Here’s an important piece from Peter Larson’s blog which reports on recent research into Canadians’ attitudes towards the Israeli state, and Canadian foreign policy on Israel/Palestine. It includes an interview with the the Green Party’s Dimitri Lascaris, a political hero of mine who is a relentless and committed advocate of Palestinian rights.

In short, a huge majority of Canadians think boycotts are a ‘reasonable’ response to Israel’s unapologetic contempt for international law, and two-thirds also regard government sanctions as reasonable. This is despite an aggressive anti-BDS campaign by Canadian politicians from both main parties, and the Greens’ own leader Elizabeth May attempting to distance herself from her party’s overwhelming support for Palestinian rights, backed up by the usual well-funded smear campaigns orchestrated by B’nai Brith et al.

Naturally, there has been a virtual media blackout on this data in the Canadian press, which remains as willfully out of sync with Canadians as their politicians appear to be. (The only two mentions I could find were on Global News, and in an op-ed by Linda McQuaig in the Toronto Star.)

After the embarrassment of the Harper years during which Canada lost its bid for a seat on the UN Security Council for the first time in our history, a few dreamers held out hope that things would change under Justin Trudeau. Turns out Trudeau’s shameful silence over the Gaza blitz in 2014 was no aberration. On the contrary, it set the stage for his prime ministerial fawning over Benjamin Netanyahu, alongside Canada’s stubborn alliance with a small clutch of international outliers who vote against the most basic rights for Palestinians at the UN, and its dead air on Israel ‘regularising’ its land theft in the West Bank.

Against this sickening display, these research findings will reassure those of us who’d like to believe Canadians’ sense of decency and fair play runs deeper than that of our photogenic prime minister.

Here’s the intro to Peter’s piece:

A few months ago, the UN security council unanimously condemned ALL of Israel’s settlements in the West Bank (including in East Jerusalem) as flagrant violations of international law. So far Canada has done nothing about it.

And here’s the rest: Most Canadians think its “reasonable” to boycott Israel: survey


An edited version of this piece appeared on The Electronic Intifada on 11th February.

The announcement that John Baird is to stand down as Canadian Foreign Minister came about a year too late for Gaza. For it was the thuggish Mr Baird, whose talents are better suited to running the door of a nightclub at the wrong end of town than grasping the relevance of history or the nuances of diplomacy, who’d gleefully embodied Canada’s ugly stance on last summer’s Israeli siege of Gaza.

Not content simply to ignore the slaughter of sleeping schoolchildren and unarmed civilians fleeing while waving white flags, Mr Baird and his boss, the Prime Minister Stephen Harper, rose to the unconditional defence of Israel, pretending the Palestinian question originated with Hamas, implying parity between the two ‘sides’, smoke-screening the longstanding blockade of Gaza, and blaming the dead for their own annihilation.

Curiously, some pundits in Canada’s mainstream press who seemed happy with Mr Baird’s sledgehammer statecraft during his tenure, which includes cutting all diplomatic ties with Iran, have just now begun questioning his approach to the Palestinian question. Writing in The Globe and Mail, for instance, Middle East correspondent Patrick Martin says,

There were times, when John Baird was foreign minister, that people weren’t quite sure in what country’s cabinet he served…

Mr. Baird, for all his intelligence and charm, chose not to untangle the Arab-Israeli complexities and help build a bridge between the parties, but to take a side, that of Israel, to which he gave carte blanche.

While many would say these observations are far too little and much too late, there’s no doubt this view is widely shared by Palestinians and their supporters. As the chief negotiator for the Palestinian Authority, Saeb Erekat, said in a powerful opinion piece headlined ‘It is John Baird who needs to apologize to the Palestinian people,’

The Palestinian leadership has been engaged in a diplomatic effort to obtain those very same ideals Canadians hold dear – to achieve freedom and dignity. We have been working tirelessly to exercise our right to self-determination and establish a state of our own – a state that lives in peace and security with its neighbours, including Israel…

Instead of rewarding the Palestinians for their insistence on pursuing peace and for their deep commitment to the stability and security of the region, Mr. Baird has chosen to deride and stand against Palestinians at every corner.

Free-flying spittle

You could be forgiven for thinking that free-flying spittle seems rather un-Canadian, and admittedly the international media have bigger fish to fry than documenting the increasingly cynical immorality of the country’s foreign policy under Mr Harper and his former sidekick Mr Baird. And while we’re at it, it’s only fair to note that their ill-considered and ahistorical views went virtually unchallenged by either of the country’s putative ‘opposition’ parties.

There’s the formerly progressive NDP, one of whose Members of Parliament, Sana Hassainia, quit over her party’s failure to condemn Israeli aggression in Gaza, and was subsequently subjected to a smear campaign that maligned her work and impugned her motives. And then there’s the formerly centrist Liberal party, now led by the photogenic nonentity Justin Trudeau, whose father Pierre Elliot Trudeau was the only real statesman to have led Canada during my lifetime. My Lebanese-Canadian grandparents were so loyal to the pro-immigrant Liberals of their day, they kept a framed picture of their MP on the mantelpiece alongside family photos.

‘A shameful, propagandistic attack on free speech’

In fact, at the height of last summer’s Gaza siege, a group of eight Liberal and Conservative MPs embarked on a ‘fact finding mission‘ to Israel sponsored by the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs. Not one of those MPs – who remain mute to this day on Israel’s targeting of UNRWA schools, the four-figure Palestinian death toll, and Israel’s near-daily ceasefire violations – stepped foot in Gaza on this quest for ‘facts’. Instead, their time was spent visiting injured IDF soldiers to offer sympathy and condolences.

Still, I confess to a soft spot for the former Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chretien whose swan song consisted of refusing the invitation by Messrs. Bush and Blair to help invade Iraq. Contrast that with Mr Baird’s ennobling cri de coeur: the announcement on 18th January of a formal pact between Canada and Israel to fight efforts to boycott Israel. As The Electronic Intifada has reported, the move was denounced by the Boycott National Committee, the steering group for the BDS movement, which accused Canada of ‘further deepening its collaboration with Israel’s occupation and launching a shameful, propagandistic attack on free speech in the process.’

‘An aversion to justice’

The BDS statement came on the heels of Mr Baird’s pronouncement that the Palestinian bid to join the International Criminal Court was ‘a huge mistake.’ This view was challenged forcefully by Paul Heinbecker, the country’s last ambassador to sit on the UN Security Council and a foreign policy advisor to the Conservative Prime Minister Brian Mulroney. Describing the ICC as ‘a court of last resort’, Heinbecker says ‘Ottawa’s bluster in response to the Palestinian initiative looks more like an aversion to justice than a devotion to principle.’

There was precedent, of course. On 16th July, just a week after Operation Protective Edge began, Mr Harper’s Conservative party released the video Through Fire and Water, Canada Will Stand with You, a two minute and 30-second long blank cheque for any acts of terror or criminality Israel might undertake. To the beat of military drums and a backdrop of flags waving in slow motion worthy of Aaron Sorkin, creator of The West Wing and an outspoken apologist for Israeli war crimes, Mr Harper offered this context for Canada’s unconditional support: ‘At the great turning points of history, Canada has consistently chosen – often to our great cost – to stand with others who oppose injustice and to confront the dark forces of the world.’

Those unfamiliar with Canadian history might wonder about the ‘turning points’ to which Mr Harper refers. Perhaps he’s talking about the resolution of the 1956 Suez Crisis, which earned Lester B. Pearson, the Canadian President of the United Nations General Assembly, the Nobel Peace Prize in 1957. In fact, just six weeks after the release of Through Fire and Water, B’nai Brith, an influential Canadian Jewish organisation nominated Mr Harper for the same prize, to widespread outrage.

Canadians’ self-regard as decent and honest brokers

The comparison might seem risible until you consider Pearson’s pro-active role in helping to create Israel in the first place. Before he took the helm at the UN General Assembly Pearson had chaired the GA’s Special Committee on Palestine which supported existing plans to carve up the land, and rejected a one-state solution proposed by the Arab Higher Committee in which all religious and ethnic groups would live side by side and be entitled to equal rights.

In fact, throughout the country’s history there has often been tension between Canadians’ self-regard as decent and honest brokers and its less principled policies. Nonetheless, Canada’s foreign policy has reached its nadir under Mr Harper, and his policy on Israel and Palestine is bound tightly to a campaign of hostility towards Muslims, and a pattern of hanging out Muslim Canadians to dry.

Take Omar Khadr, a 15 year-old Canadian who was arrested following a firefight in an Afghan village in which an American military medic was killed. Khadr’s case is notorious for several reasons. The teenager was the youngest detainee at Guantanamo Bay, and the first child soldier to be tried in a war crimes trial by a military commission since World War II. Stephen Harper’s Conservatives were the only Western government not to seek deportation or repatriation of its own citizen, despite calls from Amnesty International, the Canadian Bar Association, UNICEF and others to do so, and despite its awareness that Khadr had been tortured.

The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that Khadr’s rights were violated under both the Geneva Convention and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Pleas from Romeo Dallaire, the former Senator and Force Commander of the UN Peacekeeping Force in Rwanda, who took up Khadr’s cause were ignored. And now Khadr, who languished without charge at Gitmo for a decade before he ‘confessed’ and signed a plea deal that would allow him to return to Canada, languishes in a Canadian prison.

Blundering incompetence and laissez-faire diplomacy

Or look at the Egyptian-Canadian Al Jazeera journalist Mohammed Fahmy, who was released last week after spending more than a year in an Egyptian prison on politically-motivated terrorism charges. In an interview with the UK’s Independent newspaper, Fahmy, who remains stuck in Cairo with his name on a no-fly list and no passport, blamed his predicament in large part on John Baird’s blundering incompetence and Canada’s laissez-faire diplomacy. For while Australia’s Prime Minister Tony Abbott pushed the al-Sisi government hard to release Fahmy’s colleague Peter Greste, the Harper government sent a few emails and a letter, which it has refused to release. As a result, The Independent reported, ‘Mr Harper has been condemned in Ottawa for his handling of the case.’

Although international regard for Canada hasn’t taken much of a hit yet, a burgeoning recognition of the country’s official swing towards populist demagogery crystallised back in 2010, when Canada lost its bid for a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council for the first time in history. In response, the Foreign Minister at that time, Lawrence Cannon, perversely declared that ‘some would even say that, because of our attachment to [democratic and human rights principles] we lost a seat on the council. If that’s the case, then so be it.’

I’m not sure my friends at some of Canada’s human rights NGOs shared Mr Cannon’s analysis of the unprecedented loss, nor the misplaced chutzpah his remarks exposed. But the bigger question on Israel-Palestine is whether Canadians at large will recognise how far the country is shifting away from a growing consensus on Israeli aggression and Palestinian rights, and whether they’ll prioritize rehabilitating Canada’s global standing.