Canada & Israel

"An attack on Israel would be considered an attack on Canada." 
-Junior Foreign Affairs minister Peter Kent, Feb. 12

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 Stephen Harper government, Canada is (at least diplomatically) the most pro-Israel country in the world.

Since the book went to print a couple 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.

At the start of this month Ottawa delighted Israeli hawks by canceling $15 million in funding for the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (or 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 it has as part of U.S. Lt. General Keith Dayton’s mission to train a Palestinian force to strengthen Fatah against Hamas and to oversee Israel’s occupation.

A few weeks earlier, Israeli 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, 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’s Maclean’s magazine reports: "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). And on Wednesday the Toronto Star reported that the "Conservative-appointed [R&D] 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 U.S./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 February 9.

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 Egyptian dictatorship, 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 the Canadian words have been more menacing. In a February 17 article headlined "Military action against Iran still on the table, Kent says" the Junior Foreign Affairs minister explained: "It may soon be time to intensify the sanctions and to broaden those sanctions into other areas." He continued: "I think the realization 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 pre-emptive action."

"Pre-emptive action" is likely a euphemism for a bombing campaign. Canadian naval vessels are already running provocative manoeuvres 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?

Of course that would be a "reality based" analysis, not something George W. Bush clones favour.

Yves Engler is the author of The Black Book of Canadian Foreign Policy (available at turning.ca). His latest book is Canada and Israel: Building Apartheid. He will be on tour in March and April.

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