avatar
Review of Yves Engler’s “Canada and Israel: Building Apartheid”


In “Canada and Israel: Building Apartheid”, Yves Engler argues that “Canada is not, nor has ever been, an ‘honest broker’ in the Palestine-Israel conflict.“ Engler gets right to work reviewing Canadian support for the murder of Palestinians and the theft of their land – support that goes back to the days of Israel’s creation in 1947.

Citing careful studies of the Canadian voting record at the UN, Engler shows that Canadian governments have only differed in the extent and the openness with which they have backed Israel. One very useful chapter lists the myriad business, intelligence and military links between the Israeli and Canadian elite that have developed over many years. Those opposed to Israeli apartheid will have to work long and hard to break those links.

Canada’s current government under Stephen Harper is, as Engler shows, at the extreme end of the spectrum in its support for Israel. In 2008, Ottawa signed a “border management and security” agreement with Israel even though Canada obviously does not share a border with Israel. Harper’s government barred British MP George Galloway from entering Canada because of his support for Palestinian rights – something the United States did not even do. However, it is worth remembering that Harper has done all this despite leading a minority government. Engler points out that the NDP (social democrats) and the Green party both supported the Harper government’s withdraw from the second World Conference Against Racism (“Durban II) in 2008. Criticism of Israel at the conference was equated to anti- Semitism.

Looking over the historical record, Engler uncovered a rare example of common sense among Canadian officials in Elizabeth MacCallum. She stated bluntly in 1947 that Canada, led by Lester Pearson (a future Prime Minster and Nobel Laureate), supported the partition of Palestine “because we didn’t give two hoots for democracy” – obvious enough given that the majority of the inhabitants opposed partition.

MacCallum argued that if making amends for the Holocaust were really the issue then it would have made much more sense to force Germans to give up territory, not Palestinians.

Engler wrote

“Despite failing to convince her superiors MacCallum displayed sharp foresight. At the time of partition, ‘MacCallum scribbled a note and passed it to Pearson saying the Middle East was now in for ‘forty years’ of war, due to the lack of consultation with the Arab countries.’…She underestimated the duration of the conflict.”

Pearson chaired the committee that established the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP) in 1947. Canada’s representative to UNSCOP was another widely admired Canadian, Supreme Court Justice Ivan C. Rand, who worked successfully within UNSCOP to thwart efforts to have the International Court of Justice rule on whether the partition violated the UN Charter (which it clearly did).

Engler details decades of support Lester Pearson went on to provide for Israeli aggression. Pearson was, understandably enough, revered by Zionists. In 1960, Pearson was awarded Israel’s Medallion of Valour and, in 1968, the Theodore Herzl award from the Zionist Organization of America.

Engler argues that the main thing driving Canada’s support for Israel has been support for US imperialism. He suggests, quite persuasively, that the “way to understand Jewish Zionist lobbying is that it pressed against an almost open door.” He wrote

“Leading External Affairs mandarins Hume Wrong and Norman Robertson believed that ‘if handled properly’ the State of Israel could become a useful and friendly ally of the Western powers which would help resist Soviet penetration in the area.”

Ironically, the Soviet Union made a similar but opposite calculation in 1947 – a miscalculation in the Soviet case – and also supported partition. The Soviets were not the only members of the broad international Left to have, at one time or another, supported Zionism over the past five decades.

Perhaps the most compelling chapter in Engler’s book discusses support that Israel has received from Canadian progressives – often driven by overlooked “Christian Zionism” and nurtured by effective lobbying by Israeli unions.

NDP leader Tommy Douglas – who is, justifiably, praised for his role in winning Canadians universal health care – criticized Prime Minister Lester Pearson, who was a staunch Zionist as already mentioned, for not supporting Israel strongly enough. In 1975, years into the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, Gaza and the Golan Heights, Tommy Douglas stated that

“The main enmity against Israel is that she has been an affront to those nations who do not treat their people and their workers as well as Israel has treated hers.”

This statement negates not only that Palestinians living under Israeli occupation are workers but that they exist at all. The same year Douglas made this outlandish remark, the Canadian Labor Congress (CLC) opposed the admission of the PLO to the International Labor Organisation and strongly condemned the UN General Assembly for calling Zionism a form of racism.

Long after Israel’s shift to the right, the CLC’s support for Israeli aggression remained solid. In 1985, it denounced a Canadian Senate report which rebuked Israel for invading Lebanon in 1982.

Engler acknowledges a significant, and long overdue, shift within the Canadian Left since the mid 1980s which is revealed by the massive demonstrations against the Israeli assault on Gaza in 2008, the holding of Israel Apartheid Week across Canadian campuses, and the growing BDS (boycott divestment sanctions) campaign which has been supported by some Canadian unions. However, he also shows that the Canadian Left still has work to do in eradicating support for Israeli apartheid from within its own ranks. Canadian unions still purchase $20 million a year worth of State of Israel Bonds. Engler noted

“During Israel’s December 2008/January 2009 assault on Gaza Manitoba NDP Justice Minister Dave Chomiak took part in a Stand With Israel event in Winnipeg alongside Conservative and Liberal MPs. Chomiak told those gathered that ‘The enemy and the fear are terrorists who know no limits.’…He was referring to Hamas operatives with their homemade rockets and machine guns, not the U.S./Canada equipped IDF responsible for a hundred times more deaths than the few killed in Israel.”

The high level of Canadian support for Isreali crimes bolsters Engler’s reply to objections that Israel has been unfairly “singled out” for abuses that are not as bad as others in the world:

“… it is true that Palestinian suffering receives more attention than other world atrocities (such as the millions killed in Eastern Congo or the thousands killed in the aftermath of the Canadian backed coup in Haiti). The point of our protests must not just be Palestianian suffering but rather Canadian complicity with that suffering. That complicity is what compels Canadians to focus on what is happening in Israel.”

In other words, Canadian governments and other institutions have “singled out” Israeli apartheid for tremendous support. Canadians are therefore responsible for putting a stop to it.

The very use of the word “apartheid” provokes anger among apologists for Israel. Engler provides a thorough explanation of why the term is appropriate and reminds us that

“The Canadian media largely opposed the boycott of South Africa even though Canada was less complicit with that form of apartheid than the current Israeli version…More than two decades after the Sharpeville massacre and six years after Soweto exploded, the Globe and Mail argued that ‘disinvestment would be unwittingly an ally of apartheid’ since Canadian investments brought progressive ideas.”

Many who complain the loudest about the use of the word “apartheid” to describe Israel do not have a track record of opposition to South African apartheid. In his previous book, (The Black Book of Canadian Foreign Policy) Engler revealed that Canadian public and private support for South African apartheid was obscured by policies that officially opposed it. Opponents of Israeli apartheid have many important lessons to learn from that struggle and from Engler’s fine work.

Leave a comment