March 9, 2009
In News The Israel-Palestine Conflict
By Regan Boychuk
Antonio Gramsci (1891-1937) recognized that Great Powers (like the United States) have relative freedom in determining their foreign policies, while smaller powers (like Canada) have somewhat less autonomy.
Separating independent Canadian foreign policy from US pressure to conform to American interests is not always a straightforward exercise. National conceit leads us to assume our independence and good intentions, the record often suggests otherwise.
Describing pressure to join an American initiative in 2004, former Liberal minister of foreign affairs Bill Graham explained:
Foreign Affairs’ view was there is a limit to how much we can constantly say no to the political masters in Washington. All we had was Afghanistan to wave. On every other file we were offside. Eventually we came onside on Haiti, so we got another arrow in our quiver.
For Canadian officials, aiding in the coup that overthrew Haitian democracy in 2004 and helping the murderous suppression of Haiti’s majority political movement endeared us to our neighbours.
Canadian foreign policy towards Israel and Palestine has become another such ‘arrow in our quiver’, bolstering our relationship with ‘the political masters in Washington.’
Canadian policy towards Israel has always left a great deal to be desired. Nonetheless, beginning under the Liberal government of Paul Martin and continuing under the current minority Conservative governments of Stephen Harper, Canada has been removing itself from the international consensus it reluctantly joined over the course of the 1990s.
The United States has long had a policy of demanding obedience from less powerful states at the United Nations. Under Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, UN Ambassador Daniel Patrick Moynihan said in a January 1976 cable that breaking up the large bloc of “mostly new nations, which for so long have been arrayed against us” was to become a “basic foreign policy goal” of the US.
Moynihan confirmed US policy makers had adopted a policy of cutting aid to countries that did not follow the US’ lead in UN voting and boasted
Our new stance is having more or less the effect that was hoped for – that governments are beginning to think that anti-American postures at the UN and elsewhere are not without cost and that the cost has to be calculated.
In November 2003, the Jewish weekly Forward reported “The United States is embarking on the most comprehensive campaign in years to reduce the number of anti-Israel resolutions routinely passed” by the UN General Assembly.
(‘Anti-Israel’ is the standard formulation used to describe resolutions like annual calls for the peaceful settlement of the conflict and reaffirmations of Palestinians’ right to self-determination. Never quoted in the media, the resolutions are easy enough to find on one’s own and shed considerable light on the objectivity of our free press.)
By the time preparations were underway for 2004’s round of resolutions, a New York Times’ headline announced the “UN is gradually becoming more hospitable to Israel”. The Canadian government was among those that had responded to the US campaign.
Among other changes, the Martin government withdrew Canadian support for the two-state solution in 2005 (the vote was 156 to 6, with Canada among the 9 abstentions).
Privately, some Liberal MPs expressed concern the government’s actions might “be motivated by an effort to meet the US desire for an ally on the Middle East at the UN.”
In 2006, the Harper government took a step further towards US and Israeli isolation, withdrawing Canadian support for Palestinians’ right to self-determination (the vote was 176 to 5, with Canada among the 5 abstentions).
These two changes have yet to be reported in the Canadian media, which stick to propagandistic denunciations of ‘anti-Israel resolutions’ and applaud noble efforts by Canadian officials to ‘balance’ such obvious bias.
Inadvertent reality: The peril of even sympathetic coverage
After recently pounding defenseless Gazans trapped in their cage for more than three weeks, Israel declared a ceasefire. It unclenched its bloody fists and returned them Gaza’s collective throat, which it continues to strangle as it did long before the launch of ‘Operation Cast Lead’.
With the ceasefire came a flood of western media pouring into Gaza, having been forced to watch from the sidelines throughout the onslaught. When they were finally let in, their news priorities were often revealing.
The Globe and Mail, Canada’s leading daily, opted for a front-page exposé aimed at dispelling any potential confusion about the precise location of an Israeli war crime.
My unpublished letter-to-the-editor:
The Globe and Mail’s latest contribution to Israel’s propaganda efforts illustrates exactly why media were banned from the recent slaughter in Gaza.
Israel prevented the media from entering Gaza because even the most sympathetic reporting can inadvertently reveal damaging details.
Case in point: Patrick Martin’s latest report verged on apologetics, but – rather than discounting a ‘myth’ – Martin actually provided further evidence of an Israeli war crime in the incident examined.
We now have it confirmed by a western correspondent writing for a well-respected, ‘pro’-Israel newspaper that there were no Palestinians firing on Israelis from the vicinity of the attack that killed more than 40 Palestinian civilians.
Regardless of which side of the UN school’s wall Israeli shells struck, it was an attack on civilians lacking even a pretext.
In other words, a potential war crime.
Small wonder Israel kept even sympathetic journalists away from the carnage – despite their best intentions, you never know what bit of reality they might let slip into public consciousness.
As a testament to its propaganda utility, the Globe and Mail’s wretched little story has been exploited by the Orwellian named ‘pro’-Israel groups UN Watch and Honest Reporting Canada, which both tried to imply Martin’s report proved Israel never attacked any UN schools. A simple lie.
“Two-in-five Canadians criticize Israel’s military actions in Gaza”
Unreported in the mainstream press, the poll is interesting for a number of reasons, some unintended. The slightest scrutiny reveals much deceit.
Previous polls conducted for Canada’s ‘pro’-Israel lobby inform us that a huge majority of Canadians oppose taking Israel’s (or the Palestinians’) side in the conflict; 83% preferred neutrality.
It would obviously be awkward to revisit Canadians’ desire for neutrality after the their government’s strident display of support for the latest slaughter in Gaza.
Sensitive to the political winds, Angus Reid gets around this by asking if Canadians support the Harper government’s position indirectly:
Earlier this month, Canadian Junior Foreign Minister Peter Kent declared: “Hamas bears a terrible responsibility for [Israel’s attack] and for the wider deepening humanitarian tragedy. The burden of responsibility is on Hamas to stop its terrorist rocketing of Israel.” Do you agree or disagree with the junior minister’s statement?
Fifty-seven per cent agreed, leading to Angus Reid’s sub-headline: “a majority agrees with Ottawa’s official position that Hamas is greatly responsible for the conflict.”
But the square brackets in the poll’s question are curious.
Speaking to Reuters, Kent was not speaking generally about the conflict or Israel’s ‘Operation Cast Lead’, he was specifically blaming Hamas for Israel’s killing of 43 Palestinians outside a UN school in Jabaliya on January 6th.
Admitting he didn’t yet know much about the incident, but having internalized Israeli claims (credible or otherwise), Kent declared:
Hamas’s record is to use civilians – the population and civilian infrastructure – as shields and it would seem quite possible that this is yet another tragic instance.
Despite changing excuses from the Israelis, physical evidence and interviews with several eyewitnesses have since confirmed Palestinians were not firing from near the UN refuge before Israeli shells struck.
Therefore, “…[Israel’s attack]…” in the question should have read “…[Israel’s killing of 43 Palestinian civilians without pretext]…”.
Accurately rendered, one suspects somewhat fewer Canadians would have agreed with their government’s shameless apologetics.