December 17, 2005
Exchange between Ron Saba and Alexa McDonough regarding her membership in the Parliamentary Canada-Israel Friendship Group Madame McDonough,
A reader of the Montreal Planet forwarded an e-mail addressed to me and authored by you and your assistant (reproduced below). I did not receive any such correspondence from you, but I will in any case respond.
In the July 2002 article titled "Against Israeli Apartheid" which appeared in the International Herald Tribune, The Nation Magazine, Atlanta Journal and Constitution, The Morning Call (Allentown, PA), Cairo Times, Middle East Times and Manila Times, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Desmond Tutu and Ian Urbina called for a boycott of Israel and pointed out that South Africans, including Nelson Mandela, recognized the parallels to what they went through.
No one can doubt Desmond Tutu's ability to identify Apartheid. His assessment, which is seconded by human rights activists around the world, was also echoed by several Israeli notables, including Michael Ben-Yair, Attorney General of Israel from 1993 to 1996 who stated that "In effect, we established an apartheid regime in the occupied territories immediately following their capture. That oppressive regime exists to this day", and Shulamit Aloni, Former Israeli Minister of Education and Culture who declared that "Israel, in fact is no different from racist South Africa"
On July 9 of this year, Palestinian civil society and human rights activists from around the world, including human rights groups in Canada, called for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel until it complies with international law and Universal Principles of human rights. You can view their statement at:
The following is an excerpt:
"Inspired by the struggle of South Africans against apartheid and in the spirit of international solidarity, moral consistency and resistance to injustice and oppression,
We, representatives of Palestinian civil society, call upon international civil society organizations and people of conscience all over the world to impose broad boycotts and implement divestment initiatives against Israel similar to those applied to South Africa in the apartheid era."
In the House of Commons on April 6 of this year, MP Marlene Jennings, described the Canada Israel Friendship Group (which she Chairs) as follows:
"This unique forum allows parliamentarians of all parties to join together in their common SUPPORT for Israel, a fellow democracy and the strongest Canadian ally in the region.
"Our purpose is to foster better relations between Canada and Israel by focussing on our SHARED VALUES, our common interests and the undeniable benefits gained from sharing and cooperating together."
In a letter sent to the Montreal Planet Magazine on May 20, 2005, MP Marlene Jennings, who was in fact writing in her capacity as Chair of the Canada-Israel Friendship Group, stated that: "Israel is not an apartheid state - repeating it does not make it so." Later, she goes on to say "The differences between apartheid South Africa and Israel are enormous and the comparison is baseless and partisan."
The Canada Israel Friendship Group has held a roundtable discussion and a speaking tour event with the Canada Israel Committee, one of the key organs
of the pro-Israel lobby in Canada. I don't believe any reasonable person would doubt that to have supported the government of South Africa in the 1980's was to have supported Apartheid. Furthermore, a person who had been a member of a Parliamentary Friendship Group whose stated purpose was to foster friendship with and support the South African government of P.W. Botha would certainly have been classified at the time as a supporter of Apartheid. Any claims by such a person that they simultaneously supported the human rights struggles of the Black South Africans would have been met with derision.
Based on the foregoing, it is reasonable to state that: 1) Israel is an Apartheid State, 2) the Canada Israel Friendship Group supports Israel, and 3) if someone supports an Apartheid state, that person supports Apartheid. It is well known in Canada that many members of the Canada Israel Friendship Group, including Irwin Cotler, have written papers, given speeches and spoken out against mere CRITICISM of Israel, let alone boycott, divestment and sanctions.
In addition, it would not be an exaggeration to say that the position of the Canada Israel Friendship Group would be total opposition to boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel and to the efforts of pro-Palestinian human rights groups in Canada.
I would like to think that MP's who support the struggle of the Palestinians would come together to form a group pushing for a boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel, but sadly that hasn't happened. In fact, over the past few months, human rights activists in Canada have been greatly disappointed by the changing direction of our government's foreign policy towards the Middle East and the surprising silence of our MPs. On November 14 Prime Minister Paul Martin stated that "Israel's values are Canada's values", despite the fact that Tutu and other leaders have spoken out against Israel's Apartheid policies and that Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and B'tselem and all other major human rights groups have for years condemned Israel's human rights violations and crimes against humanity. I have not been able to find any public statements by any MPs who have spoken out in opposition to PM Martin's odious statement.
Canada changed three of its votes on December 1 at the UN, contradicting longstanding Canadian policy on Palestine and putting Canada in the dubious
company of the US, Israel and a handful of tiny Pacific Islands who stand in opposition to overwhelming world opinion on a just settlement in the Middle East. I am not aware of any MP's who have made public statements condemning Canada's changed votes. And finally, despite the abovementioned call by Palestinian civil society for the world community to Boycott Israeli Apartheid, along with the weekly vigils and anti apartheid protests held in cities all over Canada, I am not aware of any MP who has stood up in the House of Commons to publicly demand that Canada boycott Apartheid Israel.
Ron Saba, Editor
Montreal Planet Magazine
Dear Mr. XXXX and Mr. XXXX,
I have attached Alexa's response to Mr. Saba for your information:
Dear Mr. Saba,
In your December 9 Montreal Planet Magazine article, entitled "Forty-Three MPs Who Support Israeli Apartheid" you maliciously and erroneously characterized me as a supporter of Apartheid. I am outraged that you made no attempt to ask why I joined the Parliamentary Canada-Israel Friendship Group. I have only to conclude that your objective was to inflame, not inform your readers.
I hope in a spirit of responsible journalism that you will allow me to outline my party's record on addressing the Israeli - Palestinian conflict. The NDP supports Palestinians' right to a safe and secure homeland, and Israel's right to exist.
The NDP has also taken an unequivocal stand against Israel's continued occupation of Palestine, its state-sanctioned killings, its collective punishment of Palestinian families, building of the Apartheid Wall inside the green line, restriction of Palestinians' movement in the West Bank and Gaza, use of torture against Palestinian prisoners, and spread of settlements within the Occupied Territories.
During my recent trip to Israel and Palestine earlier this year, I took every opportunity to advance the cause for peace and an end to the violence that has cost too many lives on both sides of the border.
I joined the Canada-Israel Friendship Group because I am firmly committed to creating as many opportunities as possible within Canada, to dialogue with progressive Canadian-Israelis who share our values and work hard alongside Canadian-Palestinians for a peaceful and just solution to this intractable conflict. My membership in the friendship group has provided me with valuable opportunities to do just that.
I am keenly aware that many members of the Canada-Israel Friendship Group do not share my values. Many regrettably, have a distinct bias in favour of the Sharon's administration. It would be hypocritical, however, to work for peaceful resolution of this conflict and to encourage greater dialogue among progressive members of these two Canadian communities, while rejecting membership in a Parliamentary forum that offers opportunities to bridge these painful divides.
I have for the same reasons, joined the Parliamentary Canada-US Friendship Group in order to build on my relations with progressive Americans who share our objections to George Bush's policies.
To be clear, I have and will continue to oppose those Ariel Sharon policies that violate the rights of Palestinians and impose suffering on innocent men, women and children. However, I reject any calls against Israel's right to exist.
In this emotionally charged and long-standing conflict, it is irresponsible and simplistic to pit Israelis against Palestinians. We must work to ensure that the debate not disintegrate into calling into question the right of each country to exist, but rather, build on positive ideas that can one day lead to lasting peace through respectful dialogue across a table, not at the barrel of a gun.
Alexa McDonough, NDP Candidate in Halifax
NDP Foreign Affairs and International Development Critic
NDP Peace Advocate
Assistant to Alexa McDonough
NDP Candidate for Halifax
Getting results for the people of Halifax.