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Canadian support for Israel: Signs of a more aggressive international posture PDF Print E-mail
Jan 15, 2009 at 11:53 PM
By Todd Gordon
January 15, 2009


When other diplomatic allies can't be found, Israel knows it can count on Canada.

That's certainly the message it received Monday, when Canada earned the ignominious distinction of being the only country at a United Nations human rights council in Geneva to vote against a motion condemning Israel's attack on Gaza - an attack that, as of January 15, has killed nearly 1,000 people (292 of them children), injured more than 4,250 and caused 90,000 Gazans to flee their homes. Thirteen countries, mostly from Europe, abstained, while the U.S. doesn't sit on the body. The non-binding motion calls for an investigation into human rights violations by the Israeli army.
Canada's representative at the council, Marius Grinius, criticized the motion for failing to acknowledge that the invasion was the result of rockets fired by Hamas into Israel. Never mind that the rockets actually came after several Israeli incursions into Gaza that left dozens dead during and immediately following five months of ceasefire between Hamas and Israel, or that Israel has imposed a suffocating blockade on Gaza for the last eighteen months, cutting off desperately-needed humanitarian relief to the million and a half people living in the open air prison, or that Israel's invasion of Gaza has done far more damage to civilians and critical infrastructure than Hamas's rockets could ever do in Israel. It's all the fault of Hamas.

Canada has been unwavering in its support for Israel's brutal assault on Gaza, as if Israel were the David facing off against a Palestinian Goliath. Such a position is an obvious absurdity, as is made plain by any superficial accounting of the balance of forces between Israel and the Palestinians (one being armed to the teeth as a regional hegemon by the Americans, the other being occupied for sixty years and with little economy to speak of), or by the death and destruction currently being rained down on Gaza.

In his only statement on the invasion - a press release issued back on January 4 - Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon put the blame for the violence squarely on the Palestinians: "We urge renewed international diplomatic efforts to achieve a sustainable and durable ceasefire, starting with the halting of all rocket attacks on Israel. Canada maintains that the rocket attacks are the cause of this crisis."

When the Israeli military bombed a UN school on January 6, in which at least 40 Palestinians seeking shelter from the unrelenting aerial assault were killed, the Tory government blamed Hamas. While the UN and other Western governments criticized the flagrant violation of international law and began calling more strongly for a ceasefire, Canada remained steadfast in its support for Israel.

Expressing the Canadian position this time was Peter Kent, former Canwest journalist and now Minister of State for Foreign Affairs for the Americas (yes, that's right, for the Americas). According to Kent, "We really don't have complete details yet, other than the fact that we know that Hamas has made a habit of using civilians and civilian infrastructure as shields for their terrorist activities, and that would seem to be the case again today." So while acknowledging he doesn't actually have the details, he sees fit to blame Hamas with no evidence offered. As it turns out, Hamas wasn't hiding behind civilians in the school.

Israel can do no wrong, even if it bombs a UN school. "In many ways," Kent continues in an apparent effort to raise the level of absurdity coming from the Tory government, "Hamas behaves as if they are trying to have more of their people killed to make a terrible terrorist point." One can only imagine the hysterics the corporate media or the Tories would go into if such a claim were made against the Israeli government when its civilians are killed. But such claims against Hamas, despite Gaza being one of the most densely populated places on earth and the long history of Israel killing civilians, is perfectly reasonable. Kent also went so far as to suggest that Canada would only support a ceasefire if Hamas not only ends its rocket attacks but disarms. Despite being the aggressor, occupier and advanced military power, Israel has no such conditions imposed on it, and is instead given carte blanche to prosecute its war on Palestinians and kill civilians.

The Tories aren't alone in their support for Israel. Newly anointed Liberal leader and Iraq War and imperialism proponent, Michael Ignatieff, also strongly backs Israel's invasion of Gaza. "Canada has to support the right of a democratic country to defend itself," he maintains. Obviously, for Ignatieff, as for the Tories, that right doesn't extend to Palestinians, whose democratically elected government was subject to sanctions by Canada almost immediately following its election in 2006. Ignatieff and his Tory allies have also remained conspicuously silent on the recent banning of Arab parties from running in next month's elections by the "democratic" Israeli government, among other patently undemocratic measures imposed on the country's Arab citizens.

For its part, the NDP's position isn't much better than that of its electoral competitors. While criticizing the Tory's one-sided response to the war, it nevertheless treats Israel and Palestine as equal combatants sharing an equal amount of responsibility for the conflagration. This is the party, we should recall, that punished Svend Robinson in 2002 (with then leader Alexa McDonough removing him as parliamentary critic for the Middle East) after he referred to Israel's killing of Palestinian civilians as terrorist actions, and criticized the erstwhile imperial ally for engaging in murder and torture.

An uncritical supporter of Israel

While Canada has always supported Israel's occupation of Palestine, it used to be less blunt about it, and would offer some modest public efforts to pass itself off as more balanced than it really was in practice. This strategy began to shift under the Paul Martin Liberal government in 2005, to the pleasure of the country's influential Israel lobby, when Canada started voting with the small minority of the UN's Israel supporters against General Assembly resolutions criticizing its occupation of the Palestinian territories and its military targeting of civilians.

This decisively pro-Israel shift was followed up by the Harper Tories' uncritical support for Israel's bloody war against Lebanon in the summer of 2006, in which over 1,000 people were killed, most of whom were Lebanese civilians. Among the non-combatants killed by Israel was a Canadian peacekeeper stationed at a UN post in the town of Khiam in south Lebanon. Israel claimed it didn't know the peacekeepers were located there, but the UN insists Israel was notified several times of the peacekeepers' position. Despite this, the Tories continued to uncritically support Israel, going so far as to work with the United States and Britain to undermine the efforts of European and Arab leaders to broker a ceasefire in order to allow Israel's attack on Lebanon and Hezbollah positions to continue.

Firming up its pro-Israel credentials, Canada was also the first state to withdraw funding from the Palestinian Authority after the democratic election of Hamas in 2006, in an effort to punish the Palestinians for electing a party that is less than compliant towards imperialism in the Middle East.

Building on its diplomatic support for Israeli aggression, Canada subsequently announced in the fall of 2007 that it's negotiating a counter-terrorism and homeland security agreement with the Zionist state. The agreement promotes greater cooperation on technology, counterterrorism efforts, border-crossing security and biometric identification among other things.

Contrary to its own export policy, which prohibits Canadian military exports to governments engaged in war or human rights violations, Canada also acts as an arms supplier to Israel. Canada is in fact consistently in the top ten of the world's biggest military exporters. As the Coalition Opposed to the Arms Trade reports, Canadian companies have provided Israel with important high tech electronic components for its primarily U.S.-made weapons systems. These include components for Israel's AH-64 Apache attack helicopters, F-15 Eagle tactical bombers and F-16 Fighting Falcon bombers.

Taking a more aggressive role in the world

Canada's stance on Israel shouldn't be taken in isolation. It needs to be situated within Canada's overall foreign policy, which is becoming more belligerent.

Since the early 1990s, Canadian corporate investments have spread at a considerable pace around the globe and into the developing world. Canada ranked eighth among the top foreign investor nations in the world in 2007, and has consistently ranked in the top ten in the last several years. Controlled for the size of its economy, Canada is the second largest investor among G7 nations in the global South. And income earned by Canadian multinationals off of their developing world investments has increased steadily over the last few decades, rising by 535 per cent from 1980 to 2007, for a total of $23.6 billion in earnings in the latter year.

And just like the third world investments of other rich nations, Canada's are mired in human rights violations and environmental catastrophe. From mining, to oil and gas development, to sweatshop manufacturing, to banking, Canadian companies are systematically engaging in displacement of indigenous peoples from their land, destruction of ecosystems, targeted violence against local resistance to their investments and union busting.

All this is done with the support of the Canadian government, whether headed by Liberals or Tories. The government has facilitated the global expansion of Canadian capital through its aggressive pursuit of structural adjustment policies, one-sided trade and investment agreements and an aid policy designed in large measure to liberalize foreign markets. We also shouldn't forget Canada's absolute refusal to establish human rights legislation to govern the foreign activities of its corporations, many of which receive government funding for their predatory activities. Canada has also sought to undermine the UN's Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Canada's view of the world, in other words, is one in which the South is subordinate to the whims and predilections of the North.

Militarism and needs of capital go hand-in-hand

This international expansion of Canadian capital is being accompanied by a more aggressive security posture. Militarism goes hand in hand with imperialist ambitions, and Canada is no different than other major powers. Canada's military spending is projected to increase by just over $18 billion from 2005 to 2010 alone, and by upwards of $50 billion over the next two decades.

Whether it's defending investments, challenging rogue states or intervening in failed states, the Canadian ruling class, as military and political leaders make clear, is preparing for ongoing asymmetric conflicts and clearly identifies the third world as the main source of instability and insecurity threatening Canada and its Western allies, often deploying the highly flexible concept of "terrorism" to make its case. In the last five years the Canadian military has played a lead role in the occupation of Afghanistan, propping up one group of terrorists against another, and participated in a coup against a democratically-elected government in Haiti.

As a member of the group of most powerful nations in the world, and with growing international interests, Canada along with its allies supports the status quo between North and South and actively pursues policies that promote imperialism's desired form of global stability. This entails support for countries that are openly compliant with the West and enforce on a regional level imperial "order" against those enemies - be they "terrorists", "rogue" states or "failed" states - seeking some measure of self-determination. Thus since the 1990s Canada has become a stronger and more open supporter of Israel than it has in the past, just as it has strengthened its ties with Colombia in recent years (being a major investor in the Andes).

Canadian support for Israel, then, however much it's promoted by a powerful Israel lobby or opportunist politicians, is nevertheless rooted in a broader outlook on the world order that involves a more generally belligerent attitude toward the South.

This attitude is as Canadian now as maple syrup, and so we shouldn't expect it to change anytime soon. That will require a sustained movement for global social justice with a clear anti-imperialist focus.

Todd Gordon is the author of Cops, Crime and Capitalism: The Law-and-Order Agenda in Canada. He's currently writing a book on Canadian imperialism. His articles have appeared on Znet, The Bullet and in New Socialist magazine. He is an assistant professor of Canadian Studies at the University of Toronto, and can be reached at ts.gordon[at]utoronto[dot]ca.
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