In early January 2015 the Globe and Mail and the University of Toronto Varsity announced that the federal government gave $9m to the Munk School of Global Affairs for the “direct diplomacy” Digital Public Square project targeting Iran. While Harper severed diplomatic ties with Iran in September, 2012, expelling Iranian diplomats and closing its embassy in Tehran, “the expansion of the direct diplomacy project comes as other countries, including the United States and Britain, seek to re-engage with the Iranian government”. The Munk project bypasses the Iranian government and “offers a platform for dissidents… digital space for free expression and open political dialogue in places where civil society and citizen participation are under threat” (Globe and Mail Jan 6, 2015). John Baird, then Foreign Minister, stated that the project will hold governments “to account in defending freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law.” Janice Gross Stein, directing the project, said that “fundamental to a university’s core values are the freedom to access information and share ideas.”
The announcement of the Harper/Munk $9m “direct diplomacy” project coincides with upcoming elections in Canada and in Israel and with Netanyahu’s clash with Obama over Iran’s nuclear program. Harper, former Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, and Netanyahu are on the same page, promulgating lies about Iran: that “Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear weapon is the most dangerous threat to global security,” that Iran “refuses to comply with UN resolutions pertaining to its nuclear program….”1 In his highly publicized speech about Iran’s nuclear weapons on March 3, 2015, Netanyahu told the U.S. Congress “to ditch the current outlines for a [negotiated] deal and toughen sanctions.”
The Munk School of Global Affairs The deal to establish the Munk School of Global Affairs was secret and not announced until the agreement to establish the school was already finalized. Investigating professors John Valleau and Paul Hamel write that the Academic Board, the body officially charged with ensuring the scholarly direction of academic priorities, “at no point [original italics] saw the Agreement prior to its being signed …. We contend that the imposed lack of academic oversight of academically significant decisions is anyway unacceptable.”2 Peter Munk’s announced $35m donation will receive a $16m tax deduction, and the Ontario and federal government’s donations to the new school amounts to $66m – so the “private public partnership” is really the taxpayer footing most of the bill with no say about the direction of its programs.
Peter Munk’s fortune and power come from his position as former CEO of Barrick Gold. Barrick Gold is notorious for its ravaging of ecosystems and indigenous communities, for deaths and injuries at sites in Tanzania and Papua New Guinea. Barrick Gold violates the UN Convention on Indigenous People which requires free, informed, and prior consent. Barrick Gold is no friend of academic freedom, infamously blocking translation and publication of Noir Canada: Pillage, corruption et criminalite en Afrique. Barrick Gold has close ties with the federal government: Marketa Evans was Canada’s first Corporate Social Responsibility counsellor and was the founding director of the Munk Centre.
Janice Gross Stein is Director of Digital Public Square and Belzberg Professor of Conflict Management at the Munk School of Global Affairs. She is frequently sought as an expert on human rights and democracy and has close ties with Israel. Janice Gross Stein’s book Diplomacy in the Digital Age received accolades from Henry Kissinger, Brian Mulroney, and former US Secretaries of State James Baker and George Shultz. Last summer Stein was a featured speaker at the Halifax International Security Forum, co-sponsored by DFAIT, DND, Lockheed Martin, NATO.
Canada. The $9m grant to the Digital Public Square coincides with a number of government actions subverting “free speech and open political dialogue” here in Canada: the fast-tracking of Bill C-51 (anti-terrorism bill); the Memorandum of Understanding signed between Canada and Israel with a section on deeper security cooperation and enhanced information and intelligence sharing; a motion in the House of Commons on anti-Semitism, passed unanimously, which criminalizes “singling Israel out for selective condemnation and opprobrium…”; an Edward Snowden leak showing that the Canadian government has “collected emails to the government at a rate of 400,000 per day, sometimes keeping the data for years.”
The Munk project purportedly aims to promote democracy, but “democracy promotion” by western governments has historically served the function of instigating regime change or destabilization and/or furthering host country corporate economic interests. A Globe and Mail article about “a landmark report [from Department of Foreign Affairs, 2007] aimed at advancing Canada’s role in democratic development overseas….” quoted Harper’s 2008 Throne Speech in which he announced “a new, non-partisan democracy promotion agency … to support the peaceful transition to democracy in repressive countries and help emerging democracies build strong institutions.” It was at this time that Harper folded democracy and development agencies into DFAIT. But even prior to that, CIDA, WUSC and other agencies functioned to promote Canadian business interests, particularly mining.6
Dr. Amir Hassanpour of the Department of Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations, University of Toronto, told me that Iran, unlike Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Libya and Yemen, has remained relatively stable because it has not been subjected to a US- led war. However, “US-imposed sanctions on Iran are devastating to the majority of people and add to the corruption of the government and to factional conflicts. The US and EU pursue negotiation and sanctions because war against Iran will disrupt the shaky status quo in Central Asia and the rest of the region and makes it impossible for the US-EU shaky alliance to put it together.” Dr. Hassanpour says that Iranians know their country very well and understand that the Munk project is a non-player in Iran. They recognize that the Munk digital democracy project is presumptuous propaganda.
In Canada programs like “Digital Public Square” subvert the meaning of democracy and diplomacy. They deflect from the real dangers posed by militarism coupled with impunity and ignorance. There are 45 U.S. military bases surrounding Iran and constant threats of a military assault. From Richard Falk: “If ever there was an argument for the acquisition of nuclear weapons by Iran, the diplomacy of Israel and the West has fashioned it in a strong form,” and “It is this woeful message of street geopolitics that is being transmitted to the peoples of the world in this crisis-building moment.”7
Judith Deutsch is a former President and current Board member of Science for Peace.
2. UFTA Newsletter No. 1 (2010-11). P. 45. “University Governance and Acceptance of the Munk Donation.”
3. Chomsky, Noam and Polk, Laray. (2013). Nuclear War and Environmental Catastrophe. P. 21 and p. 42.
4. P. 2-3. Bennis, Phyllis (2009). Understanding the US-Iran Crisis: A Primer. Olive Branch Press.
5. P. 74. Falk, Richard. (Re)imagining Humane Global Governance (2014). Routledge.