By Paul Graham – Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
A few days ago, Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger announced his government’s intention to deepen economic and cultural relations with Israel.
"Manitoba and Israel have common interests in clean energy, water quality and conservation. These interests provide the opportunities to share knowledge and strengthen our education and economic relationships and partnership," Selinger said in a news release.
Water Stewardship Minister Christine Melnick, and Innovation, Energy and Mines Minister Dave Chomiak will join Selinger on the trade mission, Oct. 15-20, which is sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg. Selinger said he plans to sign partnership agreements, help promote the Royal Winnipeg Ballet 70th anniversary tour of Israel and dedicate a park designed to promote peace.
Early opposition to Selinger plans has been expressed by bloggers such as myself, but more organized campaigns are beginning to take shape.
“We remain unreservedly disappointed with the Manitoba government’s ever-deepening ties with reprobate Israel — especially as Premier Selinger’s visit falls upon the heels of Israel’s universally condemned attack and wanton killing of civilians aboard the Mavi Marmara humanitarian aid flotilla,” says Krishna Lalbiharie of Canada-Palestine Support Network (Winnipeg). “As ever, we will lobby the Manitoba NDP to disengage from all relations with Israel, and will continue to coordinate actions and campaigns in support of national and international BDS efforts and humanitarian aid fund raising.”
“Peace Alliance Winnipeg is asking Premier Selinger to consider the impact his visit has in terms of legitimizing Israel’s denial of Palestinian rights and the extremely harsh conditions it imposes on the daily life of the people of Gaza and the West Bank,” says Peace Alliance Winnipeg chairperson Glenn Michalchuk. “We are asking people to write to Selinger and make known their opposition.”
Selinger is unlikely to change his mind. Support for Israel saturates the psyche of Manitoba’s business and political elites. While the premier is leader of the provincial wing of the New Democratic Party — a party that claims to stand for social justice — the federal NDP has been unwilling to take clear stands and the leadership of the provincial party has been steadfast in its support of Israel, at times to the point of ridiculousness.
For example, in June, B’nai Brith Canada complained about a question on the Grade 12 provincial language arts exam that, it claimed, could promote hatred of Israel. Almost breathlessly, provincial Education Minister Nancy Allan exclaimed that she had directed department of education staff to find out how the question got on the exam, and "to make sure this doesn’t happen again."
The offending question — “Explain whether or not you think people in the entertainment industry have a responsibility for making the world a better place?" — was asked with reference to an essay entitled “Over the Rocks and Stones” by pop star Chantal Kreviazuk. Among many other things totally unrelated to questions of human suffering, Kreviazuk’s essay describes the struggle for life of a badly injured Palestinian boy and his family’s pain. An objective reader would be hard pressed to find evidence that hatred of Israel was being promoted.
Allan’s eagerness to roll over for B’nai Brith was widely ridiculed; even the Winnipeg Free Press editorial board concluded that Allan had been too easily stampeded, that she should “respond rationally” in situations like this and “let the department do its work free of political meddling and public nitpicking.”
Unfortunately, the NDP’s uncritical support for Israel extends tragically beyond farce. Last year, in the midst of Operation Cast Lead, the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg organized a Stand with Israel rally that was attended by 800 pro-Israel supporters (inside) and 30 protestors (outside). Among the insiders was the NDP’s Dave Chomiak who, along with other politicians, showed support by speaking to the crowd.
"The enemy and the fear are terrorists who know no limits," said Chomiak, placing all of the blame for the invasion of Gaza on Hamas, which he considers a terrorist organization.
When applied to Israel, the word “apartheid” strikes terror in the hearts of New Democrats. In March, 2010, former federal Member of Parliament and now Winnipeg mayoralty candidate Judy Wasylycia-Leis, commenting after a Conservative resolution condemning Israeli Apartheid Week failed procedurally to make it onto the floor for discussion, said “I have always taken the position that the use of the word ‘apartheid’ in the context of Israel is hateful and hurtful.”
Speaking in the debate of a similar motion, this time in the Manitoba Provincial Legislature in April, Minister Chomiak went a lot farther, declaring:
“Firstly, the A-word, which I won’t even use in this Legislature, to talk about Israel is inaccurate. Notwithstanding the–in fact, Jimmy, when Jimmy Carter used that A-word I was disgusted. It’s the wrong word. It applies inaccurately. It does not apply to Israel in no shape or form. It diminishes what happened in South Africa and all the efforts the Canadian and other governments did to get rid of the A-process. And the problem with the A-word is it’s inflammatory, and it causes difficulty. So I won’t even state that word in this Chamber.”
Provincial politicians are, well, provincial. Despite Greg Selinger’s PhD from the London School of Economics, he thinks he has to play to the sentiments of the hometown crowd – perceived to be ill informed, conditioned by decades of Zionist propaganda, misguided and sometimes mean-spirited. Selinger and his cronies have failed to grasp that even if their constituents don’t understand the reality of Palestinian oppression, the world community does. And world disapproval can be bad for business.
(If you want to help educate them, you can email Premier Greg Selinger at email@example.com.)
– Paul Graham is a member of Peace Alliance Winnipeg. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. Visit: http://paulsgraham.ca.