Pro-Israel Canadians Pressure Ottawa over Iran

Those Canadians who take their political cues from Israel are obsessively stoking conflict with Iran. In a clear example, former CEO of Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre Avi Benlolo has published a half dozen National Post columns critical of that country over the past year.

In a recent article headlined “As the Doomsday Clock closes in on midnight, the time for action on Iran is now,” Benlolo demanded more belligerence while in August he argued “that Iran is just two months away from a nuclear breakout” in a story headlined “Joe Biden must not support nuclear deal with Iran, Israel’s existence depends on it.” Over the previous year the ardent Zionist also published “Diplomatic rift between Tehran and Ottawa continues to grow” and “U.S. preparing to throw Israel under the bus with Iran nuclear deal.” Benlolo criticized Iran in a series of other columns and released a statement on his site titled, “On One Year Anniversary, Canadians Commemorate Downing of Plane By Iran.”

Israeli officials are pressing US President Joe Biden for more sanctions and violence against Iran. They want to scuttle the Iran nuclear negotiations and any effort to reduce tensions between Washington and Tehran.

While Israeli officials have been claiming Iran is on the cusp of acquiring nuclear weapons for decades, they’ve sought to block (with US and Canadian support) any effort to develop a Middle East Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone. Most countries in the region support a nuclear free zone, which exist elsewhere, but Israel wants to maintain its 90 nuclear weapons.

There is little evidence Iran is seeking to acquire nuclear weapons, but even if it did it wouldn’t be an existential threat to Israel despite its claims. It would, however, slightly weaken Israeli hegemony in the region.

But Canadian Zionists believe a European colonial outpost of 9 million should dominate a region of 450 million so they incessantly demonize Iran. It was recently reported — with no mention he’s a long-time B’nai B’rith lawyer — that David Matas was legal counsel to a former member of the Shah’s brutal secret service facing deportation to Iran. Last month Matas co-authored an op-ed on the Iranian military mistakenly downing Ukraine Airlines flight PS752 to argue that Canada should “designate the IRGC [Iran’s military] as a whole, and not just its foreign division, as a terrorist entity.”

Yesterday the CEO of Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre Michael Levitt article “It’s long past time to hold Iran’s regime to account” was published in the Toronto Star. It argued, “the anniversary of the downing of Flight 752 was a stark reminder of the odious regime leading Iran and its litany of crimes at home and abroad.”

The Israel lobby has been using the two-year-old tragedy – at least partly Washington’s responsibility for assassinating Iranian General Qasem Soleimani days earlier – to attack Iran. Recently the Washington-based Israel lobby group Foundation for Defence of Democracies pressed the US government to take money Iran collects from international airlines for using its airspace to pay $107 million to six Canadians killed on the flight. To weaken Israel’s rival, Irwin Cotler’s Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights has been campaigning for victims of PS752. Raoul Wallenberg Centre lawyer Yonah Diamond is representing families of PS752 victims and in July 2020 the Centre organized a webinar in which Cotler spoke titled “Pursuing Justice and Accountability: Remedies for those murdered in the bombing of flight PS752.”

Married to a “close confidant” of Likud founder Menachem Begin and with a daughter recently in Israel’s Knesset, Irwin Cotler has criticized Iran incessantly. Canada’s most influential anti-Palestinian activist is chair of the Inter-Parliamentary Group for Human Rights in Iran and set up Iran Accountability Week in Parliament. Cotler also serves as counsel to imprisoned Iranian lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh and helped get the Iranian Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK) removed from the US terrorist list. In recent years Cotler, Stephen Harper and other Canadian Zionists have promoted the MEK, which is a cultish group that backed Iraq in the 1980s Iran-Iraq war and, according to US government sources, has teamed up with Israel to assassinate Iranian scientists.

On its website B’nai B’rith has an email campaign titled “Three Ways for the Government to Combat Iran.” It calls for Ottawa to: “Apply the Magnitsky Act to members of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) to sanction its human rights abusers; List the IRGC in its entirety as a terrorist entity in Canada; Hold Iran to account for its killing of 57 Canadians on January 2020’s Flight PS572.” In 2020 B’nai Brith sued the federal government for failing to comply with a motion in Parliament to list the IRGC as a terrorist organization.

The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, the official lobbying arm of Canada’s Jewish Federations, also promotes an anti-Iran campaign titled “Maintain diplomatic pressure on the Iranian regime.” CIJA’s five demands echo those of B’nai B’rith.

In “A story of failed re-engagement: Canada and Iran, 2015–2018,” University of Ottawa professor Thomas Juneau highlighted the Israel lobby’s role in deterring the Trudeau government from re-establishing diplomatic relations with Iran, which they promised to do prior to their election: “Initially, Cabinet and most caucus supported re-engagement. [Then foreign affairs minister Stephane] Dion, who was actively lobbied by Bombardier (whose headquarters were in his riding) and the Montreal Chamber of Commerce, was especially keen. Other senior ministers such as [Chrystia] Freeland (International Trade) and Harjit Sajjan (Defence) also supported. With time, however, opposition within caucus grew. It was led by Michael Levitt, the influential MP for York-Center and chair of the Canada-Israel Interparliamentary Group, and also included Anthony Housefather (MP for Mount-Royal). These MPs had support from former minister Irwin Cotler, who had long argued for harsher policies towards Iran.”

Juneau continued, “other interviewees also highlighted the differences in organization among pressure groups. Between the tabling of the motion [to oppose reengaging with Iran] and the vote four days later, groups opposing reengagement, such as the Center for Israel and Jewish Affairs, rapidly launched an effective campaign to pressure MPs. Groups favoring reengagement, however, such as the Iranian Canadian Congress, were unable to match these lobbying efforts.”

Zionists in Canada have sought to lay obstacles to renewing diplomatic relations with Iran. An important obstacle is Ottawa listing Iran as a state sponsor of terror and seizing its diplomatic assets. In 2019 Canada seized and sold $28 million worth of Iranian properties in Ottawa and Toronto to compensate individuals in the US who had family members killed in a 2002 Hamas bombing in Israel and others who were held hostage by Hezbollah in 1986 and 1991. The Supreme Court of Canada and federal government sanctioned the seizure under the Harper Conservatives 2012 Justice for Victims of Terrorism Act, which lifts immunity for countries labeled “state sponsors of terrorism” to allow individuals to claim their non-diplomatic assets. Tehran considers the asset seizure a violation of international law and, as I detailed in “Seizure of Iranian Property to Pay Americans Another Example of Canadian Hypocrisy”, many other victims have far more legitimate claims to seizing diplomatic (US/Israeli) assets. But the asset seizure and state sponsor of terrorism listing are a major hurdle to re-establishing normal relations between Canada and Iran.

Canadian Zionists sometimes claim the notion of a powerful “Israel lobby” is an anti-Semitic “trope” but their success in disrupting promises made in the Liberal Party election campaign proves its influence.

Yves Engler is the author of 12 books. His latest book is Stand on Guard for Whom?: A People's History of the Canadian Military . Read other articles by Yves.