Monday, November 30, 2015

Trudeau government continues Harper's anti-Palestine votes at the UN

Last week the UN General Assembly held its annual vote on the "Peaceful Settlement of the Question of Palestine". 155 countries votes yes, and 7 countries voted no: Australia Canada, Israel, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Palau, and the United States. Votes on several other Palestine-related resolutions were similar; Canada either abstained or voted against all of them.

The votes were the first for Canada's new government led by Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. The early anti-Palestine direction of the government should not be a surprise to those paying attention. In this election blog post I wrote about how Trudeau had praised Paul Martin's abandonment of Canada's support for the Palestine UN resolutions, and then-candidate (now rookie MP) Anthony Housefather had some pretty terrible things to say.

Housefather, along with another rookie Liberal MP Michael Levitt, has apparently not stopped, and one would assume has the permission of the Prime Minister's Office to continue defending Israel's atrocious human rights record. In this article, the only record of anything close to journalism I can find about Canada's votes on the Palestine resolutions in the UN this year (which speaks to a bigger problem about media not covering it), the two rookie MPs are quoted saying:

“We are pleased to recognize that the government of Canada led by Prime Minister Trudeau has demonstrated its continued support for Israel’s security, democracy, and stability by maintaining our country’s UN voting record on Israel,” they said in a statement Nov. 26. We will persist in opposing initiatives that vilify or single out Israel, including the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement. This round of voting underscores our firm commitment to support our ally Israel… We call upon the United Nations to stop this annual attempt to vilify and demonize Israel, and we hope this year will be the last year we need to vote on these resolutions.”

While some (non-Palestine-related) things Trudeau has done so far have impressed me, this vote is an inexcusable one that simply continues Stephen Harper's anti-human rights approach to Israel-Palestine. What is even worse is that no opposition MP from any party has said anything about it (I'm prepared to be corrected if someone knows otherwise).

What we are left with at the moment is the worst of all possibilities. We have a government actively opposing Palestinian human rights with no opposition willing to speak a word about it. I don't want that to be the case for the whole four years of Trudeau's first mandate, but I'm afraid it might be. It's the job of those of us who know what is going on to call the government out on these decisions when they are made and to call on the opposition parties to do something about it.


Here is some background on the annual UN resolution called the "Peaceful Settlement of the Question of Palestine":

In the UN's words, by adopting the resolution, "the Assembly reaffirmed the need to achieve a peaceful settlement of the question of Palestine. It called for the intensification of efforts by the parties, including through negotiations, with the support of the international community, towards the conclusion of a final peace settlement, as well as urging renewed international efforts to achieve a comprehensive, just and lasting peace, based on the relevant United Nations resolutions; the terms of reference of the Madrid Conference, including the principle of land for peace; the Arab Peace Initiative adopted by the Council of the League of Arab States at its fourteenth session; the Quartet road map to a permanent two-State solution to the conflict; and existing agreements between the Israeli and Palestinian sides. It also called for the timely convening of an international conference in Moscow, as envisioned by the Security Council in resolution 1850 (2008), for the advancement and acceleration of the achievement of a just, lasting and comprehensive peace settlement."

Read the official UN press release here, which has recorded votes on this resolution and others related to Palestine that were debated and voted on at the UN General Assembly this year.

Sunday, October 18, 2015


This is going to be the final blog in my election series. I've already blogged about the Conservative and Liberal positions on Israel-Palestine. I had a short bit written about the Greens, but I haven't had time to turn it into a full piece, so I've mentioned them a little bit below. Thanks to all who have been reading these, and sorry that the last one didn't come until the day before election day.

Position on Israel-Palestine

Although I couldn’t find the official policies on Israel-Palestine for the Conservatives and Liberals online (please share them if you have them), the NDP has official party policy that I can quote in full. The NDP's election platform is nearly identical. The party's official policy reads:

“Working with partners for peace in Israel and Palestine, respecting UN resolutions and international law, supporting peaceful co-existence in viable, independent states with agreed-upon borders, an end to Israeli occupation of Palestinian land, and an end to violence targeting civilians.”

This policy statement is generally good, in my view, although I would remove “with agreed-upon borders” because it seems to give Israel a veto on any settlement, even if it follows international law, and I would change the second-last word “targeting” to “against”, since Israel constantly insists it does not target civilians, even as they kill them in the thousands. In my view, it would also be productive to include a clause emphasizing the right of Palestinians to sovereignty so the party could not only continue supporting the two-state solution but could also be open to other potential settlements, so long as they are peaceful and just (this would allow for a more open discussion of a one-state solution in which Israelis and Palestinians could live together in a single democratic country).

Official policy aside, the NDP has a habit of equivocating on issues related to Israel-Palestine. When Israel was again attacking Gaza last summer, it took a long time for any official statement to come out of the caucus, and even then it was one where it was difficult for anyone concerned about justice and peace to be content with.

Contrary to much popular belief, my view is that the party’s position actually hasn’t changed much since Thomas Mulcair has become leader. The practice of not taking strong positions on the issue was nearly identical, in my view, under Jack Layton. I did express strong opposition to Mulcair’s leadership bid because of what I knew about his approach to Israel-Palestine, but although his positions haven’t been ideal, he has actually outperformed my expectations so far. Under his leadership the NDP took a very clear position that Canada should have voted in favour of Palestinian statehood in the UN General Assembly in November 2012. Of the three major parties, they were the only party to take that position. I did find a fairly extensive article with quotes from Mulcair on Palestine, which is worth reading:

Mulcair’s approach in this article is clearly tailored to the crowd he is addressing, which seems representative of the left-wing in Israel (the groups hosting seem to be support groups for the Israeli group Peace Now and Israel’s Labour Party). It is notable that he makes clear the NDP’s opposition to expanding Israeli settlements and the party’s support for Palestinian statehood. While those are the positives in the article, there are negatives as well. Mulcair has made statements more than once about his positive view of the close friendship between Canada and Israel. While many see those statements as problematic, I am less concerned with them than I am with other parts of NDP policy. Like Harper’s “friendship” statement above, what matters is the nature of that friendship. The more concerning part of the interview for me is when he expresses opposition to boycotts, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) and criticizes the use of the term “apartheid” when it’s applied to Israel. The advocacy group Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME) has done a great job explaining why BDS is a useful tool and why political parties are misguided to reject it. I will link to that work below. On use of the term apartheid, I won’t go into the arguments here, but it is clearly a term that applies to Israel’s treatment of the Palestinian people. While Mulcair says the term’s use “serves no purpose”, I would disagree. The term has a definition in international law that reads as follows:

“inhuman acts committed for the purpose of establishing and maintaining domination by one racial group of persons over any other racial group of persons and systematically oppressing them.”

One would be hard-pressed to make the case of that definition not being applied to Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, both within Israel and especially in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. In my view, it is Mulcair’s refusal to apply the term to Israel that serves no purpose.

Willingness to discuss the issue

For me this is the NDP’s biggest problem when it comes to Israel-Palestine. In my view, the numerous potential candidates who have been rejected by the party due to the things they have said about Israel-Palestine are victim of an unofficial policy of saying nothing about the issue unless absolutely necessary (for more info google Morgan Wheeldon, Paul Manly, and Syed Hyder Ali). However, like the practice of issuing wishy-washy statements, I don’t see this practice as being new under Mulcair. These problems were ones that existed, even if they were more under the radar, under Jack Layton as well. When the NDP speaks about Israel-Palestine, it tends to be much better than the other major parties, so in my view, their unwillingness to discuss the issue is the most immediate problem.

To the NDP's credit, theirs is the only election platform of all the major parties (including the Greens) which even mentions Israel and Palestine. The Conservatives' platform mentions Israel. The Liberal and Green platforms are completely silent on the issue.

Diversity within the caucus

Although the Liberal Party is general seen as the “big tent” party, on the issue of Israel-Palestine, the NDP caucus is very diverse. Since the general rule is to say nothing about the issue, it is not easy to figure out where each MP stands on the issue beyond the official party position, particularly with the many MPs who joined the caucus in 2011. It is notable that NDP MP Alexandre Boulerice is the Chair of the Canada-Palestine Parliamentary Friendship Group. Unfortunately, it seems impossible to find a list of which MPs are members of the group (its existence and Chair are documented on Parliament’s website). If anyone has that list, please share it. Boulerice was the most outspoken advocate within Parliament for Palestinian rights during Israel’s attack on Gaza last summer and also previously showed public support for the Canadian Boat to Gaza, which aimed to deliver humanitarian aid to Gaza while challenging Israel’s closure of Gaza’s borders. NDP Deputy Leader Libby Davies has been a long-time staunch supporter of justice for Palestine, but unfortunately she has decided not to seek re-election. NDP MP Pat Martin has a news article posted on his website in which he, as well as MP Peter Stoffer and former MP Judy Wasylycia-Leis, criticize members of their own caucus who refuse to condemn the use of the term “apartheid” in its application to Israel. The article can be found here:

In my experience, the negatives within the NDP caucus are the exceptions. I have found many more examples of MPs standing on the side of justice and peace than I have found negative examples like the previous one. In addition to Boulerice, NDP MP and Deputy Leader Megan Leslie has been on the record supporting Israeli Apartheid Week in her home community of Halifax. MP Niki Ashton voiced her support for a just and peaceful solution in Israel-Palestine during her campaign for the NDP leadership. Again, I can’t go through the entire caucus in this space, but there is clearly a diversity of opinions among NDP MPs, with most of those who are on the record supporting justice and peace.


My view is that the NDP, despite its many negatives on Israel-Palestine as detailed above, is the best of any of the major parties. While it is difficult to find any positives at all for the Liberals and Conservatives on this issue, the NDP is much more of a mixed back of positives and negatives. In my opinion, people passionate about peace and justice in Israel-Palestine who are part of the NDP need to keep pushing the party, at both the high levels of federal leadership and the lower levels of community organizing, to take a social justice approach to Israel-Palestine and to not be afraid to talk about it. Those who are passionate about the issue but are outside the party need to continue to push the party as well. That includes giving credit when it is due and criticizing the party when it deserves it (both are equally necessary). On so many issues in Canadian history, the NDP (and the CCF before it) are the first major party to adopt progressive initiatives, and eventually many are adopted by the other major parties (look at public health care, public pensions, gay marriage, and many other issues). 

In many ways, getting the major parties talking about these issues means first getting the general public talking about these issues. The more the public knows and cares about an issue the harder it is for politicians of any stripe to ignore. So write op-eds to your local paper about it. Talk to your friends and family about what is going on there. Suggest a book or a documentary (I highly recommend the film "Occuptation 101") to them if they're curious to learn more. Ultimately, that is how things will change in this country, where none of the major parties is offering an ideal point of view on Israel-Palestine - that is, who based on justice and peace for everyone living there.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

FEDERAL ELECTION SERIES: The Liberal Party on Israel-Palestine

Sorry this blog has taken so long. This is the second post of four analyzing the major Canadian federal political parties' positions on Israel-Palestine.

Position on Israel-Palestine

The Liberals often articulate a position that relies on the Conservative position by saying they stand for a “more balanced” approach to the question of Israel-Palestine. While it is good that they see the above Conservative position in a negative light, the Liberal position is far from clear to me. Trudeau has recently said through his Twitter account that “The BDS movement, like Israeli Apartheid Week, has no place on Canadian campuses.” It is unclear if he is advocating for the government to do something to enforce his views, but it’s troubling enough that he is speaking out against such things. And while he doesn’t generally go out of his way to say anything about Israel-Palestine, this was clearly a calculated statement.

The Liberals under Chretien consistently voted in favour of the peaceful settlement of the question of Palestine every year at the United Nations General Assembly. However, when Paul Martin became Prime Minister, Canada began to abstain. I actually was not aware of Trudeau ever taking a position on how Canada should vote on the annual UN resolution on the two-state solution. However, my Googling while doing research for this post produced a very helpful article quoting Trudeau at length from an event he spoke at in February 2015 in Winnipeg.

In the article, Trudeau praises Paul Martin’s shift to abstaining on the peaceful settlement of the question of Palestine and says he would take the same position. He also clearly opposes the UN bid for statehood that was brought to the UN General Assembly in November 2012, calling it a “unilateral action.” That phrase comes from the Israeli government, but it is one that boggles my mind, given that 138 countries in the world supported the move and only 9 opposed it. While I understand what he is saying is that statehood needs to be negotiated with Israel, Palestine’s declaration of statehood was far from unilateral.

More recently, the National Post published an article on a local battle in the riding of Mount Royal in Montreal where the Conservatives and Liberals are in a heated race. The riding, according to the Post, has a population that is 37 percent Jewish, and assuming these two candidates know their constituency, that population is overwhelmingly anti-Palestinian because they are climbing over each other for who should get the anti-Palestinian vote (NOTE: I think it is extremely important that a large Jewish population is not labelled anti-Palestinian by default. There are many Jewish people in Canada and around the world who stand for justice and peace for Palestine). The Liberal candidate, Anthony Housefather, is quoted as saying, "...we will not change the votes at the UN on Israel...we will continue to boycott anti-Semitic conferences like Durban...we're completely opposed to BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement targeting Israel.) I try to reassure [Jewish neighbourhoods] what Justin's actual positions are. He's as supportive of Israel as the Conservatives are."

It is difficult to track the Liberals' positions on Israel-Palestine because they speak of it so little (more on that in the next section), but this interview would seem to indicate that the Liberal position has shifted, specifically on the way they would vote in the UN, from abstaining on the annual UN resolution on the two-state solution to opposing it. That shift would put a Trudeau government even further into the anti-Palestinian camp than Paul Martin's Liberals and would make it, at least on that specific part of the issue, a polar opposite to the position of Chretien's Liberals. It is a shameful shift, indeed.

To top it off, there is also this video (start it at 1:53) Trudeau sent to an event in support of the Meir Hospital in Israel. In the video he states that Canada and Israel share values, including "democracy, openness, tolerance, compassion, respect for the rule of law, and, perhaps above all, the quest for peace." I'm not going to dissect in this space how those values, I hope, are not ones we share with Israel, particularly when it comes to how it treats the Palestinians within its own borders and the Palestinians they rule over in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. I'll assume if you're reading this that you understand how troublesome that comment is (and if not, let's chat sometime!).

Willingness to discuss the issue

While the above material shows Trudeau has discussed the issue of Palestine from time to time, it is by no means a regular occurrence, and I could find no instances where he discussed it from a human rights perspective. I couldn’t find a single mention by Trudeau of Israel’s settlements in the West Bank, of the wall Israel has built on Palestinian land, or really anything about the problems with Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories. The article on the Mount Royal race cited above is quite a rare one indeed, where a local candidate speaks out in very specific terms to a national newspaper about his party's positions on Israel-Palestine.

Diversity within the caucus

The Liberals have been known throughout their history for being a “big tent” party, where there are some MPs and candidates who are more conservative and some who are more progressive. That continues to be the case, in my view, but it is much harder to see at present. Part of that is because in the current media age anything a candidate says in one part of the country can be immediately broadcast to the public everywhere in the country. That means political parties are much more careful than they used to be at ensuring candidates don’t say anything that will cause questions to be raised about the party’s position on any given issue. That carefulness is even greater at election time, so it will be more and more difficult to see diversity of opinions in all of the parties.

The other reason the big tent is difficult to see at present is that the Liberal caucus elected in 2011 was the smallest in the history of Canada. One former MP I’m aware of with a better position on Palestine than his leader is Boris Wrzesnewskyj, who is running again in the Ontario riding of Etobicoke Centre. While an MP he was a member of the Canada-Palestine Friendship Group and travelled to both the West Bank and Gaza the summer of 2009 on a human rights trip. Space and time do not allow me to go into depth with specific citations, but my impression is that the Liberal caucus and slate of candidates is still quite diverse when it comes to the question of Palestine, despite the unproductive positions of Justin Trudeau. That said, if my assumption is correct, Trudeau's anti-Palestinian positions need to be brought out into the limelight. I think many Liberals, supporters and candidates alike, would be deeply disturbed by the subtle shift he has made to that party's policies.


I was actually much more hopeful about the Liberal position on Israel-Palestine before I began digging around for material for this blog post. The issue is raised so rarely that it is difficult even for the most engaged observers to know where the Liberal Party stands. It has not always been this bad, but the Liberal Party while it is under Justin Trudeau's leadership is very difficult to distinguish (or, according to its candidate in Mount Royal, not distinguishable at all) from the Conservatives.

Friday, August 28, 2015

FEDERAL ELECTION SERIES: The Conservative Party on Israel-Palestine

This post is the first of four that will analyze the major federal parties' positions and record on Israel-Palestine. Read my introductory piece for the series here. 

Position on Israel-Palestine

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his caucus have repeatedly said that Canada and Israel are “the greatest friends” (those were the words Harper used in his speech to the Israel parliament, the Knesset, in January of 2014). What he actually means, of course, is that his government staunchly supports the status quo in Israel. He supports Israel’s military and settlers continuing their occupation of Palestinian lands in the West Bank. He supports the Israeli military’s full control and blockade of the borders of the Gaza Strip. He supports the Israeli government each time they launch a violent assault on the people of Gaza.

So the question is this: does supporting those Israeli policies make Canada and Israel “the greatest friends”? I would contend not.

Firstly, those policies run counter to international law. International courts and human rights organizations have said that repeatedly for years (I won’t go over all the evidence for that; a simple Google search will give you plenty if you need it). Does a great friend mean supporting illegal activity? I suppose it depends on values. The Harper government has repeatedly claimed in domestic politics that the rule of law is paramount (they have used that language to support mandatory minimums for criminals and the vast expansion of Canada’s prison system). But it would appear that the Harper government’s belief in the rule of law does not extend to its friendship with Israel. 

Secondly, Israel’s belligerence toward Palestinians and continued occupation of their land has resulted in unending violence for peoples of all ethnicities and religions in the area (including Jewish Israelis themselves). As academic and public intellectual Noam Chomsky often says, the best way to reduce violence in the world is to stop participating in it. There is no guarantee that violence will completely disappear if Israel begins to follow international laws. However, it is no secret that the reason for most of the violence is Israel’s refusing to obey those laws. Israel’s law-breaking is the best motivator for violence against them and the best recruitment tool for groups that carry out violent acts against Israel and its citizens. If Israel were to begin following international laws, namely be ending its blockade of Gaza, ending both its settler and military occupation of the West Bank (including East Jerusalem), and dismantling the wall it has built in the West Bank, what criticism would be left to make of it? If the Israeli government truly thinks human rights groups should be focusing their criticism on Palestinian groups, they would do well to follow the law themselves.

Conclusion? Israel and Canada are not “the greatest friends”, despite what the Prime Minister tells us. We would be much better friends if we articulated the above realities to the Israeli government and to the world. If we want the violence in Israel and Palestine to continue, then the Prime Minister is doing no wrong. However, if we are interested in justice and peace, things need to change in a major way.

Votes in the United Nations General Assembly, while lacking any teeth, do force governments to take a position on Israel-Palestine. The standard two-state solution is voted on every year, and under the Conservative government, Canada voted against the two-state solution for the first time, and continues to do so every year. The 2014 vote (Res. 69/23 for those who want to look it up) was 148 countries in favour, 6 opposed, with 8 abstentions. The countries voting against were Canada, Israel, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Palau, and the United States. Harper’s Conservatives also opposed Palestine’sbid for statehood in the UN General Assembly in November 2012 (we were 1 of 9 countries to vote against it). While Canada’s official position is still that there should be a Palestinian state, the government has not upheld that position when it comes to voting on it in the UN.

Willingness to discuss the issue

As far as willingness to discuss the issue of Palestine in public, the Conservatives are actually arguably the most open about it. Although their position on the issue of Israel-Palestine is terrible, they seem to be willing to discuss that position at any time. The Prime Minister speaks about it quite regularly and is willing to talk at length about it. It is a positive that anyone who considers the question of Israel-Palestine when they cast their ballot knows where the Conservatives stand. Clearly those who value justice and peace will conclude that the country needs a change in government.

Diversity within the caucus

Due to the leader-dominated nature of politics today, it is difficult on any issue to see the diversity of opinions within a caucus. That diversity would mainly be seen within caucus meetings, where it is rarely, if ever, made public. That said, there is some evidence of diversity that can be seen within the Conservative caucus on this issue. Alberta Conservative MP Ted Menzies (who was the last remaining MP who had been part of the PC side of the Reform-PC merger that created the Conservative Party of Canada), was the sole Conservative MP who sat on the little-known Canada-Palestine Parliamentary Friendship Group (the other Conservative member of the group was a Senator). There are many such associations (they are listed on Parliament's website here) that exist for the purpose of "supporting ongoing parliamentary relations with the identified country or in providing an opportunity for parliamentarians interested in a specific international cause to engage with colleagues with a similar interest."

I have obtained a relatively recent list of the members of the Canada-Palestine Parliamentary Friendship Group, and there are two Conservative officials listed as members: Lois Brown, MP for Newmarket-Aurora (Ontario), and Senator Raynell Andreychuk (Saskatchewan). Senator Andreychuk was appointed by Prime Minister Mulroney and is notably the Chair of the Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade. Beyond their membership in this group, I do not have any additional information on MP Brown or Senator Andreychuk's positions on Israel-Palestine. But given the absence of any other information on Conservatives showing any support for Palestinians, their membership in the group alone is notable.

I do my best to see any sign of a Conservative even remotely sympathetic to Palestine, and the only thing I have seen outside of the Canada-Palestine Parliamentary Friendship Group was MP Brad Butt of Mississauga-Streetsville attending a charity BBQ event in his riding hosted by a group called Palestine House. It didn't seem like a significant thing at the time, but I documented it when he tweeted about his attendance at the event. It turned out that last month Ezra Levant's outfit The Rebel Media (using the term "media" very loosely) put out a blog about how outrageous it was that Thomas Mulcair met with representatives of Palestine House. While I'm not convinced Palestine House is doing anything wrong, Levant I suppose should be equally outraged at the Conservatives for having one of their MPs support this organization. The event is documented on Mr. Butt's listing of community events on his website here and the tweet is here.

Seeing the diversity within a caucus, again, is not something that is generally accessible to the public and is very reliant on these sorts of small bits of information. If anyone has any further information to share, I would be happy to help get it out into the open.


To sum up, the Conservative Party has been terrible on every aspect of policy with regard to Israel-Palestine. Although a tiny bit of diversity is apparent within the caucus, nearly every time I see or hear a Conservative MP talking about Israel-Palestine, it is in defense of the status quo in Israel and nearly always ignores the human rights of Palestinians. I could locate examples, but I think they're easy enough for anyone with a computer to find. While the other parties are far from perfect on the issue of Israel-Palestine (more on that in the forthcoming parts of this blog series), the Conservative Party is by far the worst choice for Canadians wanting justice and peace in Israel-Palestine.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

FEDERAL ELECTION SERIES: Where do the parties stand on justice and peace in Israel-Palestine?

With a federal election campaign now underway in Canada, it is a good time to take stock of where the country is at in relation to the question of Palestine. I find that coverage of that issue as it relates to electoral politics is spotty at best and is usually related to gaffes and other events that can be used by one political party (or its supporters) to make another look bad. In addition, there is some criticism of all of the parties coming out of civil society groups. So given the scarcity of this sort of coverage, I will be publishing a series of blog posts to help fill the void in a small way. I will go through each of the political parties and do a little analysis of where they are at with regard to Palestine. I will look at three things for each party: their position on the Israel-Palestine issue, their willingness to discuss it in public (which has become a major issue in some parties), and the diversity of opinions within their caucus. I will begin the series with a few broad thoughts and comments related to Israel-Palestine in Canadian electoral politics. 

The first is that it is a very positive development that for the first time that I’m aware of in Canada’s history, the leaders of the major political parties will have a public debate focused solely on foreign affairs. It will take place on September 28th. I am very hopeful that Israel-Palestine will be the focus of at least one question that evening. Be sure to tune in.

Secondly, advocacy group Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME) is releasing a series of materials throughout the election campaign related to where the parties stand on Middle East issues. So far they have released 3 of 15 analyses. Not all of them will be related to Israel-Palestine (the group focuses on other areas of the Middle East as well), but one of the ones already released is on the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement related to Israel-Palestine. All of the analyses are being posted here.

Thirdly, I wanted to point out the existence of a little-known group within Parliament called the Canada-Palestine Parliamentary Friendship Group. A Google search of the group brings up very little, but it is a multi-party group made up of MPs that is chaired by NDP MP Alexandre Boulerice. I wanted to put the word out about it in case anyone reading has access to a list of the group’s membership. This group is likely the only official one made up of MPs getting together to discuss issues related to Palestine. I first learned of its existence 5 years ago when NDP MP Libby Davies gave a talk at a federal NDP convention on a human rights delegation she was part of that travelled to the West Bank and Gaza. I found an article on the trip here.

Not mentioned in the article is that a Conservative Senator (I don’t recall which one) was part of the trip as well, although he did not attend the Gaza portion of the trip. At the time there were two Conservatives in the group, the other being Alberta Conservative MP Ted Menzies, who is now retired.

Lastly, I just want to lay out a brief framework for how I will analyze each of the parties related to the question of Israel-Palestine. I will look generally at the parties’ positions on a just and peaceful solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict. I will look at statements the leaders have made and also positions they have taken on questions that reach UN votes, specifically related to the annual UN General Assembly vote on the Peaceful Settlement of the Palestine Question and the November 2012 vote on Palestinian statehood. Since, in my view, one of the issues with Israel-Palestine as it relates to Canadian politics, is a reluctance or resistance to public discussion of the topic, I will look at that issue for each party. And since it’s an issue that isn’t talked about much publicly, I will look at the diversity of opinions within each caucus and slate of candidates with regard to Israel-Palestine. That part is difficult to get much information on, but over the years I have noticed some things worth commenting on.

So stay tuned! I’ve actually written drafts already for pieces on the Conservatives, Liberals, New Democrats, and a brief one on the Greens, so despite the sparseness of my blogs in the past, I promise these ones will actually happen and in a timely manner. I hope they help to stimulate more discussion on a topic that, in my view, doesn’t receive enough attention in Canadian electoral politics.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Why Israel-Palestine? My personal story

I have been asked a number of times over the past ten or so years I have been focusing on the Israel-Palestine conflict why I chose that situation on the other side of the world to be my passion. It’s a question I sometimes get from those who are genuinely interested and also one many advocates for justice for Palestine get from apologists for Israel’s oppression of the Palestinian people. Those apologists want to know why people like me “only focus on the bad things Israel does” or why we hold Israel “to a higher standard” than other countries. They implicitly (or sometimes explicitly) use that observation to accuse us of being anti-Semitic. Of course that doesn’t happen, at least for me, with people who actually know us because people who genuinely know us and care about us have more respect for us than that. It’s simply a rhetorical political tactic used to discredit anything we say. But we don’t have to take that.

We have good reasons for focusing on Israel-Palestine (putting aside that most of us are extremely active on many other issues). I’m going to focus most of this post on my personal story that led to me being passionate about justice for Palestine. After I’m done my story, I’ll conclude by offering a bit of a broader explanation about why it’s necessary for people who have values of peace, fairness, and justice to focus on Israel-Palestine specifically and to not apologize for it and to not get defensive against the apologists described above. So here it goes with my story.

My interest in Israel-Palestine traces back to my roots in the Pentecostal (charismatic, evangelical) Church I grew up in. When I was very young (I’m guessing 6 years old) my family became one of a handful of families that broke off from the Church of God we were attending at the time in Lloydminster where I grew up to start up a new church affiliated with the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada (PAOC). It is one of Canada’s most socially conservative denominations. Its members were (are?) the base of opposition to same-sex marriage and abortion. It is also a denomination that tends to have a strong focus on “end times” when they believe Jesus will return to save the believers and condemn the unbelievers to an eternity of punishment. Those are a couple of the highlights of the denomination anyway. My purpose here is to give you the general idea of it rather than to provide a full picture of it. The details of any denomination are far more complicated and often nuanced than that, but that’s generally what the situation was when I was a teenager and a young adult in one PAOC church in Lloydminster.

Politics was not usually taught explicitly from the pulpit at this church, or at least the focus of the preachers’ messages were typically not very political (I’m aware that everything is arguably political in some way, but I think you get my drift).  Most of the more political issues like same-sex marriage, abortion, and a dislike for liberals and encouragement of conservatism were mentioned on the side, though not irregularly. I recall a specific moment leading up to the 2004 US Presidential election when the Senior Pastor had just returned from meeting like-minded preachers in Texas and passed on the message that if John Kerry was elected instead of re-electing President Bush that it would set the country back decades. I also remember hearing from the pulpit that Israel “miraculously” won a war for its very existence against all odds, and that not only did it survive, but by God’s grace it subdued its enemies in a mere six days. I was appalled at the time by the comment about the Presidential election (I was already quite politically progressive despite my limited political knowledge), however, I took the Israel comment at face value. I didn’t know anything about modern-day Israel.

I did already have a passion for international affairs. Growing up my parents had taught me and my three siblings that we were lucky to have food every day because there were people in other places who aren’t as fortunate. As token as that lesson seems to many people today, I think my parents instilling that in me was actually a big part of me getting interested in working towards a more socially just world. The first issue I remember getting involved in was the genocide in Darfur, in western Sudan. It seemed so simple. There was one group of people who held power who were destroying another group of people who had next to nothing. No one I knew was standing up for the Sudanese government or the militias they supported who were trying to eliminate the people of Darfur. It was clear that the Canadian and American governments didn’t care enough to do much about the violence, so the solution from North America seemed like it needed to start with convincing politicians that the people they represent actually care about it. I wrote up and printed stacks of my own “Darfur 101” factsheet that I would give out to people at shows my band played. A friend of mine donated a “Save Darfur” banner to my band that I would put up at our merchandise tables.

You know those memories where all you can remember is a vivid image from a moment that had a big effect on you? I have one of those from March 19, 2003. I remember the room I was in and the angle I was looking at the TV from and the exact position of every person in the room I was in. I remember the dark city on the television and the massive blasts that lit up the sky. It was Baghdad, Iraq, and the US military was beginning its destruction of the country. I hadn’t followed the lead-up to it closely. I remember it coming out of nowhere for me. I had no idea why the US would be bombing Iraq. It seemed like it had something to do with the attacks on September 11, 2001, but Canada had already helped the US invade Afghanistan for that. It was after March 19, 2003, that I decided I had a lot of learning to do. I needed to understand what was going on. Countries don’t just get bombed for nothing. Innocent people were dying, and I didn’t know why.

I went to the local public library and picked up the newest book I could find on Iraq. It was a book I now own called “Iraq: In the Eye of the Storm” by Dilip Hiro. It was amazingly motivating one small book could be. I don’t know that Hiro’s book is actually radical in any way. I think the most radical thing in it for me was just the history of the US in Iraq. Not only was there no moral reason for the US attack/invasion of Iraq in 2003, but the US had a long history of oppressing the Iraqi people. I knew they had attacked Iraq before, but I didn’t know how much suffering they had caused the civilian population of Iraq. Those people clearly did not deserve any of it. And if the story behind Iraq was so different than the general impression I had before, what else was I missing out on about what was going on in the world?

I began to do more research on Iraq. I found information online about a new documentary that was coming out by a guy named Michael Moore (I had no clue who he was) about US involvement in the Middle East and the September 11th attacks on the US. It didn’t seem like the theatre in Lloydminster would be playing it, but that summer (it would have been 2004) I was playing bass guitar in a worship band at a Pentecostal Bible camp called Living Waters near Prince Albert, SK. When the camp was over, all of us in the band traveled to Prince Albert and went to the movie theatre. Everyone else had a Hollywood movie they wanted to see (I don’t remember what it was); I was extremely excited to see what was probably one of the first political documentaries I had ever seen. I happily went off to Fahrenheit 9/11 by myself.

Not long after I returned to Lloydminster I visited the local bookstore in the Lloyd Mall to see what else I could find about Iraq and US involvement in the Middle East. Their selection was quite limited, but I found a small book called “Profit Over People: Neoliberalism and Global Order” by a guy named Noam Chomsky (again, I had no clue who the guy was at the time). It took me a lot longer to get through than I thought it would. Despite it being a small book, it was a dense read for me. There were far too many things I didn’t understand. But I powered through it anyway and picked up some of the things he was saying. It was certainly clear that I could learn a lot from this guy. I looked online and found audio files of interviews he had given with various media outlets. I had recently picked up a part-time second job delivering pizza to pay for my band’s studio recordings and cross-country tours, so I had lots of time to listen to these sorts of things while I was driving around the city.

The recording that I clearly remember was probably about an hour long, and I probably listened through it 8 or 10 times that year. It was an interview Noam Chomsky did with Evan Solomon (who I had also never heard of) on CBC. I think the interview was from 2002 because the first section of it was about the American-led invasion of Afghanistan, but Iraq was not yet a topic of urgent discussion. It was the Afghanistan content that had me interested in the interview. If the situation in Iraq was so different than I had previously thought, maybe the invasion of Afghanistan, which my own country participated in, wasn’t as justified as it seemed to be.

That interview had a profound impact on me. Not only did I find out the invasion of Afghanistan was fraught with questionable intentions and a history of American disregard for Afghani lives, but the second half of the interview was all about American involvement in Israel-Palestine. It was a part of the world I had heard bits about in church (mainly about the miracle of Israel’s existence), but I really knew next to nothing about it. Chomsky talked in the interview about the terrible things Israel was doing to the Palestinian people with the support of President Bush and President Clinton before him. Even though it seemed to me like the Democrats in the US were the “good guys” it appeared that both American parties supported the terrible things the Israeli government was doing to the Palestinian people. I realized I didn’t know anything about Israel’s history and how it got to where it was. I had a lot of learning to do.

I actually found it quite difficult to find a single source that would give me the “101” about what was going on in Israel-Palestine. I wanted something coming from a perspective of social justice, because that’s what I was interested in. However, I had no idea how to find anything like that. I found a website for an upcoming documentary film being produced by a couple of Americans. It was called “Occupation 101”, and it seemed to be exactly what I was looking for. I pre-ordered a copy. When it arrived, I think I watched it a few times. I couldn’t believe it. Israel wasn’t the ancient country I thought it was. It was actually created in 1948. And its conflict with the Palestinian people didn’t go back thousands of years like I thought. It was maybe 100 years old. So maybe the problems there weren’t as unsolvable as people were making it seem. Noam Chomsky seemed to think it was worth speaking out about. And everything I was learning seemed to be facts that my church’s pastor either didn’t know, didn’t understand, or didn’t want to acknowledge (I’m still not sure I know which of those it was).

Occupation 101 was so good and the situation in Israel-Palestine was so appalling that I ordered three more DVD copies of the film to lend out to any friend who was even remotely interested (the whole film is now available to stream on YouTube for anyone interested). I began to read more and more books and article and watch more documentaries about Israel-Palestine.

I decided I was going to move to Edmonton in 2008. It seemed like the next logical step for my career as a songwriter and musician, and the guitarist I was playing with at the time was going to be studying guitar at Grant MacEwan College (now University). And if he was going to be in classes all day, what was I going to do? It seemed like a perfect opportunity to do some learning on the side. I enrolled at the University of Alberta for the Bachelor of Arts program with a Major in Political Science and a Minor in Middle Eastern and African Studies. That eventually became a Double Major in Religious Studies and Middle Eastern and African Studies, which I finished in 2013.

Sorry if that was extremely long. It was easy to write, and I thought it would make the most sense and be the most relatable if I told it step by step, from my initial complete ignorance to basically where I am now. I still don’t think I’ve completely answered the “Why Israel-Palestine?” question, but now that you have the background story, the explanation seems simple.

The Israel-Palestine conflict was one that my environment had misled me about in a way that didn’t happen with any other conflict. With Darfur no one was telling me the Darfuris deserved what they were getting or that it was a miracle Sudan still existed. North American governments weren’t supporting what the Sudanese government was doing to them. In Israel, it was different. Innocent Palestinians were being oppressed and killed, and not only did North American governments lack the political will to solve it, but in many ways they were supporting the oppression. And there was a significant part of the Canadian public, particularly my own church, who were staunchly siding with the group doing the oppressing and killing. And even among those who didn’t support it, it seemed like the general feeling was hopelessness. At its least extreme it was that we just shouldn’t worry about it because it will always be that way, and at its most extreme it was that someone should just bomb that entire area of the world because it was the only way fighting would stop. I didn’t (and couldn’t) accept any of those views, and I felt like all of this misinformation and support for oppression and injustice was so close to home that I could do something about it.

And that’s why I’m so passionate about justice and peace in Israel-Palestine. So many North Americans are so backwards when it comes to understanding the problems there, and North American governments are supporting the oppression and the killing. For me, it seems to be the most extreme case of that in Canada. There are political problems in many other places, but none in my view where it is so acceptable to support the powerful who are oppressing the weak. We have so far to go. I do feel like society is gradually shifting, but it can never happen quickly enough. If Israel-Palestine is ever going to have a just and peaceful settlement to the conflict there, it will require the efforts of everyone who holds values of peace, fairness, and justice to stand up together to say enough is enough. One day, this conflict will end, and I want to be part of the solution.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

The Blogger's Dilemma

I've had a couple of struggles with keeping this blog going. One is that I don't blog often enough. I guess I rationalize by thinking that if my professors in university had made writing papers optional, I would likely not have written any. Reading for me is the opposite. When I was in university, I was always anticipating finishing my mandatory class readings so I would have time to read other things off my bookshelf at home (often on similar topics I was studying for my degree anyway).

The second struggle I have with blogging, and the one I wanted to write briefly about tonight, is blogging on a consistent topic. I realize the irony of this given that my blog is not typically focused on the nature of blogging, but I wanted to approach the topic with the goal of changing my approach to blogging going forward. A a person working in the field of political communications, I know that any kind of organization or publication is more likely to be successful if potential readers can anticipate the sorts of subject matter they will cover. If someone finds my blog and reads something about the Middle East that leads them to want to read more of what I have to say on the topic, they would likely be disappointed if they came back to this site and I was writing about what the Edmonton Oilers hockey team needs to do to become a contender for an NHL playoff stop (a key part of the answer for me would be trading defenseman Jeff Petry - see how I snuck that in?).

What makes the single-topic rule into a dilemma for me (and likely many others) is that people are multi-dimensional. Most people have something to say on multiple topics, some of them with little relation to each other. On this blog, my posts over the past few years have had some diversity - I've posted about Middle East politics (through the lens of Israeli domestic politics, American politics, and Canadian politics), post-secondary education policy in Canada's province of Alberta, Christianity's relationship to progressive political movements, my views on leadership candidates for Canada's political party known as the NDP, and a number of other things before that. In addition to those topics, I have a personal interest in many other things (I've mentioned professional hockey already).

If I write about anything I feel like on any given day, I'm not likely to become a "go to" place for anyone wanting to read on a specific topic. Indeed, the only thing this blog would be a "go to" place for would be knowing my opinion on everything, which while it might be interesting to a few people, is not really what I'm hoping to get across to people anyway. I think my Facebook profile, and to a lesser extent my Twitter profile, already provide that sort of "here's what's on my mind right now" for people who are interested in that. So what I'm saying with this blog is that I'm going to shift this blog to focus on a single topic, broadly defined.

My last four blog posts have been about issues in Middle East politics, specifically Israel-Palestine. Prior to that time, thanks to this site's built in analytics tools, those viewing my blog were primarily Canadians. Since those posts in the summer about the Middle East, my readership has actually become much more global (in terms of pageviews over the past month, Canada actually ranks 6th). 
And while I would never choose my topics solely on a "market approach" as it were, I believe I have more insights to offer into the politics of Israel-Palestine and how that conflict fits into the world than any other topic. Indeed, it was the focus of my personal studies for a couple of years prior to my starting university in 2008, was the primary focus of my studies at the University of Alberta from 2008 until 2012, and continues to be a topic I regularly read about and comment on.

So with that, I want to announce that going forward I will aim to keep this blog focused on the Israel-Palestine conflict (and possibly other parts of the Middle East when it's timely), again broadly defined. I do want to continue to explore how this topic relates to things like Canadian politics, Christianity and religion more broadly, and any other approach to it that I feel I have insights into. I'm also going to explore ideas of a different name for the blog that would reflect this change. I'm thinking something like "Middle East Maple Leaf" (thoughts? other ideas?). So stay tuned for that. Lastly, I'm actually going to attempt to write on this blog more often. I've said that before and it hasn't happened consistently, so I won't make any promises other than that I will try my best.

I hope if you're reading this that you'll continue to come back and share my blog with your friends. I'm looking forward to entering a new era of blogging!