More depressing news from La-La Land

January 30, 2010

In News The Israel-Palestine Conflict

By Bahija Reghai (about the author) Page 1 of 2 page(s)

For OpEdNews: Bahija Reghai – Writer

Canadian Policy: The Jerusalem effect

One must wonder why the Government of Canada feels the need to by-pass the Canadian electorate and announce changes in its policy relating to Israel/Palestine through Israeli media: these announcements should have been made in Canada because they have a profound impact on Canadian interests and need to be debated in Canada.

And our national media have gone AWOL on a number of issues when they are supposed to be their readers’ and viewers’ watchdogs, especially since Parliament has been prorogued.

First, we learned of the Security Agreement through the Jerusalem Post in 2007. On March 2, 2008, a Declaration of Intent was signed by then Minister of Public Safety Stockwell Day in Tel Aviv. Having a mutual security agreement with a country that grants rights according to religion rather than citizenship is not in accord with Canadian values.

The fact that Israel is an occupier state and uses its army against Palestinians while occupying their land should also raise a red flag as intelligence gathered on Canadian Arabs of Palestinian and Israeli background may be skewed, “shared”, and used against them. The implications of such an agreement should be the subject of parliamentary debate and oversight.

Second, the Israeli settler radio station Arutz Sheva said in October 2009 that Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon had announced in Israel his intention “to present the Canadian Prime Minister with a plan to revive the multilateral “refugee committee’ headed by Canada that was established in the Madrid Conference in 1991.” The question of Palestinian refugees has been a core issue in the Arab-Israeli conflict since 1948. As the “gavel-holder” of the Refugee Working Group (RWG), Canada has a special responsibility towards all Palestinian refugees.

Third, defunding KAIROS was announced very quietly in Canada, but the reason for the defunding was explained publicly by Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism Jason Kenney at the Global Forum for Combating Anti-Semitism in Jerusalem: “We [government] have articulated and implemented a zero tolerance approach to anti-Semitism. What does this mean? It means that we eliminated the government funding relationship with organizations . . . who promote hatred, in particular anti-Semitism. We have defunded organizations, most recently like KAIROS.”

That a coalition of Canadian churches could be called anti-Semitic for standing up for Canadian values of justice and fairness, as it has on many other issues, is untenable. The well-oiled Israeli Hasbara machine seems to have had a deep impact on our political leaders and clouded their best judgement.

Fourth, it is also in Jerusalem that President of Treasury Board Minister Vic Toews announced funding cuts to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), to the applause of pro-Israeli groups that have been clamoring for its demise. Are Canadians to assume that reducing Canada’s contribution to UNRWA is Cannon’s idea of fulfillingthe revival plan of the RWG that he announced in 2009?

UNRWA spends the bulk of its funds on education and health care, and unfortunately more and more on humanitarian aid, especially in Gaza where a large portion of the population consists of Palestinians made refugees during 1947-1949. The cut belies Cannon’s Ministry website, that “a just solution to the Palestinian refugee issue is central to a settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as called for in United Nations General Assembly resolution 194 (1948) and United Nations Security Council resolution 242. “This solution should respect the rights of the refugees, in accordance with international law.”

Well, the law states that education, housing, and health care are some of the rights that refugees should enjoy and UNRWA dispenses them.

Members of the Conservative government often volunteer that Israel’s security is important to them. Toews calls it “paramount.”

While Canadians may agree that Israel’s security is important, they may not agree that it should supersede their own country’s security and interests. They may agree or disagree with the use of nuclear power, but they would certainly balk at a Canadian Minister’s need to seek assurances from “an expert… at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem” that CANDU is “not conducive to the development of weapons grade uranium.”

Whether Canada sells to Jordan or not, revealing to a third party on-going trade discussions is highly inappropriate and undermines Canada’s own interests. Surely, Toews could have enquired in Canada, using Canadian experts, before starting discussions with Jordan.

Toews also stated that “in the past, Canada aid earmarked for UNRWA went into a general operating fund in the PA Treasury and although Jarbawi had asked that this situation continue, the practice made it difficult for Canada to monitor how the funds were being used.” Had he consulted his colleague at CIDA, or the Director of UNRWA Operations (Jerusalem), Barbara Shenstone, who happens to be Canadian, he would have known that UNRWA’s funds do not go the PA Treasury but are paid directly to UNRWA.

The notion that it is “difficult” for Canada to monitor how funds to UNRWA’s general operating budget are used is misleading. UNRWA keeps and publishes detailed accounts of expenditure and records of related income, which are audited on behalf of Canada and all other UN Member states by independent international auditors appointed by the General Assembly.

In the case of the projects, Canada not only receives detailed dollar-by-dollar and narrative reports but is often involved in the planning at every stage of development, and appoints technical advisers to assist. As to staff, UNRWA has been periodically running names through Israel’s intelligence services.

If this level of accountability didn’t satisfy Cannon, he could have taken steps similar to those stated by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in her testimony before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs on April 23, 2009: “”They have taken additional steps, partly at our urging, to make their process more transparent, consistent with both United Nations commitments and U.S. legislation”They share staff lists with us and with Israel. They prohibit staff participation in political activities””

So, Cannon may assert that Canada “wants to make a meaningful contribution to the ‘peace process’ between Israel and its neighbours,” but ideologically-based changes in policy tell otherwise.

All these announcements should have been made in Canada because they have a profound impact on Canadian interests and need to be debated in Canada inside and outside Parliament.

Freedom of the press is the cornerstone of a democratic society. Unfortunately, our national news media have shirked their responsibilities. They have failed to subject to scrutiny the government’s use of foreign podia to announce ideologically tainted changes to Canadian policy, and initiate the debates necessary for a civil society that is strong, open, and capable of playing a positive role in politics and government.

When he came to power, Prime Minister Stephen Harper promised that his government would be open, honest and responsive to the people it serves. His pledge to restore higher standards of ethics, accountability and transparency is yet to be fulfilled. Bowing to strident, crusading pressure groups, whose positions are aligned with the extreme settler movements in Israel, has resulted in skewed policies that are detrimental to both Israelis and Palestinians.

As Gerald Kaplan wrote in the Globe and Mail, “” if Kenney had bothered to look around him in Jerusalem, he would have discovered a slew of Israeli writers, commentators, scholars, soldiers, human rights activists and others who routinely and severely criticize their own government. Imagine NOT criticizing an extremist Israeli government led by Benjamin Netanyahu, a radical nationalist; Avigdor Lieberman, who supports ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians; and the ultra-Orthodox Shas party.”

It is clear that the current government of Canada has abdicated its responsibilities as the government for all Canadians, and allowed the interests of a lobby to dominate its agenda. Former NDP Leader Ed Broadbent wrote “[T]hey are bringing what can only be described, it seems to me, as Middle East politics, directly into the heart of Canadian politics. Never was there such interference before.” I would add that this is true for more than just Rights and Democracy.

Indeed, never has there been a time more appropriate for all Canadians to feel and openly express concern for the direction in which their government is heading.