Tag Archives: Zionism

Welcome to the world of paid Israeli slanderers

As a researcher and writer largely focused on Canadian foreign policy I was surprised to be profiled by a right wing US magazine and downright amazed when the story was tweeted out by renowned French imperialism apologist Bernard-Henri Lévy.

Recently the website Algemeiner published “It’s Time to Talk About Yves Engler” who they call “a darling of the far-left”. Publisher of an “Annual List of the US and Canada’s Worst (40) Campuses for Jewish Students”, the story decried my “diseased antisemitic brain” and stated “there must be no beating around the bush, no equivocation and no softening of the language: for years, Engler has used ‘progressive’ publications to peddle his own vile brand of anti-Semitism.”

What’s curious in this, and other smears, is I’ve done as much as any author in recent years to draw attention to real anti-Semitism in Canada. I’ve highlighted McGill’s quotas on Jewish students in the 1920s, 30s and 40s; medical students at Notre-Dame Hospital striking in 1934 to block a Jewish student from taking up a senior internship; the 1933 Christie Pits Riot where Jewish youth fought back against fascist thugs terrorizing non-Anglo-Saxons; “none is too many” immigration policies; prejudicial land covenants targeting Jews and others into the 1950s. Additionally, I’ve detailed the multiplicity of forces driving Canadian support for Israeli policy, which undermines the notion its entirely about Jewish Zionist lobbying, an idea that at its most extreme, can veer towards a stereotypical trope.

But, this commentary is not a defence of my writing. Anyone interested in the merits of the slanderous claims against me can pick up Canada and Israel: Building Apartheid or read my articles online to make up their own mind.

What’s worth discussing in this attack is the organizational and financial ecosystem from which it emanates. “It’s Time to Talk About Yves Engler” was written by a York University student affiliated to the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA), which is a rabidly pro-Israel ‘flack’ group. Author Ben Shachar is a CAMERA Fellow, which means he attended a “four day all-expensed-paid annual summer Student Leadership and Advocacy Training conference in Boston” and receives a US$1,000 stipend if he “publishes at least four educational and informational Op-Eds or letters-to-the-editor”, distributes CAMERA materials, organizes an educational event about Israel covered by student media, monitors Israel discussion on campus notably “tracking all relevant class curriculum offered at your university.” If a school doesn’t already have one, CAMERA Fellows’ are encouraged to form an Emet for Israel group, which can access “thousands of dollars in resources for speakers, films, and other programming” promoting Zionism.

CAMERA spent US $4.6 million on campaigning in 2014 (the last year for which information is available online). Though the organization tries to keep its donors anonymous, a Haaretz investigation found CAMERA received more than $1.5 million over the past decade from Seth Klarman, a billionaire hedge fund manager who cofounded The Times of Israel, is a board member and major donor to the anti-Muslim The Israel Project, as well as providing funds to NGO Monitor and illegal West Bank settlements. Haaretz also found that CAMERA received hundreds of thousands of dollars from Republican mega-donor Sheldon Adelson. (Maybe the famed casino magnet is “talking about Yves Engler”.)

According to the Jewish Forward, CAMERA was one of the “organizationsaligned with right-wing and hawkish political views” that presented at the Adelson-sponsored Campus Maccabees summit, which raised at least $20 million and maybe as much $50 million to attack critics of Israel. Before presenting at the 2015 Campus Maccabees meeting Zionist Organization of America president Morton Klein told Forward, “my recommendation is that all groups work together to demonize the demonizers.”

While not forthcoming with information, the Maccabees have reportedly spread to a couple dozen universities. According to a 2016 Los Angeles Times story titled “How a casino tycoon is trying to combat an exploding pro-Palestinian movement on campuses”, the Maccabees paid for “Stop the Jew Hatred on Campus” campaigns at a half dozen California universities. Contracted by Adelson’s group, the David Horowitz Freedom Center plastered posters around UCLA labelling sixteen Students for Justice in Palestine members “Jew Haters” and terrorist allies.

It’s unclear if Adelson’s initiative has funded any Canadian-specific activism, but there’s a web of organizations operating in this country that pursue similar work. In January an individual with Hasbara at York who is a former StandWithUs Canada Emerson Fellow criticized one of my essays in a piece for B’nai B’rith.

The Hasbara (meaning “public relations” or “propaganda”) Fellowship program was developed by Israel’s Foreign Ministry in 2001. It has brought over 3,000 students from 250 campuses to Israel on 16-day trips to learn how to “brand” that country on North American campuses. In partnership with Aish Toronto, Hasbara Fellowship Canada says it “brings hundreds of students to Israel every summer and winter, giving them the information and tools to return to their campuses as educators about Israel.”

StandWithUs Canada was started in 2012 as an offshoot of the LA-based parent organization. Its Emerson Fellows are trained to “act as campus emissaries of the Jewish state.”

The Canadian Council for Israel and Jewish Advocacy, which later dissolved into the United Jewish Appeal’s umbrella lobbying organization Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, was established in large measure to combat pro-Palestinian activists at Concordia, York and other universities. Immediately upon its establishment in 2004, CIJA contributed more than a million dollars to campus activism, including hiring “advocacy experts in seven Canadian cities, who assist local student groups and address anti-Israel agitation on campus.” The funding also subsidized visits to Israel and trained students to promote that country.

With fifty staff and a $10 million budget, CIJA “provides advocacy support to 25 campuses in 9 provinces. CIJA works closely with Hillel and other Jewish student groups across Canada, providing direct assistance on a wide variety of issues including combatting anti-Israel activities such as BDS initiatives.”

Part Jewish cultural organization and part Israel lobby group, Hillel receives millions of dollars a year from United Jewish Appeal Toronto, Montréal, etc. and other Israeli nationalist sources. In addition to Hillel and CIJA, B’nai B’rith attacks Palestine solidarity activism from its half dozen offices across the country. With an $8.6 million budget in 2015, Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center Canada also regularly labels Palestinian solidarity activists “anti-Semitic”. Dozens of registered Canadian charities, ranging from the Jewish National Fund to Christians United for Israel to the Association for the Soldiers of Israel, engage in at least some pro-Israel campaigning.

On the Palestinian solidarity side it’s a different story. Independent Jewish Voices has one poorly paid part-time employee while Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East has another. The vast majority of Palestine activism is volunteer work. Few of those engaged in it are compensated financially. Nor are there future employment prospects, which exist in “Jewish communal” institutions for Israel campaigners.

I considered pursuing Shachar or Algemeiner for slander but decided it was more important that people “Talk About” my writing and if that’s not possible at least my “diseased brain”. Also I wouldn’t want them to remove the picture of my book Canada in Africa: 300 Years of Aid and Exploitation that accompanied the story about me. Maybe some Israel apologists who follow Algemeiner or Bernard-Henri Lévy will read up on Canada’s role in impoverishing the continent.

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Jewish voters turning to Harper

Where are Conservatives most likely to be elected in Canada? Historically, rural and suburban White, Protestant ridings and the wealthiest parts of English-speaking cities have been where the Tories enjoyed the most success.

Certainly the Conservatives have never been the party of those marginalized for economic, social or religious reasons.

Yet, at the start of the month Stephen Harper launched his re-election campaign from the Ben Weider Jewish Community Centre in Mount Royal, one of two ridings in the country with a Jewish plurality (about 36% of the population).

If Conservative candidate Robert Libman wins Pierre Trudeau’s old seat it would represent a significant feat. The Liberals have held the riding for 75 years and the Conservatives don’t currently hold a single seat in greater Montréal. In fact, they aren’t seriously contesting any other constituency near Mount Royal.

So, what’s going on?

In the 2011 federal election an Ipsos exit poll found that 52 per cent of Canadian Jews voted Conservative versus 39 per cent of the overall population. On October 19 the Tories’ share of the Jewish vote is expected to increase while the Conservatives’ overall total drops.

The remarkable growth in Jewish support for the Conservatives over the past decade is a strong sign that anti-Semitism barely registers in the lives of most Canadian Jews. In general, they are a widely accepted, relatively successful part of Canada’s multicultural fabric — so much so that a majority now votes for the primary political party of the Canadian ruling class.

Outside Harper’s speech at the Ben Weider Jewish Community Centre a crowd of 100 protested. A self-described  “Zionist” holding an “Israel is NOT a partisan issue” sign, Bryan Wolofsky, told me that when he canvassed during the last election in Hampstead and Cote Saint-Luc, the largely Jewish municipalities in the Mount Royal riding, Israel was people’s primary concern.

While some may disagree, there is nothing inherently troubling about a group of Canadians voting in response to a government’s policy towards another country. In fact, it can represent a righteous, selfless act.

In the mid-2000s I worked with members of Montréal’s Haitian community to defeat Liberal MPs complicit in the violent overthrow of the Caribbean nation’s elected government. For many in the Haitian-Canadian community this country’s foreign policy was a key issue in the election. They hoped to defend their homeland against outside intervention.

But the Jewish community’s support for Israel is the exact opposite. The recipient of billions of dollars of support from the world’s most powerful country, Israel is a nuclear-armed state that has repeatedly slaughtered a largely defenseless population it dispossessed. Rather than selfless internationalism, Canadian Jewish support for Israel is an assertion of ethnic/religious supremacy.

The Jewish community’s shift towards the Conservatives opens a window into the ideological underpinnings of the century-old Zionist movement. Generally presented as a response to late 1800s European anti-Semitism, the Theodore Herzl led Zionist movement was in fact spurred by the nationalist and imperialist ideologies then sweeping Europe. After two centuries of active Protestant Zionism and two millennia in which Jewish restoration was viewed as a spiritual event to be brought about through divine intervention, Zionism took root among some Jews as 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.”

History strongly suggests that Zionism was both a reaction to anti-Semitism and an attempt by European Jews to benefit from and participate in colonialism.

If Zionism were simply a response to anti-Semitism why hasn’t the decline of anti-Semitism lessened its popularity in the Canadian Jewish community? Instead, the leadership of that community has become more and more obsessed with Israel. In 2011 the leading donors in the community scrapped the hundred-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.

The political trajectory of Mount Royal provides an interesting insight into the 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, Trudeau was incredibly popular with the Jewish community. He appointed the first Jew to the federal cabinet, Herb Gray, and brought in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which strengthened religious freedoms.

If Conservative candidate Robert Libman wins in Mount Royal on October 19 it would mark a decisive end to the notion that the Canadian Jewish community is a liberal force in politics. It would also suggest that the political priority of a large number of Canadian Jews is to support a highly militarized state that continues to deny its indigenous population the most basic political rights.

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The long history of Zionism in Canada

Canada’s Conservative government is trying to convince Canadian Jews to support its right-wing imperialistic worldview.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper recently spoke to the annual Toronto gala of the Jewish National Fund, which has a long history of dispossessing Palestinians and discriminating against non-Jews.

Echoing the words of Theodor Herzl, a founder of political Zionism, Harper told the 4,000 attendees that Israel is a “light of freedom and democracy in what is otherwise a region of darkness.”

Shortly before this event the Minister for Employment and Social Development Jason Kenney spoke at the launch of the Canadian chapter of the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI). Established by a former colonel in the Israeli military, MEMRI selectively (mis)translates stories from Arab and Iranian media in a bid to advance expansionist Israeli interests.

Kenney told the audience assembled at Montreal’s Shaar Hashomayim Synagogue that MEMRI is “a peaceful weapon of truth-telling in a civilizational conflict in which we are all engaged.”

The comments from Harper and Kenney certainly play well with those in the Jewish community committed to Israeli and Western imperialism, but they also spur that sentiment. Most people respect power and when leading politicians say a country is involved in a “civilizational conflict” against “a region of darkness” it tends to shape opinion.

Few Canadian Jews — or others among the target audience for that matter — realize that Harper and Kenney don’t take this “clash of civilizations” talk literally (if they did they wouldn’t be deepening political ties with a number of Middle Eastern monarchies and selling billions of dollars in weaponry to the region’s “darkest” regime, Saudi Arabia.)

While the Harper government’s pro-Israel comments are particularly extreme, they are far from unique in Canadian history. For more than a century non-Jewish Canadians have promoted a Jewish homeland in Palestine.

Similar to Europe, Zionism’s roots in Canada are Christian, not Jewish. Early Canadian support for Zionism was based on the more literal readings of the Bible that flowed out of the Protestant Reformation.

They were also tied to this country’s status as a dominion of the British Empire, which in the latter half of the nineteenth century began to see Zionism as a potential vehicle to strengthen its geostrategic position in the region.

At the time of confederation, Canada’s preeminent Christian Zionist was Henry Wentworth Monk. To buy Palestine from the Ottoman Empire in 1875, Monk began the Palestine Restoration Fund.

Unsuccessful, seven years later he took out an ad in the Jewish World proposing a “Bank of Israel” to finance Jewish resettlement. Irving Abella’s book A Coat of Many Colours: Two Centuries of Jewish Life in Canada describes Monk as “an eccentric but respected businessman” who took up a campaign in Canada and England to raise funds for buying land in Palestine during the 1870s and 1880s.

“In 1881 Monk even proposed setting up a Jewish National Fund,” Abella writes. “He issued manifestoes, wrote long articles, spoke to assorted meetings and lobbied extensively in England and Canada to realize his dream.”

Monk called for the British Empire to establish a “dominion of Israel” similar to the dominion of Canada. In the 1978 book Canada and Palestine, Zachariah Kay notes: “Monk believed that Palestine was the logical center of the British Empire, and could help form a confederation of the English-speaking world.”

Monk was not alone in Canada. Citing a mix of Christian and pro-British rationale, leading Canadian politicians repeatedly expressed support for Zionism. In 1907, two cabinet ministers attended the Federation of Zionist Societies of Canada convention, telling delegates that Zionism had the support of the government, according to Kay’s book.

Kay’s book also states that Arthur Meighen, then solicitor-general and later prime minister, proclaimed in November 1915: “I think I can speak for those of the Christian faith when I express the wish that God speed the day when the land of your forefathers shall be yours again. This task I hope will be performed by that champion of liberty the world over — the British Empire.”

The 1917 Balfour Declaration, which declared British support for a Jewish homeland in Palestine, boosted support for Zionism in this country. In the years thereafter, Canadian politicians of various stripes repeatedly urged Jews (and others) to support Zionism.

During a July 1922 speech to the Zionist Federation of Canada, the 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.”

A dozen years later, Prime Minister R.B. Bennett told a coast to-coast radio broadcast for the launch of the United Palestine Appeal fund drive that the Balfour Declaration and the British conquest of Palestine represented the beginning of the fulfillment of biblical prophecies.

According to a 1962 book by Canadian Zionist Bernard Figler, Bennett said, “When the promises of God, speaking through his prophets, are that the home will be restored in the homeland of their forefathers…Scriptural prophecy is being fulfilled. The restoration of Zion has begun.”

Jewish Zionism must be understood from within the political climate in which it operated. And Canada’s political culture clearly fostered Zionist ideals.

British imperialism, Christian Zionism and nationalist ideology were all part of this country’s political fabric. Additionally, in the early 1900s most Canadians did not find it odd that Europeans would take a “backward” people’s land, which is what settlers did to the indigenous population here.

A number of books about Canada’s Jewish community discuss how elite Canadian Jews, especially after the 1917 Balfour Declaration, were more active Zionists than their US counterparts. In Canada’s Jews: A People’s Journey, Gerald Tulchinsky explains: “The First World War accentuated differences between Canadian and American Jewry. For example, loyalty to Britain’s cause provided Zionists with opportunities to identify their purposes with Britain’s imperial mission.”

When British General Edmund Allenby led a campaign in late 1917 to take Palestine from the Ottomans as many as 400 Canadians (about half recruited specifically for the task) fought in Allenby’s Jewish Legion. Sometimes beleaguered Jewish communities were praised by the media for taking up England’s cause to conquer Palestine.

Since Israel’s creation in 1948 different Canadian governments have expressed varying degrees of support. But overall, the laudatory public declarations have continued.

After a long career of support for Zionism as external minister and prime minister, Lester Pearson referred to that country as “an outpost, if you will, of the West in the Middle East.”

External Affairs Minister Don Jamieson echoed this sentiment in an October 1977 speech. “Israel is an increasingly valuable ally of the West and Jews and non-Jews alike should see to it that Israel remains … an ally of the Western world,” Jamieson said. “We in Canada must see to it that when Israel is making such tremendous sacrifices, we should stand ready to help Israel with oil and material assistance.”

Yes, the current government is more aggressive in its public declarations than any before it and this has helped drive the establishment Jewish community to an even more hardline position.

To the Conservatives’ delight, two years ago the ninety-year old Canadian Jewish Congress was disbanded by its wealthy donors in favor of an even more Israel-focused Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs. Similarly, the Conservatives’ strong ties to Christian Zionism has prodded the Zionist lobby group B’nai Brith to deepen its ties with Canada Christian College and the prominent right-wing evangelist Charles McVety.

At the same time, the anti-racist sectors of Canada’s Jewish community have made major strides in recent years. Groups such as Independent Jewish Voices, Not In Our Name, Jewish Voice for Peace, the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network, Women in Solidarity with Palestine and Jews for a Just Peace, have undercut the notion that all Canadian Jews support Israeli policy or Zionism. But these groups are unlikely to become dominant voices within the Jewish community until there is a shift in Canada’s political culture.

Canadian Zionism has long been part of the religious and political establishment. In every community there are those who take the side of the rich and powerful.

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