#AirCanadaComplicity: Air Canada and Israel Aerospace Industries

In this photo from 2012, late Israeli President Shimon Peres shakes the hand of Air Canada General Manager, Ruth Ben Tzur. (Photo: cija.ca, file)

By Marion Kawas 

July 8, 2014 marked the beginning of 51 days of hell for Gaza and its civilian population. July 8, 2014 was the start of the last brutal Israeli military attack on Gaza which killed over 2200 Palestinians, at least one-quarter of those children, and wounded tens of thousands more. Now, 3 years later, many Gazans are still suffering the effects of that and previous assaults, and it is time for global action to put an end to Israeli war crimes, and shame all those who are enabling them.

In April of this year, the Palestinian-led BDS movement called “for immediate international action towards implementing a comprehensive military embargo on Israel, similar to that imposed against apartheid South Africa in the past”. 

And the Canadian BDS coalition is answering that call; it has just adopted and re-launched a major national campaign to tell Air Canada to end its blatant complicity with these war crimes. This follows up on the work done by BDS activists in Vancouver after they first learnt that Air Canada was outsourcing maintenance for its B787 and B767 jets to Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), which is wholly owned by the government of Israel.

IAI was initially founded in 1953 to meet the needs of the fledgling Israeli Air Force and brags on its website that its “scope has expanded to include technologically sophisticated solutions for battle in the air, at sea or on land” and that it has “contributed significantly” to the “strategic superiority” of the Israeli military.

Known as a drone pioneer, its website goes on to say that, “Over the years, IAI has applied the skills and experience it acquired in catering to Israel’s security needs to capitalize on opportunities in export markets…”.

To put that more bluntly and to use the most recent example, companies like IAI have used Gaza and its civilian population as a human laboratory for developing and then advancing the global marketing of their military technology and equipment.

This is the kind of company Air Canada is dealing with; the kind of company that is receiving some portion of your ticket money if you fly Air Canada; the kind of company that is directly responsible for the deaths of Palestinian civilians and children and regards them as a weapons testing ground.

This past week, Narenda Modi became the first-ever Indian Prime Minister to visit Israel. As he moves India ever further to the right and increasingly closer with Israel, they have now become Israel’s biggest arms market, thought to be worth about $1bn per year.

That emphasis on military cooperation has been spearheaded in large part by Israel Aerospace Industries, who announced in April of this year that they had been awarded several contracts in India totaling almost $2.0 billion, considered to be Israel’s largest ever defense deal; it involved IAI providing advanced air & missile defense systems to the Indian Army.

And during Modi’s visit, there were more contracts for IAI involving the purchase of dozens of unmanned aerial vehicles (drones, IAI’s original specialty). Not only is the Indian government completely flaunting the Palestinian-led BDS movement call for military embargo on Israel, it seems to be on a mission to sustain the Israeli military defense industry all on its own!

As the BDS movement marks 12 years of effective growth, many groups internationally are taking up the call to intensify the military embargo campaign. Activists in the U.K. just wrapped up a successful week of actions, including shutting down the Elbit Factory (another deadly drone manufacturer) in Shenstone for 2 days.

The Canadian BDS Coalition has begun with this stepped-up national campaign against Air Canada’s partnering with Israel Aerospace Industries. But there are also many other areas of concern in both Canadian official institutions and corporate culture.

For example, another Israel Aerospace Industries subsidiary, Elta Systems, along with Rheinmetall-Canada were awarded the Medium Range Radar (MRR) program by the Canadian Department of National Defense (DND) in July 2015. “I am very happy that this week saw another important step forward in our bilateral ties with the government of Canada awarding Rheinmetall Canada a contract for 10 radars based on Israel’s ELTA Systems’ Iron Dome technology,” said Rafael Barak, Israel’s ambassador to Canada at the time.

And after the 2008-9 Israeli bombardment of Gaza, the Ottawa group Coalition to Oppose the Arms Trade did an exhaustive study involving over 100 Canadian companies that are directly or indirectly (through supplying U.S. defense companies) linked to exports supplying Israel’s military force.

As well, there is Canadian corporate complicity involving other massive violations of Palestinian rights.

The Canadian company Bombardier, the recipient of significant government financing over the years, is supplying Israel with the trains that will run on the high-speed A1 line, which crosses into the occupied West Bank.

There is convincing evidence of the illegality of this project under international law, and Deutsche Bahn, the German railway operator, already pulled out in 2011.

The BADIL Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights noted the objections to the rail line this way: “In blatant violation of its obligations under international humanitarian and human rights law, Israel as the occupying power has, without military necessity, expropriated privately owned Palestinian land with the aim of constructing permanent infrastructure, ostensibly to serve the needs of its own civilian population.”

Canadian magazine Briarpatch recently published a comprehensive article on both Bombardier’s activities and shared government complicity that concluded: “As the BDS movement grows internationally, Canadians can and should play an important role in challenging the Canadian state and corporations like Bombardier.”

Indeed, such shared complicity seems to be a constant theme. Due to its history as a public and then Crown Corporation, outsourcing of Air Canada’s maintenance work was originally deemed illegal, but the current Canadian government changed the law in June 2016 to allow for it. And in a bizarre footnote, it was openly reported that the government proposed the changes to “the three-decades-old laws that govern the airline after it (Air Canada) agreed to purchase Bombardier Inc.’s CSeries jets.” Yes, that same Bombardier of the illegal A1 train line. Now this is public-private partnering taken to a whole new level!

The Coalition in its campaign is also sending out a global request to all supporters of Palestinian rights to sign and share their new petition(text is in both English and French). Air Canada flies to 1300 airports in 200+ cities on six continents, including direct routes to several Arab capitals.  It should not be “business as usual” for Air Canada anywhere as long as it maintains this shameful outsourcing to Israel Aerospace Industries. We owe that much at least to the Palestinian people, especially those who have been so robbed of any chance at life and dignity.

The Canadian government reportedly spent half a billion dollars to celebrate “Canada 150”, or as many progressive and indigenous activists have pointed out, to celebrate 150 years of indigenous genocide. And Air Canada is doing its part to maintain that legacy, by contributing to the destruction and dispossession of another indigenous people, the Palestinians. 


– Marion Kawas is a pro-Palestinian writer and activist, and a member of BDS Vancouver-Coast Salish. This article was contributed to PalestineChronicle.com.

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