Harper’s Attack on the Arab and Muslim Communities

Canada Election 2011

During the Israeli attack on Lebanon in 2006 – and in the five years since – Stephen Harper has strongly defended Israel’s policies even when other allies like the United States and Britain have made the occasional criticism of Israeli policy or called for compromise between the Israelis and Palestinians. This virtually unqualified support from the Harper government for Israel runs contrary to the view held by the vast majority of the World community.

Film producer Robert Lantos was the first of several prominent members of the Liberal Party who defected to the Harper Conservatives. “We are fortunate to live in a country whose Prime Minister is Israel’s closest friend,” Mr. Lantos said. “That outweighs all other considerations from my point of view – and should for all Jews.”

A large number of Canadian Jews, but clearly a minority, do not support Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians. The use of word “Jews” and the implication that all Jews support Israel is not correct and is a distortion of the facts. It is more correct to say “Jewish supporters of Israel” as not all Jews share same views on the “Jewish State.”

There are a number of Canada Jewish organizations, including Independent Jewish Voices, Not in Our Name (NION), Palestinian Jewish Unity (PAJU) and even orthodox Jews from the anti-Zionist Neutri Karta, that take positions critical of Israel and even strongly anti-Zionist positions on the Israeli Palestinian conflict.

Put another way the Conservative government of Stephen Harper has been the most anti-Arab and anti-Muslim government in Canadian history. Harper’s government’s actions have gone far beyond rhetoric. Palestinian, Arab, Muslim and even Jewish dissident voices have been marginalized and attacked for being anti-Semitic for defending Palestinian human rights or for presenting pro-Arab opinions. Many organizations who received government money and who showed any support or sympathy for the Palestinian perspective have had their government funding slashed.

Jason Kenney, Harper’s Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, aided by Liberal M.P. Irwin Cotler and their allies in the Conservative, Liberal, and NDP parties have even established a Parliamentary Committee to Combat Anti-Semitism whose primary goal was to delegitimize critics of Israel’s policy and even attempt to criminalize criticism of Israel as “anti-Semitic.”

The semi-official Parliamentary committee received substantial government funding and its proceedings were published by the Parliamentary Gazette giving it the appearance of being an official Canadian government document. The Bloc Québécois, who initially participated in the Committee, withdrew because, in its opinion, it was biased and refused to even let appear before the Committee any Palestinian, Arab, Muslim, or dissenting Jewish opinion.

Harper’s government’s continuous attempts to defund, censor, and marginalize pro-Palestinian individuals and organizations is a very serious problem facing Canada’s Arab and Muslim communities.

One example of this anti-Arab and anti-Palestinian attack was the Harper government’s decision to ban British Member of Parliament George Galloway from entering the country. For humanitarian reasons he gave money and food to Hamas, the duly elected governing authority in Palestine. Because of this humanitarian act, the Harper government made public pronouncements that Galloway would not be allowed the right to express his opinions on the Middle East in Canada.

Having a British MP publicly oppose the Israeli siege of Gaza, the occupation of Iraq, and who was critical of the war in Afghanistan would have been inconvenient to Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Citizenship Minister Jason Kenney, both strong proponents of Israel and supporters of George W. Bush’s “war on terror.”

Numerous other politicians—including former Vice President of the European Parliament Luisa Morgantini, Bishop Desmond Tutu, and former U.S. President Jimmy Carter have also called for an end to the siege of Gaza and compared Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians to apartheid in South Africa. Would they be banned from entering Canada because they made statements supporting the Palestinians?

Would former South African President Nelson Mandela, who is a strong supporter of the Palestinians, be banned from Canada because the Harper government disagreed with his views? Unfortunately, the Galloway incident seems to be part of a pattern of deliberate harassment of individuals who support Palestinian human rights by the Harper Conservative government.

On September 27, 2010, the Canadian Federal Court issued a ruling that severely criticized the actions of Minister Kenney and his office for political bias and interference in the normal operations of the Immigration Department handling of Mr. Galloway’s entry into Canada. (See Galloway et al v. Minister of Public Safety and Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, September 27, 2010. Docket: IMM-1474-09. Citation: 2010 FC 957).

There are many other examples of attacks on the Canadian Arab community. The Harper government, through Citizenship and Immigration Minister Kenney, abruptly canceled English-language training funding to the Canadian Arab Federation because its leaders criticized Kenney’s public support for Israel’s attack on Gaza.

What did Kenney expect from a national organization that represents Canada’s Arab community—a ringing endorsement of Kenney’s support for the Israeli attack on the Arabs in Gaza and support for his other strong pronouncements in favour of Israel. The matter is now the subject of a legal action at the Federal Court of Canada, where leave was granted to pursue the claim against Kenney.

The Harper government also canceled funding to Kairos, an internationally known Christian human rights organization, which is officially supported by the seven largest Christian denominations in Canada. Kairos’ human rights work includes projects in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East. While addressing the Global Forum to Counter Anti-Semitism in Jerusalem, Kenney cited the defunding of Kairos as an example of his government’s fight against anti-Semitism.

Bev Oda, Harper’s Minister responsible for Canada’s International Development Agency (CIDA) was found to be in contempt of Parliament for lying when she told a Parliamentary Committee that CIDA had recommended that Kairos not be funded when it was Oda, or someone else in Harper’s government, that in hand writing inserted a “not” reversing the positive recommendation to fund the highly respected ecumenical development organization.

After 35 years of Canadian government support, this respected Christian human rights organization is suddenly labeled “anti-Semitic” and stripped of its ability to fund its international commitments. This was a politically motivated attack because of Kairos support for Palestinians and other marginalized groups. Other Canadian human rights and development agencies have also lost funding for supporting Palestinian human rights. These attacks and politically motived cuts have created a climate of fear of funding in organizations that run afoul of Harper’s political agenda.

The Harper Conservatives have also ended the country’s long-standing funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA). The Agency provides humanitarian and social assistance to Palestinian refugees displaced by the creation of Israel in 1948. These Palestinian refugees are not allowed to return to their homes in defiance of numerous UN resolutions including the one that granted Israel membership in the UN. Canada’s money is now being given to Mahmoud Abbas’ Palestinian Authority for justice and security purposes.

In addition to sabotaging the work of pro-Palestinian human rights groups, the Harper government has politicized organizations to ensure they serve Israel. For example, it appointed hard-line Israel supporters to the board of the once-respected Montreal-based Rights & Democracy. It was set up by former Conservative Prime Minster Brian Mulroney and is supposed to be non-partisan. Its mandate is to promote Canada’s foreign policy by supporting the rule of law in troubled countries like Haiti and Afghanistan.

Once Harper had appointed a majority of Conservative stalwarts to the board they immediately held a “repudiation vote” against funding B’Tselem, a well respected Israeli human rights organization and its Palestinian West Bank partner: Al-Haq (Law in the Service of Man) and Al Mezan in Gaza. All three organizations were critical of Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Hamas human rights violations, including the December 2008 Israeli attack on Gaza.

When President Rémy Beauregard approved grants to these three Middle East organizations, he had the support of the Department of Foreign Affairs, according to two former presidents of the Organization—Warren Allmand, a former Solicitor General of Canada, and Ed Broadbent, a former leader of the federal New Democratic Party.

Faced with unprecedented government interference, 45 of 47 staffers, both management and union, demanded the firing of the Harper-appointed board chair, University of Toronto political science professor Aurel Braun, and the removal of his vice-chair and another director.

“After the war in Gaza, the two Palestinian and one Israeli group were checking if there had been human rights abuses. When Mr. Braun found out, I’m told, he went completely bonkers,” said Broadbent.

One of those to resign in protest was Dr. Sima Samar of Afghanistan. One of the foreign board members, she was honoured in 2009 with the Order of Canada for defending women’s rights. Only a handful of non-Canadians, such as Nelson Mandela, have received this award. Samar said she quit because of the board’s secrecy, “toxic” atmosphere, disrespect for the three international members, and its narrow political agenda, especially from Braun.

“I find it incongruous that a centre dedicated to human rights had violated the rights of its top employee; that rather than being transparent, it was secretive; and instead of standing up for the victims of human rights violations, it was siding with the violators.” Samar said in an interview from Kabul.

The Vice Chair, whom the employees almost unanimously wanted removed, Jacques Gauthier, was appointed interim president after Beauregard died from a sudden heart attack. Beauregard, the former head of the Ontario Human Rights Commission, was well respected for his managerial competency and his commitment to civil liberties. His heart attack came shortly after a vitriolic board meeting with its new Conservative-appointed majority.

The Harper government politicization of institutions has not gone unnoticed. Le Devoir, the influential French-language Montreal newspaper, even reported that the Harper appointees are harassing Arab speakers at Democracy & Rights. Writing in the Toronto Star, columnist Haroon Siddiqui noted: “There remains the larger issue of Harper emasculating institutions that used to operate at arm’s length, independent of the partisan needs and ideology of the ruling party.”

Beyond these public examples, though, one has to wonder what else is going on to entrench the ideological agenda of the Harper government. Taken together these actions are an attack on free speech the likes of which we have not seen since the 1950s anti-Communist McCarthy witch hunts. These attacks are also a clear example of bias and discriminatory action that systematically targets the Palestinian, Arab and Muslim community, and their friends in the Jewish community and wider Canadian community, in a way that is clearly politically biased and even racist. This type of discrimination and anti-democratic political behaviour should not be tolerated in Canada.

On Election Day, May 2, 2011 the Canadian Arab and Muslim communities and all those who support justice and peace in the Middle East should send a strong message to Stephen Harper that these policies are unacceptable in a democratic country that respects human rights.

Edward C. Corrigan is a lawyer certified as a Specialist in Citizenship and Immigration Law and Immigration and Refugee Protection by the Law Society of Upper Canada in London, Ontario, Canada. He can be reached at: corriganlaw@edcorrigan.ca. Read other articles by Edward, or visit Edward's website.