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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middle east, muslims, obama, politics, war on terror

The Fall of Barack Obama?

Published on: “The Canadian Charger”, October 13th, 2010 (http://www.thecanadiancharger.com/page.php?id=5&a=628)

As the midterm elections near in the United States, President Obama and Vice-President Biden have announced in unison that democrats have to “stop whining”. In other words, their message rests on a confused statement of confused disappointment “we’ve done so much for you, how can you complain? Look at these Republicans, do you want them ruling over you?” The Obama administration, after two years, must now resort to the “at-least-we’re-not-them” strategy. Why? Because they don’t have much else to show for.

Both domestically and internationally, Obama has failed to deliver on crucial promises. Two fundamentally crucial mis-steps are especially troubling and destructive. When accompanied by the lack of jobs for middle and working America, at least the idea of Obama—whatever is left from those hopeful campaign speeches—has collapsed.

(1) The failure to restore civil liberties for U.S. citizens. Early on, Obama refused to prosecute Bush-era Department of Justice officials because he wanted to “Look forward, not back.” Those who worked with Alberto Gonzalez, John Yoo, etc. essentially got a free pass for formulating some of the most ridiculous torture laws during the heat of the “War on Terror”. But while looking forward, the Obama administration refused to discontinue the illegal wire-tapping carried out by the state’s intelligence community. In fact, perhaps looking a little too forward, the Obama administration has also tried to expand presidential power in order to assassinate U.S. citizens without due process (ie. vis a vis Anwar al-Awlaki), regardless of where they are on the planet. Finally, just to top it all off, Obama has requested that the internet also be wire-tapped (via “backdoor encryption”) in order to survey e-mail communication of U.S. citizens.

This all seems terribly surreal when considering the fact that Obama ran on somewhat of a “liberty-first” campaign, at least rhetorically shifting away from Bush’s morbid civil rights record. However, a sober examination of Obama’s record on civil liberties reveals that his policies are just as morbid. In fact, compared to Bush Jr, Obama is worse. George Bush never tried to assassinate American citizens with or without due process. Obama’s mini-crusade against the apparently terrorist Imam Anwar al-Awlaki is bizarre to say the least. Claiming at al-Awlaki is in collusion with Yemeni al-Qaeda, Obama has called for the New Mexico-born al-Awlaki to be killed—without a trial or any real evidence regarding the claims made. If Obama gets his way, his administration will usher in a new era of presidential power, one that allows for the murder of American citizens, away from a battlefield (al-Awlaki could be eating dinner for all we know), and without any semblance of due process. In fact, one is prompted to ask for so many of these jump-the-gun “War on Terror” scenarios, a rather obvious question: “If you’re so sure that they’re guilty, why not have them convicted properly in a court of law?”

(2) The failure to decrease the United States’ violent involvement in the Middle East. Since Obama’s presidency began, the U.S. has continually been involved violently in Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Pakistan, and Yemen (the ones we know). Drone attacks in Pakistan and Yemen have killed upwards of a few hundred people. To be fair, Obama never campaigned on an explicitly anti-war platform—but he did run on an implicit one. Instead, the United States’ footprint in the Middle East is larger than ever.

While sticking to the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) in Iraq and pulling out around 15,000 U.S. troops out of Iraq in August 2010, Obama reneged on his pledge to pull out all combatants by September 1st, 2010. In fact, around 50,000 troops are to remain in Iraq even after the withdrawal, despite these remaining troops being labeled “advisory and assistance brigades.” Obama has effectively rebranded the Iraq occupation. The U.S. embassy is a mammoth establishment the size of Vatican City (consisting of twenty-one buildings on 104 acres of land on the Tigris River). The American diplomats and officials in Iraq are protected by private contractors/mercenaries from corporations like DynCorp and Blackwater Worldwide (now Xe). This upsurge of mercenaries is to off-set the withdrawals mandated by SOFA, which asks for all foreign troops to leave Iraq by the end of 2011. As The Nation Magazine’s correspondent Timothy Scahill reported just prior to the August withdrawal:

“The State Department is asking Congress to approve funds to more than double the number of private security contractors in Iraq with a State Department official testifying in June at a hearing of the Wartime Contracting Commission that the Department wants ‘between 6,000 and 7,000 security contractors.’ The Department also has asked the Pentagon for twenty-four Blackhawk helicopters, fifty Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected (MRAP) vehicles and other military equipment.”

This policy effectively shows that the Obama administration is not committed to letting Iraqis shape their own future.

Not far away, President Obama—very much sticking to his campaign message—increased troops in Afghanistan by at least 30,000 U.S. troops. Like the previous administration, the Obama establishment cannot break out of what Salon.com’s Glenn Greenwald calls the “War on Terror logic.” Greenwald writes that

“The very idea that we’re going to spend an entire decade dropping a constant stream of bombs and other munitions on and in multiple Muslim countries and otherwise interfere in their governments — and then expect that nobody will try to attack us back — evinces such a child-like sense of imperial entitlement that it’s hard to put into words.”

The campaign in Afghanistan has yielded a number of gruesome incidents involving innocent Afghan noncombatants. These were detailed in the massive leak released to the whistle-blowing organization Wikileaks, which subsequently released the 90,000 page trove to the New York Times (U.S.), The Guardian (U.K.), and Der Spiegel (Germany). One under-publicized incident involved the murder of five individuals in the Afghan province of Paktia that consisted of two pregnant women and a teenage girl. Having shot to death these innocent civilians, the soldiers tried to hide the crime by prying out the bullets and washing the wounds with alcohol. War, as it turns out, whether headed up by President Bush or President Obama, is always mind-blowingly bloody and dishonorable.

There have been no real signs of success in Obama’s military campaigns to eradicate al-Qaeda. The more blood American troops have on their hands, the more danger will face U.S. citizens in the form of terrorism. It’s a not justification for murder, but an understanding of the causation of such cycles of violence.

The continued perpetuation of occupation and violence abroad is not entirely the fault of Barack Obama, and neither is the proliferation of the so-called “security state” on the U.S. domestic scene. The American way of war is benefited by a large number of establishment-preserving institutions, not least of which are the private contractors, weapons-developers, and divisive politicians. And as Dana Priest and William Arkin showed in their report for the Washington Post, “Top Secret America,” the mammoth apparatus that is the “security state” is so large and uncontrollable, no single individual was responsible for its extensive proliferation, and certainly no individual can single-handedly destroy it.

However, it does go to show that those who put their absolute faith and hope in Barack Obama have only themselves to blame. When running for President, Obama lied—but not as much as one would think. Most of the time, he presented himself as exactly what he was—a slightly liberal centrist. He made almost no promises in terms of concrete policy, and what little he did say were mere slogans. Those who endowed him with institution-toppling powers are disappointed only in-so-far that they trusted in their own political judgment—which, frankly—isn’t very impressive.

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middle east, muslims, obama, politics, war on terror

Gideon Levy at UTM

Published on:
The Medium, September 27th, 2010 [http://mediumonline.ca/2010/09/27/gideon-levy-visits-utm/]

Around 250 to 300 people gathered at the University of Toronto at Mississauga (UTM) for a lecture by the award-winning Israeli journalist Gideon Levy on September 22nd, 2010. Primarily based on the content of his new book The Punishment of Gaza, the lecture consisted mainly of Levy’s lamentations regarding the Israel-Palestine conflict, and his thoughts on how “the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip” will play out in the future.

Writing for Israel’s most famous daily newspaper, Haaretz, since 1982, Levy coupled his critique of Israel’s conduct towards the Palestinians with a pessimistic vision of the future. Having been on the receiving end of constant hate mail from his fellow Israelis for his consistent critique of Israeli policies, Levy stated rather assuredly that “there has never been an occupation where the occupier felt so good about himself, and there has never been an occupation where the occupier presented himself as a victim.”

Referring to Israel’s occupation of the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) as the “real drama of Israel in its dark backyard,” Levy went on to condemn the “so-called peace process” as a sham. He criticized Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for not willing to do even the “minimum of the minimum” for peace, which is to freeze all settlement building/expansion in the OPT, in lieu of negotiations. Regarding the United States’ long-time patronage of Israel, Levy expressed “disappointment” with the policies of President Barack Obama, policies that did not deviate much from previous administrations. And while describing Hamas, the Islamic Movement party currently in control of the Gaza Strip (elected in 2006 and pushed out of the West Bank by rival party Fateh), as “not my cup of tea,” Levy felt that any successful, realistic, and meaningful negotiations would have to include the choice party of the Palestinians.

It has been such views that have made Gideon Levy a deeply unpopular figure in most of Israel, a country which he describes as “fiercely nationalistic.” Having himself served in the IDF in his youth, it was not until the late 1980s when Levy began to travel into the OPT, something that “most Israelis never do,” and something that has ever since shown him the brutality of Israel’s occupation. Levy believes that it is necessary to “tell the story” of those who live under Israeli occupation, a conviction that has forced him to live with “absolute exclusivity” within Israel.

During the Q&A session which followed the lecture, some audience members expressed that they wished Levy had talked more about possible solutions in terms of resolving this protracted occupation. It seems that their disappointment is related to the fact that even Levy himself sees no real way out, and no concrete solutions—at least not from within Israeli civil society.

“Writing is all I know in this life,” Levy stated in a post-event interview, “and we all must do what we feel is right and just.”

Pointing to the disbanding of the Soviet Union and the dissolution of South African apartheid as positive examples, Levy did not seem completely hopeless. He expressed genuine surprise and joy regarding what he described as “high enthusiasm” among Canadians in support of justice for the Palestinians.

The lecture was organized by Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME), and partially funded by the University of Toronto at Mississauga Student Union (UTMSU).

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middle east, muslims, obama, politics, war on terror

Israel at a Crossroads: the Iranian Threat

Published on:
http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article26003.htm
http://rebelnews.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=326421
http://mycatbirdseat.com/2010/07/israel-hiding-behind-the-iranian-threat/
http://thecanadiancharger.com/page.php?id=5&a=513

With the recent formation of “The Emergency Committee for Israel”, the neoconservative and Likudnik characters on the American right have yet again stepped up their lobbying efforts. The usual characters from the Christian hard-right like Gary Bauer have again joined forces with neoconservatives Bill Kristol, Noah Pollack, Michael Goldfarb, etc. to stand up for Israel. Among other things, they have yet again brought up the imminent threat of a nuclear Iran, and how such a nation will tear the region apart with its fanaticism.

Israel’s obsession with Iran is real. While some genuinely perceive a nuclear Iran as a major threat, others on Israel’s far right recognize the much more pragmatic, if not cynical reasons for Israel’s rancid rhetoric. With the occupation of Gaza (and blockade) and the West Bank continuing to destabilize the region, Netanyahu’s administration is undoubtedly trying to use the Iranian threat to create a climate of fear. Such a climate will not only pull the world’s attention away from the Occupied Palestinian Territories, but also reiterate Israel’s “scared bond” with the United States in a war against “Islamic Terrorism”.

Considering that Israel’s American-backed arsenal of nuclear weapons do not receive nearly as much attention in the corporate media as compared to Iran’s alleged attempt to acquire nuclear capabilities (still short of actual nuclear weapons), one should look at things form Iran’s perspective. Both Israel and the US have been talking nonstop about containing or attacking Iran. Iran has some rather weak (but still damaging) sanctions implemented on it by the US, and a genuine nuclear power in Israel constantly shouting about attacking it. Recently, the US navy just shipped missiles and over 300 “bunker busters” onto the African island of Diego Garcia, within striking distance of Iran. Furthermore, several of the countries that share borders with Iran have US troops in them (Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Kuwait, etc.).

Considering these factors, along with the threats from Israel and the United States (Israel is also not a signee of the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty), even hawkish analysts within the Israeli establishment have noted the need for Iran to at least have the option of a nuclear deterrent. Israeli strategist Martin Van Creveld, for example, has noted that Iran’s president is “Not crazy at all,” and that he would essentially do what Ahmedinejad is doing right now if he were in his position. On the other hand, UN Resolution 1887 states that threats of force are illegal when settling nuclear disputes. Also, it goes without saying that a war with Iran would cause the entire region to destabilize.

For the United States, Iran’s Islamic Revolution ushered in regimes that did not conform with its imperial designs in the region. Both Russia and China do business with Iran, which has emerged as the true beneficiary of the Iraq War, and backs both Hizbullah and Hamas. None of this is in the US’s interest, let alone in Israel’s. However, these “threats” are still rather hollow, given the military and economic capacities of both the US and Israel. Although Hizbullah has on occasions embarrassed a stronger Israel, its threats (along with those of Hamas) are far from existential.

Therefore, Israel’s paranoia with Iran mirrors Iran’s rhetorical backlash. By making the Islamic regime look crazy, Israel draws attention away from the Palestinian question. By now, after the Gaza Massacre and the Flotilla incident, it has become clear that Israel is becoming a strategic liability to the United States. The Israel Lobby in the US is trying (with great success) to conceal this fact, but Israel is very much at a crossroads. It seeks to reinvigorate the US-Israeli alliance by exaggerating the Iranian threat, while not answering for its own nuclear arsenal. But Israel has very little choice. Although its only chance of preserving a Jewish state is through a two-state solution with the Palestinians, settlement-building throughout the years have pretty much destroyed that option. It has effectively dug itself a hole too deep to climb out of.

The Israeli-Palestine conflict is so protracted that it inevitably shakes up the whole region, precipitating hatred aimed at both the US and Israel. Given the US’s need for oil in the future, a lack of allies in the Middle East would prove disastrous. But Israel’s unpopular presence in the region is costing the US all kinds of strategic leverage. Confronted with the reality of having no friends in the world, the Israeli regime is desperately trying to use the Iranian threat to illustrate to the US its “strategic worth”.

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