A free webinar organized by Honest Reporting Canada (HRC) promised to feature influential operators from the Liberal, Tory and NDP parties and give “an insiders perspective on Canada-Israel relations”. While HRC is stridently pro-Israel, the webinar looked like it could be informative and interesting, even to those who don’t share HRC’s perspective. Unfortunately, it was neither informative nor interesting. Read more…
I was looking forward to the webinar offered by Honest Reporting Canada. I knew of course that HRC supports Israel and Zionism, but I thought I might learn something. Based on its hyped up promotional material, which promised “an exclusive behind the headlines webinar providing you with an insider’s view of Canada-Israel relations!”, it sounded very interesting.
Featuring an incredible panel consisting of Hon. John Baird, former Minister of Foreign Affairs and Conservative Cabinet Minister, Hon. Tom Mulcair, former Leader of the New Democratic Party of Canada, and Hon. Jacques Saada, former Liberal MP and Cabinet Minister; these three political veterans will share their views and insights on Canada-Israel relations, Canada’s role in the Middle East peace process and more.
Baird is a member of the board of directors of CIJA, the largest pro-Israel lobbying organization in Canada, and proudly describes himself as a “Zionist”. Saada is the President of the Council of Montreal Sephardic Jews and a frequent CIJA insider. Mulcair was the leader of the NDP and well known for his debating skills. Based on that it promised to be a pretty interesting debate among knowledgeable people from different political parties.
That’s not how it turned out. For reasons that were not disclosed, Tom Mulcair was not on the panel after all. The remaining two panelists did make a big point of how much they admired Mulcair and regretted his absence.
Saada noted appreciatively that while he was leader, Mulcair had been helpful in keeping the “unseemly” pro-Palestinian elements” in the NDP in check!!
Baird was even more effusive: “Tom Mulcair was the best leader of the opposition since Diefenbaker. When I changed our voting at the UN, TOM HAD MY BACK!!”, reported Baird, “There were NO questions from the opposition on it”.
Despite Mulcair’s absence, I still hoped that the two other former Cabinet ministers would be able to shed light on some key aspects of the Canada-Israel relationship including:
- The inside discussions and debates within each of the political parties on the Israel/Palestine file
- The role of the Canada-Israel Parliamentary Friendship group in shaping Canadian policy toward Israel
- Canada-Israel cooperation in security and intelligence
- The Canada Israel Free Trade agreement (CIFTA)
- The role of pro Israel lobby groups (like CIJA and B’nai Brith Canada) in shaping Canadian policy
- The role of Canadian media in shaping public opinion on this file
- What each of the panelists think would be a fair deal for the Palestinians
- Whether they think the 2 state solution is still a live option
- etc., etc.
Unfortunately, none of that was discussed. And there was no real debate at all as both panelists seemed to be in complete agreement on Israel. In fact, the only discussion of the Canada-Israel relationship focussed on our voting record at the UN. Each panelist (a Martin Liberal and a Harper Conservative) competed to demonstrate to the audience how strongly pro-Israel their respective government’s voting record had been at the UN.
Well – what was discussed?
If they didn’t talk about what was promised, and they didn’t debate policy, what did they talk about? Mostly it involved stock rehearsals of already known arguments recycled regularly by Israel’s defenders. Four main themes emerged.
1. Is Annexation of parts of the West Bank by Israel a good thing?
The first 17 minutes of the 45 min panel discussion was devoted to the panelists personal views of Israel’s proposed “annexation” of significant parts of the West Bank.
Neither offered any inside information to bring to bear on the issue. Both assessed the proposed annexation from the point of view of Israeli interests. In fact, both agreed with the Israeli position that this was not really an “annexation” at all, but a legitimate extension of Israeli sovereignty. International law was not mentioned.
Saada did express concern over whether annexation “at this time” might hurt Israel’s strategic position in the Middle East, although he did not seem to oppose it in principle. For his part, Baird refused to pass judgement, preferring to wait until the Israeli government has decided, effectively saying he would support anything Israel decides.
Neither panelist appeared interested in consequences for the Palestinians. “There are hardly any Palestinians in the Jordan Valley in any event,” noted Mr. Baird, studiously overlooking Israel’s five decade long program to push Palestinian farmers out of the Jordan valley since occupying the West Bank in 1967.
2. Why BDS – the international call to boycott Israel – is anti-Semitic
It’s not surprising that both panelists strongly opposed the BDS movement (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions). Saada and Baird both erroneously confused BDS – a call from Palestinian civil society in 2005, to earlier boycotts initiated by the Arab States against Israel.
Both of them expressed opposition to the three BDS demands, which are “Ending the occupation, Equality for all citizens of Israel, and the Right of return for the refugees”.
Baird doesn’t agree that there is an “occupation”. He said he prefers to call the West Bank “disputed” territory. Saada thought the demand for equality was nonsensical insisting that Palestinian citizens of Israel already have equal rights.
He also opposed the “right of return” falsely claiming that only in the case of Palestinians do descendants of refugees continue to have refugee status. That is untrue. Under international law, the children of ALL refugees and their descendants are also considered refugees until a durable solution is found.
Saada repeated an often made claim that BDS is anti-Semitic, using the example of a boycott of a shoe store in Montreal a few years ago as proof. According to Saada, the boycott was because the store was owned by a Jew, “who had nothing to do with Israel.” Saada’s version is contradicted however by newspaper reports at the time that the store was being boycotted, not because the owner was Jewish, but because it was selling shoes made in Israel.
3. Why the Palestinian right of return should be ignored
Saada really got going on the Palestinian right of return railing against UNRWA. His main argument? – Palestinian refugees get better treatment than Jewish refugees who had to flee Arab countries after the creation of the State of Israel.
A peculiar logic – one that human rights violations can cancel each other out. (So for example, harassment of women might be OK if enough men were also harassed!!!) In fact, under international law, ALL refugees have the right to return, irrespective of their religion.
Saada, an Arab Jew born in Tunisia, knows that many Tunisian Jews, like Saada, have emigrated to the west in search of better opportunity. Some have gone to Israel.
But Saada no doubt knows that Jews do live in many Muslim countries. Furthermore, thousands of Jews (including Israelis) go to Tunisia every year, to visit some of the holy places and beautiful synagogues. They even have the right to apply to immigrate if they want.
4. Why Iran is inherently anti-Semitic and a threat to the world and should be overturned
Saada and Baird competed to score the most points with HRC audience by denouncing Iran. Saada set out to prove that Iran is permanently anti-Semitic by “exposing” a historical agreement between the Iranian Shah Pahlevi and Adolph Hitler to ally to oppose Britain and the USSR. In Saada’s telling however, the objective of the agreement becomes one to jointly wipe out the Jews – Hitler in Europe and Pahlevi in the Middle East rather than a military alliance.
Saada’s story sits awkwardly with the fact that from 1955 to the fall of the Shah in 1979, Iran was Israel’s main ally in the region.
Baird repeated the Trump/Pompeo line that Iran is the “biggest state sponsor of terror” conveniently ignoring the role of Saudia Arabia and proposing “regime change” as an appropriate remedy.
Don’t believe me? – Watch the video yourself
In short, the Honest Reporting Canada webinar did not bring any new “behind the headlines” information. It did not discuss the Canada-Israel relationship in any significant detail. There was no debate or any noticeable difference of opinion.
However, I assume it must have satisfied HRC’s audience of over 300 by confirming their predispositions and reassuring them that their pro-Israel views are accepted by all three main political parties in Canada.
If you think this judgement is too harsh, I encourage you to watch the 45 minute video provided by Honest Reporting Canada yourself and send in your comments.
Canada Talks Israel Palestine (CTIP) is the weekly newsletter of Peter Larson, Chair of the Ottawa Forum on Israel/Palestine (OFIP). It aims to promote a serious discussion in Canada about the complicated and emotional Israel/Palestine issue with a focus on the truth, clear analysis and human rights for all. Readers with different points of view are invited to make comment.
Want to learn more about us? Go to http://www.ottawaforumip.org.