By Theresa Wolfwood
Canadian writer Yves Engler was in Victoria recently to speak publicly and to promote his new book entitled: Canada & Israel: Building Apartheid. Most of the people who came to hear him speak think they are fairly well informed about Canadian foreign policy. Many had read this young, full-time historian and writer’s previous books; The Black Book of Canadian Foreign Policy (see review on www.bbcf.ca) and Canada in Haiti, co-authored with Anthony Fenton. But when Engler gave his carefully prepared and well-documented revelations of Canada’s relationship with Israel; there were some surprises. He asks: Is Canada Israel?
Yes, we are Israel. When Israel attacked and bombed Gaza (using airplanes with Canadian-made parts by companies the Canada Pension Plan invests in) Venezuela expelled Israel’s ambassador and later broke diplomatic ties with Israel. Ottawa stepped right in to help. The Canadian embassy now represents Israel in Venezuela as it has done for some years in Cuba.
Although Canadian corporate media do not even show a pretense of giving Palestine and Palestinian news a fair coverage and no political party shows any leadership in policy or action to support human rights and justice for Palestine, Canada has a powerful independent media, including book publishers. Increasing numbers of Canadians, including many of Jewish descent, are speaking and campaigning against Canada’s involvement with a country which enforces an illegal occupation, steals land and destroys homes, violates most of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and UN resolutions. There has been an upsurge of concern, outrage and action since the Gaza invasion and the almost four years of blockade (internet photo of Engler) and isolation of Gaza. Canada was the second country to withdraw all aid from Gaza, to refuse to recognize its government and to increase help to Israel and its allies in Palestine. Recently Canada ended its contribution to UNRWRA, the UN agency that provides basic human needs – like schools and sanitation- to hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees.
Using the criteria of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Engler analyzed the policies of the state of Israel and it comes up Apartheid in every definition of that well known and apt word that once described the lives of millions of South Africans.
Under legal rights; #8 & #9 rights of security against unreasonable seizure and the right not to be arbitrarily detained or imprisoned. Israel has about 8000 Palestinian prisoners, for whom these rights have been violated; #12 everyone has the right not to be subjected to any cruel and unusual treatment or punishment; the blockade and bombing and killing of civilians of Gaza certainly violates this provision. Under democratic rights: all Canadians have the right to vote #1. Palestinians cannot vote in Israel – even though they are ruled by its government. Under #6 (1) and (2) re the right to leave and re-enter and to move freely; that right is denied to Palestinians both within and outside of Israel and Palestine. Under equality rights which call for equality without racial or ethnic origin: that right is constantly violated in Israel and Palestine; only Palestinians require pass cards and are denied freedom of movement. Social and education services are very different for Arab Israelis and Jewish Israelis. Any one of Jewish ethnicity can get Israeli citizenship; no one else can; Jews have the right of return, but Arabs do not.
How is it possible that a country that cherishes and codifies its rights and freedom is so willing to be a totally uncritical partner of a government that constantly denies these fundamentals to its subject citizens?
Engler went back into our history to reveal the roots of Zionism which were Christian one hundred years ago; still today millions of Canadians believe that Christ will only come again in a Jewish nation and so in essence they support Zionism and Canadian (and US) politicians who share this belief. But the need to establish the Israel state as enacted in the Balfour agreement was seen as an essential part of imperialist expansion and security in the time of the British Empire – of which Canada was a willing member. Jewish Zionists, early on, saw that a Zionist state in the Near East would serve the interests of British imperialism, trade routes to Asia, as well as their own interests. Engler quoted Canadian Prime Minister Arthur Meighen who said in 1915, “I think I can speak for those of the Christian faith when I express the wish that God speed the day when the land of your [Jewish] forefathers shall be yours again. This task I hope will be performed by that champion of liberty the world over — the British Empire.”
Few Canadian politicians have deviated from this official enthusiasm for a Zionist state. Lester Pearson was a key party to pushing the new state of Israel through the United Nations. Engler reports that Canada’s representative on the 1947 UN Special Committee on Palestine, former Supreme Court justice Ivan C. Rand, pushed for Israel to receive a greater share of the land in Palestine and opposed the creation of a bi-national state. Lester Pearson “worked feverishly to broker a partition plan acceptable to Moscow and Washington”.
“If you look at Pearson’s record on Israel, he didn’t care about what the indigenous population had to say in 1947,” Engler says. “He cared about what Washington had to say or what London had to say, what Moscow had to say, and maybe a little bit about what the Jewish Zionist lobby in this country had to say.”
Later John Diefenbaker inaugurated “Canada Park” funded by Canadian Zionist groups with charitable status and built on the ruins of Palestinian villages that were sacked and whose residents were expelled. In other words, illegal settlements and destruction of the rights of Palestinians were and still are funded by Canadian taxpayers.
Canada has a secret and dirty role in close cooperation with Mossad, Israel’s secret police, giving them information, false Canadian passports, and assistance in international spying.
Engler who is Jewish and was once a Zionist activist says that Canada’s support of Israel, including our 1997 Free Trade agreement, has less to do with a small amount of trade or a Jewish voter lobby in Canada. Even less so now as more and more Jewish-Canadians are openly critical of Israel’s policies; they say, “Not in our name.”
Canada went from being a junior member of the British Empire to being a junior member of the American Empire, back around the time of the Suez crisis in 1956 and the solidifying of our NATO & NORAD membership when Pearson welcomed nuclear weapons onto Canadian soil. Engler says our uncritical and unwavering support of Israel is based on our subservient role and willing service in the American empire – which, like Britain, wants an ally and a climate of instability in the Near East.
Harper’s government publicly supports Israel’s “cruel and unusual punishment of Gaza and we profit from the sale of arms used in the invasion of Gaza. Peter Kent, junior foreign minister, said in February, 2010 that, “An attack on Israel would be considered an attack on Canada” Again: Canada is Israel.
Engler says, “There is a long history of Canadian support for Zionism, a European settler ideology that has violently dispossessed Palestinians for more than six decades.” The latest effort of our government to silence any call for rights and freedoms for Palestinian is a Canadian Parliamentary Coalition to Combat Antisemitism of all parties except the Bloc Québécois which withdrew from the because it considers it “biased” in favour of Israel and against the Palestinians. Equating Antisemitism with criticism of the state of Israel is like being called anti-Canadian if one criticizes our military role in Afghanistan (not that many politicians do, but many citizens do. Does that make us anti-Canadian?) NDP’s Judy Wasylycia-Leis sits on this committee and endorses its mandate.
But Engler sees many hopeful signs that support for lawless colonialism is weakening in Canada Many new social movements are forming and acting, including a number comprising Canadian Jewish citizens. Human rights and solidarity groups are growing in strength, supporting international boycotts of and divestment in Israel. Trade unions are taking strong positions – CUPW and locals of CUPE while the UK Trade Union Congress passed a historic resolution calling for boycotts and sanctions last year. This is a struggle for human rights and freedoms and many Canadian now see that our policies deny both to Palestinians.
Engler’s new book Canada and Israel: Building Apartheid published by Fernwood and RED is now available at independent booksellers. By request of the author it will not be sold at Chapters which is the object of a Canada-wide boycott because its owners support the Israeli military through a charitable foundation. Read the book review on www.bbcf.ca