March 7, 2009
In News The Israel-Palestine Conflict
By Randa Mouammar
The pro-Israeli press in Canada must really be shaking in its Uggs. Over the years I’ve seen it go from ignoring the Canadian Arab Federation (CAF) and its leaders to more recently attacking it as forcefully as possible.
Like never before courageous writers, academics, peace activists and citizens have been appearing to contest propaganda about Israel’s so-called “Western” ideals, which look more like a brutal, militaristic, nuclear-armed, exclusivist state than the democracy it claims to be. Now that the press has pulled out its big guns to shoot down those who criticize Israel, it may be a sign that pro-human rights campaigners are about to win this longstanding war against this new Israeli brand of Apartheid.
Canada has a reputation of protecting human rights, both at home and abroad. But many shadows lurk beneath. Canada’s human rights record fares very poorly with respect to its treatment of First Nations communities. Israel’s natives – the Palestinians – are also effectively deprived of justice through their dealings with Canada, especially and increasingly as of late. Its recent decision to pull out of the World Conference Against Racism, the second country to do so after Israel, can only be the result of lobbying efforts by a powerful and self-interested pro-Israeli and Zionist Canadian minority. How else can you explain a nation pulling out of a world conference meant to address racism, which, as many of us know, still exists? Rather than attend and entertain the speakers and their views, or attend and simply ignore them, Canada has chosen to fight the whole thing altogether with a boycott campaign – perhaps the clearest sign yet that the global anti-racism campaign is on its way to producing positive change.
Khaled Mouammar, the current President of the Canadian Arab Federation (CAF), has been in Canada longer than many Canadians born here – for over 40 years in fact. And he also happens to be a native of Palestine. He fled from Palestine to seek refuge from Jewish attacks, and was never able to return in any capacity other than as a visitor from Canada. In a lifetime of advocating for the implementation of international law with respect to Palestine, and of defending Palestinians and Arabs against those old imperial labels “terrorist” and “barbarian”, he has been criticized and insulted many, many times. But never has the smear campaign been so concerted. And never has the campaign lasted so long. This has to mean something. True, he is the president of Canada’s largest group representing Arabs, but why this focus on just one man? Is he really that important? Israel’s lobby groups reflexively coalesce into action to ruin reputations and livelihoods, trying to bully anyone who dares to speak out and criticize Israel. They likely also need their sacrificial lambs – someone who can distract news readers from the mainstream media’s out-of-context, biased and inaccurate reporting on Israel’s most recent blatantly illegal actions and Canada’s deficient if not complicit response. [These illegal Israeli actions include the murder of 1,350 Gazans, up to half of whom ar[ children, and the maiming of 5,450 Gazans, of whom 1,600 are estimated to suffer permanent physical disabilities (amputations, spinal cord injuries, burns, etc). It also includes the intentional targeting of civilians and medical targets (shooting at ambulances, killing several ambulance drivers), United Nations installations, and using proscribed weapons (phosphorus bombs, cluster bombs, etc.).]
While some of the reporting on Mouammar has been uninformed if not unfair, individuals from CanWest’s media monopoly, which reaches 95% of Canadians and includes the National Post daily paper, have done their best to malign and attack his character. Not an easy feat if you know the man. Independent Jewish Voices (IJV) Canada, itself an umbrella organization, has said that the CAF under Mouammar has been “a consistent and valued supporter of Canadian Jewish individuals and groups” and that Mouammar himself is a man of “principle and courage.”
He is, to those who know him, a fair, compassionate and intelligent man, intent on seeing justice brought to Palestine in his lifetime. His dedication to assisting the world’s largest refugee population has been unwavering. He has also been active in countless other human rights campaigns and worked with a great number of other ethnic communities in Canada. So it’s no surprise then that he was appointed to the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada. It was there that he was able to implement policy pertaining to the granting of protection for unprotected refugees and minority groups inside Canada.
But it’s this very dedication to helping refugees that has gotten him into trouble with the press as of late. For drawing light onto Israel’s (rather numerous and repetitive) breaches of international law, he is labelled a ‘mouthpiece for radicals’, ‘defender of terror groups’ and of having a ‘record of hatred for Israel, and by extension, Jews.’ This implies, basically, that the Post’s position on criminality is that if the criminal is an Israeli, anyone who calls for justice is an anti-Semite. That’s a pretty bold intimation, even for the Post. And it does an injustice to the very real anti-Semitism that does exist by abusing and watering down its effect. Sort of like the boy who calls wolf, over and over again. In the end the boy appears a fool, and everyone who’s misinformed by his message becomes a loser.
The allegations against him, many on their face spurious and without basis whatsoever (like Mouammar supposedly calling Bob Rae a racist because – if you can believe as one Post writer claims – “his wife is Jewish” alone) are not even worth the ink they’re printed on. Others are outright racist, some even stripping him of his identity as a proud, albeit conscientious, Canadian. When Mouammar quoted a well-known and respected American political scientist in using the term “whore” in reference to the PM, the Liberal leader and the Immigration Minister of Canada, cries about his un-Canadian-ness began to emerge. Using “whore” however to describe those individuals who compromise their moral principles in exchange for personal gain (thereby ‘whoring’ themselves) is pretty darn Canadian after all. In even bodes well within Canada’s political vernacular. In just the past few years alone, the word “whore” in Parliamentary Debates and Sessions has transcended party lines and extended from citizen to journalist to MP, and, notoriously, even to the PM! No one questioned their Canadian identity, so one cannot help but wonder how long a Canadian has to actually be in Canada to be considered by others a Canadian. I was born in Canada, but spent time travelling abroad. Does that mean I no longer count?
Now, I don’t know very much about a fellow named Lorne Nystrom but after searching the Hansard database for Parliament, I learned that he recently quoted Mulroney’s reference to those opportunistic, “old whores” and corporate sleaze in the Conservative party. Oddly after that public display, there was no press coverage on his comment, nor media outcry or concerted attack. Not a single word or indignation at his choice of words and at his use of the quote. Khaled Mouammar quoted a probably equally famous, although unelected, individual of distinction and calibre when he called some Members of Parliament “professional whores.” So, is he only un-Canadian because he’s Palestinian? Or is he un-Canadian because he’s critical of those who unconditionally support the Israeli regime? And exactly what is it that makes one un-Canadian again?
But this next accusation is a rather serious one, and goes to the heart of the scare tactics that the Post uses in order to garner political support. It is why Reuters criticized the editors of the Post for changing words in Reuters news reports, by using words like “terrorist” instead of militants – because the former instils fear in people. Fear of terrorists is what draws the West toward Israel. Because who wouldn’t support a country so nobly fighting terror, except of course unless that country is itself doing the bulk of the terrorizing. Something the Post does not want its readers to know. So, in line with this instillation of fear vis-a-vis the Palestinians, Mouammar has been accused of essentially waving terrorists past on through Canada’s refugee system.
I have represented clients at the Immigration Board before and I know that every case is decided fairly and on its merits. The Minister intervenes on cases where criminality (such as terrorism) is an issue, and the client is able to appeal where they feel they have been unjustly denied protection. The system is not perfect but its Canada’s brand of justice, and it has served our nation well until now. If I ever have any question as to the integrity of a deciding member, I am obligated to notify the authorities. As a lawyer, I have a duty to improve the administration of justice and to inform the tribunal of its binding authorities (i.e., not to let terrorists into the country). To imply that Mouammar waved through refugees who are both dangerous to society and do not deserve to be here is an insult to Mouammar, as well as to the counsel who appeared before him, and the clients who were offered state protection. The Post should be weary of making claims it cannot support, especially ones as frightening as this.
On the plus side, at least now it seems that the ground war against ignorance might finally be coming to a close. Like the more than a million and a half Palestinians who faced one of the biggest onslaughts of their lives in the most recent chicken-coop type massacre, diasporic campaigners like Mouammar and their human rights supporters are continuing the long hard battle for intellectual and political freedom.
With the United States now also gearing up to boycott the World Conference in Durban, it remains to be seen where Israel’s allies will stand. The tide is turning slowly. It won’t be long before people begin to realize that human rights includes (shock and awe) all humans, and that advocating on behalf of justice can no longer make you the subject of crucifixion. Kudos to you, Dad. It won’t be long now.
So if human rights advocates are our enemies, exactly who do we find among our trusted friends? Israel is Canada’s only “friend” who, for the past 61 years uninterrupted, has used cluster bombs, chemical bombs, and regular bombs on civilian populations fairly regularly and without any legal recourse whatsoever. It is the only friend who breaks with impunity the Geneva Convention through the use of collective punishment, torture, brutality, deportation, destruction of personal property, schools, civilian infrastructure and more. It is the only friend who we, increasingly, refuse to criticize at the U.N. despite our implicit obligations to do so. It is the only friend who the media at CanWest Global protects, perhaps to avoid being fired, or maybe to get promoted, or else, unwittingly, through editorial tweaks without consent. In fact, with respect to issues pertaining to Israel and the Middle East, the International Federation of Journalists has accused it of “corporate censorship and the vicitimisation of journalists who are trying to defend professional standards.” It is a fairly sad commentary on the rights and freedoms that we think we have protected and prescribed – as though we somehow really do live inside an Orwellian world where ignorance is strength, and all lies are propagated by the Ministry of Truth, or in this case, CanWest Global. It is probably no coincidence that Orwell himself is reported to have been unsupportive of Zionism, and to consider support for Palestine divisible along colour lines (how poignant that in its brand of Apartheid, Israel now has its own Palestinian “coloureds” to draw lines around).
The Durban Conference on Racism is being boycotted by Canada because the Conference itself is anti-Semitic or, oddly, somehow “racist” against Jews; United Nations resolutions addressing human rights violations by Israel are voted against by Canada because upholding human rights is also somehow anti-Semitic or offensive to the human rights of Jews; and, trying to improve Israel ‘s fabric by ensuring that it is held to the exact same standards of international law that every other nation in the world is held to is also somehow strangely anti-Semitic or targeting Jews. Given that so many of the people (often unjustly) accused of being anti-Semites are Semitic themselves (Arabs, Palestinians or viciously labelled ‘self-hating’ Jews), all this confused doublethink and ignorance-is-strength so prevalent in the mainstream is a shameful illustration of what the Canadian masses might have to endure.
Randa Mouammar (M.A. Political Science) is the youngest daughter of Khaled Mouammar, and a Canadian lawyer of Palestinian heritage. She looks forward to the day that justice and peace can win.