Supporters of Israel have had it good in Canada.
The outgoing government is wildly supportive and the opposition New Democratic Party has purged a number of candidates for publicly expressing pro-Palestinian sympathies.
But national elections on 19 October may turn out to be the zenith of Israeli influence.
The pro-Israel stance of Prime Minister Stephen Harper is legend. At the United Nations General Assembly recently, Canadian diplomats voted against the vast majority of the world in opposing a bid to fly the Palestinian flag at the UN headquarters.
Further adding to Harper’s Zionist credibility, Canada and Israel recently expanded their free trade agreement, which allows goods from Jewish-only settlements in the occupied West Bank to enter Canada duty free.
Aside from Israel, Canada may be the only country that isn’t officially supporting the nuclear deal between Iran and the P5+1 (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, as well as Germany).
Protecting Israel’s nukes
While they’ve criticized the accord for not guaranteeing that Iran won’t pursue a nuclear weapon, Harper’s Conservatives have repeatedly opposed initiatives addressing Israel’s undeclared nuclear activities.
This week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu singled out Canada, along with the US and Australia, for praise for blocking a resolution at the UN atomic energy agency’s annual meeting in Vienna censuring Israel over its nuclear capabilities.
In the spring, Canada joined the US and the UK in opposing a plan for a nuclear-weapons-free zone in the Middle East during a review conference of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). As the region’s only nuclear-armed state, Israel objected to scheduling a conference on a nuclear-free Middle East even though it hasn’t signed the NPT.
In a bid to protect Israel’s large nuclear stockpile, Canadian diplomats worked to scuttle the meeting.
Harper has deftly pandered to Israel for his political gain. The prime minister’s aggressive public defense of Israeli actions pleases elements of his Christian evangelical base and plays well with most of the Jewish community, all the while strengthening his neoconservative bona fides.
But the Conservatives have also successfully stoked tensions within the opposition parties over Israel.
At the start of the ongoing election campaign the Conservatives set up a website titled “Meet the NDP,” detailing purportedly controversial statements its candidates have made on various issues including a number of comments critical of Israel.
One NDP candidate the Conservatives targeted, Morgan Wheeldon, was forced to resign by the party leadership because he wrote on Facebook that Israel committed war crimes in Gaza during the summer of 2014. Wheeldon added that “one could argue that Israel’s intention was always to ethnically cleanse the region — there are direct quotations proving this to be the case.”
Apparently, the NDP has excluded as many as eight individuals from contesting nominations to be candidates in parliamentary districts because of comments criticizing Israel.
When the NDP blocked Paul Manly, a filmmaker and son of a former NDP member of parliament, from seeking the NDP candidacy in British Columbia’s Nanaimo-Ladysmith district at the start of the year, he decided to run for the Green Party.
In 2012, Manly criticized the NDP after it failed to call on Israel to release his father who was arrested on a humanitarian boat bound for Gaza.
Jolting the Greens
The Greens’ embrace of Manly reflects the growing clout of pro-Palestinian activists inside Canada’s fourth national party.
In November 2013, a Jewish Tribune reporter challenged Green Party leader Elizabeth May over her planned participation in a fundraiser for Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CPJME).
Apparently thinking the interview wouldn’t be read outside pro-Israel circles, May described CJPME as “anti-Israel” and noted that she had attended a Jewish National Fund (JNF) fundraiser in Ottawa, even lauding the JNF for “the great work that’s done in making the desert bloom.”
The JNF is a Zionist organization that predates the establishment of Israel and currently uses “tree-planting” initiatives as a cover for uprooting Palestinians from their land.
While the Jewish Tribune likely saw its intervention as a way to pressure May, it sparked a pro-Palestinian backlash that jolted the Green Party’s only member of parliament and pushed the party towards a better position on the issue. A few months later the party approved a resolution critical of Israeli expansionism.
And after Paul Estrin, the Green Party president, published an anti-Palestinian blog post in the midst of Israel’s 2014 assault on Gaza, he was pressured to resign.
It seems Green Party activists are no longer willing to accept blatant anti-Palestinian sentiment. Moreover, the party leadership has realized it can bleed support from the NDP, particularly among activists, over Israel.
If NDP leader Thomas Mulcair — who once said “I am an ardent supporter of Israel in all situations and in all circumstances” — continues to take anti-Palestinian positions, the Greens are likely to gain more traction among those sympathetic to the Palestinian cause. This should push the party to take stronger positions in favor of Palestinian liberation.
The NDP’s purge of pro-Palestinian candidates, which largely bypassed those with a strong chance of winning seats in the House of Commons, was a depressing reminder of the official dominance of pro-Israel bias.
But the large number of individuals targeted reflects the growing number of NDP activists critical of Israel.
A historical perspective helps to see the shift. By far Canada’s most significant contribution to Palestinian dispossession was in 1947, when Canadian diplomats played an important role in shaping the UN partition plan which provided diplomatic legitimacy to a Zionist movement intent on expelling Palestinians from their homeland.
Few Canadians understood the implications of that plan, let alone protested against their government’s actions. Yet when Israel attacked Gaza last year, protests were held across the country.
In recent years, many Canadians have voted through their labor or students unions and churches to support the international boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign against Israel.
History may view 2015 as the zenith of pro-Israel influence in Canada.
Yves Engler is the author of Canada and Israel: Building Apartheid and the newly released Canada In Africa: 300 Years of Aid and Exploitation. He will be speaking across Canada in the lead up to the election. His website is yvesengler.com.
- Stephen Harper
- Conservative Party of Canada
- New Democratic Party
- Israeli nuclear weapons
- Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty
- Iran nuclear agreement
- Israeli settlements
- Morgan Wheeldon
- Paul Manly
- Green Party of Canada
- Elizabeth May
- Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME)
- Thomas Mulcair