Canadian human rights activist challenges NDP support for Zionist lobby groups

laverdiere aipac

NDP Foreign Affairs critic Hélène Laverdière accepted an expenses-paid invitation to speak last year at a Washington conference organized by AIPAC, the largest US pro-Israel (and anti Palestinian) lobby group. Canadian human rights activist Yves Engler asks why she would do this. He also asks NDP members hoping to take on the party leadership to dissociate themselves from this action. Read more…

According to the Canadian Parliament’s recently released disclosure of members’ sponsored travel, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) paid for the New Democratic Party’s foreign affairs spokesperson Hélène Laverdière to speak on a panel at its conference last year.

In a searing article in the digital publication Electronic Intifada, Canadian researcher/author Yves Engler asks “Why is NDP foreign affairs spokesperson Hélène Laverdière legitimizing anti-Palestinian organizations?”

yves engler

Montreal based researcher/author Yves Engler asks some pointed questions of NDP leadership about its apparent support for Zionism

In the article, Engler argues that the AIPAC appearance does not seem to be a simple oversight on her part. According to the researcher, Laverdière has also shown a sympathy for other Zionist institutions, including the Jewish National Fund (JNF).

The JNF controls 13 percent of Israel’s land, some of which was purchased while the British were in control, and the rest seized from Palestinians who were forced from their homes by Zionist militias during the 1947-1948 ethnic cleansing known to Palestinians as the Nakba, Arabic for catastrophe.

As evidence, Engler points to the fact that “during a recent visit to Israel with Canada’s governor general, Laverdière attended a tree planting ceremony with the (JNF’s) world chairman Danny Atar and a number of other top officials.” Of course, Laverdière participated in the ceremony as part of the Canadian delegation, but had she wanted to skip the event, it would probably not have been difficult for her to find another meeting to attend on that day.

Contradictory positions?

Laverdière’s apparent support for Zionist organizations like AIPAC and the JNF could seem surprising. In the past, she has made many pro-Palestinian statements, including showing strong support for Palestinians suffering under Israel’s murderous attack on Gaza in 2014, and calling  for renewed Canadian contribution to the Palestinian refugee relief organization UNRWA.

It is possible that she, and the NDP, are cynically playing both sides of the issue, in an effort to gain votes from Jewish (and pro Israel) voters on the one hand, and voters who are more concerned about human rights for Palestinians on the other.

However, another possibility is that Laverdière, like many other Canadians, basically agrees with Liberal Zionism. Liberal Zionism combines opposition to some of Israel’s most violent and unfair actions toward the Palestinians (settlements, the wall, the war on Gaza, etc.), while at the same time supporting Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish State, in which Jews have a permanent majority.

One way to test this would be to ask Laverdière whether she supports equal rights for Palestinian citizens of Israel and the right of Palestinian refugees expelled from Israel in 1947/48, to return to their lands. Liberal Zionists prefer to avoid these issues, because they challenge the very foundations of a state based on racial/ethnic privilege. These would also be a good questions to ask other NDP leadership hopefuls.


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  1. Zionism is a valuable alternative political creed that should be aggressively displacing wahhabist intolerance. Zionism in its purest form is collectivist, inclusive and embracive of pluralism. Canada needs to help rehabilitate the standing of Zionism.

  2. @peter, stop misrepresenting what Zionism is. It doesn’t bode well on your integrity,

    one of the core values of Zionism is equal rights to all citizens regardless of race creed or gender. The deceleration of independence is effectively Israel’s constitution:

    “The state of Israel…will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions”

    1. @Ahik

      This is great. The refugees are allowed to return to their homes now? Wow!

      1. Back in 1948, The deceleration of independence called to the Palestinians :

        “We appeal – in the very midst of the onslaught launched against us now for months – to the Arab inhabitants of the State of Israel to preserve peace and participate in the upbuilding of the State on the basis of full and equal citizenship and due representation in all its provisional and permanent institutions.”

        The ancestors of 1.3 million Arab Israelis who are now living in Israel, decided to accept that offer, their offsprings are full citizens, ministers, judges and doctors. Other Palestinians decided to drive their Jewish neighbours into the sea, they failed.
        Since then, they have been educating their children to hate Israel. Their grandsons will not get Israeli citizenship.

        English is not the first language of neither of us, let’s meet and talk it will be easier for both of us

      2. @Ahik

        not particularly a truthful tale of the events surrounding the declaration of independence.

        By the time the declaration was issued and before the 48 war started Israel had already ethnically cleansed roughly 250 Arab villages and towns.

        The actions spoke much louder than the empty words.

    2. Ahik, if or when Israeli Zionists begin to put into practice your claim of “equal rights to all citizens regardless of race, creed or gender” then you might have a leg to stand on in criticising Peter.

      That the NDP plays into this sad regime of hate is among the great disappointments to Canadians who actually fight to protect such values as more than convenient window dressing for those who store more of their own support for Israel than for Canada.

      Who ever becomes leader of the NDP later this year should have the courage to stand up and cement a firm and binding understanding that actions, rather than carefully crafted word plays
      will be the motivating factor in foreign affairs for the Government of Canada.

    3. Ahik,

      I am sorry, but it looks like YOU are the one who is “misrepresenting” things. And I am afraid it appears that you are doing so on purpose.

      Israeli lawyers have explained to me that Israel’s Declaration of Independence, which was signed on May 14th, 1948, does not have force of law in Israel. It is purely “aspirational” (although the supreme court does occasionally take it into consideration in its judgements.)

      Israel’s constitution is composed of a number of “basic laws” which were adopted later, and which do not include the declaration.

      So, contrary to your assertion, that declaration, full of high minded principles, is NOT “effectively Israel’s constitution” and I believe that, as an intelligent Israeli citizen, you must know this.

      I don’t mind people making mistakes or errors in their posts. But I am afraid that it would appear to an objective reader that you are attempting to mislead Canadians.

  3. Democracy in Zionism means the following: [[Use violence as much as you can to enforce ethnic cleansing against aboriginal people (the Palestinians), and once you have a majority of the people with the “right religion” (Jewish), you talk about democracy and at the same time you discriminate against Palestinians so that they leave the country]]. The bad news is Zionism necessarily means applying violence and people on all sides will suffer. The good news that Palestinians as a people are not going away. Palestinians will remain in their homeland and Zionism eventually will accept the international definition of equality and human rights.

    1. @new_canadian, let’s meet and talk.

      if you’ll reveal yourself to @Peter he will be able to put us in contact

  4. “Zionism” is one of many words that have such a broad meaning that they are almost meaningless because people with many different viewpoints label themselves with that term. To some, among them my own father, saw Palestine as a place that would give them refuge. They knew that the land was occupied by others but felt that they could join the existing society, contribute to it in some way, and live among the other residents in the way that Jews who immigrated to Canada or the US did. That was when Palestine was still being abused by, and under the mandate of, the UK.

    That version of Zionism, which some might call “Zionism in its purest form” has been suppressed by a much more virulent form of Zionism that was based on the myth that Palestine had been an exclusively Jewish land back in what they had been taught to believe were the “glory days”. They regard the non-Jews in Palestine as latecomers, as interlopers who had been squatters on the land while the Jews had been in exile and should now yield to the Jews as the rightful owners. Some believed that the non-Jews could be tolerated and “generously” granted a right to live on parts of what had been their land. Others saw (and still see) non-Jews as a threat to the Jewish state who must be driven out or relegated to what the South Africans called “homelands” where they could more easily be repressed and controlled.

    If we examine Israeli society today, you we find evidence of both views. On one side (sometimes called “left” for simplicity’s sake) are Jews who argue for Palestinian rights and protest what the present government does. On the other hand, you can still hear people who want to drive out the remaining non-Jews and occupy all of “historical Israel” including what they call Judea and Sameria (today’s the West Bank). Between the extremes are people who believe that Judaism needs to dominate and control a state but Jews should be kinder to those Palestinians who yield to Jewish control.

    When people want to defend or praise Zionism they refer to the left principles and cite historical documents. Those of us who are critical of Zionism refer to the actions of recent governments where, for example, a strengthened declaration of Israel as a “Jewish State” is being passed and the IDF asserts its right to control the whole area repeatedly by denying entry at all borders, raiding homes, etc. We see lack of respect for the human rights of non-Jews, where pro-Zionists see generosity in allowing Palestinians to be citizens (but not nationals) of the Jewish State.

    Discussions such as this one can only be fruitful if we pick language that clearly distinguishes the different “flavours” of Zionism. Referring to them all simply as “Zionism” will generate heat but not light.

    Politicians outside of Israel often live in the past, remembering back to the days when it was Jews who were people seeking refuge and experiencing discrimination. They are blind to the fact that today things have changed. The people who were refugees have “settled” and have suppressed or expelled others who have become today’s refugees and today’s people who need defence. Those who grew up in the days where anti-semitism was rampant (e.g Jews not allowed to buy homes in certain areas) have trouble seeing the new reality in which Jews are widely accepted and other refugees and suppressed people have appeared.

  5. If the NDP under its new leader does not demonstrate more forthright support for Palestinian rights, I will be switching my support to the Greens.

    1. We should all welcome whatever gets you to support the Greens and the green agenda, but do remember that both Elizabeth May and Andrew Weaver, are both balanced leaders who support Palestinian rights as well as Israel’s right to exist, and both have them spoked publicly against the BDS on several occasions. So don’t act surprised later when you find out that the greens are not Dimitri Lascaris

      1. @Ahik
        I expect the Green Party of Canada will continue to support the policy that it approved by 90+% of the voting membership in the results announced in February 2017. If the leaders diverge from this policy, I expect that the membership will hold them to account. Otherwise, they will also lose my support.

  6. @Paul Simpson, the leadership of the GPC is committed to the compromise resolution from August, not to the paper that Lascarse pushed on February. But we already had this discussion here last year. Let’s not have it again

    1. @Ahik
      You clearly do not know what you are talking about. I would suggest that you educate yourself on a subject before commenting on it, rather than continuing to embarrass yourself with uninformed comments.

  7. I received this email response from the office of Mme. Laverdiere.

    Dear Peter,

    Thank you for writing me and for giving me the opportunity to respond to the web article you have mentioned. I want to be clear that this article does not represent my commitment to peace and justice in the Middle East, nor does it accurately represent the position and policies of the NDP.

    As NDP Foreign Affairs Critic, I have the responsibility to share our party’s position on foreign affairs issues with a diversity of audiences. In this capacity, I participated at AIPAC events in Washington, D.C., as part of an MP panel from all major parties who were invited to present their views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I believe that it is important to take every opportunity to engage and to advocate for our commitment to peace and justice in the region. This commitment includes our steadfast support for international law, condemnation of Israeli settlements, which contravene international law and are a serious impediment to the peace process, and ending the blockade on Gaza in keeping with UN Security Council resolution 1860 (2009).

    With regard to my participation in the program organized for the Governor General and the Canadian delegation in Jordan, Israel, and Palestine last fall, I was part of a large Canadian delegation that travelled to the region to gather information about the current situation. Throughout the trip, I met with dozens of organizations, with multiple points of view, with the objective of facilitating convergence and dialogue between different communities. This included meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and others in Ramallah, as well as Israeli officials.

    In Ottawa, I meet frequently with Canadian groups to discuss their concerns on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I have held productive meetings with Arab-Israeli Members of the Knesset, such as Ayman Odeh and Youssef Jabareen, and with representatives of Canada’s Jewish community. I have also met with the UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Michael Lynk.

    The NDP has been a consistent and strong advocate for peace in the region. I engage regularly with the Minister on issues including development, settlements, ending the blockade on Gaza and providing humanitarian assistance to the region, including food, fuel and medical treatment. As a party we have called for Canadian funds to help the reconstruction in Gaza and for Canada to fund UNRWA. I have called on the Minister to support critical programs on education, human rights and peacebuilding in the region that bring together Palestinian and Israeli social work practitioners. The NDP is the only federal party to support the Palestinian Authority’s application for updated status at the United Nations.

    New Democrats believe that now, more than ever, Canada needs to actively promote the two-state solution, not just say we agree with the idea – and that our government must advance that goal in all our engagements with both Israelis and Palestinians. The Liberal government has done little to move this issue forward and seek justice and peace in the Middle East. It is time they put their words into action.

    I am proud to be the Foreign Affairs Critic of a party that constructively engages Palestinian and Israeli officials, defends human rights and promotes respect for international law. I will continue, in my capacity as an MP and as a Canadian who believes in justice and peace for all, to advocate for these policies. This means engaging in dialogue not only with those whose beliefs we share, but also those who think differently, in order to build trust and dialogue. As a former diplomat, I know that is the only path to peace.

    Hélène Laverdière
    NDP Foreign Affairs Critic

    1. I can accept her response at face value. That said it is troubling to see any Canadian politician interacting with US political lobby groups. Are there holes in the laws protecting and regulating our political process.

      1. Anonymous —

        Your political and governing system openly and officially was working with the USA Energy lobby for the last few years regarding Keystone. You share a long border with a country with open lobbying with whom you have friendly relations Your politicians have tons of interactions with our lobbyists. As an aside you also do it in the other direction, just to continue to use Keystone, CAPP (Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers) has officially registered in the United States and if memory serves spent $11.2m in the USA in 2016.

      2. @cd-host

        Your usual irrelevant b/s to obfuscate issues. Aipac is not registered in Canada as a lobbyist and she is a Canadian official subject to Canadian laws. What the us does or permits is of no interest and totally irrelevant.

  8. Perhaps Helene Laverdiere could share with us her address to AIPAC so we can read how deeply she delved into the issues Palestinian-Canadians continue to raise.

    I have to ask also if she met with other American-Jewish groups who see the issue through a different lens than do AIPAC’s Zionist “lobbyist”, groups like Jewish Voices for Peace and the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights?

    Clearly, while AIPAC gets a free pass via the US government it doesn’t come even close to representing the thoughts and actions of most American Jews.

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