and individuals chosen by local riding associations can be removed for their opinions on the issue, but the subject doesn’t warrant debate.

If Singh wins the leadership will he expend the energy needed to shake up the established order on this issue?

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Trudeau confuses anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism

Canada’s Prime Minister would like us to believe that the ideology that shaped Israel is designed to fight anti-Jewish prejudice. But, even when anti-Semitism was a significant political force in Canada, Zionism largely represented a chauvinistic, colonialist way of thinking.

On Israel Independence Day earlier this month Justin Trudeau delivered a speech by video to a rally in Montréal and published a statement marking the occasion. “Today, while we celebrate Israel’s independence, we also reaffirm our commitment to fight anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism”, declared the PM in a rare reference by a top politician to Israel’s state ideology.

Israel apologists often link anti-Zionism and anti-Jewishness, but it’s disingenuous. Canadian Zionism has long been comfortable with anti-Jewish sentiment and it has never been primarily an anti-prejudicial ideology.

When anti-Semitism was a social force of consequence in Canada it was not uncommon for anti-Jewish politicians to back Zionism. During a July 1922 speech to the Zionist Federation of Canada, anti-Semitic Prime Minister Mackenzie King “was effusive with praise for Zionism,” explains David Bercuson in Canada and the Birth of Israel. King told participants their aspirations were “in consonance” with the greatest ideals of the “Englishman.” According to Zachariah Kay in Canada and Palestine: The Politics of Non-Commitment, long-time Alberta Premier E.C. Manning “allowed his name to be associated with the [pre-state Zionist organization] Canadian Palestine Committee, but was known for anti-Jewish statements on his ‘back to the bible’ Sunday radio broadcasts.”

Known to support Zionism as a way to deal with the “Jewish problem,” in 1934 Prime Minister R.B. Bennett opened the annual United Palestine Appeal fundraiser with a coast-to-coast radio broadcast. Lauding the Balfour declaration and British conquest of Palestine, Bennett said, “scriptural prophecy is being fulfilled. The restoration of Zion has begun.”

At a policy level the government’s aversion to accepting post-World War II Jewish refugees was a factor in Canadian diplomats promoting the anti-Palestinian UN partition plan. An ardent proponent of the Zionist cause during the 1947 international negotiations dealing with the British mandate of Palestine, Canadian diplomat Lester Pearson believed sending Jewish refugees to Palestine was the only sensible solution to their plight.

Compared to six decades ago, anti-Semitism today barely registers in Canada. But, embers of anti-Jewish Zionism linger. Over the past decade the Charles-McVety-led Canada Christian College has repeatedly organized pro-Israel events – often with B’nai Brith – yet in the 1990s the College was in a dispute with the Canadian Jewish Congress over courses designed to convert Jews. Canada’s most influential Christian Zionist activist, McVety also heads the Canadian branch of Christians United for Israel, which believes Jews need to convert or burn in Hell upon the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.

This dancing with the enemy is nothing new. Historically some Jews aligned with anti-Jewish Zionists. During World War I many Canadian Jewish Zionists enthusiastically supported Britain and recruited young men to help conquer Palestine, even though London was allied with Russia’s notoriously anti-Semitic czar. (At that time Zionism was commonly promoted as a way for Jews to escape czarist anti-Semitism.)

After World War II some Jewish Zionists tapped into anti-Jewish sentiment to advance their cause. In Canada’s Jews: a People’s journey Gerald Tulchinsky reports, “fully cognizant of the government’s reluctance to admit Jews to Canada, the [Zionist] delegation reminded [anti- Semitic Prime Minister Mackenzie] King that in the post war years, when ‘multitudes of uprooted people … would be knocking on the doors of all countries,’ Palestine could accommodate many of the Jews who might want to come to Canada.”

It is true that the Zionist colonies in Palestine absorbed tens of thousands of refugees after World War II and provided a safe haven to many Jews escaping Nazi persecution in the 1930s. But, it’s also true that Zionists were willing to stoke anti-Semitism and kill Jews if it served their nationalistic/colonialist purposes. To foil British efforts to relocate Jewish refugees fleeing Europe to Mauritius, in 1940 the Jewish Agency, the Zionist government-in-waiting in Palestine, killed 267 mostly Jews by bombing the ship Patria. In State of Terror: How Terrorism Created Modern Israel Tom Suarez concludes that the Zionist leadership was prepared to kill Jews if it aided the cause, because “persecuted Jews served the political project, not the other way around.”

Generally presented as a response to late 1800s European anti-Semitism — “Zionism … developed in the late 19th century in response to European antisemitism”, according to a recent story on the pro-Palestinian website Canada Talks Israel Palestine — the Theodore Herzl-led Zionist movement was, in fact, spurred by the Christian, nationalist and imperialist ideologies sweeping Europe at the time.

After two millennia in which Jewish restoration was viewed as a spiritual event to be brought about through divine intervention, Zionism finally took root among some Jews after two centuries of active Protestant Zionism. “Christian proto-Zionists [existed] in England 300 years before modern Jewish Zionism emerged,” notes Evangelics and Israel: The Story of American Christian Zionism. Until the mid-1800s Zionism was an almost entirely non-Jewish movement. And yet it was quite active. Between 1796 and 1800, notes Non-Jewish Zionism: its roots in Western history, there were at least 50 books published in Europe about the Jews’ return to Palestine. The movement reflected the more literal readings of the Bible that flowed out of the Protestant Reformation.

Another factor driving Jewish Zionism was the nationalism sweeping Europe in the late 1800s. Germany, Italy and a number of eastern European states were all established during this period.

Alongside nationalist and biblical literalist influences, Zionism took root at the height of European imperialism. In the lead-up to World War I the European “scramble” carved up Africa and then the Middle East. (Europeans controlled about 10 percent of Africa in 1870 but by 1914 only Ethiopia was independent of European control. Liberia was effectively a US colony.) At the Sixth Zionist Congress in 1903 Herzl and two-thirds of delegates voted to pursue British Secretary of State for the Colonies Joseph Chamberlain’s proposal to allocate 13,000 square km in East Africa as “Jewish territory … on conditions which will enable members to observe their national customs.”

As much as it was a reaction to anti-Semitism, Zionism was an attempt by European Jews to benefit from and participate in colonialism.

In Canada today Jewish support for Zionism has little to do with combating prejudice. If Zionism were simply a response to anti-Semitism, why hasn’t the massive decline of anti-Jewishness lessened its popularity in the Jewish community? Instead, the leadership and a significant segment of Canadian Jewry have become increasingly focused on supporting a highly militarized state that continues to deny its indigenous population the most basic political rights.

In 2011 the leading donors in the community scrapped the 100-year-old Canadian Jewish Congress and replaced it with the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs. As the name change suggests, this move represented a shift away from local Jewish concerns and towards ever greater lobbying in favour of Israeli policy.

With institutional barriers to advancement overcome a half century ago and an ever more secular society, Rabbis and Jewish organizations have to find a purpose. Israel has become many people’s primary connection to Judaism. In Understanding the Zionist Religion, Jonathan Kay wrote, “In some cases I have observed, it is not an exaggeration to say that Zionism is not just the dominant factor in Jews’ political lives—but also in their spiritual lives.”

Between the late 1960s and mid-2000s there was an inverse correlationbetween Jewish votes and pro-Israel governments. Though they were less pro-Israel, Pierre Trudeau and Jean Chretien gained more support from Canadian Jewry than Brian Mulroney or Stephen Harper in his first victory in 2006.

The political trajectory of the Montréal riding of Mount Royal provides an interesting insight into the Jewish community’s shift towards focusing on Israel. Repeatedly re-elected in a riding that was then 50% Jewish, Pierre Trudeau distanced Ottawa from Israeli conduct more than any other prime minister before or since. Still, Pierre Trudeau was incredibly popular with the Jewish community. Representing Jewry’s ascension to the heights of Canada’s power structures, Trudeau appointed the first Jew to the federal cabinet, Herb Gray, and brought in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which strengthened religious freedoms. But, of recent the riding has become a battleground.

During the 2015 federal election Mount Royal was the only riding in greater Montréal the Conservative Party seriously contested. Even though Liberal party candidate Anthony Housefather is a staunch Israel advocate, he won his seat because of non-Jewish voters.

A similar dynamic is at play in the centre of Canadian Jewish life. Possibly the best placed of any in the world, the Toronto Jewish community faces little economic or political discrimination and has above average levels of education and income. Yet it’s the North American base of the Zionist extremist Jewish Defense League. It’s also a power base for an explicitly racist, colonialist, institution. In what was “reported to be the largest kosher dinner in Canadian history”, three years ago 4,000 individuals packed the Toronto Convention Centre to raise money for the Jewish National Fund in honour of Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

No matter what Justin Trudeau says, Zionism and anti-Jewish prejudice have little to do with each other.

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Conservative hopefuls in pro-Israel circus, but real action is in NDP race

The Conservative party leadership campaign has unleashed pro-Israel quackery, but it is the NDP race that could have greater impact on Canada’s Palestine policy.

Aping Donald Trump, former Conservative minister Kellie Leitch recently asked her Twitter followers to “join me in calling on the Government of Canada to immediately move our embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.” This would likely contravene international law.

For her part, former cabinet minister and fellow leadership candidate Lisa Raitt dubbed the recently passed UN Security Council Resolution (2334) on Palestine “disgusting”. Offering Israel a diplomatic blank cheque, Raitt said her government would make sure Canada’s voice was heard “loud and clear all over the world as Israel’s best friend and ally – no matter what.”

Another former member of cabinet running to be party leader labelled most of the world anti-Semitic. Chris Alexander called Resolution 2334, which passed 14-0 with a US abstention, “yet another round of UN anti-Semitism.”

A Facebook ad for former foreign minister and leadership frontrunner, Maxime Bernier, was titled “my foreign-policy is simple: put Canada first”. It linked to a petition saying, “foreign policy must focus on the security and prosperity of Canadians — not pleasing the dysfunctional United Nations … which for years has disproportionately focused its activities on condemning Israel.” Evidently, putting “Canada first” means advancing Israel’s diplomatic interests.

While ‘I heart Israel’ and ‘I really heart Israel’ bile flows out of Republican Party North, it is the NDP contest that’s more likely to shape the Palestine debate going forward. Since party members rejected leader Thomas Mulcair, who once said “I am an ardent supporter of Israel in all situations and in all circumstances”, the Canadian Jewish News has run an editorial, front-page story and column expressing concern about how the NDP’s leftward shift will impact Israel policy.

As the NDP race revs up expect Palestine to be debated in a way that troublesIsraeli nationalists. 

“Sid Ryan for NDP Leader”, a website launched to enlist the former head of the Ontario Federation of Labour to run for the head of the party, notes: “Sid Ryan’s advocacy for the Palestinian people, starting in his days in CUPE where he endorsed the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement, shows that an NDP leader could muster broad support for a process where Canada is non-aligned, expresses solidarity with Palestinians and other oppressed nations in the Global South, and champions a foreign policy based on peace, democracy, social justice and human rights.” If Ryan enters the race. his support of Palestinian rights will set the bar fairly high on this important international issue. 

Another individual discussing a run, Jagmeet Singh, was the only member of the Ontario legislature to speak out against an Ontario legislature vote to condemn BDS in December. Singh criticized a Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs backed motion supporting the spurious “Ottawa Protocol on Combating Anti-Semitism” and rejecting “the differential treatment of Israel, including the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement.” Cognizant of party members’ support for Palestinian rights, Singh likely had a federal leadership bid in mind when he addressed the Ontario legislature.

The only individual officially in the race, Peter Julian, has said little on the subject. As a former critic and NDP House Leader, Julian needs to clearly distance himself from Mulcair’s shadow on the issue or it will dog his campaign. 

Another sitting MP who will likely seek the leadership, Charlie Angus, has been more vocal on Palestinian rights. At the start of last year he criticized an effort to condemn BDS in the House of Commons and in 2014 Angus denounced the “undue influence” that sponsored tours of Israel were having on MPs. During Israel’s onslaught on Gaza in 2014 Angus wrote on his Facebook page: “Our thuggish prime minister pumps his chest while people die in Gaza. He may think there are votes to be had by cheering on Netanyahu from the sidelines.”

The Green Party’s recent stand in favour of Palestinian rights demonstrates that progressives want action on the issue. Despite opposition from the media and popular party leader Elizabeth May, Green members voted overwhelmingly to support “economic measures such as government sanctions, consumer boycotts, institutional divestment, economic sanctions and arms embargoes” to pressure Israel. Progressives are less and less likely to be confused or intimidated by pro-Israel groups and their media lackeys. At this point a backlash against an NDP candidate’s support for Palestinian rights would likely increase their chance of winning the leadership. (In a somewhat relevant parallel, Jeremy Corbyn seems to have benefited from pro-Israel media attacks during his bid to lead the British Labour Party).

The considerable disconnect between the corporate media and engaged progressive opinion on Palestinian rights makes it important for the solidarity movement to politicize the subject when politicians are seeking the support of progressive party members. It is during the leadership fight that the Palestinian solidarity movement has the most leverage to force politicians to articulate a clear position.

In this vein, I suggest a modest Palestine litmus test: no NDP leadership candidate deserves support if they fail to call on the federal government to adhere to UN Resolution 2334. Passed by the Security Council, it has the force of international law (unlike General Assembly motions) and its narrow focus should make it fully palatable to mainstream opinion (it says nothing about the rights of Palestinians ethnically cleansed in 1948 or the inequities faced by Palestinian citizens of Israel). Resolution 2334 “reaffirms that the establishment by Israel of settlements in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, has no legal validity and constitutes a flagrant violation under international law.” 

For NDP candidates the relevant part of the resolution is the demand it places on other countries. Resolution 2334 calls on “all states … to distinguish, in their relevant dealings, between the territory of the State of Israel and the territories occupied since 1967.”

While past governments have made halting efforts to do as much, Ottawa doesn’t currently differentiate between “Israel proper” and the Occupied Territories. The two-decade old Canada–Israel free trade agreement allows settlement products to enter Canada duty-free. The European Union trade agreement, on the other hand, explicitly precludes Israel from putting “made in Israel” on goods produced in the occupied West Bank. Nor does Ottawa distinguish between Israel and the Occupied Territories in immigration policy. Individuals who live in illegal settlements are able to enter Canada without a visa like all Israelis. Additionally, a number of registered Canadian charities raise funds for projects supporting illegal Israeli settlements.

Since all NDP candidates likely claim to support international law calling on Ottawa to implement a Security Council resolution shouldn’t be tough. While 2334 is a low bar, Canada’s tilt in favour of Israel is so pronounced that getting NDP candidates to commit to take action against illegal settlements would have significant ripples. Its long-term impacts would certainly outweigh the ‘I heart Israel’ ravings from the Conservative Party.

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