From Saudi Arabia to Israel, Stéphane Dion is continuing Harper’s policies

In his short time as foreign minister, the former Liberal leader is building a legacy of disgrace

Published by Ricochet Media: https://ricochet.media/en/1078/from-saudi-arabia-to-israel-stephane-dion-is-continuing-harpers-policies

Editors’ note: Today the Globe and Mail reported, “Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion quietly granted Ottawa’s crucial approval for a controversial $15-billion shipment of armoured combat vehicles to Saudi Arabia in early April – even though the Liberals insisted they could not reverse a ‘done deal’ clinched under the Harper government.”

Stéphane Dion has been an easy figure to ridicule. He was once famous for handing a silly video to media networks during the political crisis after the 2008 election. After Dion’s departure, Canadians wondered if a Liberal could possibly do worse than Dion, and it took Empire Lite Michael Ignatieff in 2011 to prove that, indeed, one could. Dion’s 2008 candidacy was probably sabotaged from within the Liberal Party. Back then, I thought it was unfair that the media were treating him as some kind of buffoon.

But that was then. Dion, as Trudeau’s appointed foreign minister, has racked up quite a few new zingers. Recently, he’s defended a $15-billion dollar arms deal with Saudi Arabia. Cancelling the deal, he has said, “would not have an effect on human rights in Saudi Arabia.”

“Riyadh does not care if the equipment comes from a factory in Lima, Ohio or Sterling Heights, Mich., rather than one in London, Ont.,” he said. He didn’t specify whether he thought there might be an impact on human rights in Yemen, where the Saudi kingdom is busy slaughtering civilians and devastating infrastructure with weapons like the ones Canada’s selling. But Dion’s point came through: Saudi Arabia is indifferent to human rights. Canada’s only choice is whether to profit from the kingdom’s desire for weapons.

But the Saudi achievement is only one of Dion’s disgraceful acts in his short time as foreign minister.

Israel vs United Nations

The United Nations Human Rights Commission recently appointed a Canadian professor, Michael Lynk, to be Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in the (Israeli-)Occupied Palestinian Territories. Lynk will be in eminent company. Previous special rapporteurs include John Dugard from South Africa and Richard Falk of the United States.

Reports by previous rapporteurs documented the rise of systematic malnutrition in Gaza under Israel’s siege, Israel’s practices of jailing Palestinians without legal proceedings (“administrative detention”), the killing of Palestinians without legal proceedings (“targeted killings”), the Wall that Israel has built deep in Palestinian territory and between Palestinian communities, and Israel’s periodic massacres in Gaza (2008-09, 2012, 2014). The report on the 2008-09 massacre in Gaza (Operation Cast Lead) stated that “the Palestinian right of resistance within the limits of international humanitarian law and Israeli security policy will inevitably clash, giving rise to ever new cycles of violence”.

A major theme of the reports, especially since the 2008-09 massacre, has been Israel’s refusal to allow the rapporteurs access to occupied Palestine. Phrases such as “owing to the failure of Israel to provide full and free access to the Occupied Palestinian Territory” and “once again it is necessary to highlight the failure of the Government of Israel to cooperate in the implementation of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur, even to the extent of allowing him to enter occupied Palestine” abound.

The rapporteur that Lynk will be replacing, Makarim Wibisono, resigned because the lack of access caused his mission to fail. “Unfortunately, my efforts to help improve the lives of Palestinian victims of violations under the Israeli occupation have been frustrated every step of the way,” he wrote. The Palestinian side complied fully. Israel didn’t even bother to reply to his requests.

Israel is no fan of the United Nations. It famously targeted and killed five UN peacekeepers in Lebanon in 2006. In 2014, it targeted United Nations Relief and Works Agency schools that had been used as civilian shelters, targeting and killing children and families who had fled to UN facilities, thinking foolishly that the UN could keep them safe. Having been bombed, UNRWA then had to answer Israeli (false, invented) accusations that UNRWA had allowed its civilian shelters to be used by the people Israel was trying to kill: Hamas.

Israel bombs civilians, including children, hiding in UN shelters, and the UN finds that it has explaining to do. Such is the logic of this conflict. The UN does its best to placate the power that kills its personnel and bombs its schools.

But for Israel and its advocates, it’s never enough. In addition to the right to kill civilians and UN personnel at will, in addition to the right to prevent UN rapporteurs from even getting into the territories it occupies, Israel also wants the right to veto and malign these rapporteurs. Israel hated Dugard and Falk, and as Michael Harris reported in iPolitics, Israel advocates also “knocked” Penny Green, a law professor and reknown critic of Israeli human rights violations, “out of the running” before going after Michael Lynk.

Real change missing on foreign policy

Israel’s methods are standard and probably written in a manual somewhere: find instances of criticism against Israel, highlight them, and accuse the rapporteur of bias against Israel.

Since Israel is the more powerful party and since Israel has been on an increasingly genocidal path towards the Palestinians, anyone who reports honestly about what Israel is doing will find plenty of violations of international law and human rights to describe. If they are legal advocates, they then typically make recommendations about how to hold powers like Israel to account. Such reports and recommendations, to advocates of Israel, are evidence of intolerable bias.

Of course, the only people that have not made such reports and recommendations are either unqualified for the position of special rapporteur, since they have no experience with the conflict, or they are advocates of Israel who ignore Israeli crimes and show interest only in the crimes committed by the occupied, not the occupier, in the conflict.

For Israel and its advocates, the only acceptable rapporteur would be one who went on a guided tour of Israel, accepted a complete denial of access to the Occupied Territories, ignored Israel’s crimes, and repeated whatever Israeli officials said about the Palestinians.

Perhaps they felt that Michael Lynk would not be such a rapporteur. Luckily for them, they found an ally in Dion, who promptly fired up his Twitter account and tweeted at the UNHRC to reconsider Lynk because of his bias. In so doing, he managed to insult Lynk, malign the UN, and embarrass Canada, sending a message to the world that in foreign policy, changes of government from Conservative to Liberal matter very little indeed. Perhaps in so doing he made Israel advocates happy. But, like the UN, he should know that it will never be enough.

The message from Israel advocates to Lynk was clear enough: Israel can get the Canadian government to denounce you, before you’ve written a word in your capacity as rapporteur. Lynk was forced to respond by emphasizing how balanced he is, even describing his willingness to expand the rapporteur’s mandate to look more closely at crimes by Palestinians under occupation. Lynk told the press that he had never said Israel was an apartheid state and never compared Israel to Nazi Germany — a comparison he said he finds “odious.”

Odious? Saying things the Nazis said is odious. Doing things the Nazis did is odious. But is comparing people, countries, or political movements to Nazis out of bounds now? I don’t think the Internet got the memo (see Godwin’s Law). Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister of Israel, compares Iran to Nazi Germany frequently and has done so for many years. He has also invented outright fictions about the Holocaust, in order to incite violence against the Palestinians.

As for Lynk’s vehement assertion that he has never said that Israel is an apartheid state, would that be such a strange thing to do, following Jimmy Carter, Desmond Tutu, and several Palestinian and Israeli writers who have done so? Since apartheid is a crime under international law, and the UN is one of the only spaces where states can be held accountable, that the UN rapporteur was forced to distance himself from any mention of Israel’s policies before starting his job does not bode well. Surely whether Israel is committing the crime of apartheid is a matter for investigation.

Lynk, in other words, had to try to prove himself to Israel and its advocates in the public arena. By qualifying himself to fanatical supporters of Israel, he is forced to declare reasonable and well-evidenced positions out of bounds. The bullied have to explain themselves to the bully.

Condemning BDS

Dion’s disgraceful speech and action on this issue doesn’t start and end with Twitter. He came up with another zinger when the Canadian Parliament voted to condemn a nonviolent, largely campus-based movement based on international law: the movement for boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) against Israel.

The demands of the BDS movement are equality for the Palestinian citizens of Israel, the dismantling of the Wall and an end to the occupation, and the right of return for Palestinian refugees. All these rights are enshrined in international law and UN resolutions. The BDS movement’s methods are entirely nonviolent and largely based on trying to spark debate and discussion of the issue.

Opponents of BDS use methods that are largely based on trying to shut down debate and discussion, regardless of Charter rights, constitutional rights, or academic freedom — for example, having Parliaments and legislatures condemn the BDS movement. After the Liberals voted with the Conservatives to condemn little groups of activists for Palestinian human rights, Dion came up with this brilliant comment: “The attempt of the Conservatives to divide this House on this issue failed yesterday, and it will always fail as long as we have this government.” This is typically convoluted, but translates more or less to “Liberals and Conservatives stand together forever for Israel’s right to do whatever it wants to the Palestinians.”

Israel/Palestine has offered, and will continue to offer, many opportunities for Canadian politicians to disgrace themselves and support bullies. Ignatieff and Bob Rae had a public row while fighting for the Liberal leadership, because Ignatieff referred to some Israeli war crimes as war crimes (then said he wouldn’t lose sleep over them). Harper spent a decade proving he was more pro-Israel than Israel. NDP leader Thomas Mulcair declared himself an “ardent supporter of Israel in all situations and circumstances” and purged the party of pro-Palestine candidates (although credit goes to the NDP for not voting with the Liberals and Conservatives on the condemnation of BDS, and credit goes to Elizabeth May for this sensible and minimalist petition).

And of course it isn’t just Canadian politicians. Everybody kisses the rings. Supposed maverick Donald Trump got standing ovations at AIPAC for channeling Netanyahu (take a look at Rania Khalek’s interesting social experiment on the similarities between Trump and Netanyahu’s inciteful rhetoric), and Hillary Clinton has been talking about taking the U.S.-Israel relationship to the next level. It’s hard to imagine the dizzying heights.

Scrolling backwards from late March on Dion’s Twitter feed, there’s a tweet about Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic’s conviction for genocide at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. Dion commented that the conviction proves that the reach of justice is long. Karadzic, a political leader, was found guilty for a massacre committed by military forces. In the Bosnian Civil War, Karadzic’s Serb forces faced Muslim forces that had a much better military balance than the Palestinians have compared to Israel. The Serb forces at Srebrenica in 1995 separated and targeted males for massacre — unlike Israel, which kills children and families indiscriminately in its aerial and artillery massacres.

By the logic of International Criminal Tribunal, Israeli political and military leaders could be tried and sentenced for the Gaza massacres of 2008-09, 2012, and 2014. For the time being, that is a very remote prospect: first, because international criminal courts are not for all war criminals, just those who lose wars, and second, because the world’s foreign ministries are populated by people like Dion.

Linda McQuaig wrote a book about Canadian foreign policy, published in 2007, called Holding the Bully’s Coat. Dion has only just started, but his foreign policy legacy is setting up to turn the country into a coat rack, with hooks for the United States, the Saudi kingdom, and Israel. Can you picture Dion, in a grainy video, standing in front with his hand out, waiting for the next coat to hang?

NDP purge of pro-Palestine candidates plays into Harper’s hands

The Conservative Party is on the hunt, and with the help of the NDP and Liberals, they are cleansing Canadian politics of anyone who might think of Palestinians as human beings.

In the first weeks of the election campaign, two NDP politicians have had to distance themselves from statements about facts that are utterly obvious to anyone who knows Israel/Palestine, one nominated candidate has had to resign, and many more NDP members have been blocked by the party from seeking nominations to run for office.

Quebec NDP candidate Hans Marotte expressed past support for the first Palestinian intifada, a mass movement against Israel’s occupation to which Israel responded with the “broken bones” policy of violent repression. When the Conservatives dug up his comments, Marotte said it was proof they couldn’t find anything more recent. He didn’t recant, but he was effectively silenced.

Ontario NDP candidate Matthew Rowlinson had to issue a statement apologizing for signing an “incendiary and inaccurate” letter that included the documented and provable claim that ethnic cleansing of Palestinians is ongoing in Jerusalem. The “inaccurate” part of the letter said that Israel seeks a Jerusalem free of Palestinians. As for “incendiary,” we would do better to look at some of the weapons Israel deploys against Palestinians — more on that to come.

Then there are those who have been dumped by the party. Nova Scotia NDP candidate Morgan Wheeldon had to resign for calling Israel’s 2014 attack on Gaza, which killed more than 2,200 people including more than 500 children, a war crime. NDP member Syed Hyder Ali, who had wanted to run in Edmonton, was told to withdraw his name — because he also said that Israel was guilty of war crimes. Jerry Natanine of Nunavut, the mayor of Clyde River, was tossed because, in his words, “I often side with the Palestinians because of all the hardship they are facing and because nothing is being re-built over there.”
Out of date, out of touch

Those who wrote to the party about Morgan Wheeldon’s forced resignation were treated to an incredibly out-of-date, out-of-touch email response, in which Wheeldon was accused of “minimiz[ing] the horror of violence targeting civilians,” which is “unacceptable and contrary to NDP policy, which condemns terrorism.” The party reply also repeats that the NDP supports “a two-state solution that would see Palestinians and Israelis living side by side in independent states.”

The tortured language of this reply to disgruntled supporters is a consequence of muddled thinking. In 2014, it was very clear that the monstrously outmatched Palestinian fighters were focused on military targets. Of 72 Israeli casualties, 66 were soldiers. The “horror of violence targeting civilians” was experienced mainly by Palestinians. Is the NDP saying that what Israel is doing to Palestinian civilians can be justified by “terrorism,” which presumably refers to the use of rockets by Palestinians (and not the use of heavy artillery and bombs by Israel)?

NDP policy is at least a decade out of date. No one in Israel is interested in a two-state solution or a peace process. Israel took a decision just over a decade ago to “freeze” the peace process. Since then, Israel’s war against the Palestinians has continuously expanded, with attacks on Gaza’s trapped, defenceless population in 2006, 2008-2009, 2012, and 2014.

To be fair, Wheeldon’s Facebook posts, which mentioned the bombings of buses by Hamas, were also a decade out of date. The last bus bombing by Hamas was around 2005, and in the ten years since, the organization — labeled “terrorist” by all parties in Canada — has focused increasingly on confronting the vastly more powerful Israeli military, while that military has focused its incredible firepower on Palestinian civilians. It may also be worth mentioning that Hamas has been fighting against ISIS in Gaza, and has lost lives doing so, while there is de facto collaboration between Israel and al-Qaeda in Syria, as Asa Winstanley and others have reported.
Infanticide

The NDP’s response reveals that it does not understand Israel/Palestine today. How might the NDP go about gaining such an understanding?

There is Amnesty International and Forensic Architecture’s Gaza Platform, which has data on every bomb and shell that Israel launched into Gaza in its 2014 attack. It reveals a pattern of attack that is hard to explain in any way except as the targeting of civilians and civilian infrastructure. It was built as an accountability tool, in the hopes that justice will eventually be done, and that those responsible for the deaths of thousands of civilians, the destruction of thousands of homes, and the deliberate targeting of hospitals, schools, medical personnel, and UN facilities will face some kind of legal consequences.

There are statistics, like the fact that infant mortality in Gaza has risen for the first time in 50 years, thanks to Israel’s siege on the territory it has attacked three times in the past six years. Or the fact that life expectancy for Palestinians is 10 years shorter than for Israelis. Or the fact that Israel decided almost a decade ago, explicitly, to limit the number of calories available to people in Gaza — to “put them on a diet.”

There is Mads Gilbert’s new book, Night in Gaza, in which the Norwegian doctor who has spent many years visiting Gaza describes the 2014 attack as the worst he’s seen. The book shows pictures of the heroic medics and doctors who try to save lives and treat injuries as Israel tests new kinds of shrapnel on Gaza’s children. Gilbert describes what he saw as “infanticide.” He notes that, with a median age of 18, more than half of Gaza’s 1.5 million people are children. Those children are not allowed to leave — they are sealed in behind a wall on three sides and a navy patrolling the sea on the other. Israel has imprisoned them. Gaza, notes Gilbert, is not just a prison, but a child prison.

When Mulcair says, as he did in 2008, that he is “an ardent supporter of Israel in all situations and circumstances,” he should be clear that these circumstances include the high-tech slaughter of children, the imprisonment of children, the imposition of of caloric intake formulas for children, and increased infant mortality and reduced life expectancy. By a matter of simple logic, these are all things that Thomas Mulcair supports.
Destruction

There is Max Blumenthal’s book, The 51 Day War, with its harrowing tales of Palestinians people herded by Israeli soldiers at gunpoint into a house and forced to stay there in the house at gunpoint until the house is bombed and dozens of people are killed.

There is also Harvard economist Sara Roy’s article, which includes a quote summarizing Israel’s approach to Gaza: “No development, no prosperity, no humanitarian crisis.”

Then there is the Israeli side, for which the required reading is Breaking the Silence’s report, “This is How We Fought in Gaza.” It includes testimonies from Israeli soldiers about what they did in Gaza last year. Every single one of them — and there are 111 — is shocking in some way. Choose a few at random. Maybe read about the soldiers’ songs, like “Palestinians only sing the chorus as they have no verses (houses) left” (testimony 1). Or read about the targeting protocols, about how decisions to fire on buildings were made (testimony 51):

“Throughout the entire operation there was a sort of building far away near the coastline… it wasn’t a threat to us, it had nothing to do with anybody, it wasn’t part of the operation… but that building was painted orange, and that orange drove my eyes crazy the entire time. I’m the tank gunner, I control all the weapons systems … So I told my platoon commander ‘I want to fire at that orange house’, and he told me: ‘Cool, whatever you feel like’, and we fired.”

After a few testimonies, readers can take a break and watch a video of Israeli protesters chanting another song outside the hospital of a Palestinian hunger striker: “Why is there no studying in Gaza? Because they have no children left!” Spend some time looking at some terrifying tweets from last year by teenagers taking selfies with captions including “Death to the Arabs.”

Remember that Israeli newspapers are running columns with headlines like “When Genocide is Permissible,” and Israeli politicians call Palestinian children “little snakes.” And anyone thinking that indifference to civilian lives or hateful, racist, and genocidal beliefs are common to both sides might remember that only one side, the Israeli side, controls every detail of every Palestinian life in Gaza and the West Bank, from where they can and can’t go to their very caloric intake.
Playing the right’s game

Israel is heading in an ever-more genocidal direction towards the Palestinians. Support for this move is only possible for those who give up any pretence of anti-racism, universal human rights, anti-militarism, and democracy. It is only possible, in other words, on the right side of the political spectrum.

On the other side of the spectrum, the pro-Palestine movement and Palestinian civil society are working on a rights-based, not a solutions-based, framework, and are working towards boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS). Many Canadian politicians have heard of the BDS movement, at least for long enough to denounce it. Mulcair, for example, has said that he finds BDS “grossly unacceptable,” as one might expect of someone who ardently supports Israel in every situation and circumstance.

If the progressive position supporting BDS is grossly unacceptable, perhaps Mulcair might find more acceptable Hamas’s conditions for a 10-year truce with Israel: an end to the siege of Gaza and the opening of a seaport, an airport, and the land crossing into Egypt. This is actually far short of the NDP’s quaint espousal of a two-state solution, since the occupation would continue. But all the same, for the NDP to call for the opening of Gaza and the freeing of 750,000 children from prison in today’s context would be politically significant indeed. It won’t happen for exactly that reason.

These may be the evil political calculations that have to be made in order to succeed electorally. But here is something to consider. If the NDP purges the progressive, pro-Palestine voices from its party out of fear of supporters of Israel’s ever-escalating violence against the Palestinians, it is playing the right’s game, which it can’t win. Israel’s national politics, which has drifted so far to the right that to call someone a leftist is an insult (and “punch a lefty, save the homeland” and “good night, left side” are slogans chanted at pro-war demonstrations), could teach the NDP something about how this works. There, too, left and liberal parties spent the past few elections trying to pander to centre-right sentiment, and have basically disappeared as a political force.

The NDP’s purge of pro-Palestine candidates can only help Stephen Harper, who doesn’t talk nonsense about a two-state solution but simply and openly supports whatever Israel wants and is doing. Those who want that will vote for Harper, not the NDP.

Meanwhile, if voters want to cast their ballot this October for a major Canadian party that believes that Palestinians are human beings too, they can’t.

First published on Ricochet – for full version with links visit https://ricochet.media/en/562/ndp-purge-of-pro-palestine-candidates-plays-into-harpers-hands

Canada and the Palestine Question, by Dan Freeman-Maloy

Dan Freeman-Maloy, whose blog is notesonhypocrisy.com, has collected several significant pieces of research on Canada and the Palestine Question and published them as a single PDF (Aaron Swartz would be proud). He has also done a major talk on the same issue, that elucidates some of the main points in the PDF. For those interested in Canadian foreign policy, for those interested in the Israel/Palestine conflict and the west’s role in it, Dan’s work is indispensable.

Continue reading “Canada and the Palestine Question, by Dan Freeman-Maloy”

One less reader

Writing political books about, for example, Haiti, means knowing that every reader who gets the book is a victory. Consequently, having one less reader get the book is a serious matter.

I tried to send my book to Alex Hundert, a G20 defendant who is currently locked up in Penatanguishene. I was told that books have to go direct from the publisher, so I asked my Canadian publisher, BTL, to do it for me. They were quick and efficient and sent the book off.

The other day I got this back from my publisher:

Continue reading “One less reader”

The regressive politics of the Iranian-Canadian Khavari petition

[This article, by Shadi Chaleshtoori and myself, was first published in The Bullet – version with links is there].

The regressive politics of the Iranian-Canadian Khevari petition

Shadi Chaleshtoori and Justin Podur

November 11, 2011

On October 12, members of the Iranian-Canadian community sent a petition to Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney expressing concern about the arrival in Canada of Mahmoud Reza Khavari, the former chairman of the largest Iranian state-owned banking institution (Bank Melli).

Continue reading “The regressive politics of the Iranian-Canadian Khavari petition”

The Logic of Occupy Wall Street for Canada

The Occupy Wall St. Movement and the Occupy Together movements that are inspired by it actually have a simple premise: society shouldn’t be run for the unrestricted benefit of the wealthiest. The immediate grievance is the 2008 banking crisis, in which the US banks engaged in fraudulent and criminal activity and were subsequently rewarded for doing so with trillions in government funds, while their victims reaped evictions and foreclosures.

Continue reading “The Logic of Occupy Wall Street for Canada”

Numeracy alert. Gravy drain.

I read Metro Today on the subway today. There was a story blaming City of Toronto staff for squandering – wait for it – up to $1 MILLION dollars in sole-sourced contracts.

So, Rob Ford is right, and there is waste to be cut, eh?

Except that $1 million is, for example, 1/3 of what the KPMG report that suggested closing libraries and taking fluoride out of the water cost.

Or 1/64 of the vehicle registration tax whose disappearance is now contributing to the supposed $700 million deficit.

And oh yes, it’s 1/700 of the deficit.

Continue reading “Numeracy alert. Gravy drain.”

The politics of economic self-destruction

Sorry for the hiatus. Partly I’ve been busy with work and life and been unable to spend as much time doing articles. Partly I am trying to train myself to not relate to the world through 2000 word articles but to have a little more variety, including longer things (ie., books), one of which I am actually going to publish after having it sit on my hard disk for a few years. Related, I have been trying to stop and think, to be less in a reactive mode, which is what the twitter and blogging and surfing seem to encourage me to do.

Continue reading “The politics of economic self-destruction”