Last week I interrupted Jagmeet Singh at a public event to criticize the NDP’s suppression of Palestine solidarity activism.
Holding a placard with the words “Jagmeet, Palestinian Lives Matter”, I demanded the NDP leader apologize for overturning the vote of members who elected Rana Zaman to represent the Dartmouth-Cole Harbour ridding because she defended Palestinians mowed down by Israeli snipers. I also asked him to apologize for suppressing debate at last year’s convention on the modest “Palestine Resolution: renewing the NDP’s commitment to peace and justice”, which which was unanimously endorsed by the NDP youth convention, many affiliated groups and two dozen riding associations. I also criticized his refusal to heed the call from 200 prominent individuals, labour leaders and party members — including Roger Waters, Noam Chomsky, Linda McQuaig and Maher Arar — for the NDP to withdraw from the Canada Israel Interparliamentary Group (CIIG).
While my intervention was a bit chaotic — there was a concurrent disruption and my phone rang — it served its purpose. It was mentioned in a La Presse story and Global News did a 2 ½ minute clip titled “Protester asks Jagmeet Singh for apology over removal of former NDP candidate in Halifax.” Two hundred people in the room heard the criticism and the video I shot of the intervention was viewed more than 3,000 times online.
In his response, Singh claimed he wasn’t responsible for ousting Zaman but rather a party committee. While technically correct, it’s hard to imagine he didn’t okay it, particularly considering NDP National Director Melissa Bruno – quoted justifying Zaman’s ouster – was Singh’s chief of staff as deputy leader of the Ontario NDP between 2012 and 2017. (Bruno took a break to be “part of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 Presidential campaign”, notes her bio.) Similarly, during the 2018 convention Singh mobilized his family and dozens of members of his community to vote against allowing debate on the Palestine Resolution at the convention. Additionally, Singh explicitly rejected the call for the NDP to withdraw from CIIG.
Zaman is not the only candidate the NDP blocked from running at least partly because they support Palestinian rights. A number of individuals who signed the open letter calling on the NDP to withdraw from CIIG had their bids sabotaged. Robbie Mahood and Barry Weisleder were formally disallowed while Saron Gebresellassi and Sid Ryan’s bids to run in the upcoming election were subverted. Christeen Elizabeth who didn’t sign the letter but supports the Palestinian led boycott movement was also blocked.
The recent decision to block pro-Palestinian candidates follow on the heels of the NDP stopping as many as eight individuals from running or contesting nominations to be candidates in 2015 for defending Palestinian rights. Back then at least the NDP had the excuse that it was the official opposition and atop the polls with Thomas Mulcair explicitly positioning the party as the mainstream alternative to Stephen Harper’s Conservatives. Today, after the Liberals campaigned to their left in the last election, the NDP has the third most seats in the House of Commons, is languishing below 10% in the polls and the Green Party is polling ahead of them. Many NDP MPs are not running again and the Liberals are portraying themselves as the only credible “left” alternative to the Conservatives.
While it is clear that most voters have decided there is little point to a ‘Liberal-lite’ brand of NDP, the party brass seems determined to follow the same anti-democratic, anti-Palestinian, centrist script that proved a dead end before. It seems they are more eager to play to the dominant media than party members.
But, there’s a better way. When the Liberals recently ousted Hassan Guillet as a candidate for challenging Israeli apartheid, the NDP should have asked the high-profile Imam to run for the party. The winner of the Saint-Leonard—Saint-Michel riding nomination gained global notoriety for his sermon at the memorial for the victims of the 2017 Québec City mosque attack. Offering Guillet a spot would have embarrassed the Liberals, brought many Quebec Muslims into the NDP fold and increased the party’s chance of winning Saint-Leonard—Saint-Michel or another Montréal riding. It would be good for the NDP to be seen as willing to challenge the Israel lobby, dominant media and Liberals over the issue.
Pro-Palestinian supporters of the NDP should not be afraid of challenging the party leadership during the election campaign. Having seen Singh in action during a confrontation, as well as Justin Trudeau and Andrew Scheer, I can tell you the NDP leader performs better than the others. Rather than have security usher me out, he at least responded by expressing sympathy towards the plight of Palestinians.
The right wing, Israeli nationalist lobby will be active during the election campaign. So too must the Palestinian solidarity movement.
While B’nai B’rith can garner coverage of their criticism of the NDP by releasing a statement, Palestine solidarity activists must disrupt public events for the media to take interest. If that means wherever he goes across the country Jagmeet Singh is confronted by Palestine solidarity activists raising the name of Rana Zaman, the Palestine Resolution and the Canada Israel Interparliamentary Group, so be it. Palestinian lives matter. Certainly, more than the comfort of politicians and political parties.
The death of Israa Ghrayeb has ignited furious reactions regarding the so-called ‘honor-killings’ in Palestine and throughout the Arab world.
It also wrought confusion with respect to the jurisprudential foundation of such crimes, which are often committed in the name of protecting the honor of the family.
Israa, a 21-year-old makeup artist from the town of Beit Sahour in the West Bank, was reportedly beaten to death by her own brother for ‘dishonoring’ the family. The tragic episode was ignited by a video posted on social media where Israa was seen spending time with her soon-to-be fiancé.
While Palestinians and other Arab communities are genuinely angry regarding the violent mistreatment of women, others have found another platform to indict Islam and condemn Arab society. Predictably, the issue quickly and conveniently branched into the realms of politics, ideology and religion.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Lenient laws regarding ‘honor killing’ in the Middle East (and other parts of the world) do not originate from Islamic Sharia law, but from the so-called Napoleonic code of 1810, which largely tolerated “crimes of passion”. In countries like France and Italy, laws concerning ‘honor killing’ were not abrogated until 1975 and 1981, respectively.
The exploitation of weaknesses in Arab and Muslim societies is an old and thriving business. Anti-Arab and anti-Muslim rhetoric has always been at the forefront of every military and political campaign by the West, from the early colonial era to the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya. For many years, elaborate discourses have aimed at justifying war and rationalizing intervention to distract from the real motives of economic exploitation and violence.
“Mothers and daughters of Afghanistan were captives in their own homes,” said former US President George W. Bush in January 2002, celebrating his country’s supposed ‘victory’ in Afghanistan. “Today, [Afghani] women are free.”
Bush made that preposterous claim only weeks after his wife, Laura, supposedly the defender of women worldwide, declared in November 2001 that “the fight against terrorism is also a fight for the rights and dignity of women”.
The fact that hundreds of thousands of girls and women were killed and millions of others were widowed or orphaned in America’s protracted ‘war on terror’ doesn’t seem to impede the fallacious logic in any way. The sad, but predictable, truth is that the rights and wellbeing of Afghani, Arab and Muslim women have sharply deteriorated as a result of US-western military interventions.
But this is the crux of the problem. As intellectuals, educators and human rights activists, we often find ourselves trapped in a restricting paradigm. Aware of the real motives of western media and official propaganda, we engage in a battle of self-defense, desperately trying to shield our religions, countries and societies from ill-intentioned criticism. In the process of doing so, however, we often neglect to speak out on behalf of the disadvantaged and vulnerable groups, the likes of Israa Ghrayeb and millions like her.
We neglect our responsibility to stand up for the marginalized sectors of our society because we are afraid to be misunderstood, and for our words to be misinterpreted and misused by the rising far-right propagandists from the US to France, and from India to Brazil.
But this is hardly fair to Israa and millions of other women. Palestinian and Arab women are suffering from dual injustices that men don’t experience. They are victims of war, political instability and economic marginalization, but are also victims of patriarchal societies and outdated laws.
It is infuriating and inexcusable, for example, that Palestinian women in the West Bank and Gaza are coping with multilayered forms of violence, emanating both from the Israeli occupation and from their own family and society; the former justifying its violence in the name of ‘security’ and the latter in the name of ‘honor’ and tradition.
But where is the honor in the fact that nearly 30 percent of all married women in the West Bank and 50 percent in Gaza “have been subjected to a form of violence within the household”? According to the United Nations group, UN Women, the majority of these women prefer to remain silent in the face of these abuses, most likely to protect their families and avoid further abuse.
Palestinian and Arab women (and many men) are not just angry over ‘honor killings’ and the tolerant laws that make it possible for criminals to get away with their brutal deeds; they are also angry because the practice merely symbolizes a much wider phenomenon, where women are marginalized and victimized as a matter of course in all societal aspects.
21 Palestinian women and girls have been killed in so-called honor killings in 2018, reports Amnesty International. This requires immediate attention and a complete overhaul of Palestinian laws that allow criminals to walk free after serving reduced prison sentences. But the fight should not end there. Palestinian women are more educated than men, yet enjoy far less work opportunities. Despite their crucial role in the resistance against Israeli occupation and apartheid, they are marginalized in politics and decision-making.
Those who killed Israa and hundreds of women like her in the name of ‘honor’ should know that the agonizing screams of their sisters and daughters are no different from the cries of pain of Razan Al-Najjar, after she was shot and killed by Israeli snipers at Gaza’s March of Return; that the same pain endured by these women is the pain being felt every hour of every day by Israa Ja’abis and her sisters in Israeli prisons; that the abuse of women at the hands of their families is the same abuse they experience at Israeli military checkpoints and by unhinged Israeli Jewish settlers.
‘Justice is indivisible’, and it is time that we break our silence and respect this noble maxim. Speaking out against violence, discrimination and marginalization of women in our societies should be part and parcel of any genuine struggle against human rights abuses, regardless of the identity and motive of the abuser.
Let the screams for help and pleas for mercy of Israa Ghrayeb be our guide as we fight against injustice in all of its forms and manifestations.
There are rare moments in history, when even the most determined enemies can suddenly recognize the futility of battle. Sometimes, just for a moment or two. Sometimes, for longer. Such moments of sanity may save thousands, even millions human lives. And, such moments are not expressions of weakness or cowardice; on the contrary; they are embodiments of courage.
I want to believe that what happened at the Lebanese – Israeli border in August 2019, was precisely one of those such rare moments of sanity.
It changes nothing in terms of the big, geopolitical picture: Israel is a Western outpost in the Middle East. It is tormenting the Palestinian people, illegally occupying the Golan Heights, bombing Syria, and antagonizing Iran.
But an important point was established: there are limits! Israel will not go ‘all the way’, risking self-annihilation, and the annihilation of the entire region. This fact alone gives a fragile but at least some hope for a better future of this long-suffering territory.
What prompts me to write the above?
At the end of August, it appeared that Israel had lost its mind. It attacked, without warning, four countries simultaneously, within just 24 hours: Iraq, Palestine, Syria and Lebanon. It used drones full of explosives, as well as fighter jets.
Palestine and Syria have been attacked, regularly, for years and decades. Iraq, still de facto under US occupation, was quite a different story. There, a group of outraged lawmakers, ‘exploded’, demanding the immediate withdrawal of the US, and calling the Israeli attack a ‘declaration of war’.
Lebanon, too, did not remain silent. Israeli drones damaged the media center of Hezbollah in Beirut. They also attacked a communist Palestinian faction in the Beqaa Valley. For years, the Israeli air force has been violating Lebanese airspace, during the bombing raids of Syria. But this time it was different. This was an attack against a neighboring, sovereign state.
Even the Lebanese Prime Minister Hariri, an enemy of Hezbollah, and a man who holds double citizenship (Saudi and Lebanese), protested, asking the United States and France for protection. The President of Lebanon called it out rightly, a declaration of war.
The leader of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, went live on television, and in a chilling statement promised a ‘measured response’.
At that point, it became clear that the entire region could soon be consumed by flames.
During coverage of the event, on both Press TV and RT, I warned against the enormous danger: Israel was attacking every armed Shi’a group in the region, and was only stopping short of attacking Iran itself. A few more assaults like these, and the entire region could explode, dragging into the conflict countries like Saudi Arabia, on the side of Israel, and Iran, on the side of Syria, Palestine and Hezbollah. Realistically, that could lead to the annihilation of entire areas and nations.
In that period of time, I drove to, and managed to enter the border region. I first arrived at the city of Naqoura on the Mediterranean coast, and then drove all the way to the Lebanese border with the occupied Golan Heights, following the so-called Blue Line, controlled by UNIFIL.
At several places on my right, the huge Israeli border wall was now clearly visible. UNIFIL patrols consisted of armored vehicles, manned mainly by indifferent looking Indonesian soldiers. Some were taking selfies, with Israel behind them. For the United Nations, there seemed to be no urgency in the region. In fact, right after the Israeli attacks, the UN began discussing the possibility of cutting the number of UNIFIL soldiers, as well as the UNIFIL budget.
As always when visiting this border, what appeared striking to me was the proximity of Israeli and Lebanese villages; tens of meters only, in some areas.
What followed, was a chilling, tense silence.
Then, about one week after the Israeli attacks, Hezbollah retaliated.
I was called by a TV station, asked to analyze events. As I spoke, journalists were getting the latest news from the border.
Hezbollah fired anti-tank rockets at an Israeli vehicle patrolling near the Blue Line. It hit an Israeli tank (other reports said ‘armored vehicle’). According to Hezbollah, all Israeli soldiers inside the vehicle either died or were injured. Allegedly, among the casualties, was an Israeli top-ranking commander – described as ‘a General’.
Those who are familiar with Israeli tactics for Palestine and the Golan Heights know that Israeli ‘retaliations’ in such scenarios, include the bombing of civilian targets, and the destruction of houses or entire blocks of houses.
Entire Lebanon held its breath.
This time it became clear that Hezbollah was not going to back down. And Lebanon in general obviously has reached the point when it was ready to confront Israel, if that was what it would take to maintain its dignity.
I spoke to many Lebanese people. They were frightened, concerned, particularly if they had family and children. But they were also surprisingly calm. “If this is what fate brings, then so be it!”
Then, quickly, events became bizarre and confusing:
Israeli newspapers, including the Jerusalem Post, began quoting the Israeli Defense Forces, who were claiming that ‘Yes, an attack against Israel took place, but there were no Israeli casualties.’
Almost simultaneously, Israeli-leaked videos began appearing on YouTube and elsewhere, showing Israeli soldiers carrying injured buddies to helicopters. Later, these very clips were blocked by YouTube itself, for “violating terms and conditions”.
A few days later, the entire discussion generally stopped, at both ends.
Israel ‘retaliated’ promptly. In the most peculiar way, too: it fired around one hundred rockets into Lebanon. But all the rockets landed in fields. No target was hit. Meaning: it was decided not to aim at any targets, considering the Israeli capacity to hit with great precision. More exactly: it was decided to make sure that no target would be hit. In the end, nobody was killed, and no one injured.
As I wrote above, villages, several towns and settlements are constructed right near the border line. Both Israel and Hezbollah have enormous firepower. If they wanted to, they could inflict tremendous damage and losses of lives on each other.
For some reason, they decided not to.
I think this is what happened:
By attacking four countries simultaneously, Israel miscalculated. Iraq and Lebanon were not ready to accept the humiliation and barefaced attacks against their territories.
There were clear signals sent in Tel Aviv’s direction. And Netanyahu understood.
For days after the Israeli attacks, Hezbollah and Israel faced each other, in chilling defiance, separated only by a concrete wall, and by the inept UNIFIL troops. Both sides were aiming at each other great arsenals of missiles and other weaponry.
One wrong move, and the entire region could go up in flames. One tiny, erroneous move, and who knows how many lives of innocent people would be lost.
I believe, or perhaps I want to believe, that both sides suddenly imagined a huge ‘black hole’ – what this part of the world could become. They envisioned smoke, destruction and death; inevitable if they would not decide to immediately back down.
At the last moment, they did. They backed down. I don’t know how, who made the decision first. Were they communicating, even coordinating the de-escalation?
It was what, in Asia, we call ‘saving face’.
Shots were fired. Most likely, no one died. Halas!
Was an Israeli ‘general’ killed? I don’t know. Actually, I do not want to know. I am absolutely fine with the outcome: no full war in the Middle East. For now, this is the best we can get.
Of course, this should be just the beginning. The insanity has to end. I am not convinced that it will. But what happened at the end of August 2019 clearly indicates that it could.
Unfortunately, we are living in a world when only strength guarantees survival. If
Hezbollah was not as strong as it is now, Israel would most likely not have thought twice; it would have overrun the entire Lebanon, in order to destroy its Shi’a adversary inside it.
But Hezbollah is strong.
And also, we have just learnt that there are at least some ‘boundaries’ which Israel is not willing to cross. In brief: Netanyahu is brutal, but he is not suicidal. For now, Lebanon, Israel and the rest of the Middle East, have survived. For now.
Toronto church Trinity-St. Paul’s shameful suppression of a Palestinian youth cultural event highlights anti-Palestinian rot festering in the United Church of Canada. It ought to also shine a light on a little discussed anti-Palestinian accord UCC leaders signed with Israel lobby groups five decades ago.
Under pressure from B’nai B’rith and the Jewish Defence League the Trinity-St. Paul Centre for Faith, Justice and the Arts recently canceled a room booking “to celebrate the artistic and cultural contributions of Palestinians in the diaspora.” The Palestinian Youth Movement’s spoken word event was to “showcase the winners of the Ghassan Kanafani Resistance Arts Scholarship”, which the JDL and B’nai B’rith chose to target on the grounds the famous novelist was a spokesperson for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine in the early 1970s. After Kanafani and his 17-year old niece were assassinated by the Mossad in Beirut, Lebanon’s Daily Star labeled the novelist “a commando who never fired a gun, whose weapon was a ball-point pen, and his arena the newspaper pages.”
As I detailed in this article Trinity-St. Paul’s spiritual leader is anti-Palestinian leftist Cheri DiNovo. Since publishing that piece the former NDP MPP admitted — to vicious anti-Palestinian/Islamophobe Toronto Sun columnist Sue-Ann Levy, of all people — that she forwarded B’nai B’rith’s concerns to the church’s board, which then cancelled the event. Dropping her progressive standing further, DiNovo unfriended a number of individuals on Facebook who politely questioned her role in suppressing the Palestinian cultural event.
To be fair to DiNovo she isn’t the only Progressive Except for Palestine voice in the UCC. “What happened at Trinity St. Paul’s is not isolated”, wrote Karen Rodman, an ordained UCC minister and prominent Palestine solidarity activist. Last year the UCC seminary at the University of Toronto’s Victoria University withdrew from a Palestinian Liberation Theology program with Reverend Naim Ateek. According to Rodman, work had been underway on Emmanuel College’s continuous learning initiative with Ateek for a year when pressure was brought to bear by Israeli nationalist groups.
Resolutions endorsed at UCC conventions in the 2000s called on Palestinians to recognize Israel as an ethnic/religious supremacist state. The 2009 motion called for “the emergent State of Palestine” to recognize “Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state within safe and secure borders.” In an interview after the 2009 convention Palestinian Canadian journalist Hanna Kawas complained the UCC was asking the victims of a European colonial movement to endorse the supremacist ideology that dispossessed them. In 2012 the UCC “advised against the use of ‘the language of apartheid’ when applied to Israel” and called for a solution to the Palestinian refugees’ right of return so long as it “maintains the demographic integrity of Israel.”
In another sign of the church hierarchy’s encouragement of a colonial ideology, Rodman was harassed and bullied for supporting Palestinian rights. Church officials purportedly called her a “terrorist” for traveling to the West Bank. In response to attacks and biased review process, Rodman filed a complaint with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario (HRTO) against the UCC for discriminating against her anti-Zionist worldview. Last year the HRTO granted Rodman a hearing, which awaits scheduling, to show her anti-Zionist worldview/creed is not just a political view.
(The UCC has supported labelling settlement goods and condemned other aspect of Israel’s occupation. But these resolutions have not been implemented. As an example, no congregation or UCC body implemented a 2012 resolution calling for divestment from companies profiting or supporting the occupation even though a resolution was passed at the subsequent General Council requesting implementation of the 2012 resolution.)
An anti-Palestinian deal UCC leaders brokered decades ago has influenced the church’s indifference to the plight of Palestinians. In the 1950s and 60s the UCC passed a number of resolutions upholding the rights of Palestinians, including those of the refugees to return to their homes. More significantly, the UCC’s influential magazine championed the Palestinian cause. With a circulation of 350,000 in the early 1970s, The Observer criticized Israeli human rights violations. But editor Rev. A.C. Forrest’s support for Palestinians prompted vicious attacks. Emboldened by the blow Israel delivered against pan-Arabism in the 1967 war, B’nai B’rith dubbed Forrest a “Haman”, “Pharaoh” and “anti-Semitic”.
In response, Forrest threatened to sue for libel. B’nai B’rith countersued. A high-profile battle between B’nai B’rith and the UCC ensued. But, new UCC leaders didn’t care much about Palestinians and opposed Forrest, as well as a pro-Palestinian resolution passed at the 1972 UCC convention. Moderator Bruce McLeod and General Secretary George Morris soon sought a “gentleman’s agreement” in which both the UCC and B’nai B’rith would drop the lawsuits. Couched in the language of interfaith sensitivity, the 1973 “peace pact” was about deterring criticism of Israel. As then Canadian Jewish Congress (CJC) President Sol Kanee wrote in a private letter, “it would appear the United Church is determined to chart a more positive course with regard to Israel and the Jewish people, which we hope will be reflected in the ‘Observer.’”
Dozens of pages detail the B’nai B’rith-UCC battle at the Canadian Jewish Archives in Montréal. In one internal file CJC officials say only part of the B’nai B’rith-UCC agreement was published (a similar agreement is thought to have been made between the UCC and CJC and/or Canadian Council of Churches). Part of the “peace pact” published noted, “we recognize and appreciate the interests of Jews everywhere and of the United Church for the events in the Middle East and in the survival of Israel.”
As part of the agreement, the UCC seems to have committed to inform B’nai B’rith/CJC about Israel related affairs or even seek their consent before implementing policy approved by the grassroots. A 2009 Globe and Mail article reported that UCC general council officer Bruce Gregersen indicated that CJC president Bernie Farber “gave his blessing to the UCC resolution” on Israel.
Rodman and others have pushed the church hierarchy to reveal whether the anti-Palestinian agreement is still respected. But UCC leaders have failed to release the full agreement or say it is no longer being followed.
The agreement with B’nai B’rith/CJC has undercut grassroots initiatives within the church that challenge Canada’s complicity in Palestinian dispossession. But, the decision to succumb to B’nai B’rith’s disingenuous attacks 45 years ago has had another equally damaging impact on Palestinians. It has emboldened the anti-Palestinian group to make evermore outrageous demands.
After a half-century more of Israeli land theft and violence, B’nai B’rith demanded a Toronto church suppress an event because it included the name of a famous novelist driven from his home as a child and then blown up by Israel (a quintessential victim of terrorism). If Kanafani’s name “glorifies terrorists and murderers”, as B’nai B’rith claims, then what should we say of a group that defends every act of Israeli violence, including the assassination of a novelist and his niece?
If the UCC won’t have anything to do with a Palestinian youth group that mentions Kanafani’s name they sure better sever all ties to groups promoting Israeli “terrorists and murderers”.
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 riding 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.
United States (US) demands that Iran promise to halt pursuit of nuclear weapons and ballistic missile developments distract from the real intent of the US actions. Knowing that the Islamic Republic is not pursuing nuclear weapons and will react aggressively to sanctions, the US ploy deters other nations from establishing more friendly relations with Iran and from changing their perspectives on the causes of the Middle East crises.
Adherence by all nations to the The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) had potential to stimulate extensive political, economic, and social engagements of the international community with Iran, Investments leading to long lasting attachments, friendships, and alliances would initiate a revitalized, prosperous, and stronger Iran. A new perspective of Iran could yield a revised perspective of a violent, unstable, and disturbed Middle East. Israel and Saudi Arabia would finally receive attention as participants in bringing chaos to the Arab region. Economies committed to Iran’s progress and allied with its interests could bring pressure on Israel and Saudi Arabia to change their destructive behaviors.
Because the demands on Iran can be approached in a less provocative and insinuating manner, the demands are meant to provoke and insinuate. Assuredly, the US wants Iran to eschew nuclear and ballistic weapons, but the provocative approach indicates other purposes — completely alienate Iran, destroy its military capability, and bring Tehran to collapse and submission. Accomplishing the far-reaching goals will not affect the average American, lessen US defense needs, or diminish the continuous battering of the helpless faces of the Middle East. The strategy mostly pleases Israel and Saudi Arabia, who have engineered it, share major responsibillty for the Middle East turmoil, and are using mighty America to subdue the princpal antagonist to their malicious activities. During the 2016 presidential campaign, contender Donald Trump said, “Many nations, including allies, ripped off the US.” President Donald Trump has verified that statement.
Noting the history of US promises to leaders of other nations – give up your aggressive attitudes and you will benefit ─ the US promises make the Ayatollah skeptical. The US reneged on the JPOAC, sent Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic to the World Court and eventual death (although his compromises allowed the Dayton Accords that ended the Yugoslavian conflict), directly assisted NATO in the overthrow of subdued Libyan leader, Moammar Gadhafi, pulverized Iraq after sanctions could not drive that nation to total ruin, rejected Iranian pledge of $560 million worth of assistance to Afghanistan at the Tokyo donors’ conference in January 2002, and, according to the U.S. envoy to Afghanistan, Richard Dobbins, disregarded Iran’s “decisive role in persuading the Northern Alliance delegation to compromise its demands of wanting 60 percent of the portfolios in an interim government.”
Tehran senses it is in a lose-lose situation. Regardless of its decisions and directions,the centuries old Persian lands will be pulverized.
If the US honestly wants to have Iran promise never to pursue nuclear and ballistic missile weapons, it would approach the issues with a question, “What will it take for you (Iran) never to pursue these weapons?” Assuredly, the response would include provisions that require the US to no longer assist the despotic Saudi Kingdom in its oppression of minorities and opposition, in its export of terrorists, and in its slaughter of the Houthis, and the response would propose that the US eliminate financial, military and cooperative support to Israel’s theft of Palestinian lands, oppressive conditions imposed on Palestinians, and daily killings of Palestinian people, and combat Israel’s expansionist plans.
The correct question soliciting a formative response and leading to decisive US actions resolves two situations and benefits the US — fear of Iran developing weapons of mass destruction is relieved and the Middle East is pointed in a direction that achieves justice, peace, and stability for its peoples.
Despite the August 2018 report from the U.S. Department of State’s Iran Action group, which “chronicle iran’s destructive activities,” and consists of everything from most minor to most major, from unsubstantiated to retaliatory, from the present time to before the discovery of dirt, (July 22, 1980 – Bethesda, MD, United States: An Iranian operative assassinated a former Iranian diplomat-in-exile, Ali Akbar Tabatabai, a vocal critic of then-Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.) Iranians will not rebel in sufficient numbers against their own repressive state until they note the end of hypocritical support by western powers of other repressive states. Halting international terrorism, ameliorating the Middle East violence, and preventing any one nation from establishing hegemony in the Arab world starts with President Trump sending Secretary Pompeo to confront Israel and Saudi Arabia, two nations whose records of injustice, aggression, oppression, and violation of human rights exceed that of the oppressive Iran regime.
Otherwise, it will occur on a Sunday morning; always occurs in the early hours on the day of rest. It will come with a roar greater than the sum of all shrieks and screams ever uttered by humankind, rip across fields and cities and burn through the flesh of a part of the world’s population.
A deadly serious tweet at the weekend from Armando Iannucci, the comedy writer responsible for the hugely popular Westminster TV satire show The Thick of It, reveals something significant about the problem of resolving the so-called Labour anti-semitism “crisis”. In response to a tweet by a follower discussing my recent blog post entitled “The plot to keep Corbyn out of power”, Iannucci observed: “Fresh insight on the Labour antisemitism story. It’s all a lie stoked up by Jews.”
It is very unlikely that Iannucci had actually read my post beyond the headline. If he did, it would suggest he has significant problems with basic comprehension. More likely he was simply demonstrating his own misunderstanding of what those of us who challenge the narrative of a Labour anti-semitism “crisis” are actually saying.
There is much nonsense written about how we all now live in our own echo chambers. That may still be largely true if your opinions fit neatly inside the so-called Overton window, which in the UK spans the short leap from Blairism to Conservatism. Stick within this narrow manufactured consensus of supposedly rational policy – neoliberal orthodoxy at home, and neoconservative warmongering abroad – and you will rarely be exposed in depth to any other ideas unless you consciously seek them out.
Cocooned from real debate
But those of us whose politics are considered “radical” or “dissident” are confronted with the ideas of these consensus-enforcers almost every waking moment. There is no escape from the BBC, or the topical TV shows recycling the issues dominating the pages of the billionaire-owned press, or the policy agendas of a political class owned by the global corporations that now run our societies, or the conversations of friends and family shaped by these upholders of the status quo.
Unlike those in the political centre who are reassured each day by the consensus telling them that they are sensible, responsible, sane people, those on the supposedly “radical fringes” of politics must listen to a public discourse that characterises them as deluded and dangerous, as prey to wild conspiracy theories and populism, and now – after Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has threatened to break one side of the Overton window’s frame by rejecting neoliberalism and endless foreign wars – as unconscionable anti-semites.
Those in the centre may have spent a lifetime cocooned from real political debate but in recent years they have faced two massive disruptions to their peace of mind: the entry of a “radical”, in the form of Corbyn, into mainstream politics; and the partial democratisation of public debate with the growth of social media. Both developments have proved most unwelcome to the centrists.
They are now horrified to hear other kinds or voices saying things that once would never have been allowed near a newspaper or micophone. When they are exposed to critical voices on new media platforms, they react by characterising them as “offensive”, “populism”, “fake news” or “demonisation”. Their instinct is to impugn their critics’ credibility and motives rather than engage with their arguments, and to shut down or limit the platforms where these alternative opinions can be aired.
Shouting into the wind
Although they have been brought superficially into contact with these ideas, like most people used to the comforts of privilege they can afford not to listen. They understand enough to know that we disagree with them, but they do not care to make sense of why. They hear our noise, they fear it even, but they do not stay quiet long enough to learn anything about what we have to say.
And for that reason we are shouting into the wind, our words carried far off where they can do no harm. When we fall silent, all we hear is a caricature of the arguments we have articulated clearly.
This could not be more evident than in the case of Chis Williamson, a political ally of Corbyn’s who like so many others has found himself consumed by the evidence-free consensus that, when Corbyn was elected party leader four years ago, Labour became “institutionally anti-semitic” overnight.
Corbyn’s commitment to tackling all kinds of racism, of course, risks smashing the consensus on Israel, a country that has been indulged by European and US leaders for decades. Israel has long been firmly in the west’s privileged fold – provided with diplomatic, financial and military assistance – even though, under Netanyahu, it no longer tries to conceal its ever more repressive policies towards the Palestinians.
Incredibly, Israel’s easily documented policies of ethnic cleansing and apartheid are not only still unpunished but it has become ever harder to talk about them. Month by month, more western states move towards outlawing the world’s first major solidarity movement with the Palestinians – an entirely non-violent one – which calls for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel until it concedes the same rights to Palestinians as it does to Jews in the region.
Not daring to listen
The consensual public narrative about Williamson is that he made an anti-semitic remark to Labour party members. All wings of the UK media, including supposedly liberal outlets like the Guardian, have reported that Williamson was caught saying Labour had been “too apologetic” about anti-semitism. The fact that a video recording of his statement is all over social media, showing that he didn’t say anything of the sort, is of no significance to them. The centrists aren’t interested in the evidence. They are determined to keep the privilege of their echo chamber.
The problem for the so-called “radical” is that the unwillingness of the centrists to listen is compounded by a deeper problem – that like Iannucci, they dare not listen. The mischaracterisation of Williamson’s statement can help us understand why.
What Williamson said was not that Labour had been “too apologetic” about anti-semitism, but that Labour had been “too apologetic” in the face of smears that party members were anti-semitic. He wasn’t minimising anti-semitism, he was defending the membership from a campaign of demonisation that portrays them as anti-semites – something you might think delicate centrists, so ready to take offence, might have understood.
But the centrists aren’t listening to what Williamson actually said. They hear only what they need him to have said for their worldview to continue making sense.
Trapped in an echo chamber
Here is what Iannucci, Billy Bragg, Owen Jones, Tom Watson and Margaret Hodge apparently believe Williamson said:
We in Labour are not interested in the fact that Jews experience racism from our party. We are determined to ignore the problem of anti-semitism they have identified. Instead of taking responsibility for our racism, we are going to blame Jews for the problem. When we say anti-semitism has been weaponised, what we mean is that Jews are plotting against our party. We are writing a new Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
Seen like this, Williamson and most of the Labour membership are anti-semites. But only someone trapped in their own echo chamber could really believe this is a view anyone in Labour has actually endorsed. Williamson and the members who support him aren’t saying Jews are behind the smearing of Labour. They are saying the dominant forces of our society are.
And this is where the real chasm between the centrists and the radicals opens up. The issue of anti-semitism has become a shadow play for centrists, offering them a supposed moral high ground, as they try to hold the fort against the ideological barbarians at the gate.
Two views of social conflict
There are two ways of understanding conflict in our societies.
The centrists have adopted as their own an understanding of the world cultivated for them by a lifetime of listening to, and trusting in, the state-corporate media. It presents conflict as a battle between personalities, individual and collective: between Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt; between Republicans and Democrats; between Trump and Antifa; between Julian Assange and two Swedish women; between Apple Mac and Windows; between men from Mars and women from Venus; between social conservatives and the LGBT movement; between blacks and whites; between Brexiteers and Remainers; between Jews and anti-semites.
This understanding of the world – as a battle between personalities, and the ideas and values they embody – is the one we are encouraged to focus on by the political and media class. That is for three reasons. First, presenting politics as exclusively a battle between people and ideas keeps most of us divided and feuding rather in solidarity with each other. Second, it has been relatively easy to determine the winners of this kind of conflict when the narrative can be controlled through the state-corporate media. And third, the focus on personalities stops us thinking about a much more profound and meaningful way of viewing conflict – as a class-based, economic struggle.
This way of understanding conflict sees it as structural, as a battle between those with money and power and those without. On this view, society is structured by the powerful to maintain and expand their power. This theory of conflict regards the corporate media not as a neutral platform for debating ideas and values, but as a weapon, one designed to cultivate only those ideas and values that preserve the power of the existing elite. This is what Noam Chomsky and others have called “brainwashing under freedom” by the western media.
The brutal logic of power
The structural nature of power should be obvious, if we hadn’t been so brainwashed to think otherwise by our media. To gain some perspective, consider a different historical time such as the feudal period. It would sound preposterous to offer an analysis that society then was shaped chiefly by whether the king and his barons were nice people or bad. There weren’t dramatic, structural changes every time a new prince ascended to the throne. There was a great deal of continuity and consistency over many centuries because each king and his courtiers had the same economic motive to justify a system preserving their wealth and privilege. A king could tinker with the system in ways suited to his personality, but the ruthless, brutal core of the system had to be maintained. Any king who lacked these steely qualities would be toppled by someone who didn’t.
The same applies today to the heads of major corporations. So long as it proves profitable, Exxon is not going to stop despoiling the planet to extract hydrocarbons, whoever is appointed CEO. Exxon could never appoint a “nice” CEO in the sense of someone prepared to forgo profit and shareholder value – not so long as the current neoliberal economic model dominates. Even were a ruthless CEO to have a Damascene conversion in the job, suddenly becoming a serious environmentalist, he or she would be removed before they could take any decisions that might jeopardise the corporation’s profits.
That is why genuine radical leftists are much less interested in who becomes the figurehead of a corrupt and corrupting political system than they are in finding ways to challenge the system and thereby highlight how power operates in our society. The goal is fundamental change, now of a kind that is needed to save us as a species, rather than continuing image management.
Corbyn’s rise is so important because he threatens to lift the veil on the power structure, either because he is forced into a clash with it as he tries to implement his policies or because he is crushed by it before he can pursue those policies. Corbyn offers a unique opportunity to hold up a mirror to British society, stripping away the beautified mask to see the ugly skeleton-face below. He risks making the carefully concealed structure of power visible. And this is precisely why he is so dangerous to the status-quo-supporting centrists.
No single Jewish view
But still, aren’t Williamson and Labour members suggesting that “Jews” are the ones behind this, as Iannucci infers? When we speak of plots by the powerful, global corporations, the banks and capitalists, aren’t we really using coded language for “Jews”? And if we aren’t, how do we explain the fact that Jews are so certain that Labour is mired in “institutional anti-semitism”?
“Jews”, however, are not of one mind on this issue, except in the imagination of centrists pursuing the “Labour is institutionally anti-semitic” narrative. Certainly, there are lots of different views among British Jews about Labour. It’s just that only one strand of opinion is being given a platform by the political and media class – the one against Corbyn. That should hardly surprise us if, as I explained, the corporate media are not there to reflect different constituencies of opinion, but to enforce a consensus that serves the powerful.
The problem with Iannucci’s implicit argument that Jews should be left to decide whether Labour is anti-semitic – and that denying them that right is itself anti-semitic – is not only that it assumes Jews are of a single view. It makes two further dubious assumptions: that those who have been given a voice on the subject have actually experienced anti-semitism in Labour, and that they have no other identifiable motives for making such a claim. Neither assumption withstands scrutiny.
When the largely conservative leadership of the Board of Deputies is given centre-stage as spokesperson for British Jews on the issue of Labour and Corbyn, it can speak with no meaningful authority. Its previous leader, Jonathan Arkush, was not only an unabashed supporter of the Conservative Party, but openly welcomed its governing alliance with Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party, extreme Protestant loyalists, as “positive news” for Jews. His successor, Marie van der Zyl, argues that the Board exists “to promote a sympathetic understanding of Israel” – a position that necessarily drives her and the Board into a profound ideological clash with Corbyn and much of the Labour membership behind him.
Examples crumble on inspection
Those Jews inside Labour vociferously promoting claims of a supposed anti-semitism “crisis” in Labour, chiefly the Jewish Labour Movement and a handful of Labour MPs, have been much less forthcoming with actual examples. There is no doubt, as we are often reminded, that former Labour MP Luciana Berger received death threats, but it is much less often noted that those threats did not come from Labour members, they came from the far right. Dossiers like the one submitted by MP Margaret Hodge have shown to be cluttered with cases of alleged anti-semitism that have nothing to do with the Labour party. And MP Ruth Smeeth’s infamous claims of an anti-semitic remark against her by black anti-racism activist Marc Wadsworth crumbled on closer inspection, as did her claim to have received 25,000 anti-semitic comments in a matter of days.
The motives of the leadership of the Jewish Labour Movement need questioning too, as an Al-Jazeera undercover investigation revealed two years ago. It exposed the fact that the JLM was working closely with Shai Masot, an agent inside the Israeli embassy whose job was to help mobilise opposition to Corbyn. Again unsurprisingly given that the media serves the interests of power, Al-Jazeera’s investigation received negligible coverage and made almost no impression outside pro-Palestinian circles despite its shocking findings.
As self-confessed Zionists, and hardline ones at that, the leaders of the JLM – representing only a few hundreds members, some of them not Jewish – regard Israel as a supremely important issue, and seem largely indifferent to what Israel is doing to the Palestinians. The JLM and its allies in Labour Friends of Israel have been central to efforts to force the Labour party to adopt a new definition of anti-semitism that conflates strong criticism of Israel with Jew hatred. Jewish supporters of Corbyn inside Labour, who have been highly critical the JLM and Labour Friends of Israel, such as Jewish Voice for Labour, have been mostly sidelined in media coverage or dismissed as the “wrong kind of Jews”.
In other words, when we hear from Jewish organisations, it is specifically the ones that have an agenda deeply at odds with Corbyn’s – either for his left wing politics or for his adamant opposition to Israeli oppression. Supposed “Jewish” opinion on Labour has simply become another echo chamber, one selected for amplification because its message is the one centrists want to hear: that Corbyn and his supporters are very bad people who must not be allowed near power.
Polls reveal ugly racism
But even if all that is true, polls suggest a significant number of ordinary Jews think there is a problem with anti-semitism in Labour. How can we dismiss or denigrate their views?
Well, if only one view of Labour and anti-semitism is being aired in the media, it is almost certain that a majority of Jews will end up believing the truth of a supposed “Corbyn threat”. Jews are no different from the rest of us. No smoke without fire, they’ll say. If the media keep telling them that Williamson said Labour was “too apologetic” about anti-semitism, even though it is documented that he didn’t, then most – those who listen to the BBC and read the papers rather than doing the hard work of their own research – will come to believe it must be true he said it. The evidence is irrelevant if a consensus has been manufactured in spite of the evidence.
Further, the fact that a majority believe something is true quite obviously doesn’t make it true – or right. And that applies to Jews just as much as any other group. If you doubt me, consider this. Polls of Israeli Jews consistently show them holding views that would appall most people in Britain, including British Jews. One survey published in December and conducted by Israeli Channel 10 TV showed that 52 per cent of Israeli Jews are prepared to admit that they think Jews are better than non-Jews, with only 20 per cent disagreeing with the statement. Some 88 per cent are disturbed at the idea of their son befriending a girl from the fifth of Israel’s population who are Arab. And three-quarters are worried by hearing a public conversation held in the mother tongue of this large, quiescent Arab minority.
So if Israeli Jews can be so obviously wrong in their beliefs and values, if the ugliest forms of racism are rife in their society after long exposure to simple-minded Arab hatred from their own political and media class, why should we expect more from British Jews – or from ourselves – after long exposure to a similar media-constructed consensus? To believe otherwise would be to assume that most of us are capable of building our own value systems from scratch, that we can develop a worldview in total isolation from the information and narratives we are bombarded with every day by the media and our politicians.
Whipping up fear
There is a plot against Corbyn to stop him getting anywhere near power. It is a very obvious one, as I documented in my last post. It has taken many forms over the past four years, but has settled on anti-semitism as the most effective smear because it is such a difficult accusation to deny if the actual evidence is not taken into account, as in Williamson’s case – and so many other examples – illustrate.
Is it not telling that the media, while going to such lengths to alert audiences to the Jewish identity of those offended by Labour anti-semitism, have so rarely mentioned that many of those supposedly doing the offending – including those suspended and expelled by Labour for anti-semitism – are Jewish themselves?The media and status-quo-enforcing politicians on both sides of the aisle have whipped up fear over anti-semitism among a portion of British Jews, just as their US equivalents did among a majority of Americans during the McCarthy witch hunts for Communists and during round-ups of Asians during World War Two.
They have done so because Corbyn poses a genuine threat, not to Jews but to a power structure the political and media establishment are deeply invested in – ideologically, financially and emotionally. This class is at war with ordinary people, Jews and non-Jews alike. And it will use any means necessary to prevent disrupting the continuing dominance of turbo-charged neoliberalism, an economic system that threatens all our futures on this planet.
One day, if we survive as a species, when neoliberalism looks as archaic and outmoded as feudalism does to us today, all of this will look much clearer. By then, we may finally understand that we were played for fools – all of us.
Is Justin Trudeau a racist? He and his government certainly accept and promote anti-Palestinianism. Two recent moves reaffirm his government’s pattern of blaming Palestinians for their dispossession and subjugation.
Last week the government released its updated terrorist list. An eighth Palestinian organization was added and the International Relief Fund for the Afflicted and Needy (IRFAN) was re-designated. The first ever Canadian-based group designated a terrorist organization, IRFAN was listed by the Stephen Harper government for engaging in the ghastly act of supporting orphans and a hospital in the Gaza Strip through official (Hamas controlled) channels.
Recently, the Liberals also announced they were formally adopting the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) definition of antisemitism as part of its anti-racism strategy. The explicit aim of those pushing the IHRA’s definition of antisemitism is to silence or marginalize those who criticize Palestinian dispossession and support the Palestinian civil society led Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement. The PM has repeatedly equated supporting Palestinian rights with hatred towards Jews and participated in a unprecedented smear against prominent Palestinian solidarity activist Dimitri Lascaris last summer.
Alongside efforts to demonize and delegitimize those advocating for a people under occupation, the Trudeau government has repeatedly justified violence against Palestinians. Last month Global Affairs Canada tweeted, “Canada condemns the barrage of rocket attacks from Gaza into Israel by Hamas and other terrorist groups, which have killed and injured civilians. This indiscriminate targeting of civilians is not acceptable. We call for an immediate end to this violence.” The statement was a response to an Israeli killed by rockets fired from Gaza and seven Palestinians killed in the open-air prison by the Israeli military. In the year before 200 Palestinians were killed and another 5,000 injured by live fire in peaceful March of Return protests in Gaza. Not a single Israeli died during these protests.
The Trudeau government has repeatedly isolated Canada from world opinion on Palestinian rights. Canada has joined the US, Israel, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Micronesia and Palau in opposing UN resolutions in favour of Palestinian rights that nearly every other country supported. In fact, the Trudeau Liberals may have the most anti-Palestinian voting record of any recent Canadian government. In August Liberal MP Anthony Housefather boasted in a Canadian Jewish News article: “We have voted against 87% of the resolutions singling out Israel for condemnation at the General Assembly versus 61% for the Harper government, 19% for the Martin and Mulroney governments and 3% for the Chrétien government. We have also supported 0% of these resolutions, compared to 23% support under Harper, 52% under Mulroney, 71% under Martin and 79% under Chretien.”
Further legitimating its illegal occupation, the Liberals “modernized” Canada’s two-decade-old Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with Israel that allows West Bank settlement products to enter Canada duty-free. To promote an accordthat recently received royal assent, International Trade Minister Jim Carr traveled to Israel and touted its benefits to Israel lobby organizations in Toronto and Winnipeg. “Minister Carr strengthens bilateral ties between Canada and Israel”, explained a June 20 press release.
In mid-2017 the federal government said its FTA with Israel trumps Canada’s Food and Drugs Act after the Canadian Food Inspection Agency called for accurate labelling of wines produced in the occupied West Bank. After David Kattenburg repeatedly complained about inaccurate labels on two wines sold in Ontario, the CFIA notified the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) that it “would not be acceptable and would be considered misleading” to declare Israel as the country of origin for wines produced in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Quoting from longstanding official Canadian policy, CFIA noted that “the government of Canada does not recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the territories occupied in 1967.” In response to pressure from the Israeli embassy, Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs and B’nai Brith, CFIA quickly reversed its decision. “We did not fully consider the Canada-Israel Free Trade Agreement,” a terse CFIA statement explained. “These wines adhere to the Agreement and therefore we can confirm that the products in question can be sold as currently labelled.”
Each year Canadian taxpayers subsidize hundreds of millions of dollars in charitable donations to Israel despite that country having a GDP per capita only slightly below Canada’s. (How many Canadian charities funnel money to Sweden or Japan?) Millions of dollars are also channeled to projects supporting West Bank settlements, explicitly racist institutions and Israel’s powerful military, which may all contravene Canadian charitable law. In response to a formal complaint submitted by four Palestine solidarity activists and Independent Jewish Voices Canada in fall 2017, the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) began an audit of the Jewish National Fund for contravening Canadian charitable law. Despite the JNF openly supporting the Israeli military in explicit contravention of charitable law, the audit has been going on for a year and a half. The CRA is undoubtedly facing significant behind-the-scenes pressure to let the JNF off with little more than a slap on the wrist. In 2013 Trudeau attended a JNF gala and other Liberal cabinet ministers have participated in more recent events put on by an explicitly racist organization Liberal MP Michael Leavitt used to oversee. (In a positive step, the Beth Oloth Charitable Organization, which had $60 million in revenue in 2017, had its charitable status revoked in January for supporting the Israeli military.)
Of course, the Trudeau government would deny its racism towards Palestinians. They will point to their “aid” given to the Palestinian Authority. But, in fact, much of that money is used in an explicit bid to advance Israel’s interests by building a security apparatus to protect the corrupt PA from popular disgust over its compliance in the face of ongoing Israeli settlement building. The Canadian military’s Operation Proteus, which contributes to the Office of the United States Security Coordinator, trains Palestinian security forces to suppress “popular protest” against the PA, the “subcontractor of the Occupation”.
In a recently published assessment of 80 donor reports from nine countries/institutions titled “Donor Perceptions of Palestine: Limits to Aid Effectiveness” Jeremy Wildeman concludes that Canada, the US and International Monetary Fund employed the most anti-Palestinian language. “Canada and the US,” the academic writes, “were preoccupied with providing security for Israel from Palestinian violence, but not Palestinians from Israeli violence, effectively inverting the relationship of occupier and occupied.”
At a recent meeting, BDS-Québec decided to launch a campaign targeting Justin Trudeau in the upcoming federal election campaign. The plan is to swamp his Papineau ridding with leaflets and posters highlighting the Prime Minister’s anti-Palestinianism. It’s time politicians pay a political price for their active support of Israel’s racism.
Europe’s “Scramble for Africa” began in earnest in 1881, but never ended. The attempt at dominating the continent using old and new strategies continues to define western relationship with this rich continent.
This reality was further validated when I arrived in Nairobi, Kenya on June 23. Although my objective was to address various Kenyan audiences at universities, public forums and the media, I also came here to learn. Kenya, like the rest of Africa, is a source of inspiration for all anti-colonial, liberation movements around the world. We, Palestinians, can learn a great deal from the Kenyan struggle.
Although African countries have fought valiant battles for their freedom against their western colonizers, neocolonialism now defines the relationship between many independent African countries and their former occupiers. Political meddling, economic control and, at times, military interventions, as in the recent cases of Libya and Mali, point to the unfortunate reality that Africa remains, in myriad ways, hostage to western priorities, interests and dictates.
In the infamous Berlin Conference of 1884, western colonial regimes attempted to mediate among the various powers that were competing over Africa’s largesse. It assigned each with a share of the African continent, as if Africa was the property of the west and its white colonists. Millions of Africans died in that protracted, bloody episode unleashed by the west which, shamelessly, promoted its genocidal oppression as a civilizational project.
Like most colonized countries in the Southern hemisphere, Africans fought disproportionate battles to gain their precious freedom. Here in Kenya, which became an official British colony in the 1920s, Kenya’s freedom fighters rose in rebellion against the brutality of their oppressors. Most notable among the various resistance campaigns, the “Mau Mau” rebellion of the 1950s remains a stark example of the courage of Kenyans and the cruelty of colonial Britain. Thousands of people were killed, wounded, disappeared or were imprisoned under the harshest of conditions.
Palestine fell under Brtish occupation, the so-called British Mandate, around the period that Kenya also became a British colony. Palestinians, too, fought and fell in their thousands as they employed various methods of collective resistance, including the legendary strike and rebellion of 1936.
The same British killing machine that operated in Palestine and Kenya around that time, also operated, with the same degree of senseless violence, against numerous other nations around the world.
While Palestine was handed over to the Zionist Movement to establish the State of Israel in May 1948, Kenya achieved its indepedence in December 1963.
At one of my recent talks in Nairobi, I was asked by a young participant about “Palestinian terrorism”. I told her that Palestinian fighters of today are Kenya’s “Mau Mau” rebels of yesteryear. That, if we allow western and Israeli propaganda to define the discourse of national liberation on Palestine, then we condemn all national liberation movements throughout the Southern hemisphere, including Kenya’s own freedom fighters.
We, Palestinians, however, must shoulder part of the blame of why our narrative as an oppressed, colonized and resisting nation is now misunderstood in parts of Africa
When the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) committed its historical blunder by signing off Palestinian rights in Oslo in 1993, it abandoned a decades-long Palestinian discourse of resistance and liberation. Instead, it subscribed to a whole new discourse, riddled with carefully-worded language sanctioned by Washington and its European allies. Whenever Palestinians dared to deviate from their assigned role, they were decreed by the west to return to the negotiating table,” as the latter became a metaphor of obedience and submission.
Throughout these years, Palestinians mostly abandoned their far more meaningful alliances in Africa. Instead, they endlessly appealed to the goodwill of the west, hoping that the very colonial powers that have primarily created, sustained and armed Israel, would miraculously become more balanced and humane.
However, Washington, London, Paris, Berlin, etc., remained committed to Israel and, despite occasional polite criticism of the Israeli government, continued to channel their weapons, warplanes and submarines to every Israeli government that has ruled over Palestinians for the last seven decades.
Alas, while Palestinians were learning their painful lesson, betrayed repeatedly by those who avowed to respect democracy and human rights, many African nations began seeing in Israel a possible ally. Kenya is, sadly, one of those countries.
Understanding the significance of Africa in terms of its economic and political potential (support for Israel at the UN General Assembly), right wing Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has launched his own “Scramble for Africa”. Netanyahu’s diplomatic conquests on the continent have been celebrated by Israeli media as “historic”, while the Palestinian leadership remained oblivious to the rapidly changing political landscape.
Kenya is one of Israel’s success stories. In November 2017, Netanyahu attended the inauguration of Kenyan President, Uhuru Kenyatta, who supposedly received an astonishing 98% of votes in the last elections. While Kenyans rose in rebellion against their corrupt ruling classes, Netanyahu was seen embracing Kenyatta as a dear friend and ally.
Netanyahu’s strategy in Kenya – and the rest of Africa – has been based on the same logic, where Israel would use its security technology to support corrupt and undemocratic regimes, in exchange for their political support.
Tel Aviv had hoped that the first-ever Israel-Africa summit in Togo would usher in a complete paradigm shift in Israeli-African relations. However, the October 2017 conference never actualized, due to pressure by various African countries, including South Africa. There is still enough support for Palestine on the continent to defeat Israeli stratagem. But that could change soon in favor of Israel, if Palestinians and their allies do not wake up to the alarming reality.
The Palestinian leadership, intellectuals, artists and civil society ambassadors must shift their attention back to the Southern hemisphere – Africa, in particular – rediscovering the untapped wealth of true, unconditional human solidarity that is provided by the peoples of this ever-generous continent.
The legendary Tanzanian freedom fighter, Mwalimu Nyerere – who is also celebrated in Kenya – knew too well where his solidarity lay. “We have never hesitated in our support for the right of the people of Palestine to have their own land,” he once said, a sentiment that was repeated by the iconic late South African leader, Nelson Mandela, and many other African liberation leaders.
This generation of African leaders should not deviate from that noble legacy. If they betray it, they betray themselves, along with the righteous struggles of their own peoples.
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.”