[This was initially posted as a ZNet sustainer commentary, but because of the direct connection to a friend I am reposting here as a blog too.]
How ironic is it when a national entity priding itself that its foreign policy is based on humanitarian motives and diplomatic benevolence consistently denies the rights of a people internationally recognized as occupied, inflicts further human suffering and collective punishment on those people, and tries to silence those within its own national boundaries struggling to help realize basic human rights for those occupied? Such is the character and consistency with which Canada has approached Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestinian territories and those seeking justice.
When democratic elections carried Hamas to parliamentary power in January 2006, Canada was the very first country to exercise its commitment to democracy by freezing financial aid to the Palestinian Authority (PA), in what became a general financial boycott of the PA by Western nations. In November 2006 the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) found that 1 million Palestinians—or one in four inhabitants of the Occupied Territories—had been pushed into "deep poverty." At the time, UNRWA spokesman Matthias Burchard said "the morality of the sanctions against the Palestinian Authority had to be questioned."
Today, over two years later, there remains in Gaza an unfolding humanitarian catastrophe which Canada actively seeks to sustain. This humanitarian state renewed its commitment to collective punishment of Palestinians, in violation of international humanitarian law, in January 2008, being the only country to vote against a United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) statement calling for "immediate international action to force Israel [an ‘occupying Power'] to allow fuel, food, medicine and other essential items to be sent to the Gaza Strip, to reopen the border crossings and to end its ‘grave violations’ in the occupied Palestinian territory." The statement was passed by a vote of 30 countries in favor, 15 abstaining—Canada being the single country actively voting against.
Just in case there was any doubt about Canada’s commitment to human rights, Canada used its seat on the UN Human Rights Council to question the "impartiality and objectivity" of the distinguished U.S. academic, Prof. Richard Falk, who was appointed last week as the next Special Rapporteur on the Palestinian Territories. Steven Edwards of Canwest News Service quotes Falk, a supposed example of his "anti-Israel writing," from a June 2007 essay "Slouching toward a Palestinian Holocaust": "…it is especially painful for me, as an American Jew, to feel compelled to portray the ongoing and intensifying abuse of the Palestinian people by Israel through a reliance on such an inflammatory metaphor as ‘holocaust.’"
But Falk in fact carefully presented the terrible facts that led him to use such language. The real lack of objectivity comes from Canada’s silence in the face of the horrors suffered by Palestinians on a daily basis.
Falk continues a tradition of sharp criticism of Israel. The outgoing Rapporteur John Dugard, who had extensively studied apartheid in South Africa, said Israel’s laws and practices "certainly resemble aspects of apartheid." The BBC quotes him describing the "‘unashamed discrimination’ against Palestinians in favor of Israeli settlers." Additionally, the 47 nation member U.N. Human Rights Council cast 40 of its votes in favor of electing Jean Ziegler to the council’s advisory committee. Ziegler has publicly accused Israel of "state terror" and "war crimes."
Closer to home, Canada showed its own "impartiality and objectivity" on human rights when it was one of just four countries voting against a non-binding United Nations declaration on aboriginal rights. Among Canada’s other objections to the declaration was the section stating aboriginals "have the right to maintain and strengthen their distinct political, legal, economic, social and cultural institutions." Of course Canada’s stance is consistent with those whose power, wealth, and privilege is fortified by the nation state.
Canadian style "Impartiality and objectivity" towards Israel/Palestine characterize the nation’s dominant media institutions too. Canwest, the largest media conglomerate in Canada, with an estimated weekly readership of 4.8 million people, is owned by the Asper family of Winnipeg. Canwest papers included the National Post, the Vancouver Sun, ten major-market dailies, and several community newspapers. They also have shares in various media outlets across all mediums. In Vancouver alone, "they own about seventy percent of the news outlets- from dailies to weeklies to television." In the Jerusalem Post of August of 2003, the late Izzy Asper stated: "In all our newspapers…we have a very pro-Israel position…we are the strongest supporter of Israel in Canada." It’s no surprise then that Canwest has recently instituted a lawsuit against seven defendants, naming only one; and while framing the suit as a commercial violation of trade mark, accuse the defendants of "anti-Israeli and pro-Palestinian media activities," having written or spoken "harshly critical of the State of Israel and of the plaintiff and anyone who publishes articles or views which the defendants perceive to be contrary to their own views."
A "Seriously Free Speech Committee" has been organized to help defend those accused, and in particular, the only defendant named so far, Mordecai Briemberg. Among those who have joined the committee as "honorary members" are Noam Chomsky, Tariq Ali, Omar Barghouti, and Ed Herman. The committee’s statement provides context for the charges:
"Mordecai Briemberg attended a meeting at the Vancouver Public Library to commemorate the event and to oppose the continuing occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. At the end of the meeting, on a table, was a pile of tabloid sheets-one sheet, four sides, which parodied The Vancouver Sun—Vancouver’s leading daily and a Canwest publication."
"The banner at the top of the front page dates the issue as ‘Occupation Day, June 2007.’ In place of the usual ‘Seriously Westcoast since 1912′ appears ‘Seriously Zionist since 2001,’ the first full year of Canwest ownership. The parody has a lead article by ‘P. Rupa Ghanda’ titled ‘Celebrating 40 Years of Civilizing The West Bank.’ Another article by ‘Cyn Sorsheep’ is titled ‘Study Shows Truth Biased Against Israel.’ In these and other articles, including mock ads, there are criticisms of Israeli policies in occupied Palestine and a critique of the Canwest media’s pro Israel policies. On the inside page there is a box with the headline—‘Who Produced This Vancouver Sun Parody and Why?’ It attributes the authorship of the tabloid to the ‘Palestine Media Collective,’ a group of direct action media critics concerned about mainstream media coverage of the situation in the Middle East."
The committee statement goes on reporting that the Canwest lawyer has "confirmed in writing that they have no documents whatsoever showing Mordecai Briemberg’s involvement in any of the allegations made against him," and that Canwest still refuses to drop their suit.
Mordecai is actually a good friend of mine who I have known for almost a decade through various organizing capacities. His dedication, focus, and commitment have always been an inspiration and guide. He is among a small handful of people who I consider responsible for my, not only becoming Left, but for my "sticking" to the Left. But beyond these personal connections he has his own outstanding history that can speak for itself. Summarizing his bio, he is a long time activist in peace and social justice causes. He is part of the international campaign to free the Israeli nuclear whistle-blower Mordechai Vanunu and contributed to the creation of a professional theatrical production about him. He long worked combating racism in Canada against first nations peoples and immigrants, and internationally against apartheid in South Africa. Mordecai has been a prominent, vocal, and effective voice in the intense debate about how to achieve peace and justice for Palestinians and Jews in historic Palestine, and as the committee statement in his defense notes, "That is why they are going after him!"
When asked to make a statement about the Canwest lawsuit, Omar Barghouti, "honorary member" of the "Seriously Free Speech Committee," and also founding member of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, said:
"If Mordecai Briemberg is accused by Canwest of being involved in ‘anti-Israeli and pro-Palestinian media activities’ and of expressing views that are ‘harshly critical of the State of Israel,’ then he is ‘guilty’ as charged. So are millions of conscientious activists and intellectuals in Canada, the US, Europe and the rest of the world. They are as ‘guilty’ as everyone who stood up against apartheid in South Africa in the past."
"Mr. Briemberg should be highly praised for his moral courage in supporting the struggle for a just peace in Palestine and in challenging the world’s only surviving apartheid regime: Israel."
Compared to most of the world, Canada seems a throwback to the Stone Age when it comes to human rights in the Middle East. If you’d like to help civilize a nation, and stop a lawsuit that violates basic freedoms as well as threatens to do short and long-term damage to the kind of organizing and activism for peace and justice that Briemberg and many others in Canada are committed to, go here to sign the petition against the Canwest lawsuit: http://www.thepetitionsite.com/1/dont-let-canwest-slapp-briemberg-and-you
Go here to find out more about the case: http://www.seriouslyfreespeech.ca
Chris Spannos was born in the U.S. but spent 13 years living in Canada, "the belly of the lap dog of the beast," before moving, for political/work purposes, back into "the belly of the beast" itself. As a U.S. citizen he believes this is simply a more efficient and responsible route for the task of changing the world.