Tag Archives: Randall Garrison

Where’s NDP on fighter jet purchase?

How about a little friendly pressure?

Hopefully that’s all it would take for Left NDP MPs to join Neil Young, Stephen Lewis, Teagan and Sarah, David Suzuki and many other notable Canadian and international figures in calling for government resources to “be used to eliminate boil water advisories on reserves, build light rail lines across the country and construct thousands of units of social housing”.

So far, it seems the federal NDP wants to be seen as supporting the “best equipment” for the military, even when the government plows $19 billion — $77 billion over the planes’ full lifecycle — into strengthening the force’s capacity to bomb in US-led wars.

As wildfires blaze in western Canada amidst record breaking heat waves, the Liberal government is planning to spend tens of billions of dollars on unnecessary, dangerous, climate destroying fighter jets”, explains a public letter released last week by the Canadian Foreign Policy Institute and Canadian Voice of Women for Peace. The letter was signed by Canadian musicians Neil Young, Teagan and Sarah and Sarah Harmer as well as environmentalists David Suzuki and Naomi Klein. The No New Fighter Jets for Canada statement is also endorsed by authors Michael Ondaatje Yann Martel and Gabor Maté as well as four former NDP MPs, city councillors, a senator, NDP MPP and former leader of the Ontario NDP Stephen Lewis. Prominent international figures such as Roger Waters, Daryl Hannah and Noam Chomsky have also backed a call addressed to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

The Green Party’s two MPs, Elizabeth May and Paul Manly, signed the statement. But no NDP MP was an initiating signatory. (After former NDP foreign affairs critic Svend Robinson complained on Twitter “Is there no NDP MP opposing this outrageous waste?” Leah Gazan signed on.)

I doubt that Matthew Green, Niki Ashton, Alexandre Boulerice or even other less internationalist minded members of the NDP caucus want public resources going to fighter jets over, as the letter puts it, “a just recovery, green infrastructure and investing in Indigenous communities.” But Randall Garrison is the NDP defence critic and he’s a staunch militarist, so they tread carefully on the issue.

Soon after the letter was released and MPs began receiving hundreds of emails about it Garrison replied. In a long message he wrote, “on fighter jets, New Democrats have called on the government to support the purchasing of fighters that can operate safely and effectively in the Arctic while also being interoperable with our allies in NATO and NORAD.” In response Robinson quoted part of Garrison’s statement and wrote “shame on the NDP”.

While Garrison is an extremist within the party, NDP militarism runs far deeper than him. The 2015 NDP platform said the party would “meet our military commitments by maintaining Department of National Defence budget allocations”, which is more than 10 times the size of Environment and Climate Change Canada. In 2011 the NDP supported two House of Commons votes, initiated by the minority Stephen Harper government, endorsing the bombing of Libya. (Green leader Elizabeth May was the only MP to vote against a war in which Canada played a significant role.) To the best of my knowledge the NDP has never apologized or suggested it erred in supporting a Canadian-led bombing campaign that was strenuously opposed by the African Union, which worried (correctly) that the conflict and weapons would spill southward.

Eight days before Canadian fighter jets began dropping bombs on Libya in 2011, military intelligence officers told Ottawa decision makers that the country would likely descend into civil war if foreign countries assisted rebels opposed to Muammar Gadhafi. An internal assessment obtained by the Ottawa Citizen noted, “there is the increasing possibility that the situation in Libya will transform into a long-term tribal/civil war… This is particularly probable if opposition forces received military assistance from foreign militaries.” Ten years later Libya has yet to fully extricate itself from the civil war.

The public letter about the warplanes notes that “Canada’s current fleet of fighter jets has bombed Libya, Iraq, Serbia and Syria.” The NDP opposed the first Iraq war and the 2014–16 bombing of Iraq/Syria. But it supported the illegal 1999 NATO bombing of Yugoslavia and the Libya war so it’s not surprising elements of the party want to purchase expensive new fighter jets. But parts of Garrison’s reaction don’t add up.

The fighter jet purchase offers the NDP an opportunity to differentiate itself from the Liberals who are angling to buy the F-35 — they’ve paid hundreds of millions of dollars to remain part of the consortium — by reminding voters of Trudeau’s explicit promise not to do so. Oddly, Garrison didn’t even repeat his opposition to purchasing the F-35 in his long response to the public letter even though he could have stuck with a militarist lens by questioning spending huge sums on fighter jets when drone technology is advancing rapidly.

More substantively, the Covid-19 pandemic and destruction wrought by climate change — the heat wave and subsequent obliteration of Lytton, BC — is rapidly undermining militarist conceptions of “security”, as noted in a long commentary in Saturday’s Globe and Mail. It explained, “increasingly, the foes we have to fight aren’t foreign armies, but pandemics, climate change and other disasters that destabilize the world around us. Our armed forces should adapt accordingly”. In this political moment it’s hard for a progressive to argue that resources should be devoted to fighter jets rather than pandemic recovery and mitigating the climate crisis.

Perhaps a few hundred more phones calls, emails and tweets could move the NDP to just say no to spending “tens of billions of dollars on unnecessary, dangerous, climate destroying fighter jets.”

 

Please take a minute to email all MPs to say NO to the $77 billion fighter jet purchase. 

 

Yves Engler’s Stand on Guard For Whom? — A People’s History of the Canadian Military is available next month.

 

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Filed under Military, NDP

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

Why the NDP needs a new defence critic

Randall Garrison with Canadian soldiers in Mali

What should be expected from a “defence critic” for a left-wing political party? An easy answer might be criticism from the left, but in the case of the NDP that doesn’t happen much.

The Department of National Defence/Canadian Forces is far and away the largest federal government department. It has the biggest budget, staff, public relations machine and intelligence-gathering capacities of any ministry. With approximately 120,000 employees, DND spends $30 billion annually, 15 times the budget of Environment and Climate Change Canada.

Across the country, DND manages the “largest infrastructure portfolio in the federal government” with its many bases and stations covering over two million hectares. DND/CF is also the single largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the federal government.

Offensively oriented, the Canadian military has innumerable ties to the “greatest purveyor of violence”, in Martin Luther King’s words, the world has ever seen. Canada has hundreds of cooperation agreements with the US military and Canadian Forces are deployed on more than 20 international missions.

Despite numerous accords, deployments, expenditures, etc. that warrant questioning, the NDP defence critic barely challenges DND (with the exception of sexism within the force). In fact, Randall Garrison mostly advocates for those within the force. As the NDP defence critic told Canadian Defence Review, “if we’re going to send people out and ask them to do tough work we better make sure they’ve got the equipment they need to do it.”

Garrison has stayed silent on Canadian naval vessels taking over NATO’s Standing Naval Forces in the Baltic, North and Norwegian seas. He has also said nothing about Canadian vessels participating in provocative maneuvers in the South China Sea or Canadian vessels engaged in multinational patrols with their Saudi Arabian counterparts. Nor has the NDP defence critic mentioned rotations of Canadian pilots in Romania or the small detachment of troops at a US base in Saudi Arabia. He openly backed Canada’s sizable ‘training’ deployments to Iraq, Ukraine and Latvia.

Garrison has stayed mum on Canadian Defence Attachés promoting arms exports. Nor does he appear concerned with the costly, ecologically damaging and violent nature of Canada’s planned fighter jet purchase.

As I wrote recently, Garrison’s most egregious position concerns the Canadian Surface Combatants (CSC) procurement, which is the largest in Canadian history. “Amidst growing media criticism,” I noted in early January, “Garrison has said nothing regarding the frigates’ cost, secrecy or weaponry. He hasn’t released a single tweet (or retweet) about any of the recent stories on the surface combatant vessels.”

The silence continued after the Parliamentary Budget Officer estimated last month that the cost of acquiring 15 highly armed CSCs at $77 billion. Three times the initial estimate, $77 billion is just the sticker price. In a recent Hill Times article 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. That would cover tuition for every university student in the country for 15 years or guarantee safe drinking water on every reserve 100 times over. But the CSC’s ballooning costs haven’t elicited a peep from Garrison. He supports plowing a quarter trillion dollars into strengthening the navy’s ability to subjugate others.

To get a sense of Garrison’s deference to the military, he responded to a September Canadian Defence Review question about spending millions of dollars into the ecologically destructive public relations tool that are the Snowbirds by saying: “I go with what the Canadian Forces say they need and want to do, so I don’t have a personal opinion about whether this is what they need to do. If the Canadian Forces tell me, and they clearly have, that this is an important part of what they do and we need to spend money on it, then I’ll support them.”

NDP members, activists and MPs shouldn’t accept this. It is past time Garrison was removed as party defence “critic”.

 

If you are interested in hearing voices that question the military, check out the April 3 discussion on “Why Canada should leave NATO”

 

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Filed under Military, NDP

The people versus war profiteers and their propaganda machine

Despite polls that suggest most Canadians do not support warplanes used to kill and destroy things around the world, the federal government seems determined to spend tens of billions of dollars to expand that capability. While there is a growing movement afoot to block the Liberals’ fighter jet purchase, it will require significant mobilization to overcome the powerful forces seeking cutting edge new warplanes.

At the end of July Boeing (Super Hornet), Saab (Gripen) and Lockheed Martin (F-35) submitted bids to manufacture fighter jets for the Canadian Air Force. The sticker price for 88 new warplanes is $19 billion, but the full lifecycle cost of purchasing the jets will likely top $40 billion.

In response to the government moving forward with the planned warplane purchase, a campaign has taken off to oppose the massive government outlay. There have been two days of action at two dozen MPs offices against the warplane purchase, which is planned for 2022. Hundreds of individuals have sent emails to all MPs on the issue and a recent Canadian Foreign Policy Institute and World BEYOND War webinar pierced parliamentary silence on the planned fighter jet purchase. The October 15 “Challenging Canada’s $19 Billion Warplane Purchase” event included Green Party MP and foreign critic Paul Manly, NDP defence critic Randall Garrison and Senator Marilou McPhedran as well as activist Tamara Lorincz and poet El Jones. Manly spoke out directly against the fighter jet purchase and recently raised the issue during Question Period in the House of Commons (Green leader Annamie Paul echoed Manly’s opposition to the purchase in a recent Hill Times commentary). For her part, McPhedran suggested more sensible priorities for the large sums devoted to the warplane procurement. A noted anti-Palestinian, Garrison equivocated. He said the NDP opposed purchasing the F-35 but was open to purchasing some other bombers depending on industrial criteria.

The no warplane campaign should take heart from a recent Nanos poll. Bombing campaigns were the least popular of eight options offered to the public when asked “How supportive, if at all, are you of the following types of Canadian forces international missions.” Only 28% supported “Having the Canadian Air Force involved in airstrikes” while 77% of those polled backed “Participating in natural disaster relief abroad” and 74% supported “United Nations peacekeeping mission”. Fighter jets are largely useless for natural disasters, humanitarian relief or peacekeeping, let alone a 9/11 style attack or a global pandemic. These cutting-edge new planes are designed to enhance the air force’s ability to join belligerent US and NATO bombing campaigns.

But, using the military to support NATO and allies was also a relatively low priority of those polled. Asked by Nanos “In your opinion, what’s the most appropriate role for the Canadian Armed Forces?” 39.8% chose “Peacekeeping” and 34.5% “Defend Canada”. “Support NATO missions/allies” received the backing of 6.9% of those polled.

The no fighter jet campaign should link the $19 billion warplane purchase to Canada’s recent history of participating in US-led bombings such as Iraq (1991), Serbia (1999), Libya (2011) and Syria/Iraq (2014-2016). All these bombing campaigns – to varying degrees – violated international law and left those countries worse off. Most obviously, Libya remains at war nine years later and violence there spilled southward to Mali and across much of Africa’s Sahel region.

The no fighter jets campaign is also right to highlight warplanes contribution to the climate crisis. They are carbon-intensive and purchasing a fleet of expensive new ones is completely at odds with Canada’s stated commitment to reach net zero emissions by 2050. During the 2011 bombing of Libya, for instance, Canadian jets burnt 14.5 million pounds of fuel and their bombs destroyed the natural habitat.

Most Canadians have no idea about the scope of the air force and military’s ecological destruction. To mark Disarmament Week NDP MP Leah Gazan recently asked on Twitter “Did you know that according to the 2017 Canadian Armed Forces Defence and Environment Strategy, all military operations and activities are EXEMPT from national emission reduction targets!!??”

DND/CF is the single largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the federal government. In 2017 it released 544 kilotons of GHGs, 40 percent more than Public Services Canada, the next largest emitting ministry.

While the background issues and polling numbers suggest campaigners are well placed to mobilize public opinion against the $19 billion fighter jet purchase, there is still a huge hill to climb. The military and associated industries are well organized and conscious of their interests. The Canadian Forces want new jets and the CF/DND has the largest public relations operations in the country.

There are also powerful corporations set to gain substantial profits off the contract. The two main competitors, Lockheed Martin and Boeing, finance think tanks such as the Canadian Global Affairs Institute and Conference of Defence Associations. All three companies are also members of the Aerospace Industries Association of Canada, which supports the fighter jet purchase. Boeing and Lockheed advertise aggressively in publications read by Ottawa insiders such as iPolitics, Ottawa Business Journal and Hill Times. To facilitate access to government officials Saab, Lockheed and Boeing maintain offices a few blocks from Parliament. They actively lobby MPs and DND officials and have hired retired Air Force generals to top executive positions and contracted retired Air Force commanders to lobby for them.

Scrapping the entire 88 warplane purchase won’t be easy. But people of conscience can’t sit idly by as huge sums are devoted to one of the most destructive parts of the military, which is among the most damaging elements of our government.

To stop the fighter jet purchase, we need to create a coalition of those who oppose war, are concerned about the environment and anyone who believes there are better uses for our tax dollars. Only by mobilizing large numbers to actively oppose the warplane purchase can we hope to overcome the power of war profiteers and their propaganda machine.

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NDP Suppresses Palestinian Solidarity Again

Rana-Zaman-2-770x770

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

Canada’s leading apologist for Israeli war crimes disrupted

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Irwin Cotler at Concordia University

Last week members of Quebec Movement for Peace disrupted a speech by Irwin Cotler on “Canada as a Human Rights leader” (at the last-minute ‘deputy’ foreign minister, Rob Oliphant, canceled his participation). With “Free Palestine” signs in hand, filmmaker Malcolm Guy and I took the stage to denounce Cotler’s anti-Palestinian positions and support for intervention in Venezuela and Iran. After we were ushered off the stage lawyer Dimitri Lascaris rose to interrogate the supposed human rights activist for refusing to criticize injustices inflicted upon Palestinians. Part of the way through Lascaris’ grilling a handful of us at the back of the room began chanting “Cotler, Cotler, you will see Palestine will be free”, as one can hear in this video viewed over 10,000 times.

The Electronic Intifada, Media Coop, Algemeiner and Canadian Jewish News (twice) reported on the intervention (CPAC was purportedly live streaming the event). Prominent anti-Palestinian activists such as Gerald Steinberg, Hillel Neuer, Avi Benlolo and Bernie Farber decried our challenge of their hero. Head of the Canada Israel Interparliamentary Group (CIIG), Michael Levitt created the Twitter hashtag StandWithCotler and called on other MPs to support it, which was duly followed by his CIIG colleagues, including disgraceful NDP MP Randall Garrison. In the House of Commons CIIG Vice-Chair David Sweet asked the government to condemn our disruption of Cotler. The Conservative MP noted, “on Monday he was disrupted and berated during a speech at Concordia University in an attempt by protesters to shut him down.” (After 10 minutes we voluntarily left the room and Cotler spoke extensively.) Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs Oliphant, who was scheduled to speak alongside Cotler, expressed the government’s solidarity with the former Liberal party justice minister.

Cotler is a vicious anti-Palestinian who aggressively criticizes “enemy” states while largely ignoring rights violations committed by Canada and the US. In “Canadian apologist for Israeli war crimes nominated for Peace Prize” I detail Cotler’s long-standing devotion to Israeli violence and recent promotion of war on Iran and regime change in Venezuela. But, since that story was published in March more details have emerged about Cotler’s ethno-centrism and promotion of violence. In recent days Cotler has been widely quoted criticizing the use of the term “genocide” in the Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.

According to an Israel National News story, Cotler supports relocating Canada’s embassy to Jerusalem. During “Keep Jerusalem” leader Chaim Silberstein’s visit to Canada last month, Cotler reportedly “expressed enthusiasm” for moving the Canadian embassy and “promised to help promote” the idea within the Liberal party.

In response to our action activist Ron Saba shared a photo of Cotler at last year’s Jewish National Fund fundraiser in Toronto. The explicitly racist JNF excludes the 20-25% of non-Jewish Israelis from its vast landholdings mostly stolen from Palestinians in 1948. In 2017 the Canada Revenue Agency initiated an (ongoing) audit of the JNF for supporting the Israeli military in contravention of Canadian charitable law.

For his part, Masud Sheikh responded to our action by uploading a video — apparently scrubbed from the Internet after previously reaching a Canadian audience — of the Nobel Peace Prize nominee advising Israel on planning a war. Just after Israel killed 1,200 Lebanese in the summer of 2006 Cotler spoke to a conference of top Israeli military officials on the importance of managing the message in modern war.

He did something similar after an earlier Israeli invasion of its northern neighbour. In an April article retired Guelph professor Michael Keefer wrote: “In the wake of Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon, in the course of which some 15,000 civilians were killed and several thousand Palestinians massacred in the refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila, Cotler participated in a 1984 Jerusalem conference on Hasbara: Israel’s Public Image. Alluding to two of the lesser PR disasters of the war—the IDF’s violation of the Canadian ambassador to Lebanon’s diplomatic immunity, and a Canadian Red Cross doctor’s allegations of Israeli atrocities—Cotler recommended, not that Israel change its behaviour, but rather that it ‘make Hasbara a priority’ and enhance its capacity to offer ‘an authoritative rebuttal’ to such stories.”

In that article Keefer points out that Antony Lerman, founding editor of Antisemitism World Report, called Cotler “one of the key figures” promoting the idea of a “new antisemitism”. Since the 1970s he’s been arguing that criticism of Israel is the “new antisemitism”.

In a remarkable 2002 essay titled “Human Rights and the New Anti-Jewishness” Cotler lays out his thinking, suggesting a confrontation between the “secular religion” of human rights and Jewish “civil religion” of Zionism. He argues that criticizing Israeli human rights violations is “the contemporary analogue to the medieval indictment of the Jew as the ‘poisoner of the wells.’ In other words, in a world in which human rights has emerged as the new secular religion of our time, the portrayal of Israel as the metaphor for a human rights violator is an indictment of Israel as the ‘new anti-Christ’ — as the ‘poisoner of the international wells’ encompassing all the ‘teaching of contempt’ for the ‘Jew among the Nations,’ this new antisemitism implies.”

Cotler further argues that antisemitism has retained its consistent essence as “an assault upon whatever is the core of Jewish self-definition at any moment in time—be it the Jewish religion at the time of classical antisemitism, or the State of Israel as the ‘civil religion’ of the Jewish people under this new anti-Jewishness.” So, because most Jews identify with Israel criticizing that country’s violence or dispossession of Palestinians is anti-Semitic.

Challenging Cotler is important. All high-profile anti-Palestinians should be asked tough questions and hopefully our intervention inspires others to take similar actions. But, it’s also about de-mystifying an individual who retains a progressive gloss. Last month NDP MP Hélène Laverdière and Green Party leader Elizabeth May attended a press conference organized by Cotler calling on Canada to impose sanctions on Iranian officials and list the country’s Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization. New NDP foreign critic Guy Caron participated in a subsequent event on Iran and NDP MP Murray Rankin and May regularly attend events led by Cotler. May and Rankin are also part of the Cotler-led Raoul Wallenberg All-Party Parliamentary Caucus for Human Rights.

The Cotler ‘brand’ should be toxic on the Left. Politicians need to know that many Canadians — as Lascaris put it in his concluding statement to Cotler — consider him “a fraud when it comes to human rights.”

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Filed under Activism, Israel, Venezuela

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

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

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

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

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

At the NDP’s convention in February Garrison was one of the MPs who voted to suppress debate on the most widely supported foreign policy resolution. Endorsed unanimously by the NDP youth convention and by over 25 riding associations,the “Palestine Resolution” mostly restated official Canadian policy, except that it called for “banning settlement products from Canadian markets, and using other forms of diplomatic and economic pressure to end the occupation.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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