Canada’s pro-Palestinian advocacy groups are working to delegitimize the state of Israel.
Organizations within Canada’s Israel advocacy network have a decidedly conservative bias. But on the opposite side of the Mideast conflict, another ideological bias exists: The Palestinian advocacy network in this country is dominated by radical leftist activists and groups. Such advocates in Canada overrepresent the viewpoint of a radical section of Palestinian popular opinion, and thus only help to further polarize the debate.
Problematically, these individuals and organizations support a one-state solution, either directly or indirectly through the “right of return,” a proposal that would allow all pre-1948 Palestinian refugees and their descendants to return to their areas of origin in present-day Israel. Instead of promoting sensible and humane policies for the solution of the Israel-Palestine conflict, these ideologues advocate extreme positions. The far left’s commitment to the one-state solution can thus be seen as either a form of naive utopianism or an attempt to delegitimize Israel’s right to exist.
The right of return is impractical, because it would lead to the destruction of Israel as a Jewish state. Israelis can’t be expected to approve the elimination of their country. In 2009, Israel had about 7.7 million people, of whom about 5.8 million (75 per cent) were Jewish. If all 4.6 million Palestinian refugees and their descendants returned to Israel, the country’s population would be 53 per cent non-Jewish.
Further complicating the right-of-return idea is the status of Jews who were expelled from Mideast countries after the creation of Israel in 1948. Between 800,000 and one million Jews were forced out of their homes, compared with 725,000 Palestinians who became refugees in the 1940s. If Israel is expected to compensate Palestinian refugees, surely Jewish refugees should be compensated by the Mideast states that were allies of the Palestinians.
Unfortunately, the overwhelming majority of pro-Palestinian groups in Canada support the right of return, the right of compensation, or both (e.g., the Boycott Israeli Apartheid Campaign, Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East, the Canada Palestine Support Network, the Canada Palestine Association, the Canadian Peace Alliance, the Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid, Independent Jewish Voices Canada, Not in Our Name, Palestinian and Jewish Unity, Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights, and Tadamon!). Most Palestinian advocates in Canada probably realize that the right of return is not practicable, but insist on it as a means to discredit Israel. This is a rather disingenuous way of promoting “peace.”
One of the main initiatives by which Canada’s Palestinian advocacy network promotes the delegitimization of Israel is the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. Although purportedly aimed against Israel’s illegal settlements in the West Bank, the BDS movement targets all of the county’s products and international relationships. For instance, in April the Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid attacked Toronto’s Hot Docs international film festival for plans to take part in a documentary forum in Tel Aviv. The aim of the BDS movement seems to be the complete academic, cultural, economic, and political isolation of Israel. Although Israel’s West Bank settlements are clearly indefensible and a barrier to peace, I am unclear as to why the entire country should be singled out for a boycott.
The radicalism of Canada’s Palestinian advocacy network is also seen in its hostility toward moderate Palestinian leaders and its sympathy for the Hamas regime in Gaza. In a recent press release, Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East argues that the United States and Israel backed Fatah in instigating a coup to force Hamas out of the West Bank in 2007. In fact, that’s far from the truth: Hamas took over Gaza after pulling out of a unity government with Fatah.
The Canadian Palestine Association accuses Fatah of “complicity” in the “murder” of Yasser Arafat. Tadamon! refuses to condemn terrorism, and “considers that the western insistence on ‘non-violence’ in anti-imperialist movements works to deflect attention away from the considerable violence – direct and structural – by means of which western states and their allies advance projects of domination.”
Those with extreme views within the Palestinian advocacy network also specialize in bringing extremist public speakers to Canada. The Canadian Peace Alliance attempted to bring former British MP George Galloway to Canada for a tour in 2009. Galloway, now a commentator for the Iranian-controlled Press TV, was banned by the Canadian government for his activities with a charity named Viva Palestine, which gave humanitarian donations directly to Hamas. After a protracted legal struggle, he was allowed into the country last fall to speak.
Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East has recently sponsored a number of public lectures by Norman Finkelstein, a prolific critic of Israel. Opposition to Finkelstein’s appearance at Mohawk College in Hamilton, Ont., almost led to the event’s cancellation. In both cases, attempts to silence these men have only given them ideological ammunition and helped to promote their cause.
But it is noteworthy that these Palestinian advocacy groups would spend so much effort and money to bring these individuals to Canada. Galloway, an ardent supporter of the former regime of Saddam Hussein, and Finkelstein, an apologist for Hamas, are hardly the ideal individuals to turn to for promoting peace in the Middle East.
Where is the Canadian support for moderates like Salam Fayyad, the prime minister of the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank? So-called “Fayyadism,” a combination of economic growth, security, and governmental transparency, presents a promising way forward for the Palestinian people. This moderate approach is also a powerful weapon against the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories.
As Yossi Sarid wrote last November in Haaretz, “Fayyad is gradually undermining and invalidating Israel’s traditional arguments: He has brought security, but there is still no peace. He meets PA President Mahmoud Abbas’ extremism with moderation. Dangerous he is: He will kill us with moderation.” Canada’s Palestinian advocacy groups are almost completely silent about Fayyad, a leader who is contributing so much to the Palestinian cause.
I am inclined to argue that the approach of most pro-Palestinian advocates in Canada is not really about supporting the welfare of Palestinians. Rather, this pro-Palestinian position is a sort of “transitional demand,” to borrow a term from Marxist theory. Such a demand is considered impracticable by its promoters, but is supported nonetheless because of its propaganda value. Radical leftists consider Israel to be an embodiment of international capitalism, and thus an attack on it is an attack on the system.
Israel may certainly be criticized on many counts. Settlements continue to be built in the West Bank and the Israeli occupation continues, despite the cessation of significant terrorist attacks. The current blockade of Gaza is clearly unsustainable in the long term. But instead of focusing on such specific grievances or promoting dialogue, the radicals in Canada’s Palestinian advocacy network merely promote partisan, anti-Israel, and impossible solutions to the conflict.
It is no wonder that a majority of Canadians are disinterested and exhausted by the issue.
Photo courtesy of Reuters.