Canada’s neoconservative turn

Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Lawrence Cannon (right) meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in March 2009. (AFP)

“An attack on Israel would be considered an attack on Canada.”
- Peter Kent, Junior Foreign minister, 12 February 2010

In my new book Canada and Israel: Building Apartheid I argue that the trajectory of this country’s foreign policy has been clear. The culmination of six decades of one-sided support, and four years into the government of Conservative Party Prime Minister Stephen Harper: Canada is (at least diplomatically) the most pro-Israel country in the world.

Since the book went to print a couple of months ago the Conservatives have launched a more extreme phase of Israel advocacy. Groups in any way associated with the Palestinian cause have been openly attacked and Ottawa has taken a more belligerent tone towards Iran.

In the beginning of February, Ottawa delighted Israeli hawks by canceling $15 million in funding for the UN agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA). The money has been reallocated to Palestinian Authority judicial and security reforms in the West Bank. At the same time, Canada doubled the number of troops involved in US Lt. General Keith Dayton’s mission to train a Palestinian force to strengthen Fatah against Hamas and to serve as an arm of Israel’s occupation.

Only a few weeks earlier, Israel apologists sang Harper’s praise when his government chopped $7 million from Kairos, a Christian aid organization that had received government money for 35 years. During a visit to Israel, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said Canada had “defunded organizations, most recently like Kairos, who are taking a leadership role” in campaigns to boycott Israel. Palestinian advocacy was also the reason Ottawa failed to renew its funding for Montreal-based Alternatives, an international solidarity organization, which received most of its budget from the federal government.

The Conservatives chose a different tactic with the arm’s-length government agency Rights and Democracy. Instead of cutting its budget, they stacked the board with hard-line supporters of Israel. Last week, Maclean magazine reported that “The Rights and Democracy board is now predominantly composed of people who have devoted much of their life to an unequivocal position: that no legal challenge to Israel’s human rights record is permissible, because any such challenge is part of a global harassment campaign against Israel’s right to exist.”

The new “Israel no matter what” board members hounded the organization’s president, Remy Beauregard, until he died of a heart attack after a “vitriolic” meeting a month ago. Once in charge, the new board voted to “repudiate” three $10,000 grants given to Israeli and Palestinian human rights groups (B’Tselem, Al-Haq and Al Mezan). On Wednesday, the Toronto Star reported that the “Conservative-appointed [Rights and Democracy] board secretly decided to close the agency’s Geneva office, distancing itself from a United Nations body it viewed as anti-Israeli.”

Internationally, Harper has used his pulpit as host of this year’s G8 to pave the way for a possible US-Israeli attack on Iran. “Canada will use its G8 presidency to continue to focus international attention and action on the Iranian regime,” explained the prime minister on 9 February.

While Ottawa considers Iran’s nuclear energy program a major threat, Israel’s atomic bombs have not provoked similar condemnation. The Harper government has repeatedly abstained on votes asking Israel to place its nuclear weapons program under International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) controls.

A week ago Ottawa criticized China, a key trading partner of Iran, for refusing to follow Western dictates regarding the Islamic Republic. “I think China should step up to the plate and do something here,” Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon said.

While they are silent on the appalling record of the pro-West monarchy in Saudi Arabia and the dictatorship in Egypt, Canadian officials regularly berate Iran. “This regime continues to blatantly ignore its international obligations, and this threatens global security,” Cannon said last week.

At times Canadian words have been even more menacing. A 17 February Toronto Star article was headlined: “Military action against Iran still on the table, Kent says.” Peter Kent, the junior foreign minister, explained that “It may soon be time to intensify the sanctions and to broaden those sanctions into other areas.” He added: “I think the realization [is] that it’s a dangerous situation that has been there for some time. It’s a matter of timing and it’s a matter of how long we can wait without taking more serious preemptive action.”

“Preemptive action” is likely a euphemism for a bombing campaign. Canadian naval vessels are already running provocative maneuvers off Iran’s coast and by stating that “an attack on Israel would be considered an attack on Canada,” Kent is trying to create the impression that Iran may attack Israel. But isn’t it Israel that possesses nuclear weapons and threatens to bomb Iran, not the other way around? Of course that would be a reality-based analysis, not something George W. Bush’s Canadian clones favor.

Yves Engler ( is the author of the recently-released Canada and Israel: Building Apartheid and The Black Book of Canadian Foreign Policy.