Grafton Ross: John Baird Park


In honour of his years of devoted service, former Conservative foreign minister John Baird will have a park named after him – in Israel. Meanwhile, the Green party will debate a policy resolution to revoke the charitable status of the park’s funding organization

Former Conservative foreign minister John Baird will have a park named after him – not in his hometown of Nepean, Ontario or in his former Ottawa West riding – but in Israel. The Jewish National Fund of Canada (JNF-Canada) is sponsoring the development of “John Baird Park” in Sderot, Israel.

At a gala fundraising ceremony in Vancouver in June 2015, JNF executive director Ilan Pilo lauded Baird as “a man of integrity and a true friend to Israel” and honoured him “for years of devoted service to the citizens of Canada, his dedication to the Jews of Canada, and to the State of Israel.”

Israel lobbyist

Baird’s dedication to the State of Israel appears undiminished. In September 2015, Baird was appointed to the Board of the Friends of Israel Initiative, joining former Spanish prime minister José María Aznar, former Northern Ireland prime minister David Trimble, former US ambassador to the UN John Bolton and other notable Israel advocates, in an organization whose mission is to provide high-level cover for Israel. Trimble served as an “international observer” on Israel’s Turkel Commission, which investigated – and not surprisingly, exonerated – the Israeli Defence Forces for their 2010 raid on the Mavi Marmara, killing 10 civilians.

In May 2016, Baird addressed a day-long training session of the World Jewish Congress (WJC) “Jewish Diplomatic Corps” and the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs “Young Leaders” on his views of Israel, Iran and the international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. The WJC co-hosted the recent, deliberately misnamed, “Ambassadors against BDS” conference at the UN (There were no ambassadors present, other than Israel’s).

The park as parable

Notwithstanding its benefits to community life, the main purpose of John Baird Park, like Sderot itself, is to provide a more-or-less permanent talking point and parable of Palestinian terrorism and Israeli resilience.

Sderot was founded in 1951 on lands belonging to the destroyed Palestinian village of Najd, whose citizens had been expelled to Gaza by Jewish militias in May 1948. The Israeli government insisted that Sderot and the nearby Nahal Oz kibbutz be established within 1 mile of the Gaza border – that is, within 1 mile of the people they had expelled and then prevented from returning.

When the inevitable happened – an Israeli killed by a Palestinian – General Moshe Dayan seized the opportunity to deliver a stirring eulogy which has since entered the national mythology: “A generation of settlement are we, and without the steel helmet and the maw of the cannon we shall not plant a tree, nor build a house.” Rhetoric echoed in the promotional material for John Baird Park, “built in memory of the 66 brave IDF soldiers who lost their lives during Operation Protective Edge” and featuring a soccer field, volleyball court and “a plaza with a fountain/splash pad, seating areas, pergolas…and life-saving bomb shelters.”

JNF and the arc of history

Since its creation in 1901, the purpose of the Jewish National Fund (JNF) has been to acquire land in historic Palestine for “the purpose of settling Jews on such lands and properties.” Today, the JNF enjoys charitable status in over 50 countries worldwide, including Canada. JNF-Canada provides tax receipts for donations, meaning that a significant proportion of its budget effectively comes from the taxes of ordinary Canadians.

Billing itself as an environmental organization, many of JNF’s forestation projects were actually designed to cover over and erase Palestinian villages destroyed by Israeli forces. A particularly egregious example is “Canada Park,” a JNF-Canada-funded project built over the ruins of three West Bank Palestinian villages, whose residents were expelled and homes demolished by Israeli forces in 1967.

Human rights organizations, including Independent Jewish Voices Canada have launched a worldwide “Stop the JNF” campaign. All of which has led several Green Party members, including party leader Elizabeth May, to sponsor a policy resolution which “calls on the Canada Revenue Agency to revoke the charitable status of the Jewish National Fund for contravening public policy against discrimination and for its failure to comply with international human rights law.”

The resolution may not pass, and the Green Party currently has only one member in Parliament, but taboos are being broken and the arc of history is bending. Which side is John Baird on?

About the Author

Grafton Ross is a geographer and research analyst who has spent years studying the issues and events in Israel/Palestine.  Ross currently serves as vice-chair of Canada Talks Israel-Palestine (CTIP).  The views expressed are the author’s own, and do not necessarily represent those of CTIP.


  1. Thanks Grafton, for bringing this to our attention. This new park, brings to 3 the number of JNF-Canada sponsored parks which associate Canada’s name to parks in Israel built over destroyed Palestinian villages: Canada Park, which you mention, the Stephen Harper park in the Hula Valley in northern Israel, and now the John Baird park.

  2. Disgusting! I also heard reports from Amy Goodman that Israel has siphoned all the drinking water from the Occupied Territories and the Westbbank for the month of Ramadan. How did the US respond to this. A minister form the Defense Department was in Israel today and promised more weapons and funding in the future. My stomach is churning!

    Another item: I’m a soccer fanatic when major tournaments are on. So I was checking the points of the qualifying 32 countries and then I saw a graph with all the countries that had entered. Keep in mind that it’s the European cup and there’s Israel. How in the world did they manage to infiltrate such a tight group as FIFA? It would be like having a hockey team from Russia or France in the NHL. Amazing! Thanks for sharing, Carmelita

    Sent from my iPad


    1. Israel got there through something BDSers should think about.

      1958 Israel was in the Asian Football Confederation like it should be (it was one of the founding members). It won game after game as the Arab boycotters (BDS of the time) refused to play Israel and qualified for the world cup FIFA decided the situation of winning by default was unacceptable, and thus added an extra qualifying game against Wales, which Wales won. In 1964 the situation was even worse when the AFC cup was in Israel and many countries boycotting leading Israel to win (India, South Korea and Hong Kong were the only games it played winning all 3). The whole thing was a mess due to boycotting. FIFA to this day considers ’64 an embarrassment and tries to pretend it never happened. When after the 1973 war Israel was kicked out of the AFC, Europe objected and started letting Israel gradually migrate to their conference.

  3. Yes, they represent his opinions, and they certainly represent mine as well. It is infuriating that the Canadian taxpayer underwrites a project which practises ethnic discrimination in its work, to say nothing of its disregard of the devastation of the Palestinian villages the ruins of which underlie the parks they create.

  4. Thanks, Grafton, for this article. The Conservative team of Harper are only “green” when the color is used as a colonial tool to cover the history of indigenous people of Palestine. Campaign to stop JNF is becoming more important. JNF should not take money from Canadians to violate international law and human rights.

  5. I have visited Canada Park and talked to a Palestinian man who was among those expelled in 1967. The folk of those three villages where innocent civilians, and their expulsion by the Israeli military was an inhumane act of bellicose aggression, against international law, and official Canadian policy.
    Obviously, the JNF should not have tax charitable status.
    Kudos to Elizabeth May’s party for having the courage to address this.

    1. The battles near Canada Park (Latrun Salient) were some of the worst of the 1947-9 war. Israel had to fight hard first against the Palestinians, then the Arab legion and then Jordan around Latrun. There was constant sniper fire from the area from 49-66 which kept the direct route from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem from being used by Israel even though it fell in their territory. That sniper fire was incidentally a violation of the ’49 Armistice and thus international law. The UN agreed and charged Jordan with 19 violations in 1952 many of them having to do with incidents from Latrun.

      Those people in Canada Park weren’t merely civilians they were actively supporting hostiles against their host country in violation of international law for over two decades. I would say they they fought well and bravely for two decades. But in the end they lost. They lost having regularly violated an armistice.

      To fail to mention this in a criticism and claim this was just an cleansing of civilians, innocent civilians no less, is dishonest.

      1. Dear CD-Host,
        Thank you for your reply. I do not claim to have all the facts – and welcome learning more – but I always strive to be honest. Many Israeli analysts share your view that Israel’s attack on the Latrun Salient (the site of JNF’s “Canada Park”) in June, 1967 was in a sense taking care of “unfinished business” from the 1948 War.

        I don’t know much about the ceasefire violations after the 1949 Armistice, but if you took your information about Jordan’s 19 violations in 1952 from Wikipedia, as I just did, it would have been more honest of you to mention that, in the very next sentence, Wikipedia goes on to say that Israel was found guilty of 12 violations against Jordan that same year, and in 1953 Israel was found guilty of 21 violations, against Jordan’s 20.

        I do know from reading eyewitness accounts and viewing photos that were taken of the Israeli operation against these villages in June 1967, that Israeli forces encountered no resistance whatsoever, but nevertheless expelled all the civilian inhabitants at gunpoint, prevented their return, and bulldozed the villages to the ground. These are prima facie war crimes.

        “Canada Park” was then developed to literally erase the villages and the crimes. I have been there. The concrete and rebar of the villagers’ homes are still visible in places, but the JNF’s trees are slowly grinding walls and foundations into dust.

        Grafton Ross

  6. @Grafton

    There is no question that in the early 1950s Jordan and Israel didn’t get along. That was never a point in dispute regarding Latrun. The point I was making was Latrun (which was on the Israeli side of the armistice line) was that it was acting as a base for Jordan, i.e. it was a traitorous community actively involved in siding against the country it was in and working for the benefit or an external hostile. That Jordan is an external hostile in the 1950s, doesn’t refute my argument it supports it.

    Now getting to your later points about 1967.
    I do know from reading eyewitness accounts and viewing photos that were taken of the Israeli operation against these villages in June 1967, that Israeli forces encountered no resistance whatsoever, but nevertheless expelled all the civilian inhabitants at gunpoint, prevented their return, and bulldozed the villages to the ground.

    What really happened was Latrun had been hostile and working with the enemy for 2 decades. Enemy forces knew they could count on the people of Latrun to support it was a safe zone for the Arabs. So the Jordanians immediately deployed to Latrun, as did some Iraqi forces and Egyptians. The Israelis at this point were still trying to offer Jordan a cheap way out of the war while Latrun was shelling Israeli cities violating the cease fire. When the Israelis did attack they were attacking enemy soldiers dug in at Latrun. Far from encountering no resistance Col Moshe Yotvat had several battles. For example the civilian police station at Latrun was actually a military fortress and had been since 1940 ( If Latrun was civilian as you claimed why would their police have needed a fortress?

    In any case after the war the Israelis cleaned out all the enemy. They blocked them from returning and absolutely Canada Park is a monument to Israel’s victory over Latrun after decades of war. Its hard to consider anyone at Latrun fully a civilian given the location and certainly the population of Latrun was in no sense “innocent”. They had been ferocious opponents of Israel who had won several battles against the Haganah, the Israeli population and then the IDF before finally losing and being destroyed.

    I don’t know what sources you are reading that present Latrun as peaceful but any such sources are simply lying. One can fairly and honestly argue about the ethics of collective punishment, clearing hostile populations… (though that applies both to the ethnic cleansing done by Latrun and the ethnic cleansing done to Latrun). One cannot argue however that Latrun was some group of innocents who was attacked and displaced without cause.

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