Real Scandal is Undermining Discussion of Tax Subsidies for Israel

Is it a coincidence that a controversy about Niki Ashton’s expenses for a one-and-a-half-year-old trip to Quebec emerged after she challenged Canada’s biggest contribution to Palestinian dispossession?

On June 13 the NDP’s revenue critic hosted a press conference at the parliamentary press gallery calling “on the Liberal government to investigate Canadian charities that allegedly funneled taxpayer money in support of Israeli military operations and illegal settlements in Palestine.” After sponsoring a parliamentary petition on the subject, Ashton posted a letter she’d sent previously to Revenue Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau demanding the government investigate charities funding Israeli military operations in Gaza and illegal Israeli settlements. Ashton ended the May 27 post noting, “Not one cent of Canadian tax-dollars should be funding genocide.”

Ashton’s statement was referenced in a public letter headlined Stop Subsidizing Genocide signed by Gabor Mate, Yann Martel, Linda McQuaig, Roger Waters, Monia Mazigh, Amir Khadir, Desmond Cole, Libby Davies, Ellen Gabriel, Alex Neve and Sarah Jama. The letter calls into question the more than a quarter billion dollars a year sent to Israel and the Canada Revenue Agency’s failure to “enforce its rules on registered charities assisting foreign militaries, racist organizations and West Bank settlements.”

June 13 was set to be an important step forward for the Just Peace Advocates and Canadian Foreign Policy Institute led “colonialism is not charity” campaign that’s been gaining steam in Palestine solidarity circles. But the Ottawa press conference was upended by the revelation Ashton charged taxpayers $17,000 for a trip she took in December 2022. According to an article published that morning by CBC parliamentary bureau reporter John Paul Tasker, Ashton brought her husband and two young children with her on a trip over the Christmas period that took them to Ottawa, Montreal and Quebec City. Ashton represents a northern Manitoba ridding so the airfare for the four of them cost $13,000. Ashton’s finances were okayed by the appropriate authorities, yet CBC Power and Politics did a 13-minute five-person discussion about Ashton’s expenses. The National Post, Winnipeg Sun, Truth North, Global News and Rebel News also reported on Ashton’s finances.

Apparently, four journalists attended the press conference and two of them asked multiple questions about Ashton’s finances, but none covered the Israel-focused charity subject. The dominant media completely ignored the substance of the presser though wide social media circulation of a clip from the press conference suggest significant interest in charities funding Israel’s genocide.

Most likely, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs or B’nai Brith shared information on Ashton’s finances to the media. They may have done so when they caught wind of the press conference or when Ashton posted on May 27 about the hyper-sensitive subject of taxpayer-subsidized charities funneling funds to Israel in contravention of CRA rules.

Likely, the Israel lobby has been keeping tabs on Ashton who has long been in their crosshairs. In 2017 the Jewish supremacist organization published a press release titled “B’nai Brith Denounces MP Niki Ashton for Standing in ‘Solidarity’ with Terrorists.” It began “B’nai Brith Canada strongly denounces federal NDP leadership candidate Niki Ashton for attending a rally this week in support of Palestinian terrorists and for questioning Israel’s right to exist in a Facebook post.”

Alternatively, journalists sat on details about Ashton’s expenses and social media posts from her husband dating back to December 2022. They then so happened to release the information just as Ashton challenged a little discussed subject that’s Canada’s most significant contribution to Palestinian dispossession.

Criticizing Ashton’s expenses serves to undercut her standing on public expenditures. As such, it was the perfect scandal to reveal about a politician challenging Israel charities laundering public funds.

But, the real scandal is how journalists either instigated or allowed themselves to be used to undermine a discussion about unlawful activity that costs taxpayers tens of millions of dollars each year to help a foreign government caught interfering in Canadian politics.

Beyond undercutting Ashton’s standing on public expenditures, it was a powerful message to the NDP. Apparently, NDP foreign critic Heather MacPherson was planning to participate in the press conference until the expenses information came to light. It will be interesting to see if the NDP and Ashton shy away from challenging Canada’s biggest contribution to Palestinian dispossession because of the ‘scandal’.

Part of why the Israel lobby likely pursued this line of response to Ashton challenging Israel charities is that they don’t have a good retort to the criticism. In addition to the large transfer of public funds, the charity issue undercuts their claim Israel is unfairly “singled out”. In fact, no other wealthy, faraway, country receives a remotely comparable amount of charity fundraising. And many of the Israel-focused registered charities violate existing CRA rules. Since 2005, for instance, the Heather Reisman and Gerry Schwartz’s HESEG Foundation has raised nearly $200 million to assist non-Israelis who join the Israeli military despite CRA rules that clearly state “supporting the armed forces of another country is not” charitable activity.

The Israel lobby is known for underhanded tactics and are likely behind the recent attack on Niki Ashton.

For those of us appalled by Israel’s holocaust in Gaza our response to this slander of Ashton must be to redouble our efforts to demand “not one cent of Canadian tax-dollars should be funding genocide.”

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.