Canadian Lessons from the Holocaust
Science for Peace was one of the endorsing organizations of Israeli Apartheid Week. At this same time, elected officials at various levels of government voted to condemn use of the phrase “Israeli apartheid” or more vaguely, to prohibit apartheid week activities (the Toronto District School Board), equating criticism of Israel with a new anti-Semitism.
This raises many serious concerns. Opponents to these government declarations are addressing various points, including the infringement of free speech and academic freedom. Another point is that the term “apartheid” is accurate according to many Israelis themselves (e.g. google the Olga Document) and to internationally respected jurists such as South African John Dugard and Jewish-American Richard Falk, both UN Special Rapporteurs on Human Rights, and there is the even more serious allegation of Israel’s war crimes in the Goldstone report. Jewish groups opposed to Israeli apartheid raise the important point that neither Israel nor the pro-Israel Jewish organizations represent all Jewish people and that charges of Israeli apartheid and war crimes is not equivalent to anti-Semitism. Ironically, at this same time in Israel, Defense Minister Ehud Barak used the word “apartheid” to warn of the consequences of Israel’s unending policy of land and water confiscation.
It is the very disturbing historical context that I want to raise here. During the period of Canada’s prorogued Parliament, a special extra-parliamentary all-party coalition met twice weekly to examine evidence of a purported new anti-Semitism that could potentially criminalize criticism of Israel (the Canadian Parliamentary Coalition to Combat anti-Semitism — CPCCA). During prorogation the Government also found time to withdraw funding from NGOs that in various ways support Palestinian welfare such as Kairos, the New Israel Fund and UNRWA – impacting not only human rights but human life.
Much was laid aside by members of the Government during prorogation. The initial decision to prorogue coincided with revelations about Canadian complicity with the torture of Afghan prisoners and at a crucial time of decision-making about repatriating Omar Khadr. While the parliamentary anti-Semitism coalition continued to meet twice weekly, the parliamentary committee looking into the Afghan detainees did not meet during prorogation; columnist John Ibbitson says the committee has nothing to offer now but rhetoric and that “the detainees issue is dead in the water.” (Globe and Mail 17/3/10). While Parliament was prorogued and while there was much attention to investigating the new anti-Semitism, Canada shamefully continued to play an instrumental role in blocking any binding agreements on climate change (Copenhagen) which already causes needless and premature death to thousands of people worldwide.
During prorogation Haiti’s earthquake led to the death of more than 230,000. What was unexamined by members of the Canadian government was the prioritizing of military security over the provision of food, water, and medical help, likely leading to thousands of avoidable fatalities (not to mention the Government’s unexamined role in years of undermining Haitian democracy and public welfare). Prorogation postponed passage of Bill C-300, a mild enough measure aiming to place some accountability on Canadian mining companies for involvement in severe human rights abuses. Canadian mining companies are notorious for their impunity – Barrick Gold, Anvil Mining, Banro and Tenke Fungurume Mining (coltan) are some of the Canadian companies operating in the Democratic Republic of the Congo where approximately six million Congolese have died due to the war there.1
During the time of prorogation and of regular parliamentary meetings on the new anti-Semitism, there were a number of reports that were not addressed by members of the Government on all levels. Minister of Immigration Jason Kenney deleted sections on homosexuality in the immigration handbook designed to inform applicants of their human rights. There was the announcement of a lawsuit against the Ontario Provincial Government by disabled people abused at the public hospital known as Orillia Asylum for Idiots, later called the Ontario Hospital School. There was the announcement that some northern Manitoba aboriginal communities had a TB rate higher than Bangladesh (600 vs. 400 cases per 100,000). “Canada’s four main Inuit regions have a TB incidence rate of 157.5 for every 100,000 people, according to the first national analysis of 2008 data by the Public Health Agency of Canada. The rate in southern Canada is 0.8 per 100,000.” (CBC news, March 10, 2010). During prorogation it was reported that there was a 20% increase in HIV among Manitoba’s Native peoples in 2009.2
There is a Canadian lesson about the Holocaust. In their book None is Too Many, Harold Troper and Irving Abella write that Canada’s acceptance of only 5000 Jewish refugees was the worst of any Western country. The authors “graphically illustrate how most of Canada’s politicians, diplomats, bureaucrats, businessmen, newspapermen, soldiers, workers, and even Churchmen either actively rejected proposals to help Jewish refugees or at best remained silent.” The same title, “none is too many”, was used by Michael Valpy in a 2009 Globe and Mail article about Canada barring Roma refugees trying to flee neo-Nazi attacks in the Czech Republic. Functionally similar to Nazi policy are the telling signs of the current Canadian government’s utter disregard, through a range of policies, of homosexual, disabled, Roma, and people of colour as if they are disposable3, not worthy of care and concern and mutual identification as fellow humans.
While many of our elected officials have been meeting twice weekly to investigate the non-violent critics and careful researchers of the State of Israel’s crimes, they themselves repeat, in their actions or in their silence, the cruel policies that bring misery and premature death to thousands.
1 Marketa Evans, the government designated corporate social responsibility counsellor looking into abuses was the founding director of the Munk Centre (Barrick Gold) and is hardly arms-length. ^
2 Information in this paragraph is available in The Toronto Star and in the Winnipeg Free Press. ^
3 “Disposable” is the word Jeff Halper uses to describe the predominant Israeli perception and treatment of Palestinian people. Jeff Halper is an anthropologist and a founding member of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD). Apropos the Canadian context, Halper said: “And Canada has already bought into this sinister approach to unwanted ‘disposable’ humanity by accepting Israeli expertise in areas of immigration control, anti-terrorism methods, and border policing as part of our [Canadian] government’s recently adopted Security and Prosperity package.” Reported by Pauline Finch – CIC staff writer – January 23, 2009 http://www.canadianislamiccongress.com/fb/friday_bulletin.php?fbdate=2009-02-06 ^
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