By Yves Engler – Ottawa
Last week, Canada’s House of Commons unanimously passed a private member’s bill to establish a national Holocaust monument. While it is a good thing to commemorate the suffering of Jews in Europe, it is important to point out that uncritical support for Israel is part of the backdrop.
Edmonton Conservative MP Tim Uppal, who introduced the private member’s bill, explained last year: “After I had decided on [accepting Minister Peter Kent’s proposal to put forward An Act to Establish a National Holocaust Monument], I ended up going to Israel with the Canada Israel Committee in July. Being there, and learning what I did about the Holocaust and Israel, just made me feel more reassured that this was the right thing to do and get this bill passed.”
Speaking in favour of the bill last week, Winnipeg NDP MP Jim Maloway also connected the planned monument to Israel. “I had the privilege and pleasure of traveling to Israel. … It was a very inspiring visit … I was amazed to see the progress made by Israel in turning deserts into productive lands and cultivating crops in the middle of the desert.”
Alongside its ardent support for Israel, Stephen Harper’s Conservative government has promoted the commemoration of Nazi crimes and the idea that anti-Semitism is worse than other forms of oppression. Concurrently, they’ve repeatedly conflated criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism.
During a July 2007 meeting of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Canada supported the appointment of a representative to the chair to report on anti-Semitism. Despite calls for a change in OSCE policy, Ottawa supported recognizing prejudice against Jews as a unique phenomenon, not one among many forms of bigotry. The OSCE meeting condemned all forms of racism, discrimination and “aggressive nationalism” but added: “Recognizing its unique and historic character, [we] condemn anti- Semitism without reservation, whether expressed in a traditional manner or through new forms and manifestations.”
In mid-2009 the Conservatives created a National Task Force on Holocaust Research, Remembrance and Education. Headed by the fanatically pro-Israel group B’nai Brith, the Conservatives invested $1 million in the project.
This Task Force was tied to a similar European initiative. In 2007 Ottawa applied to join the Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance and Research, an organization that included 24 European nations and the U.S. Created in 1998 the group promotes education of the genocide against European Jewry and “the unprecedented character of the Holocaust.”
An outgrowth of the Holocaust Task Force, the first ever Interparliamentary Coalition to Combat anti-Semitism meeting was held in London in February 2009. A number of conference participants expressed opposition to the growing boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign and Canada’s representative, Minister Jason Kenney, said “The argument is with those whose premise is that Israel itself is an abomination and that the Jews alone have no right to a homeland. And in that sense anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism.”
Last month Ottawa hosted and funded the second meeting of the Interparliamentary Coalition to Combat anti-Semitism. Prime Minister Harper told those gathered that “as long as I am prime minister, whether it is at the UN or the Francophonie or anywhere else, Canada will take that stand [in support of Israel], whatever the cost. Not just because it is the right thing to do, but because history shows us, and the ideology of the anti-Israeli mob tells us all too well, that those who threaten the existence of the Jewish people are a threat to all of us.”
He went on to say that this “hateful ideology with global ambitions … targets the Jewish people by targeting the Jewish homeland, Israel, as the source of injustice and conflict in the world, and uses, perversely, the language of human rights to do so.”
Associated with the Interparliamentary Coalition to Combat anti-Semitism the Canadian Parliamentary Coalition to Combat Anti-Semitism (CPCCA) was formed last year to investigate what it describes as “this oldest and most enduring of hatreds.” Yet Canada has changed significantly since Jews fleeing Hitler were refused entry and elite social clubs restricted their access. There is little anti-Semitism in Canada today, which even CPCCA architect Irwin Cotler has acknowledged.
The CPCCA is not designed to combat racism against Jews, but rather to undercut growing public support for the Palestinian cause. Cotler and Jason Kenney are trying to intimidate reporters, academics, union leaders and other public figures into staying away from criticizing Israel, lest they be accused of anti-Semitism.
In The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering, Norman Finkelstein argues that the American Jewish establishment has exploited the memory of the Nazi Holocaust for financial and political gain and to further the interests of Israel. Finkelstein claims that discussion of the Nazi Holocaust grew exponentially after the June 1967 Six Day war. Prior to that war, which provided a decisive service to U.S. geopolitical aims in the Middle East, the genocide of European Jewry was a topic largely relegated to private forums and among left wing intellectuals. Paralleling the U.S., the Nazi Holocaust was not widely discussed in Canada in the two decades after World War II. In fact, the Canadian Jewish Congress consciously avoided the subject.
Numerous other commentators also trace the established Jewish community’s interest in Nazi crimes to the Six Day War. “The 1967 war,” explained Professor Cyril Leavitt, “alarmed Canadian Jews. Increasingly, the Holocaust was invoked as a reminder of the need to support the Jewish state.” President of the Vancouver Jewish Community Center, Sam Rothstein concurred. “The 1967 war … was the one development that led to a commitment by community organizations to become more involved in Holocaust commemoration. … Stephen Cummings, the founder of the Montreal Holocaust Memorial Center, said that ‘consciousness [of the Holocaust] has changed. Jews are much more proud, and that’s a post-1967 [phenomenon]. It was the event that gave Jews around the world confidence.’”
Holocaust memorials proliferated after Israel smashed Egyptian-led pan-Arabism in six days of fighting. Nearly three decades after World War II, in 1972, the Canadian Jewish Congress and its local federations began to establish standing committees on the Nazi Holocaust. The first Canadian Holocaust memorial was established in Montreal in 1977.
Nazi crimes, particularly Canada’s various ties to these atrocities, should be widely studied and commemorated.
The Nazi Holocaust, however, should not be used as ideological cover for Israeli crimes. That is an injustice to Palestinians and an insult to Hitler’s victims.
– Yves Engler is the author of Canada and Israel: Building Apartheid and the Black Book of Canadian Foreign Policy. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. Visit: http://yvesengler.com.