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11 ways for Canada to end complicity in Israel’s crimes

United Nations votes and other symbolic gestures of solidarity only go so far

Canadian PoliticsMiddle EastWar ZonesHuman Rights

Large group of Palestinian men detained by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) in Gaza. Photo by Itay Blumental/X.

Canada’s recent vote in favour of a United Nations resolution demanding an “immediate humanitarian ceasefire” in Gaza lessens Ottawa’s complicity in Israel’s unfolding genocide against Palestinians in the besieged coastal strip. But this small victory for popular mobilization was quickly undermined by the Trudeau government joining the US-led multinational operation to protect commercial vessels traversing the Red Sea. It is also far overshadowed by Canada’s innumerable forms of support for Israel.

The unspeakable horrors Israel has unleashed on Gaza since October 7 has stirred the most sustained anti-war and internationalist mobilization since the (Canadian backed) Vietnam War. Last weekend, protests took place in 30 cities across the country, with over 3,000 marching in Montréal in the eleventh weekend in a row of mass demonstrations. This popular uprising has pressured the federal government to shift its usual stance and vote against Israel at the UN.

Yet, symbolic gestures only go so far. Below are 11 ways for Canada to end complicity in Israel’s crimes.

1. Speak the truth. Israel is an apartheid state that has been brutalizing Palestinians for a century and is now committing genocide in Gaza. The realities of Israel’s repressive regime of “Jewish supremacy” have been detailed by leading human rights organizations including B’Tselem, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and others. Ottawa should denounce Israel’s killing of 90 journalists, more than 130 UN workers, and 10,000 children.

2. Support UN resolutions upholding Palestinian rights. Over the past two decades Canada has consistently isolated itself against global opinion at the world’s largest international organization.

3. Cancel all permits for arms exports to Israel. As per the UN Arms Trade Treaty, Canada should not export weapons to a country responsible for grave human rights violations and breaches of international law. According to Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East, there is precedent in Canadian history for restricting sales to Israel over concerns about human rights and military aggression. Despite this, Canada’s arms exports to Israel have been accelerating in recent years—reaching a 30-year high in 2020.

4. Canada’s justice minister should state publicly that any inducement or recruitment for the Israeli military in Canada contravenes the Foreign Enlistment Act and must be investigated.

5. Cancel the Canada-Israel Free Trade Agreement or, at minimum, restrict the import of products from the occupied West Bank. When the Liberals “modernized” the accord in 2019 they refused an NDP amendment for the deal to require distinct labelling on products originating from “illegal Israeli settlements” even though the 2016 UN Security Council Resolution 2334, which has the force of international law, calls on “all states… to distinguish, in their relevant dealings, between the territory of the State of Israel and the territories occupied since 1967.”

6. Rescind adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) definition of antisemitism, which is designed to undermine free speech and legitimate expressions of opposition to Israeli colonial violence. Six months ago, the Department of Canadian Heritage declared that its grantees must agree to the definition, which precludes labelling Israel a racist or apartheid state.

7. Eliminate or restructure the position of Special Envoy on Preserving Holocaust Remembrance and Combatting Antisemitism, which was created to deflect criticism from Israeli apartheid. The initial special envoy was noted anti-Palestinian Irwin Cotler and the position is now held by Deborah Lyons who organized a pizza party for Canadians fighting in the IDF when she was ambassador to Israel in 2020.

8. Direct the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) to investigate registered charities that may be contravening existing CRA regulations by supporting the Israeli military and illegal West Bank settlements. Over the past year complaints have been submitted to the CRA detailing 10 different charities—with over $100 million in revenue—that have violated these rules. More recently, 5,000 individuals emailed the finance minister and called on the CRA to investigate Indigo CEO Heather Reisman HESEG Foundation (which provides free tuition to former lone soldiers who serve in the Israel Defense Forces) for potentially violating CRA rules, and the Foreign Enlistment Act, by supporting the military of another state.

9. Reevaluate whether taxpayers should subsidize donations to Israel. Since October 7, as much as a quarter of a billion dollars has been raised by registered Canadian charities for projects in Israel. Since the federal government introduced deductions for charities in 1967, perhaps $6 billion in donations to Israel have been subsidized by taxpayers, which amounts to $2 billion in public support. Is it right for all Canadians to pay a share of some individuals’ donations to a country with a GDP equal to Canada’s? How many Canadian charities funnel money to Sweden or Japan?

10. End Canada’s criminalization of Palestinian political life. Over 10 percent of Canada’s terrorism list is made up of organizations headquartered in a long-occupied land representing one-tenth of one percent of the world’s population. The leftist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the Canadian-based International Relief Fund for the Afflicted and Needy, which was listed because it supported orphans and a hospital in Gaza through official (Hamas controlled) channels, both need to be immediately removed from Canada’s list of terrorist entities.

11. Issue a formal apology to Palestinians for Canada’s sizeable contribution to the unjust UN Partition Plan, which called for the division of Palestine into ethnically segregated states and gave most of the land to the newly arrived minority. As the Department of External Affairs (now Global Affairs Canada) officials warned privately in 1947, the Canadian-shaped roadmap would lead to decades of conflict.

The demands of Palestine solidarity are not radical. In many cases it’s simply a matter of upholding Canadian and international law.

Ultimately, we need to demand that Canada stop its unique, preferential treatment of a genocidal apartheid state. The truth is, if Israel was held to the same standard as every other state, that would represent an important step towards justice.

Yves Engler has been dubbed “one of the most important voices on the Canadian Left today” (Briarpatch), “in the mould of I.F. Stone” (Globe and Mail), and “part of that rare but growing group of social critics unafraid to confront Canada’s self-satisfied myths” (Quill & Quire). He has published nine books.

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