Why Canada has made itself Israel’s new friend on the block
Lia Tarachansky for JNews Blog, 30 March, 2011
Lia Tarachansky is an Israeli-Canadian journalist and the director of the upcoming documentary, Seven Deadly Myths. Most recently she worked as a Middle East correspondent with The Real News Network. Her writings and videos are available here.
It used to be that when you counted Israel’s top allies, the obvious names came to mind: Germany, the UK and, of course, the US. These days, Canada seems determined to soar to the top of that list, confirming the judgment of Avigdor Lieberman, Israel’s Foreign Minister. While visiting Canada in 2009 he said, “Canada is so friendly that there was no need to convince or explain anything to anyone… We need allies like this in the international arena.”
And again, the current Canadian Prime Minister reaffirmed this relationship in his speech at a conference that equated criticism of Israel with antisemitism, where he declared that “There are, after all, a lot more votes in being anti-Israeli than in taking a stand. But as long as I am prime minister, whether it is at the United Nations, the Francaphonie, or anywhere else, Canada will take that stand, whatever the cost”.
Indeed, while presenting itself as an honest broker, Canada’s been an uncritical friend to Israel, especially since the election of the Conservative minority government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Under his leadership Canadian aid was redirected from UNRWA, the special UN agency that works exclusively with Palestinian refugees. Domestically, funding was cut to KAIROS, a faith-based group falsely connected to the global boycott movement, sending a chill through NGOs dealing with the Middle East conflict.
But Harper’s critics have been too quick to point the finger. Canada’s support for Israel runs across party lines and extends back decades. And while most Canadians view their country as a peacekeeping nation, Canada’s arms trade, military assistance, and intelligence cooperation with Israel paint a different picture. Indeed, Canada’s involvement in the areas of the conflict that have direct impact on the ground, such as Canadian corporations constructing the Israeli settlements and segregation wall in the West Bank, make that peacekeeping image seem like nothing more than an illusion.
Canada’s Military Aid
Canada has long played an important role in backing US foreign policy. While America was busy in the overthrow of Haitian president Bernard Aristide, Canadian forces trained the Haitian police despite continuing accusations of extra judicial killings, rape and torture. Canadian troops are also training the Afghan security forces associated with the US-backed government of Hamid Karzai. Here too, the forces were accused of torture, leading to Canada’s own military refusing to hand over detainees to the Afghan forces in 2009.
The same form of political selectivity and Canadian complicity plays itself out in occupied Palestinian territories. When US Lieutenant General Keith Dayton established his training program for the Palestinian Authority security forces, Canada jumped on board. It continued to support the PA despite the fact that its electoral mandate expired in 2008 and the programme’s popularity fell when Palestinians discovered that these forces collaborate with the Israeli army. In essence, Canada began training one faction of the Palestinian leadership while working to weaken the others.
This involvement amounts to 55 Canadian personnel, the military’s second largest on-land deployment after Afghanistan (that is until last week’s addition to the Libyan effort). It may not seem like much but it’s not the size of the contingent that matters, it’s how you use it. This deployment is named Operation Proteus and gives the Fatah-led PA the means to crack down onHamas activists in the West Bank. After 9/11 Canada was second only to the US in placing Hamas on a list of terrorist organizations and freezing all its assets (despite it having nothing to do with the attack). Canada was also the first country to sever all ties with Hamas when it won the 2006 election in Gaza. At the same time, Canada pledged $300 million in aid to its rivals, the PA.
While categorized as part of the global war on terror, this policy towards Hamas is inconsistent, considering most of the people who make up the PA forces were also once involved in armed struggle against Israel, as members of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). Many even served lengthy prison terms and were incorporated into the security forces because of their experience in armed struggle.
While thousands of Palestinians demonstrate in Gaza and the West Bank demanding that factions come together, crackdowns continues on both sides. In 2010 alone PA forces arrested 3,000 Hamas activists in the West Bank and in Gaza; Hamas returned in equal measure.
As a result of the training being undertaken by the US, the EU, and Canada, the PA forces will comprise 25,000 troops, according to security officials within the Authority. 8,500 will serve as a standing army, 7,200 as officers, 3,500 in intelligence, 3,000 as a secretive CIA-trained internal security service, 600 will work in civil defense or as firemen, and the PA President (currently Mahmoud Abbas) will even get 2,000 men as part of an elite force answering strictly to him.
General Keith Dayton, who began the programme and was recently replaced in Tel Aviv by Major General Michael Moeller, has a four decade-long history with the US army. He served in Iraq, Israel/Palestine, Russia, and is now based in Germany. As he describes himself: “I had been the defense attaché of the United States in Russia, but in my heart, I’m an artilleryman.”Speaking at the Washington Institute on Near East Policy, a think-tank with deep connections to all branches of the government, Dayton answered the $64 million question: “Why was a U.S. general officer chosen to command this thing?”
“Well, three reasons”, he answered. “The first was that senior policymakers felt that a general officer would be trusted and respected by the Israelis. Put that one in the ‘yes’ block. The second was that a general’s prestige would help leverage Palestinian and other Arab cooperation. You can put that in the ‘yes’ block. And the third idea was that a general officer would have greater influence over the US government interagency process. Two out of three isn’t bad.” The general’s sense of humor was welcomed with applause and laughter.
But the Canadian leader of the programme, Colonel Fred Lewis, was more diplomatic, portrayingit as an exercise in democracy: “It’s all in order to create a sense of confidence and get rid of any apprehensions that Israel might have with a Palestinian state next door.” In the same interview for the military publication, The Maple Leaf, Dayton added, “We simply couldn’t do this job without the Canadian contribution”.
And following the Americans in Haiti and Afghanistan, Canada’s training programme with Palestinians has not stopped the forces from perpetuating violations and being accusedof torture. The Ramallah-based civil-rights NGO, Al Haq, took thousands of testimonies from sworn witnesses detained by the PA. Its report describes such practices as “psychological torture, an increase in arbitrary arrests, and arrests and detention carried out in violation of the Palestinian Basic Law and penal procedural laws. And while government officials have pledged to bring the security forces into line with the law and punish those responsible, the reality on the ground remains bleak.”
In 2010 Al Haq followed up on the initial report in a statement addressed to the EU signed together with other Palestinian NGOs. It reads: “The PA has adopted a pattern of oppressive policies to stifle political dissent and to generate a sense of intimidation within Palestinian society, turning the latter into what resembles a ‘police state’ void of democratic values and the rule of law.”
In fact this involvement extends beyond the military. In a February 2010 article in The Maple Leaf, Leslie Craig writes: “Operation Proteus, though military in origin, has grown to encompass a whole-of-government approach, with team members from the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, the Canadian International Development Agency, Justice Canada, and the Canadian Border Services Agency [bringing] their expertise to the table.”
And indeed Canada’s political meddling in the conflict doesn’t end overseas. It also plays out at home. In the 1990s and after, Canadian intelligence agents harassed opponents of the Olso Accords, the now failed peace process. More recently, agents have harassed Canadian activists involved in the global campaign of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel. In 2008 Canada signed a security cooperation agreement with Israel, formalising such practices.
Canada-Israel Arms Trade
Perhaps the most significant assistance Canada provides in support of Israel’s military aggression is through the arms trade. Canadian forces use Israeli-made drones in Afghanistan and the IDF uses Canadian-made electronics in its operations in the West Bank and Gaza.
The Canada-Israel free trade agreement, alongside provincial agreements and indirect sales through the US, make this trade very lucrative. I investigated this in detail in a video report for The Real News and interviewed Yves Engler, the author of Canada and Israel: Building Apartheid as well as Richard Sanders, the Coordinator of the Coalition to Oppose the Arms Trade.
While Canadian foreign policy has been historically one-sided, the current government is strengthening its relationship with Israel diplomatically, militarily and through trade. Of course a country has the right to pick its allies, but when it does so it carefully weighs the consequences. Considering the PA’s submission to Israel as revealed by the Palestine Papers, its willingness to cooperate with the Israeli army to carry out the occupation on behalf of the occupiers and the state of the Middle East, Canada’s choice is dubious in the extreme. While the government employs the rhetoric of democracy, its actions speak a different language.