Canadian governments have a long history of complicity in Palestinian dispossession. As early as 1947, Lester B. Pearson, then Under Secretary of State for External Affairs and future Canadian Prime Minister, played a key role in drafting and passing the United Nations Partition Plan, so much so that Zionist groups dubbed him the “Balfour of Canada”.
Successive governments have carried on this tradition of one-sided support, although often under the pretense of “peacekeeping” and being a “honest broker”. Fast forward to the last decade, which has brought the Conservative government into power under PM Stephen Harper, famous for such comments as “Through Fire and Water, Canada will Stand with You” made during his speech to the Israeli Knesset in January, 2014. Harper has crafted a policy of zero tolerance for everything Palestinian, from BDS to funding for UNRWA, and also upped the ante by trying to make any criticism of Israeli policies “illegal”. Recent examples are the January 18, 2015 Memorandum of Understanding between Canada and Israel that committed to develop “a coordinated, public diplomacy initiative both bilaterally and in international and multilateral fora to oppose boycotts of Israel, its institutions, and its people within three to six months” and the announcement just last month of the “expansion and modernization” of the Canada Israel Free Trade Agreement. Unfortunately, the other two main national parties, the New Democratic Party (NDP) and the Liberals, are in a frantic race to see who can reach the bottom line first. All three major parties are currently on record as denouncing BDS, condemning Israeli Apartheid week on university campuses and attempting to stifle debate on this issue.
And now, enter the Canadian federal election campaign. Although certainly short by U.S. standards, it still has another 2 months to go and is becoming increasingly nasty. Palestinian activists are either bullied and targeted by our known adversaries or betrayed by our “friends” and told we’re not even allowed to raise our voices. And the pervasive and bludgeoning reach of the Zionist lobby seems to have reached new heights (or lows). The latest round of the brouhaha was instigated by the NDP leadership (who might form the next government) with the purge of several candidates mildly sympathetic to Palestinian rights. The resulting dissent put them in damage control mode, especially since many supporters of the Palestinian people have also historically been involved in some way with the NDP which paints itself as the “party of change”. (Several people were even deleted from various Facebook groups, including Rabble, for refusing to drop the challenges on this issue.) In the past, some high profile veteran MPs from the NDP had a proud history of supporting Palestinian rights; sadly, no longer.
But the issues of censorship and the need to hear the Palestinian voice have refused to go away. On August 20, the Ontario Civil Liberties Association issued a strongly-worded letter defending the freedom of speech of two of the ex-candidates and noting that what one of them said was common parlance in Israel’s mainstream media and included some terminology even used by former Israeli PM Ben-Gurion. The letter went on to state – “The NDP’s stance in barring any criticism of Israel is undemocratic and wrong. Morgan Wheeldon and Jerry Natanine were not breaking confidence with a democratically-determined party policy platform, or engaged in any such mutiny. They have uttered words critical of Israel, in contexts of democratic discourse. Your actions are incompatible with your claim of seeking a balanced approach. A balanced, informed, and tested approach cannot be found by suppressing free expression among potential and actual law makers.”
Of course Palestine is not the only issue in this national election, and Palestinian and Arab Canadians (contrary to some perceptions) are just like everyone else – parents, workers, seniors, disabled etc. with a myriad of concerns . But for supporters of Palestinian rights, the dilemma here is huge. The Zionist lobby are allowed to be “one issue” and have unlimited resources and time to check candidates’ social media accounts going back many years, making any support for Palestine a “red line” issue. And to ask Palestinian-Canadians and their supporters to vote for any party that is clearly complicit in the trampling of human rights, with the faint hope that after the election things will improve, simply will not cut it. Especially not with the current NDP leader, Thomas Mulcair, who proudly pronounced himself an “ardent supporter of Israel”, even before being elected party leader. Does criticizing the NDP (or considering voting for another party, say the Greens) mean you’re supporting Stephen Harper or you don’t want change? Of course not! And frankly, it is arrogant and insulting to everyone’s intelligence to use such fear-mongering tactics.
Palestinians will not be silenced and after 67 years of dispossession they no longer believe in hollow promises. So if the NDP leadership wants to own up and say they’ve thrown the Palestinians under the bus as have the other two major Canadian political parties, then be honest and do so. And engage in that debate as to why Palestinian rights (and even any discussion of them) are expendable and be judged accordingly. All three major federal parties in Canada need to be sent a loud and clear message that Palestinians and their supporters will not be censored and Palestinian rights will not be trampled on so easily. We must all show that there is zero tolerance for hypocrisy and complicity with Israeli war crimes!