Canadians Join IDF: Harper’s Government Silent

When is a Canadian who leaves this country to join a foreign military force and participate in the killing of innocent civilians, including children, called a terror tourist and sent to jail?

a)      Always;
b)      Never;
c)      Only when that person joins a military force the Conservative government disagrees with.

Numerous ministers in the current federal government have loudly denounced the radicalization of Canadian youth in foreign wars. Last year, the Conservatives passed a law that further criminalizes “leaving or attempting to leave Canada” to commit terrorism. Multiculturalism Minister Jason Kenney recently said the government is “try[ing] to monitor networks that recruit and radicalize youth.”

Two weeks ago Somali-Canadian Mohamed Hersi was sentenced to 10 years in prison for attempting to join al-Shabab. Arrested at Toronto’s Pearson airport before leaving, Hersi was not found guilty of committing or plotting a specific act of violence, but according to the presiding judge, was “poised to become a terror tourist”.

Yet our government does nothing to hundreds of other Canadians who join a foreign military force to daily terrorize millions of people and often use explosives to kill thousands, most of whom are civilians.

It’s unknown exactly how many Canadians participated in Israel’s recent attacks on Gaza but an Israel Defense Force (IDF) spokesperson said there were 139 Canadians fighting in the Israeli military in 2013. The Nefesh B’Nefesh Lone Soldiers Program, which supports individuals without family in Israel who join the IDF, estimates there are currently 145 Canadians in the Israeli military.

Breaking the stereotype of radicalized youth who join terror groups, recent media reports suggest that most of the Canadians joining the IDF are children of lawyers, doctors and other professionals. When 30 individuals attended the 2012 launch of a Toronto support group for Parents of Lone Soldiers it took place at the home of Perla and Ron Riesenbach. He is a Vice President at the University of Toronto’s Baycrest Health Sciences Centre.

Last week La Presse quoted a McGill University law student, Menachem Freedman, who recently completed a stint with the IDF and now does legal work for the B.C. Civil Liberties Association. A partner in a Toronto law firm, Audrey Shecter, has two kids with IDF experience.

According to the National Post, Shecter’s son completed 27 months with the IDF in February and her daughter, Orli Broer, currently serves on a base in the illegally occupied West Bank. This 19-year-old Torontonian, who is in a “unit that processes visas and other paperwork”, likely spends her days telling Palestinians whether or not they have the right to move about in their own homeland. “It’s my home and I have to protect my home”, the Canadian born and raised Broer told the National Post.

While the Foreign Enlistment Act technically prohibits Canadians from recruiting for a foreign army, there are a number of organizations that help individuals enlist in the Israeli military. At its Toronto office the Friends of Israeli Scouts Garin Tzabar program provides Hebrew lessons and support services, as well as help with transport and accommodation in Israel, for 25 to 30 Canadian lone soldiers each year. According to a Garin Tzabar spokesperson, the recent killing and destruction in Gaza has prompted a flood of inquiries about joining the IDF.

Part of the tab for lone soldier support services is picked up by Canadian taxpayers through tax credits for “charitable” donations. The Israeli-based Lone Soldier Center, which “assist[s] the next generation of lone soldiers”, has Canadian charitable status (through the Ne’eman Foundation). So does the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem, which has sponsored morale boosting entertainment excursions for lone soldiers.

Financial backing for lone soldiers reaches the top echelons of the Canadian business world. Billionaire Toronto couple Gerry Schwartz and Heather Reisman created the Heseg Foundation for Lone Soldiers. Reisman and Schwartz provide up to $3 million per year for post-military scholarships for these non-Israeli soldiers.

Members of the Israeli high command (Heseg’s board has included a number of generals and a former head of Mossad) say “lone soldiers” are of value beyond their military capacities. Foreigners volunteering to fight for Israel are a powerful symbol to reassure Israelis weary of their country’s violent behavior. Schwartz and Reisman’s support for Heseg has spurred a campaign to boycott the Chapters/Indigo/Coles bookstore chain they own.

Canadians in the IDF benefit from various Canadian financed support programs and may also find other Canadians stocking their equipment. About 150 Canadians serve as volunteers on Israeli army supply bases each year through Sar-El. Saving the IDF millions of shekels, Sar-El takes out ads in the Canadian Jewish News calling on individuals to “Express your Zionism by serving as a civilian volunteer on an Israeli army supply base.”

There are a number of other registered Canadian “charities” that aid the Israeli army. Money sent to Disabled Veterans of Israel or Beit Halochem (Canada) and Canadian Magen David Adom for Israel support the IDF in different ways. Established in 1971, the Association for the Soldiers of Israel in Canada (ASI), which gives tax receipts through the Canadian Zionist Cultural Association, provides financial and moral support to active duty soldiers. In what amounts to a modern day blood libel, Israeli major general, Orna Barbivay, told ASI Canada’s 2012 fundraiser, “The IDF doesn’t just represent Israelis, but Jews all over the world.”

Various Canadian organizations have long supported the Israeli military and individuals from this country have directly participated in its violence. At least 25 volunteers from the Greater Toronto Area fought in Gaza during Israel’s 22-day 2008/2009 assault that left some 1,400 Palestinians dead. Similarly, during Israel’s 2006 attack on Lebanon the Canadian Jewish News reported that “Canadian youths leave home to join Israeli army.”

Canada’s military contribution to the conquest of Palestine dates to before Israel’s creation. During World War I Québec City born Lieutenant General Sir Charles MacPherson Dobell, fresh from leading the British/French conquest of German West Africa, was given a command position in the 1917 Egyptian Expeditionary Force sent to seize Gaza from the Ottomans. Additionally, as many as 400 Canadians (about half recruited specifically for the task) fought in British General Edmund Allenby’s Jewish Legion that helped conquer modern day Israel/ Palestine.

A number of Canadians, with at least tacit support from Ottawa, played a direct role in “de-Arabizing” Palestine in 1947/48. Representatives from Haganah, the primary Zionist military force behind the Nakba — the ethnic cleansing leading to Israel’s foundation recruited 300 experienced Canadian soldiers to serve in Israel’s ranks during the war unleashed by the (Canadian backed) UN partition plan and Zionist ethnic cleansing. The heir to Tiptop Tailors, Ben Dunkelman, Haganah’s main recruiter in Canada, claimed “about one thousand” Canadians “fought to establish Israel.” During the 1948 war Israel’s small air force was almost entirely foreign, with at least 53 Canadians, including 15 non-Jews, enlisted.

Given this country’s past, perhaps today’s double standard about terror tourism is not surprising, but those of us who want a just Canadian foreign policy must nonetheless expose our government’s hypocrisy.

While al-Shabab has committed many reprehensible acts and espouses a terribly repressive ideology, the group’s growth and radicalization is largely a response to the 2006 US-sponsored foreign invasion/occupation that has left tens of thousands of Somalis dead and hundreds of thousands displaced. On the other hand, it’s as if the Canadians fighting with Israel are unsatisfied with their and their ancestors’ dispossession of First Nations in North America and now want to help colonize yet another indigenous people.

The double standard is extreme. It is illegal for Somali Canadians to fight in that country but it is okay for Canadian Jews to kill Palestinians in Gaza. And the government will give you a charitable tax credit if you give them money to support it.

Fortunately, activists in one country have made strides on this issue. A Palestine solidarity group in South Africa recently launched a case against citizens of that country who have served in the Israeli military.

Some have suggested another solution. Eminent Canadian historian Jack Granatstein recently told an interviewer: “In my view no one who is a Canadian should be able to enlist in some other country’s military and keep his Canadian citizenship.”

The least Canadians of good conscience must insist upon is fairness and an end to an outrageous double standard.

Yves Engler is co-author of the recently released New Commune-ist Manifesto — Workers of the World It Really is Time to Unite, a rewriting of the original designed to spark debate about a new direction for the Left and union movement. For more information go to www.newcommuneist.com. Read other articles by Yves, or visit Yves's website.