UPDATE: Canada’s Parliament approved the Conservative resolution with 221 Yea votes, 51 Nay votes and 12 abstentions, meanwhile Justin Trudeau’s alma mater McGill University voted in favour of a pro-BDS resolution with 512 for and 337 against.

So while our collective political attention, or at least mine, has been focused south of the border, or on less partisan though equally polarizing issues like taxi protests, celebrities being screwed over and basically anything but Canadian federal politics, our parliament has been debating a motion to condemn the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel) movement which will come to a vote today, the same day McGill University votes on whether or not they will adopt a pro-BDS stance or not.

Yes, that’s what our elected officials are spending their time and your tax dollars doing. It started when the Connservative Party, our Official Opposition put forward this resolution:

“That, given Canada and Israel share a long history of friendship as well as economic and diplomatic relations, the House reject the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which promotes the demonization and delegitimization of the State of Israel, and call upon the government to condemn any and all attempts by Canadian organizations, groups or individuals to promote the BDS movement, both here at home and abroad.”

Now that may sound like typical Harper-era BS. We even got to see Jason Kenney railing against what he thinks is anti-Semitism, completely ignoring the fact that criticism of a state’s policies has absolutely nothing to do with the religion the majority of the people in the state follow.

What’s different this time is that even though Stephane Dion initially called the resolution divisive, it now looks like Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government will be voting for it today. The NDP and Greens will oppose.

This is a really embarrassing moment for the Parliament of Canada. While toothless, the resolution is a clear indication that our parliament, and moreover the Liberal Government, doesn’t respect the right of economic boycott, an overall effective tactic protesters can use to bring about real change.

Now remember that Bill C-51, the so-called anti-terror bill that leaves the definition of terrorism so broad it can apply to anyone the government wants to tag with it,  and C-24, Harper’s second-class citizens bill, which could strip citizenship from anyone convicted of “terrorism” are both still on the books. The Liberals haven’t scrapped C-24 or changed C-51 yet, both things they promised to do. In that context, this toothless statement seems a little more menacing.

Makes sense that there is a petition out against this and people are urging Canadians to contact their MPs (and making it easy to do so). I have signed the petition and sent an email to my MP, who is a Liberal and sadly will probably vote for this resolution anyways. If you agree with me, even if you don’t agree with BDS at all but think Canadians have a right to call for economic boycott nonetheless, I urge you to do the same.

While Justin Trudeau clearly likes appeasing the right wing, including the right-wingers in his party, while at the same time trying to mollify the left with some feigned indignation followed by actual voting support for the very thing they are indignant about, I think a clearer message is in order. Here is my resolution, which, sadly, will never come before Canada’s Parliament :

  1. Criticism or promoting an economic boycott of the State of Israel is not anti-Semetism and any politician who argues so is either uninformed or a political opportunist
  2. Condemning economic boycott is un-democratic
  3. Any politician who supports a resolution condemning the BDS Movement can no longer claim to be progressive and must admit that they are just a neocon in progressive clothing from here on

Contact your MP and sign the petition, but if that doesn’t work, then please make me this one promise: vote any MP who supports this monstrosity of a resolution out of office the first chance you get!

Social media has been set ablaze following the news that Bill C-51, the Conservatives’ so-called “anti-terrorism” legislation, has passed. The Conservative government intends to use their new legislative weapon to ban any BDS movement on the grounds of hate speech. I won’t elaborate on that question here, since Jason quite eloquently did so in a previous article.

Obviously anti-semitism and BDS aren’t synonymous. Many Israelis and Jews throughout the world are against the occupation and colonization of the West Bank and the illegal blockade of Gaza – does that make them any less Jewish? If anything, it would make them more human!

But what this whole debate underlines, once again, is that you can’t consider yourself Jewish if you don’t prostrate yourself completely at the feet of almighty Israel that can do no wrong – you aren’t Jewish unless your every action is a perfect emulation of Israel’s moves.

Support of Israel and Neo-Nazis in Ukraine

In this parallel universe that Harper, Netanyahu and Irwin Cotler, among others, have created, your “Jewishness” is defined by your support for Israel. Thus as long as you support Israel, all is fine and well. As long as you support Israel, you can even support, let’s say, the Neo-Nazis in Ukraine, even arm them and give them training. You can send strategic advisors to the aid of notorious anti-semites such as Andriy Parubiy or Andriy Biletsky and yet still be anointed with the title of “biggest friend of the Jewish people.”

Militants of neo-fascist Ukrainian party Svoboda.
Militants of neo-fascist Ukrainian party Svoboda.

The hypocrisy of the Harper government has reached new heights within the past few weeks, especially after this government’s megalomaniac decision to directly intervene within Ukraine’s internal affairs. Defence Minister Jason Kenney decided to quell the rumours of the potential affiliation of Canadian troops with Neo-Nazi elements by issuing a statement refuting those claims.

But in issuing that statement, Jason Kenney proved his complete lack of understanding about the Ukrainian conflict or, at least, his intellectual dishonesty. It’s interesting to see that Jason Kenney seems to know how to separate a “Neo-Nazi” from a “Non Neo-Nazi” better than the Ukrainians themselves.

The sphere of influence of Neo-Nazi terrorist outfits in Ukraine is larger and more powerful than ever and indistinguishable from the state apparatus. Neo-Nazi elements are present within every single major party represented within the Ukrainian parliament, within government, and within the National Security Council, which is the main actor through whom Canadian military officials are coordinating their operations in Ukraine.

Re-Defining Anti-Semitism

I guess being the best friend of Israel, gives you those sorts of benefits… Fighting against Islamic fanaticism on one side of the globe and supporting Neo-Nazi fanaticism on the other – that’s Stephen Harper’s foreign policy in a nutshell.

boycott_divestment_sanctions_560

Anti-semitism has become a word that has been thrown around so much that it’s become merely a tool nowadays – a rhetorical figure of speech to quash contrary points of view. Unfortunately, because of its over usage and conflation with any criticism of Israel,  the word has become devoid of its original essence, which is the hatred of the Jewish people, perpetuated by millennial racial stereotypes.

A year ago, this Conservative government organized the grandiose gala of anti-semitism in Ottawa and, with figures from across party lines, jointly denounced the “new anti-semitism:” a monstrous and preposterous new epidemic afflicting the world – the criticism of Israeli crimes against humanity.

This is the whitewashing of anti-semitism for political purposes, at its best. This type of whitewashing succeeds at doing exactly what it supposedly condemns: creating a racial stereotype and thus facilitating racism – in this case anti-semitism. In the universe of this new era of anti-semitism that comes in the drapes of criticism of Israel, Jews are seen to be a monolithic group: all support Israel, all support the illegal blockade of Gaza, and since Netanyahu said it a few months ago, every single Jew is against a two-state solution. As Steven Blaney said – at the time referencing the Qu’ran as justification for bill C-51 – “violence starts with words, hatred starts with words.” May I add violence starts with misleading racial stereotypes and hatred grows through the perpetuation of those racial stereotypes.

Nazi propaganda pumped racial stereotypes and conglomerated Jews as one and the same. That is how hate speech was born then and how it is born now. In defining Judaism as supporting Israel, the Harper government and all those that abide to such a logic are instigating hate speech, promoting a false racial stereotype and should be convicted under the hospice of their new draconian hate speech laws.

תיקון עולם

The other shoe has dropped. Barely a few days after Harper’s Conservatives, with the help of the Liberals, pushed Bill C-51 through the House of Commons, we get more proof that this government is, in fact, all about silencing dissent by any means necessary.

Top government officials indicated that they would enforce their zero-tolerance policy towards criticism of the State of Israel by treating the promotion of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement as hate speech.

Government Policy is Not a Person

Canada’s hate speech laws are a very good thing. They prevent promoting discrimination based on gender, race, religion and sexual orientation. Unfortunately, the way Harper now plans to use them is an insult to those who are actually victims of hate speech.

Last year, national origin was added to the list, presumably to make it easier for the government to follow the approach they are now following. Previously, they would have had to prove a correlation between criticism of Israel and anti-Semitism, which may be possible when talking to their base, but not in a court of law. Also try calling Jewish people who support BDS anti-Semites and you’ll be in for quite the argument, to say the least.

Harper and company have opted instead for the dubious route, but they still don’t have any real footing. Encouraging economic boycott of Israeli products is not a criticism of or discrimination against the people who produce those products based on national origin or anything else.

Those people could produce the same products in a different country and not be under boycott. In fact, if they voted out the current government and replaced them with one that eliminated the policies the BDS movement is protesting, or if the current government went that route, the people could produce the same products in Israel and not be under boycott.

The boycott is against goods produced under the current government policy in the State of Israel and government policy is not a person and therefore cannot be the victim of hate speech.

Double-Standard for Israel

One thing staunch supporters of the current Israeli regime’s policies love to bring up is the notion of a double-standard. In fact, a few years ago, the Harper Government was trying to get everyone who criticized Israel to also criticize another country at the same time, otherwise be labelled an anti-Semite.

Well, when it comes to double-standards, this could turn out to be a whopper. If it’s hate speech to urge boycott of Israel, presumably because the country’s population is majority Jewish, even though their government has some horrible policies, does that mean it would also be hate speech to boycott the products of a country whose population is largely Muslim whose government has some ethical issues to account for?

ethical oil
Hate speech? Ezra Levant’s Ethical Oil campaign

Let’s take Saudi Arabia as an example and imagine people in Canada urging a boycott based on ethical grounds. Wait, we don’t have to imagine such a scenario, thanks to Ezra Levant.

Wouldn’t the former Sun News, now independent, pundit’s Ethical Oil campaign be considered hate speech under this new definition? He is urging us to boycott Saudi oil, after all. Come to think of it, wouldn’t any Buy Canadian campaigns be considered hate speech against the country we are buying from instead of Canada?

I really don’t think so, because, after all, this isn’t actually about right and wrong or hate speech. It’s about using the law to silence political opponents of our government at home or allies abroad.

The Politics of BDS

Since this is an election year, it’s important to remember that the only type of discrimination Stephen Harper cares about is discrimination against his party at the ballot box. This new approach didn’t become public knowledge at this time by accident.

Harper is playing to his base, that much is clear. But this is also an attempt to derail one of his opponents. C-51 took care of Trudeau (plus Trudeau is in lockstep on BDS), now all but hardcore Liberals will admit his is pretty much just Harper with better hair. This plan is aimed at Mulcair.

netanyahu_harper

The NDP leader has garnered quite a bit of support for his principled, logical and, at some points passionate opposition to C-51. I sincerely hope that he doesn’t take Harper’s bait on this one.

Personally, Mulcair is a strong supporter of Israel. This nearly cost him the support of the NDP base a few months ago when his response to Israel’s assault on Gaza came very close to the one-sided approach both Mulcair and Trudeau were espousing. Fortunately for the party and for him, he changed his tune in an op-ed in the Toronto Star.

That only came after the party faithful occupied NDP offices and forced his hand. This time around, he doesn’t have the luxury of time to realize he has to support what his party wants.

If some reporter asks Mulcair for a comment on the CPC plan to use hate speech laws against BDS supporters, I sincerely hope that his response doesn’t focus on his personal views on BDS which, as far as I know have not been declared, but one can guess.

Instead, I hope he uses his logical and constitutional mind and attacks the gross misinterpretation of a law meant to help the real victims of hate speech. He can even admit his views on the actual subject, just not dwell on them.

To do otherwise would waste a good chunk of the unity fostered by the NDP being the only party (with a chance of winning) strongly against C-51. With all three parties appearing as basically the same to some, many on the left will stay home and Harper will win.

I also hope that those critical of the BDS movement realize that Harper is trying to use you. Even if you don’t agree with boycotting Israel, arguing that those who do support it are uttering hate speech is a stretch that defies all logic.
Economic boycott is one of the most peaceful and accepted methods of dissent. Now, Harper is trying to take that away in order to earn a few cheap political points. Don’t let him.

To quote Katie Nelson, “When Global uses ‘unreal’ as an adjective you know it’s worth watching!” Yes, the scene in the Canadian Parliament a few days ago can only be described as unreal or rather surreal.

Thomas Mulcair, the leader of the Official Opposition, New Democratic Party (NDP), was trying to get some specifics out of the government about Canadian deployment in Iraq. Instead of responding to Mulcair’s very clear question, Conservative MP Paul Calandra, the Prime Minister’s Parliamentary Secretary, brought up some statement an NDP staffer had made earlier about Israel.

Mulcair’s initial response, before calling on the speaker to intervene after a second non-answer from the Harper government, was priceless. Watch it for yourself:

While I’ve heard Muclair use sarcasm effectively before, this response impressed me for another reason: he didn’t take the bait.

That wasn’t the case a few months ago. Following a struggle with the NDP base over his initial statements on the assault on Gaza that saw office occupations, and culminated with a sort of mea culpa op-ed in the Toronto Star, a lone MP, Sana Hassainia, quit the party and blamed it on Mulcair’s recent support of Israel.

Instead of a simple statement acknowledging Hassainia’s resignation, Mulcair echoed some of the statements the NDP faithful had been criticizing him for, breaking the party peace he had just regained. He took the bait.

It’s not hard to imagine someone in the Harper war room taking note of that and concluding that if a random MP could get a rise out of the leader by bringing up Israel, they could surely do the same. It’s also not hard to imagine a memo going out saying something like: “If you don’t want to answer a question from Mulcair, bring up Israel, it’s a sore spot!”

If that was their plan, it failed spectacularly this week. It did not result in any NDP in-fighting, but Calandra has become the poster boy for CPC caginess when it comes to serious issues to the point that mainstream media called it unreal. I, for one, really would like to hear an actual answer to that question.

Mulcair learned his lesson. But that’s not the only reason he’s impressed me as of late.

A few weeks ago, after the conservatives refused yet another request for an inquiry into missing and murdered native women, Mulcair promised one within the first hundred days should he be elected Prime Minister. The NDP followed up by forcing a debate in parliament on the issue. Have a look at that, too:

To be fair, Trudeau also wants an inquiry. Honestly, anyone not wanting an inquiry into this is confounding. Trudeau is not prioritizing it, though. The NDP has the lead on this one.

Meanwhile the only thing I see in the news about Trudeau is that he kissed the bride at a wedding, that both of his parents got laid a lot, and that he has a problem with Ezra Levant and Sun News. I honestly don’t think he actually has a problem with them: hate from Sun brings votes on the left.

Sun, along with the rest of mainstream media, is fully on board the Trudeau versus Harper bandwagon, even though very little separates the two candidates policy-wise. Until recently, I didn’t really care, because Mulcair’s NDP wasn’t offering much of an alternative.

Now, that has changed. Now, the NDP is offering a solid alternative to the Harper approach on some issues. I’d love to see Mulcair reverse his position on Energy East, come out strongly for weed legalization, and against Harper’s re-criminalization of sex work, but I accept that he needs to start somewhere and this is a good start.

Many in the mainstream media say that Mulcair is a star in the House of Commons, but loses the soundbite war to Trudeau. Maybe, just maybe, that’s because in parliament, the NDP is given the respect and place in the discourse that should be accorded to the Official Opposition, whereas the media has already bought the Liberals vs. Conservatives angle as they have for years.

I could have been making observations like this months ago, but didn’t really see the point. Now I do.

If Mulcair and the NDP stay on this course and keep fighting the good fights, they will be giving people like me something truly different to vote for.

Canada’s stance on the Israel-Palestine conflict disappointing, to say the least. Canadians don’t favour Israel over Palestine. A recent poll showed roughly equal support for Israel and Palestine and more significantly, the poll also showed that the majority of Canadians are neutral towards the conflict.

And yet, when Prime Minister Harper recently spoke in response to Gaza-Israel clashes, he emphasized that unilateral “solidarity with Israel is the best way of stopping the conflict.”

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird also criticized the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights for her condemnation of Israel’s air-strikes, again re-iterating the narrative trumpeted by the Conservative Party- that Israel has the right to defend itself against terrorists, and that any collateral damage in the process is ultimately the fault on the part of the terrorists.

No other administration in Canadian history has ever taken such a stance on the conflict. In fact, in comparison to the United States (perceived by many as overwhelmingly pro-Israel) and the European Union, (perceived more as pro-Palestine) Canada had the advantage of being in the middle.

Indeed, starting with Lester B. Peason’s UN peacekeeping mission during the 1956 War, Canada had cultivated a foreign policy outlook that often sided with the United Nations and pursued diplomacy, not ideology.

The Harper government chose to take a different route. The government has repeatedly criticized and gone against the United Nations, including voting against Palestinian statehood in the General Assembly in 2012.

The Prime Minister also visited the region in January of this year, and became the first Canadian Prime Minister to address the Israeli Knesset, where he delivered the memorable line: “Through fire and water, Canada will stand with you.”  Conversely, Harper’s meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas a little while later was much more formal and tense.

But what is the rationale behind the Harper government’s overwhelmingly pro-Israel stance when polls indicate that that position doesn’t represent Canadian views?

Academics think that the answer lies in domestic politics, not foreign. That is, there might be an electoral pay-off for the Conservative Party in adopting such a position. They can both console members of their own base while winning new votes from those who are frustrated by the other parties’ vague support for Israel.

montreal gaza protest

But then three serious problems remain.

First, the Canadian government’s foreign policy is supposed to reflect the opinions of the nation as a whole, and not just the views of a few strategic constituencies. The Harper government’s pro-Israel stance is quite simply unrepresentative of the views of a majority of Canadians.

Secondly, such a one-sided stance eliminates the potential ability of Canada to act as a credible mediator in the conflict. In a situation where the EU and the US are perceived as biased by one side towards the other, a more ‘neutral’ Canada may have been able to lead negotiations in a way that the others could not.  But given the rhetoric used by the PMO, that opportunity is no longer available.

Finally, on an even broader note, the Harper government’s statements on the conflict sustain certain toxic narratives that make this conflict so taboo and difficult to negotiate. Yes, Hamas is a terrorist organization and Israel has the right to defend itself against rocket attacks. But trumpeting this statement alone, without any context or nuance, is simply dangerous. It does not educate about the conflict, and can instead reinforce hostile stereotypes about Palestinians and Muslims as a whole.

Such a stance spurs on hardliners within Israel while simultaneously communicating to groups like Hamas that the Western World is against them- thereby forcing both sides to take on more uncompromising stances, making negotiations more difficult.

Sacrificing such foreign policy considerations in preference of electoral goals is disappointing, to say the least.

 

It’s been in the news for the past couple of weeks, omnipresent in all most every headline, on every news channel, in every newspaper. Harper’s historic speech –in more ways than one– has generated much debate.

One of my fellow FTB colleagues wrote a piece that summed-up in many ways the shortcomings of Harper’s speech, it’s blatant disregard for the condition of millions of Palestinians in refugee camps throughout the Middle East, in the West Bank and Gaza.

The outrageous affirmation that Harper made that any criticism of Israel was ‘Anti-Semitic’ was seen as ‘little bit’ over the top even by right-wing political pundits.

Harper’s visit must be seen for what it is, it was the launch of his reelection campaign and that’s what is the most disturbing, that Harper and his neoconservatives used this visit to Israel to gain political points. How else could you explain the comments made by some MPs during the trip like the “one million dollar photo-op” or the huge cortege that followed Harper during his trip, made up obviously of staff and dignitaries but also full of political spin seekers.

harper israel wall

Now this was to be expected. Harper’s government is on it’s last legs, battered by the senate scandal. And as the saying goes when things are going bad domestically, take a trip.

Even the most ardent supporters of Harper must ask themselves one important question: was all of this out of love for Israel? Of course not, it was a political maneuver and it must be seen as such.

But this question also alludes to another important question: was Harper’s speech positive for Israel? If open ended conflict with the Palestinian people and Arab neighbours is the outcome you are seeking, then yes, this speech was exactly what you were looking for. But if even just one little thread in your body clings to the idea of a peaceful resolution of the conflict, whatever that peaceful solution is, then this speech trashed whatever little hope you might have had left.

But I will not enumerate in how many ways our prime minister’s speech was harmful for the peace process and for Canada’s international reputation. I’d rather focus on one of the most important points of the speech, one of those rare stones that has been left unturned.

In his speech, Harper made reference to the very important notion of ”never again” as he extended his apologies to the Jewish people for the Canadian government’s attitude during the Second World War and in the period after, where thousands of Jewish refugees were turned away from Canadian shores. Magically, whoopdiedoo, Harper is the best friend of the Jewish people… or not!

For me this was the most insulting moment of the speech, not because someone who isn’t Jewish made reference to this notion of ”never again”. Not at all. I would hope that all of humanity will come to embrace this notion. I was insulted because it was the height of hypocrisy.

When Harper said with a heavy heart ”never again”, he spoke as if it was a notion of the past, that somehow the atrocities of the Shoah and the Nazi Holocaust were an impossible re-occurrence. Maybe that is why so many persecuted Roma families are being detained in detention centers throughout Canada waiting their deportation? Maybe that’s why the Conservative government calls Roma and Mexican queer refugee claims bogus? Maybe that is why this Conservative government cut healthcare to refugee claimants and made the refugee claimant system tougher and more repressive?

roma rights canada

How can one apologize on one hand for the mistreatment and the discrimination of Jewish refugees in the 1940s and 1950s and the deportation and discrimination against refugees on the other hand?

The answer to all of these questions is that Harper doesn’t understand the notion of ”never again”. Not because he’s not Jewish, but because he doesn’t abide by the lessons of never again, the most important being that gaining political points out of fear-mongering and wedge politics is reckless and spineless.

”Never again” is a concept that transcends the past and the present, race, creed, sexual orientation, political affiliation etc… Never again means that persecution for whatever reason is unjustifiable and should be condemned.

If I was to sum-up what ”never again” truly represents for Harper and his supporters that have misused and mistaken it for something else, ”never again” is love for humanity and hatred against oppression, racism and xenophobia. In the words of Sub-Commandante Marcos:

“I am a gay in San Francisco, black in South Africa, an Asian in Europe, a Chicano in San Ysidro, an anarchist in Spain, a Palestinian in Israel, a Mayan Indian in the streets of San Cristobal, a Jew in Germany, a Gypsy in Poland, a Mohawk in Quebec, a pacifist in Bosnia, a single woman on the Metro at 10pm, a peasant without land, a gang member in the slums, an unemployed worker, an unhappy student and, of course, a Zapatista in the mountains.”

This post originally appeared on TaylorNoakes.com, republished with permission from the author

Hats off to the Beaverton for nailing it with their headline Israeli Prime Minister Stephen Harper returns after long visit in Canada and to the Gazette’s Terry Mosher (aka Aislin) for this cartoon:

aislin harper israel

Now have a look at some of the Facebook comments this image got and replace the Star of David over the PM’s mouth with a Fleur-de-lys over Pauline Marois’ mouth. Would that be as shocking? Would that be Quebec bashing? How would these illustrious minds of the modern age have responded to such a caricature I ask you? With equal apparent offence? I should think not…

Unless you were living under a rock last week, the Prime Minister an avowed ‘friend of Israel’ had been touring the country like an invited rock star, along with an entourage including businesspeople, MPs, cabinet ministers and religious leaders, a group of about 200 in total. The entire trip is being paid for out of Canada’s general taxation revenue, meaning poor saps like you or I subsidized this ‘love fest’ in the Levant.

Now you’re probably thinking, well, this is what Prime Ministers do, they go to other countries and sign lucrative trade deals, don’t they?

But there’s no trade deal being signed, and we don’t buy much from the Israelis in the first place because they don’t build much of anything we could use.

So why is Harper dropping a significant amount of coin for a ‘Tories-only’ trip to the Holy Land?

Is it to improve relations between the two countries? Hardly. Only Tories were allowed on this trip, no representatives from any other major political party in Canada was allowed to go. And as to the private business types who were allowed, well, they were all major Tory financial supporters. If anything, this entire affair seems to be little more than a carefully crafted media circus dreamed up in advance of the 2015 election.

Don’t believe me? Then watch this video, wherein you can hear Tory MP Mark Adler whining like a little child that he won’t get an opportunity to get in on a photo-op near Jerusalem’s Wailing Wall, something the MP describes as the “million dollar shot”:

This is the kind of trash we’ve elected to parliament. What an unfortunate joke.

It’s painfully clear the Tories embarked on this trip for purely political purposes. Fellating the State of Israel is good for the Tories not only because it secures the apparently strategic old-fogey Conservative Zionist vote, but further seeks to remind the Canadian people that Harper’s talking points re: Israel sound to be just about the same as the American President’s or the British Prime Minister’s. And this in turn makes Harper look like he’s a ‘player’ on the world stage.

Mulroney would do the same thing back in the 1980s, ensuring that at every big NATO meeting he had his mug photographed next to Reagan and Thatcher almost as if he needed to prove he was one of the big boys of his day.

Politics is ultimately all about image; some things never change.

Then there’s Israel.

I understand why Tories blindly support Israel. It’s not because all Tories are committed Zionists, far from it. In fact, the old Reform Party, from which the current incarnation of the Tories emerged, used to have a bit of problem signing up Holocaust deniers and other assorted racist scum to run in federal elections, but hey, who the fuck remembers what happened twenty years ago? Tories support Israel because the Yanks and the Brits do, and Tories have never had the confidence to pursue a Canadian-made foreign policy.

Nay, Tories have never had the balls to try and develop our own foreign policy. The Tory mentality is that whatever is locally produced must be deficient. This is why Deifenbaker cancelled the Avro Arrow, why Mulroney sold us out on free trade.

Tories live to cut the legs out from under you and the whole of this nation. For the Conservative Party of Canada, this country only exists as long as other, bigger, more powerful countries count us as one of their friends.

Given this spectacle, it seems as though the PM earnestly believes Israel is indeed bigger and more powerful than us. And this in turn leads to Harper bromancing Benjamin Netanyahu.

harper netanyahu

Why on Earth would Canada care what Israel thinks of us? Why do we need to court Israeli public opinion? Israel isn’t even in the same league as a nation as great as Canada, so why do we give a flying Philadelphia fuck what their current government thinks of us? Why does Stephen Harper need to make a big show of how Israel is our ally?

As friends go, Israel is a really shitty friend.

For one it’s highly likely, though unconfirmed, that Mossad assassinated one of Canada’s greatest engineers and ballistics experts in 1990. Yes, Gerald Bull was a maverick who worked for some of the worst military dictatorships of the late 20th century and certainly shouldn’t have been developing super weapons like Project Babylon or improved SCUD missiles for the Iraqis, who were, to one degree or another, the West’s ally in the Gulf and bulwark against the theocracy which had overtaken Iran throughout the 1980s (it should also be pointed out that Israel sold Iran weapons during the Iran-Iraq War).

But to kill a man who had done nothing to threaten Israel because some people thought he might? What the hell happened to the rule of law?

Either way, if Mossad was concerned about Dr. Bull’s activities, they should have worked out an agreement with us first, he could’ve been designing artillery pieces for our own military from the comfort of the Kingston pen. Israel had no right to assassinate him and have never officially apologized for their actions.

Then there’s the issue of Mossad agents using Canadian passports to freely travel the world assassinating other people the State of Israel finds disagreeable. Yes, Hezbollah and Al-Qaeda apparently do the exact same thing – but isn’t this the point? I expect our enemies would do such things, but I’d also expect our friends to respect us more than that.

Let’s not forget, a Canadian passport has always been a symbol of our nation’s international respect. Mossad’s use of our passports to assist in their efforts to go kill people doesn’t do us any good at all, it just means that the Canadian passport is worth scrutinizing even closer and is no longer the international symbol of openness and humanism it once was.

As Toronto Star columnist Tony Burman wrote recently, it’s time for Canada and Israel to stop living in a fantasy land. Israel’s lack of self-awareness, self-criticality and near total disregard of how the state appears from an outsider’s perspective would make the Parti Québécois blush. In fact, I’ve often been surprised Likud and the Parti Québécois aren’t closer, what with the common hatred of local minority groups and the insistence that only the majority’s religion is inoffensive, and that international laws and conventions don’t apply blah blah blah.

Peas in a pod…

This buddy-buddy relationship with Israel truly does nothing for us, though it does remind relatively intelligent people elsewhere that, when we’re governed by the more conservative elements of our society, we suddenly become very myopic in terms of foreign policy.

nuclear weapon

How can a nation such as Canada support one theocracy with secret, unmonitored, uncontrolled nuclear weapons (Israel) while supporting sanctions and eliminating diplomatic relations with another theocracy for their unconfirmed, apparent desire to produce a nuclear weapon (Iran)?

Shouldn’t the message be the same for all theocracies with nukes (i.e. get rid of your nukes, stand-down your military and then we can talk)? What difference does it make if Israel is a quasi-representative democracy, they have nuclear weapons and their deterrence strategy is to launch simultaneous nuclear strikes on any and all enemies if ‘overwhelmed’ by outside aggression, something which they came very close to doing during the Yom Kippur War of 1973.

The Samson Option could include the use of as many as 400 nuclear weapons, many of which are of the thermonuclear variety with a one-megaton yield (fifty times more powerful than the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki). They can be launched by ballistic missiles with an 11 000 kilometre range, from cruise-missile armed submarines, from jet fighters or even delivered via suitcases.

The very existence of Israel’s massive nuclear stockpile is in itself a destabilizing factor in the entirety of the Middle East. The way we turn a blind eye towards Israel’s countless foreign invasions (Suez Canal, 1956; all of its neighbours, 1967, all of its neighbours for a second time in 1973, Lebanon in 1982, Lebanon again in 2006, and all this aside from regular military action on Palestinian territory) and the intolerance and racism of the Likud Party and it’s allies is astonishing. What does this say about our own government?

For a truly disturbing mini-doc on contemporary anti-African racism in Israel, see the video posted below:

Harper wasted an opportunity to excoriate the current Israeli government for its human rights abuses, weapons of mass destruction and the not-so-subtle anti-African sentiment that has resulted in more than one instance of sitting members of the Knesset demanding African immigrants be rounded up and put in concentration camps; a law recently passed by Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party will see undocumented African immigrants held for up to a year without trial. Instead of criticizing these laws, Harper said that anti-Zionism is the same as anti-Semitism.

I should remind the Prime Minister, and anyone else dumb enough to buy that nonsense, that these are two very different things, but neither apply to this article nor any of a torrent of articles recently published about this trip or about Israel broadly speaking. Harper is so loathe to criticize Israel the Tories had the Department of National Defence quietly removed any online traces of a report that a Canadian peacekeeper on a UN deployment was killed by an Israeli artillery strike in 2006. What’s particularly damning is that the IDF was either obscenely careless or bombed the UN outpost deliberately, as it was clearly marked on maps and familiar to IDF personnel operating in the region.

What’s particularly mortifying is that the Prime Minister has confused hatred of a religious group and hatred of nation, but has also posited hatred of a nation/religious group as what underlies criticism of Israel and it’s policies.

Again, I can’t help but draw the parallel to Québec. Criticize the PQ or the charter of values? That’s Quebec-bashing. Criticize the PLQ, CAQ, QS, ON etc. and that’s just politics.

Why is Stephen Harper telling me criticizing Israel’s current government is equal to hating Jews? Is he as dumb as those who endorse him, like world-class idiot Sarah Palin?

It isn’t and never was. Nor is criticizing the PQ and attack on all Québécois. Nor is criticizing the origins of the First World War an attack on any of the soldiers who fought in it.

But this is modern politics, and as long as people would rather react first and think second, Stephen Harper can make statements like this and embark on taxpayer-financed trips such as this without any repercussions. Similarly, Rob Ford can smoke crack right back into the mayor’s office and Pauline Marois may very well win a majority government by institutionalizing racism.

Disturbing, repugnant, ridiculous. But back to the issue at hand…

What kind of friend is Israel? And why must we support them at their worst?

It’s obscene that the Prime Minister can score political points in Canada by sycophantically and uncritically praising the current conservative Israeli government, and by extension support the vilest elements of contemporary Israeli society who conveniently ignore the lessons of the Holocaust and marginalize minorities in their own apparently liberal democratic nation. That members of Likud would use the same rhetoric in attacking Arabs or Africans today as fascists used against Jews throughout Europe and North America in the early 20th century is appalling to say the very least.

Stephen Harper does not speak for Canada. Any pretence he might have to this effect should come to an end well before the next regularly scheduled election. The Conservative Party of Canada is leading this nation down a road I’m quite uncomfortable with, and this campaign stop in the ‘Holy Land’ is just another fantastic reminder why the Tories are wholly unfit to govern.

Gaza City after an Israeli airstrike (photo UN/Creative Commons)

In the run up to American Elections on November 6th, Palestinians and Israelis enjoyed relative peace for weeks. Israeli airstrikes and rocket launches in Gaza were nonexistent, just the way it had been four years earlier.

Back in the summer of 2008, Egypt brokered a truce between Hamas and Israel. The armistice lasted until Nov 4th, the same day as Barack Obama’s first election victory. On that day, Israel launched a military strike on Hamas to destroy a tunnel on the Gaza-Israel border. One member of Hamas was killed along with the ceasefire as Hamas retaliated with rocket fire.

The violence escalated for two months until Israel’s invasion of Gaza near the end of December. Israel withdrew its forces less than three weeks before the Jewish state’s national elections in early February. The assault destroyed $2 billion of Gaza assets, left roughly 1400 of its people dead and brought with it a humanitarian crisis. 13 Israeli soldiers along with three civilians died.

Unfortunately nowhere does history repeat itself more than the Middle East. On November 8th 2012, two days after Obama’s reelection and just a couple months away from elections in Israel; a thirteen year old boy was gunned down by an IDF machine-gun near the Gaza/Israel border while playing soccer outside his home. Just like four years prior, the rockets from Gaza started to fly in retaliation and again Israel is threatening invasion.

Ahmad Abu Daqqa – 13 was shot in the stomach by an Israeli soldier on Nov 8th

Barack Obama stated that peace in the region must begin with “no missiles being fired into Israel’s territory,” as if to say the responsibility of the situation rests solely on Hamas. In both instances the IDF was clearly to blame for the outbreak of violence, but the leaders of western nations have twice now pinned the blame on Hamas. The corporate media, even Al Jazeera, aren’t doing any justice by reporting that Israel’s response is to simply defend themselves from rocket attack.

Israel added fuel to the fire last week with the political assassination of Hamas’ military chief Ahmed Jabari. The slaying of Jabari is seen in Israel as on par with Barack Obama taking out Osama Bin Laden. It should serve quite useful to Benjamin Netanyahu’s reelection chances in January, but no one mentions that.

Prime Minister Harper, a staunch supporter of Israel said on Friday that “we condemn this terrorist group’s attacks on Israel, we recognize and support Israel’s right to defend itself against such terrorist attacks.” Obama meanwhile made a similar statement on Sunday saying the US is “fully supportive of Israel’s right to defend itself.”

These similar declarations come from two of the world’s most influential leaders who instead of working toward peace in a non-biased capacity, continue to support the actual aggressors diplomatically and in the US case monetarily and militarily.

The fallacy that angers me most is the double standard people have regarding the circumstances. For some reason, the superpower in the Middle East (funded by the global superpower) has a right to defend itself however it sees fit. On the other hand, a territory occupied for almost half a century with little infrastructure left has no right to armed resistance or self-defense.

The powerful Israeli lobby in Canada and the United States has done a tremendous job of preventing critical commentaries in the political arena and in the mainstream media. Those who have the courage to speak out or condemn the actions of the Jewish state are frequently labeled Anti-Semitic and are refused exposure in the western media.

The media in western democracies has been just as supportive to Israel as it was to the United States in the run up to the war in Iraq. No one questions anything or digs deeper for information. In fact, from what I’ve seen the press in Israel is far more critical of their own country’s engagements than we are. The evidence we receive has such a pro-Israel bias that some Jews I know outside my family now describe Palestinians in the same fashion the Nazis once described Jews, it’s ridiculous.

Peace will never come to the region so long as the powers that be on either side continue to profit either financially or politically from the religious hatred that has long since boiled over. There is money to be made in war along with political capital and all it does is keep the Palestinians in despair and Israelis in fear.

  • As I write this, Israeli air strikes have killed 75 people (including 12 from one family and 18 children).
  • Israeli Interior Minister Eli Yishai has said, “The goal of the operation is to send Gaza back to the Middle Ages”
  • Hamas’ conditions for a truce include open borders and international guarantees that Israel will halt all attacks on Gaza, including targeted assassinations
  • Three Israelis have been killed by Hamas rocket fire from Gaza
  • The occupation of Palestine is now at 45 years, 5 months and 9 days.

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The season of rainbows is here again. A time when everyone’s happy and everyone’s gay. Everyone, that is, save one group whose presence few seem to understand. I’m talking, of course, about Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (QuAIA).

QuAIA is mostly silent during the year, keeping to themselves and their circle of radical activists. But, once a summer, due to their presence in Toronto’s Pride Parade, they attract a lot of attention with their message of…well…umm…what exactly is their message, and what do queers really have to do with apartheid anyway?

The message of QuAIA, though difficult to discern from its unclear name and heavy use of radical-activist-speak, is, when boiled down, actually quite simple. So simple, in fact, that I’m surprised by their inability to explain it to the public.

For those who don’t know, QuAIA takes issue with the Israeli government’s use of ‘pinkwashing’ to brand their nation as a gay-friendly destination for queer travelers. (Pinkwashing is essentially the act of exploiting one’s tolerance of queers to sell a product—in this case, Israeli tourism.)

In 2005, Israel embarked on a rebranding campaign meant to market the country as a hip place to spend one’s money and, ideally, draw attention away from the oh-so-inconvenient problem of the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT).

One aspect of the campaign was to tell the world how accepting Israelis are of LGBT people. And it’s true. Even though there remains a strong conservative and religious opposition in the country, the policies of the government are quite queer-friendly. Same-sex marriages are recognized (but not performed), Pride festivals fill the streets, gays are allowed in the military and are able to adopt children, and anti-discrimination laws are even on the books. Compared to the vast majority of countries on this earth, Israel is far ahead in the LGBT rights race.

So what’s the problem then? Simply put, QuAIA takes issue with hard-fought human rights victories of one group being used to hide, and, in effect, legitimize, human rights violations against another.

Advocates of such gay-branding say that advertising a country’s “friendliness” towards a group of people is perfectly legitimate—and they’re right. But they’re also missing the point.

When Israel shows off how gay-friendly it is, and pundits inevitably highlight how gay-unfriendly the rest of the Middle East is, it’s easy to view Israel as a beacon of freedom in a sea of despair. And this is where QuAIA comes in. To them, Israel is no such beacon and should not be seen as one, given their treatment of the people whose land they occupy and blockade.

Before I receive the obligatory hate-mail that comes with writing *anything* on the Israel-Palestine conflict, I should say that I’m not writing this to provide commentary on what’s actually happening there. I’m writing because QuAIA is failing to bring their message to anyone but the converted.

A queer group that labels itself with a contentious term—apartheid—that then can’t explain to the general public why queer people have anything to do with it, is destined to fail. And this is unfortunate, because they do have important ideas—criticizing ‘pinkwashing’ being the most important.

For anyone who thinks that QuAIA is doing a fine job, just look at practically every editorial on them in mainstream media organizations across Canada. Few, if any, engage with QuAIA’s actual issues, instead focusing on how awful the rest of the Middle East is toward gays, making queers against Israel seem silly and out of touch. I’m not saying it’s right, but what else can we expect from lazy commentators who aren’t forced to engage with specifics.

Sure, QuAIA might explain themselves perfectly fine on their website, but when the vast majority of uninformed people don’t read their website, it doesn’t mean much. QuAIA need to realize that if they *actually* want to effect change, they need to have the public on their side. And that’s not going to happen when the mainstream media is given free reign to shape the debate in favour of Israel. The purpose of QuAIA, as I see it, is to force the public to engage with this issue—something they’ve failed to do thus far. And how should they go about this? By dropping the radical-activist-speak and by making an actual effort to explain themselves. If you have a message, it’s your job to get it across, not to sit there and bemoan the obstacles in your way—in this case, the “zionist media”.

As legal rights and support for queers enters the mainstream at a faster and faster pace, pinkwashing is only going to spread. We need to call it out when it happens and tell the businesses and governments engaged in it that we don’t accept their exploitation of our only-recent acceptance in society. And that we especially won’t accept it when used to cleanse the image of controversial products.

We must remember that gay rights haven’t always existed, and that we don’t have them now because they were simply bestowed to us in an act of kindness. No, our brethren fought tooth and nail to wrestle those rights and privileges from the hands of those now trying to profit off of them.

And this, in an awfully roundabout way, is what QuAIA is failing to get across to thousands of queers each summer. Just so you know. Because, it’s not like they were going to tell you.

Photos courtesy of Paul Lowry and Loozrboy via Flickr

So once again it’s time to delve into the world of Israeli cinema with two more films from this year’s Israeli Film Festival. Last week we had two films that seemed to have directly opposite problems (or near-problems) but this time around, our two films share the same basic issue, but to different degrees.

Melting Away

Film festivals are always the best place to go to see films that tackle controversial or taboo subjects, and Doron Eran’s new film Melting Away definitely fits that bill.

 The film begins when the teenaged Assaf is kicked out of his home when his father finds women’s clothing in his bedroom. Flash forward to present day and Assaf’s parents haven’t seen him in years, but when his father is diagnosed with terminal cancer, his mother hires a private detective to track down the boy so that he and his father can reconcile before the end comes.

Things take a twist when the detective discovers Assaf has become Anna, a beautiful artist and lounge singer. Anna tells the detective she does not wish to re-establish contact with her parents, but after a change of heart she secretly re-enters her father’s life as his nurse and a new friendship between the two emerges.

Now, right of the bat, that is a great premise. It’s original, inventive, and keeps you wanting to see what happens next. The problem is, the film seems to rely a bit too much on the cleverness of its premise and the taboo nature of the overall subject matter and somewhat fails to deliver from an artistic standpoint.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing bad about the way the film is made, but there isn’t anything amazing either. It’s competent, but in order to be truly great a film, it has to be far more than just competent. The director clearly knows how to film a scene coherently, but doesn’t take enough chances or artistic liberties. The scenes are presented exactly how you would expect them to be most of the time, and personally I think a good film has to go above and beyond in terms of presentation and not just writing and subject matter.

A good example is the soundtrack. I feel like this movie only had one piece of music, a repetitive, overly simplistic piano tune that would play without fail in every heartfelt scene. It’s a pretty piece of music, but relies on the same basic melody repeated ad nauseum. You need to mix it up, or at the very least save it for the really important moments so we don’t get sick of it. Which we will. Because I did. Very, very sick of it.

There’s also a subplot that goes directly nowhere, to such an extent that I have no regrets just telling you what it is. SPOILERS. Anna has a gay friend who comes out to his mother. She’s fine with it, he cries, they hug. That’s. IT. What purpose does it serve in the greater narrative? None that I can see. Maybe it’s supposed to show that unlike Anna’s father, some people are ok with homosexuality and transgenderism? Maybe, but the shocking final twist of the movie, which I won’t spoil, kind throws a wrench into that theory.

Overall, Melting Away is a good movie, but one that smacks of a slight lack of effort on the part of the filmmakers. The acting and story are all fine, but the director needed to up his game and failed to do so.

Obsession

I remember distinctly that as I was putting the DVD for Obsession into the player, I thought: “sounds like the title of a soap opera or something”. Clearly I’m possessed with prophetic powers, because this film is essentially an hour and a half long TV soap opera.

I want to sugarcoat this one, I really do, but I have to be brutally honest here. If the makers of Melting Away were a bit asleep at the wheel, the makers of Obsession were in a coma. The film looks like daytime TV show. The camera work is dull, the editing is dull, the whole damn production is just DULL.

NO effort was put into this, and the fact that this is director Nissim Notrika’s first film is apparent with every frame. Give me SOMETHING, man! A montage, some creative framing, some non-diegetic music, can I at least get an establishing shot?

But what’s it about? Well, it’s about a jerk. A husband and father named Sammy who cheats and beats on his wife, gambles away his money, and is terrible to his children (except his daughter, and that makes it better?). His wife Malka is clearly going slowly insane, and I suppose as a character study of abusive relationships it does ALMOST work.

At first I thought the film was going for some kind of statement about the dark side of a culture in which divorce and separation are taboo, and how it forces women to become trapped in terrible relationships they have no hope of escaping, but nope. It doesn’t seem to be a story about -why- this terrible situation has befallen poor Malka, just that it -has- and that that’s very sad.

The acting is decent, I will give it that. The guy who plays Sammy makes us hate him from the word go, and Malka is sympathetic and emotes well. But that’s the very best I can say.

As a piece of film art, this is a total wash. Nothing will stick with you, not a shot, not a line of dialogue, nothing. It’s a piece of lettuce on top of a rice cake, people. I wish I could be nice about this, really, but really I can’t. This is lazy, uninspired filmmaking and if you skip one movie at this festival, make it this one.

The 8th annual Montreal Israel Film Festival is soon to be upon us and for the next two weeks here at Friday Film review I’ll be taking a look at some of the films you can see this year. First up is The Flood and My Australia, two films that seem almost diametrically opposed in some respects.

The Flood (Mabul)

The Flood is set in contemporary Israel and stars Yoni, a 13 year old boy desperate to grow up. He works out, downs protein powder and even screams to try and deepen his voice. His Bar Mitzvah is approaching and he is desperate to become a man.

Yoni’s family life is fraught with drama. His parents’ marriage is rapidly dissolving and his autistic brother Tomer has been moved home after years in a treatment institute.

I could tell you everything else that’s going on in and around his life, but it would honestly fill this entire column, which leads me to my one observation about this film: it has a TON going on. Literally everyone in Tomer’s family has some kind of drama happening that could easily be the focus of an entire movie. His mother is having an affair, his father’s pilots license has been suspended, this movie has more subplots and storylines than The Dark Knight.

But unlike that film, The Flood  just barely escapes feeling cramped or even worse, having all the plates it’s spinning come crashing down on it. Barely. The film does a very good job of cutting between the stories and subplots to remind us of everything that’s going on, although there are a few times when I did completely forget about one of the B (or maybe C) plots that the film didn’t address very often.

Where things falter for me is the ending. Many of these subplots don’t get a proper resolution. This isn’t a bad thing in and of itself, bear in mind. Leaving things open ended is good, and the film would have been far worse off if it had somehow wrapped it all up in a neat little package.

But the thing is, almost everything is left open ended. Several of the important relationships in the film do seem to have a proper arc and ending, such as Yoni and his brother, but most of it is left hanging. There is a climax, but it’s almost entirely incidental, a seemingly random crisis that arises and is resolved when one character has a somewhat random change of heart.

Ending aside, the way the film manages to juggle the various plot threads and stories is very good. However a bit of streamlining, such as the removal of one of the subplots to give more focus elsewhere, would have greatly improved the film.

The acting is superb, with Yoav Rotman as Yoni turning out a mostly likeable child protagonist and Michael Moshonov giving a terrific performance as Tomer. The supporting cast ranges from good to excellent, with no noticeably weak performances to speak of.

All in all, The Flood is a great, if slightly overambitious film that would have been truly fantastic with a bit more focus.

My Australia

A period piece set in mid 1960s Poland and Israel, My Australia features another child protagonist. This time our star is a young boy named Tadek and his family moves from their home in Poland to Israel after he and discovers that both he and his brother are half Jewish, which forces him to re-evaluate his previously anti-Semitic anger.

After arriving, Tadek finds himself an outsider for his Polish heritage and struggles to find a new identity for himself, all the while drifting apart from his older brother Andrzej.

While The Flood seemed to be bursting with plot, My Australia is definitely at the opposite end of the spectrum, with a somewhat sparse narrative. The focus of the story is definitely Tadek, with other characters seeming to drift in and out. This can sometimes work in the film’s favor, but more often works against it.

The film seems to wander, often playing fast and loose with typical story structure. In mapping out the typical story arc, one would be hard pressed to find which of the several important events would qualify as the climax. Certain scenes seem to go on way longer than necessary, and it seems like the film spent far too much time just puttering around.

Now, remember how I said The Flood‘s ending was a tad unsatisfying? My Australia is the same, but without the “a tad.” The ending literally comes out of nowhere and offers little to no closure whatsoever. And there’s almost no poetry or subtlety to it, it’s literally the characters walking hand in hand and one of them says “It’ll be tough, but we’ll make it.” Really? Is there any way you could have gotten that across without, y’know, just saying it? Show, don’t tell, movie!

The acting is decent but really nothing huge to write home about. Jakub Wroblewski does a good job at Tadek but seems to have trouble with the more emotionally nuanced stuff. Lukasz Sikora fares slightly better as his brother, but only slightly.

Overall, if The Flood is a tightly packed sandwich just barely able to contain all its elements, My Australia is a hamburger with a tasty but thin meat patty. Enjoyable, but somewhat unsatisfying in the end.

On Oct. 18th,  in a deal brokered by Egypt, IDF Sergeant Gilad Shalit  was released by Hamas in the Gaza Strip. At the same time, several hundred Palestinian prisoners were freed from Israeli prisons in the first phase of an agreement that will see the release of more than a thousand Palestinian captives by year end.

This prisoner exchange has been in the works for years, so why the sudden breakthrough? A few reasons might have come into play: the Arab Spring that has all but forced Israel into a corner and Mahmoud Abbas going to the United Nations last month to seek statehood for Palestine. On top of these two major events, there has been social unrest within Israel itself since the start of the summer.

The reasons for the sudden breakthrough aside, was it in Israel’s interest to go through with a deal that saw the first captured Israeli soldier be returned home alive in 26 years? Many hardline and moderate Israelis alike seem to be united in their concern that the release of so many prisoners will jeopardize Israel’s security. Once a terrorist, always a terrorist I guess.

Israelis do have a reason for concern, but I don’t think it has anything to do with the inmates that were recently released. Shortly after the official exchange, Hamas called for further abductions of Israeli soldiers in order to bargain for the freedom of the remaining five or six thousand Palestinian prisoners left in Israeli jails. You can disagree along with me on Hamas’s methods, but they are no different than the tactics of the Mossad and the  IDF who have been arresting, kidnapping and jailing Palestinians without trial for decades.

An elderly man looks at pictures of Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails

Between six and seven hundred thousand Palestinians have passed through the Israeli prison system since the war of 1967. That number makes up 20% of all Palestinians and 40% of all men in the occupied territories. Since September 2000, Israel has arrested and imprisoned  more than 7000 Palestinian children under the age of 18, most for doing less than throwing a rock. All Palestinians from the occupied territories regardless of age are subjected to Israeli military tribunals. In addition, a procedure known as “administrative detention” is used to imprison Palestinians without charge or trial for three month stretches.

Israeli has a tendency to not only lock up those few who actually mean to harm innocent people, but also those innocent people who simply strive to be free in their own land. The number of dangerous offenders that have gone through the system actually represents a fraction of a percent. Of course there are always exceptions such as Amana Mona & Mohammed Wael. Mona and Wael were actually convicted of aiding militants and were forced into exile instead of returning to the West Bank.

I do not condone the actions of any group of people kidnaping another human being for personal or political gain, but I do understand why it’s done as a last resort. I have no problem with the one for a thousand exchange no matter how it looks on paper, in fact Israel should have released all the political, non-violent prisoners along with the remaining children.

Israel has to start being seen making sacrifices to the Palestinians, especially in the eyes of the world. Having thousands of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails only adds to the resolve of Hamas and other organizations like it. When Israel and the IDF starts to treat Palestinians properly instead of like second class people, Palestinians would no longer have a use for Hamas.

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The Israeli Government of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu seems to be on a one way ticket to oblivion. His right-wing hawkish stances are jeopardizing peace in a region where the Arab Spring is still going strong heading into autumn. To make things worse, hundreds of thousands of Israelis have been protesting Israel’s socio-economic problems.

The  UN recently released its  report into  Israel’s raid of the Gaza-bound ship in which nine Turkish demonstrators were killed last year. The 105-page  report stated that  Israel’s actions were “excessive and unreasonable.” Turkey has since downgraded diplomatic ties with Israel, expelling the Israeli ambassador and suspending military co-operation between the countries because of the lack of an apology from the Netanyahu Government. Turkey has been at peace with Israel since 1948.

On another front, the Arab Spring has so far seen the overthrow of several long time autocracies including that of long time Israeli ally Hosni Mubarak of Egypt. Most Egyptians are sympathetic to the Palestinian cause, but still recognize Israel’s right to exist and have no desire for confrontation unless provoked.

Two weeks ago while chasing down Palestinian militants, the IDF accidently killed four Egyptian soldiers and police officers patrolling the border. Egypt recalled their ambassador to Israel in response putting a strain on a peace agreement in effect since 1979’s Camp David peace treaty. The damage could yet be worse if Israel’s perceived aggression plays out in Egypt’s upcoming elections.

Israel’s tangible rapport with Syria will end as soon as President Bashar al-Assad goes down the same road as Mubarak. He has no love for Israel, but he has been a force for stability on Syria and Lebanon’s border with Israel. This leaves only Jordan with a strong peace treaty and even that is a little shaky.

The UN vote on a Palestinian State should take place on Sept 20th

Prime Minister Netanyahu and his right wing coalition is moving closer and closer to bringing the country back decades in foreign policy and all on the heels of a vote on Palestinian Statehood at the United Nations.

Netanyahu is of course vehemently against a UN vote and says that if they dare to take their case to the United Nations he may declare the Oslo agreement of 1993 null and void, meaning they would be enemies once again. People don’t remember the noteworthy aspect of that agreement; Israel had recognized Palestinian rights and the PLO recognized Israel’s right to exist. I can’t help but ponder how many of Israel’s current problems would be helped by a “Yes” vote… of course that’s only if Israel acknowledges it.

The truth is, Netanyahu would rather sacrifice years of progress by maintaining the status quo in order to keep the settlers and religious base happy. His ideology is now starting to weigh in on the domestic side as well; his Tea Party-style economics are driving hundreds of thousands into the streets in protest.

A half-million people took to the streets on Saturday in various Israeli cities to complain about huge housing prices, privatization (Israel’s once heavily state-run economy has been heavily privatized) and government pervaded commercial corruption. The protests are going into their third month with nothing more than a non-binding inquiry into the country’s domestic problems.

It would seem to me that Netanyahu is doing everything in his power to avoid peace when it is clearly in his best interest (and everyone else’s for that matter). Imagine taking all that money in aid and investing it in its own people instead of bombs, fences and illegal settlements. They have yet to truly acknowledge this point, but I wonder how many of those protesters realize it.

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Well, the freedom to speak out, protest and criticize injustice just got a whole lot more complicated in Canada. The Canadian Parliamentary Commission to Combat Antisemitism released its report and to the surprise of almost no one, it opted to pretty much redefine criticism of Israel as anti-Semitic, instead of proposing ways to deal with real instances of antisemitism.

Well, not quite. In fact, it states that criticism of Israel isn’t by definition anti-Semitic, but then goes on to say that “applying double standards by requiring of [Israel] a behaviour not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation” is. It continues by claiming that “singling Israel out for selective condemnation and opprobrium let alone denying its right to exist or seeking its destruction is discriminatory and hateful, and not saying so is dishonest.”

So basically, if you want to criticize Israeli government policy or practice, you have to criticize some other nation at the same time or else be labelled an anti-Semite.

Well, that can be difficult, particularly for those organizing events specifically dealing with what’s going on in Gaza like Apartheid Week, seemingly the real target of this commission’s findings. But on the other hand, I’m always up for a challenge so I think I’ll give this a shot. Now, I’ve got to remember the rules: I can criticize Israel all I want, I just need to criticize someone else for the same thing or something comparable. Let’s get started:

Okay, so I’m against how the Israeli government cuts off freedom of mobility to Palestinians in Gaza, passes laws effectively creating a second class of citizens who are then discriminated against and labels any attempt to resist a terrorist act. Now, I’ve got to think of another regime guilty of the same thing and speak out against them, too. Got it! Pre-Mandela South Africa, I’m against that regime, too.

No, wait, it’s a dated example. Things have changed in South Africa in the past little while and it’s a bit of a cheat to say I’m protesting something that isn’t happening there anymore along with what’s happening now in the occupied territories. I’ll try again…

I’m against how the Israeli government continues to authorize and even encourage new settlements on occupied land, evicting Palestinians for no good reason, further aggravating a situation that is already pretty damn tense. Okay, so far so good, now for the second part…hmmm…ha. I’m also against the way the Canadian government under Harper (and let’s face it, under previous administrations, too) continues to ignore Native land claims while permitting new encroachments on un-ceded territory like they did for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. I’m also not thrilled with the way they issued a tepid apology for what happened in the Residential School system without acknowledging the extent of what really happened.

Ha. I’m starting to like this game. I’ll try another one:

I’m appalled at how the Israeli Knesset recently passed a law making it illegal to criticize what’s going on in the occupied territories or organize a boycott of products from there or anywhere in Israel. This is a violation of the very principles of freedom of speech and such a law has no place in a free and democratic society.

Now, to cover my ass, the second part:

I am equally appalled at how Canadian parliamentarians from almost all parties (the Bloc opted out of this commission shortly before voters opted out of the Bloc) decided to use the spectre of antisemitism as a weapon to stifle criticism of the actions of a government, not the actions of a country’s citizens or people of a particular religion. It’s an attack on freedom of speech, that much is clear, but it’s also an attack on logic.

It’s a move that makes no sense unless you’re thinking in an Orwellian sense, but it does make for a fun game as I just demonstrated. This game isn’t free, though. To play it, you have to give up your right to protest injustice, a fundamental right in any democracy.

Famine is one of those things that seems to be poorly understood by Westerners. We’ve largely equated the word with a mere desire to eat. We have a wretchedly poor comprehension of what it means to not only have nothing at all to eat, but as to how long an individual can exist on infrequent and woefully small quantities of food. The answer is painfully long, that is, a human can survive for a very long time on extremely small quantities of food and water. They who do and there are a great many on our pathetically retarded planet who do do so with sick, emaciated bodies and gradually atrophying organs. They are the most resourceful people on the planet without a doubt, and the product of their labour is only to prolong the excruciating pain of their existence for there is scarcely any help for these people,

In North Korea,
In the Horn of Africa,
In Gaza…

So a people are starving. They live in ‘homelands’; they must carry identification to travel between them, and do so under the constant watch of a police apparatus designed to hinder the illusion of any personal rights. Working outside the homeland is dangerous but increasingly necessary, for the homeland has no real economy, no real government, none of what is necessary to build a society, a State. Instead, the streets are governed by thugs and religious zealots and the good people are systematically killed off, pushed out or put down   Gaza looks like Mogadishu and operates like Salisbury (known today as Harare) in the late-1970s.

Gaza, like the rest of the Palestinian territories, is effectively the last real justification for maintaining a military the size of the IDF for Israel’s day-to-day defensive requirements. Gone are the days in which Israel was militarily outmatched by all of its neighbours. Lebanon is a wreck, Syria is on the verge, and Egypt and Jordan are Israeli allies (of sorts). In fact, the only local military large-enough to take on the IDF in a war would be Iran. And though there have been murmurs of just such a thing happening and soon there’s still a lot of doubt. After all, when these two nations shared a greater common enemy (Saddam Hussein in the mid-1980s), the Israelis had no problem supporting the Iranian air force with parts and equipment. The enemy of my enemy is my friend.

So as a result of lacking just such a threat, and having a massive military to support, the Israelis have set their scopes and sights on the Palestinian Territories. And just like South Africa, Portugal and Rhodesia in the 1970s, they’ll commit this force to an endless series of ‘skirmishes’; never acknowledging a war is going on, never playing by the rules of engagement. It seems as though this is all Israel has been doing for more than a decade anyways. And enemies especially the invisible kind are much easier to create when you have an endless supply of poor hungry people desperate to get out of the hole they’ve been told to lie in for decades upon decades. So the guns are turned inwards.

Freedom Flotilla II the second attempt to run the blockade of Gaza, has been met with acts of sabotage of various kinds, doubtless the work of the Israeli government, the IDF etc. Under the pretence of preventing a re-supply of militants and a recap of last year’s bloodbath in the Eastern Mediterranean, where IDF commandos killed nine unarmed activists, they instead focused on attacking the ships in port, with bombs detonated to cripple the rudders. Hey at least it’s better than using snipers, right? The ships were to carry humanitarian aid to the People of Gaza, but if the Israelis were to allow this, it would be tantamount to acknowledging there was a problem in the first place. And as a new deadline approaches, and the issue of State recognition for the Palestinian people grows stronger while Israel’s former enemies grow weaker, the fascist elements of the current Israeli administration will do whatever they can to demonstrate that the People of Palestine are unfit for self-determination.

Apartheid-era South Africa used the fear of international communism as justification. Today, Israel uses the fear of international terrorism. And time and time again the people of the Decadent West buy it, and fail to act. We are failing to prevent another catastrophe.

And so Israel exists beyond the realm of ‘normal’ nations. Its economy is largely artificial and donation-based. Its diplomatic relations with almost all its neighbours is hopelessly strained, while its behemoth military seeds plans of an attack against Iran to remind the West Israel’s just our toughest ally. They remind the rest of the world of the threat of Islamo-Fascism, and point to the wars they created as justification for their existence. And Israel is so scared of the world discovering the reality of the situation they’ve created in Gaza they’ll go so far as to try and sue any nation that openly boycotts Israel because of its actions in Gaza, in Palestine.

Imagine that?
A sovereign nation can be sued for not financially supporting a warmonger state,
Israel has become a Fascistic state.
The economies collapse,
And the people starve…

* images imemc.org and electronicintifada.net

A year after the first freedom flotilla set sail for the Gaza Strip, resulting in the deaths of nine activists at the hands of the Israeli IDF, the world awaits the departure of Freedom Flotilla II. The flotilla of ten boats includes two cargo ships transporting nearly three thousand tons of aid, and eight other passenger boats with citizens of dozens of different countries. It was supposed to set sail at the end of June.

Over the last week or so, it has been mired in sabotage and Israeli diplomatic efforts to halt it with Greek officials who have their hands full (and tied) with their own domestic problems. The result is that the flotilla has been delayed from setting sail and activist morale has been lowered, but that has not deterred those involved. They remain focused on the flotilla’s overall goal of breaking the Israeli blockade to bring in humanitarian aid, and cheered that Israeli actions have actually helped their goal of bringing the plight of Gaza back into the media spotlight.

The Juliano, owned jointly by the Ship to Gaza organizations in Sweden, Norway and Greece, had its propeller house destroyed and its propeller shaft cut by hostile divers. The consequent damage would have happened gradually as the ship was sailing and would have culminated in a breach in the hull. The Irish-owned ship, the “MV Saoirse” also had its propeller shaft weakened by saboteurs who cut or filed a piece off the shaft. This weakened the integrity of the shaft, causing it to bend badly when it was put into use.

Dr. Lane, who was part of last year’s flotilla, said, “The Freedom Flotilla is a non-violent act of practical and humanitarian solidarity with the people of Gaza, yet Israel continues to use threats and violence to delay its sailing. They attacked us in international waters last year, now they are attacking us in Turkish and Greek ports. There is no line that Israel won’t cross.” One can only speculate  about Israel’s involvement in the sabotage as there is not yet any proof, but given Israel’s unhesitating use of snipers and attack dogs against unarmed civilians, it’s not a stretch to imagine it is their doing.

The Tahrir & The Audacity of Hope

On Friday the U.S. boat named after Barack Obama’s famous book “The Audacity of Hope” attempted to sail from the port of Perama, near Athens, but was thwarted by Greek coast guard speedboats. The 60-year-old captain was arrested and faces charges of trying to leave port without permission and of endangering the lives of the boat’s passengers.

The Canadian ship to  Gaza,  the Tahrir, was boarded before it had a chance to leave (on Canada Day). The Greek authorities attempted to confiscate Tahrir’s transit logs needed for travel, the delegates refused to hand them over, offering photocopies instead, which were in turn refused. This exposed the efforts to stop all ships departing from Greek ports if the intended destination was Gaza. Soon enough all Gaza-bound ships were stranded in Greece because they were “concerned primarily with the protection and safety of human life.” A fact we have since learned is not true.

Israel’s extreme right wing Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman admitted on Sunday that Israel was behind the Greek government’s decision to forbid the flotilla from sailing to the Gaza Strip saying “Things do not just happen on their own. The Quartet, the governments of Greece and Cyprus, object to the flotilla, understands the needs of Israel, and is acting effectively.”

The flotilla, I understand, will try and set sail again on Monday July 4th regardless of Greek and Israeli efforts to stop them. The blockade, now in its fourth year, is illegal under international law. The same goes for last year’s raid in international waters of the first freedom flotilla and for Israel’s forty plus year occupation of Palestine. Any form of peaceful protest should be welcomed by so called freedom loving nations such as our own; we should not be bowing to the will of a single apartheid-like government.

“We’ve received many visits and inspections from Greek authorities; we’ve satisfied all the technical requirements, all the paperwork. Our ship is ready. The Greek government is having its hand forced by the powers of the international community. It’s a shame on the Greek government, a shame on the EU, a shame on the Canadian and American government for cowing to one power dictating where their citizens can travel. This is a citizen to citizen initiative. We’re not going to be stopped by an order coming from the Greek government, when it’s in fact being manipulated by the Israeli government.” – David Heap, associate professor at the University of Western Ontario aboard the Tahrir

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