middle east, muslims, politics, war on terror

The Harper Administration and Israel – a Love Affair

Published at: Palestine Speaks, November 6th, 2010 (http://palestinespeaks.net/2010/11/the-harper-administration-and-israel-a-love-affair/)

Compared to the hegemon south of its borders, Canada has over the past few decades acquired a tamer, gentler reputation vis-à-vis the rest of the world. Today, whatever is left of that peace-loving, peace-keeping reputation is at best a minute glimpse into the past.

With Stephen Harper at the helm as Prime Minister, the Conservative Party of Canada has held together a minority government that has equaled the United States in its war-mongering rhetoric and posturing. Part-in-parcel with this radical shift in foreign policy has been the Harper administration’s blanket support for the state of Israel’s brutal occupation of the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT).

No previous Canadian administration has shown as much loyalty and support to Israel as Harper’s, both rhetorically and policy-wise. In May 2009, Stephen Harper was awarded the Saul Hayes Award by the Canadian Jewish Congress (CJC). Ironically, the award is supposed to honour those who have demonstrated their commitment to human rights. It was the first time that the award went to an acting Prime Minster.

A year later, the Likud Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, visited Canada for the first time in eight years. “The ties between Israel and Canada have never been stronger,” Netanyahu stated confidently in his address, “You show that we are not alone.”

This is just the tip of the iceberg–signs that Israeli-Canadian relations are at a zenith. Beneath this layer of rhetorical friendship is a deeply destructive relationship that undermines the democratic values of Canada, while assisting in the moral degeneration of Israel. The truth is, in the aftermath of Operation Cast Lead (2008-2009), and the massacre on the Mavi Mamara (2010), Israel is being recognized more and more as a pariah state. As the international Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement is gaining more and more traction, grassroots organizing for Palestinian rights is at an all-time high. The entire international community, with the exception of the United States, Canada, and a few island nations, now publically recognize that Israel’s occupation of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank is absolutely unsustainable.

Unfortunately, it is at this critical juncture when Israel’s conduct toward its Palestinian counterparts is under severe international scrutiny that Canada has chosen to negate the international consensus in blind support of Israeli Apartheid. This blanket support for Israel ultimately amounts to a criminal complicity regarding Israel’s brutal occupation of Palestinian land, now entering its 44th year.  The extent to which the Harper administration has gone to support Israel is recognizable not only by its international counterparts, but also by its very own citizens. In fact, it is within Canada itself where Harper’s support for Israel has manifested itself in a number of totalitarian gestures. Jason Kenney, who assumed the role as Harper’s Minister of Immigration, Citizenship, and Multiculturalism, deserves a place of distinction in this.

As Minister, Jason Kenney has imposed some of the most stringent anti-immigration laws Canada has ever experienced. Deportations in Canada have gone up dramatically. Vis-à-vis Israel, Kenney has taken a hardline, supportive stance. Citing what he believes to be the “new Anti-Semitism,” Kenney believes that “the alliance of Western leftists and Islamic extremists is more dangerous than the old European form of Jew-hatred.” Again, one should note that such rhetorical support for Israel coincides with the severe international scrutiny that Israel is receiving.

While practically the entire world condemned Israeli conduct in the 2006 bombardment of Lebanon, as well as in Operation Cast Lead, Canada refused to blame and scapegoat Israel for what happened. For instance, referring to Hezbollah and Hamas as “cancers,” the Harper administration played the Islamist/Islamic-fundamentalist card on both counts and refused to ally with, virtually, the rest of the world in compliance with international law.

Accompanied with this rejectionist position on the international stage has been a series of gestures within Canada that essentially disenfranchised numerous Canadian NGOs advocating for Palestinian human rights. Chief among these organizations is the Canadian Arab Federation (CAF), and KAIROS, a Canadian, faith-based ecumenical organization. In both instances, the Harper administration abruptly discontinued federal funding based on slanderous accusations.

CAF has had a history of criticizing Israeli actions regarding the Palestinians, and has advocated for Palestinian rights publically since its inception. However, the de-funding imposed by the Harper administration (namely Jason Kenney’s Ministry of Immigration) affected exclusively the service arm of CAF, which has for eleven years provided new immigrants of Canada with ESL classes and job-search workshops. Minister Kenney labeled CAF as an “Anti-Semitic organization” with “ties to Hezbollah and Hamas.” He did not substantiate his statements with any hard evidence.

KAIROS went through a similar experience. Their usually-approved funding application was rejected by Minister of International Development Bev Oda, after the application sat on her desk for a full five months. Curiously, as the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) stated that the goals of KAIROS did not fit CIDA’s stated priorities, KAIROS had been evaluated positively by CIDA in the past–for 35 years, in fact.

On December 16th, 2009, Kenney spoke at the Global Forum to Counter Anti-Semitism in Jerusalem (wouldn’t it sound better to put in Jerusalem, at the beginig of the sentence) and made the following (very illuminating) statement:

“We have articulated and implemented a zero tolerance approach to anti-Semitism. What does this mean? It means that we eliminated the government funding relationship with organizations like for example, the Canadian Arab Federation, whose leadership apologized for terrorism or extremism, or who promote hatred, in particular anti- Semitism.

We have ended government contact with like-minded organizations like the Canadian Islamic Congress, whose President notoriously said that all Israelis over the age of 18 are legitimate targets for assassination. We have defunded organizations, most recently like KAIROS, who are taking a leadership role in the boycott. And we’re receiving a lot of criticism for these decisions. I can’t recall how many times I’ve been sued for some of the decisions that we have taken, but we believe that we’ve done these things for the right reasons and we stand by these decisions.”

Such slanderous, inaccurate, and unsubstantiated claims colour the Harper administration’s disgraceful attitude towards Palestinian rights and self-determination. CAF and KAIROS are by no means the only NGOs to go through defunding. Numerous other organizations have felt the pressure from above, including Canada’s most prominent human rights organization, Rights and Democracy, which went through a Harper-initiated purge with absolutely disastrous results. This was accompanied by Canada’s decision to boycott the 2009 Durban Review Conference in Geneva, because of the conference’s “bias against the state of Israel,” and that Canada did not wish to “scapegoat the Jewish people.”

Furthermore, based on equally slanderous claims, Kenney banned former British MP George Galloway from speaking (and entering!) in Canada in March 2009. Claiming that Galloway was a proxy for Hamas, Kenney vaguely cited “national security concerns” as enough reason to ban Galloway. Tellingly, at the time, Galloway was putting together a convoy to deliver to Palestinians in the blockaded Gaza Strip, which qualifies for an open-air prison after Israel stepped up its suffocating measures in 2007.

Just this week, Richard Mosley, a federal court judge, issued a decision that vindicated Galloway and his supporters. Ruling against Kenney, the decision exposed Kenney’s attack on basic free speech rights. In a 60-page decision, Justice Mosley stated that “the evidence is that the government wished to prevent Mr. Galloway from expounding his views on Canadian soil.” Again, the extent to which Canada has tried to appease Israel boggles the mind.

These are only a few examples of Canada’s recent turn towards Israel. The list is much longer. For Canadians who care about international law and the plight of Palestinians, this “bond” between Israel and Canada seems like a pathetic imitation of Israel’s relationship with the United States. In an attempt to remake Canada in the image of the Republican Party of the United States (it seems), the Harper administration has wantonly eliminated numerous democratic institutions, and damaged Canada’s reputation abroad. These policies continue to alienate the Palestinian people, further destroying Canada’s commitment to human rights around the world, while ignoring the chance of a just peace in the Middle East.

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