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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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Strange bedfellows at ‘anti-racism’ forum

Why would one of Toronto’s leading anti-racist writers share a stage with three individuals who support an explicitly racist institution?

Recently radio host and Toronto Star columnist Desmond Cole spoke at a forum put on by the Mosaic Institute titled “Canada in a Trump World”. It was about “increased racist and xenophobic attacks” and offered a “dialogue for communities to come together for honest conversation.”

Executive director of the Mosaic Institute and head of the Canadian Jewish Congress between 2005 and 2011, Bernie Farber also spoke. So did former Executive Director of the B’nai Brith league for Human rights, Karen Mock. The chair of the event was Warren Kinsella, a former board member of the Canada-Israel Committee.

All three of these individuals have worked with or expressed support for the Jewish National Fund. An owner of 13 per cent of Israel’s land, the JNF discriminates against Palestinian citizens of Israel (Arab Israelis) who make up one-fifth of the population. According to a UN report, JNF lands are “chartered to benefit Jews exclusively,” which has led to an “institutionalized form of discrimination.” Echoing the UN, a 2012 US State Department report detailing “institutional and societal discrimination” in Israel says JNF “statutes prohibit sale or lease of land to non-Jews.”

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

In 2001 Mock spoke at a Hamilton rally titled “Israel under siege”.

In August Warren Kinsella criticized a Green Party of Canada resolution calling on the Canada Revenue Agency to rescind the JNF’s charitable status because of its “discrimination against non-Jews in Israel.” Alongside Ezra Levant, Kinsella sat on the board of directors of the Canada-Israel Committee, whose personnel were often close to the JNF. In 2014 Kinsella approved of Israel’s invasion of Gaza, which led to the killing of 2,200 Palestinians.

For his part, Bernie Farber called the Alliance of Concerned Jewish Canadians (Independent Jewish Voices predecessor) “a rump on the edge of Jewish society” because it, among other things, called for the Canada Revenue Agency to rescind the JNF’s charitable status. During Farber’s quarter century at the Canadian Jewish Congress the organization and its personnel had many ties to the JNF. In 2015 the Consulate of Israel in Toronto co-hosted an event with Farber’s Mosaic Institute.

Should we laugh or cry at an antiracist forum put on by individuals with ties to an organization practicing discriminatory land-use policies outlawed in this country half a century ago? Does Farber, Mock and Kinsella’s support for an explicitly racist institution concern Desmond Cole or does he have an opinion about Ottawa subsidizing racist land use policies abroad?

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Filed under A Propaganda System, Canada and Israel