By Yves Engler
In a sign of the brazenness of Israel’s supporters, the lead organ of Canada’s Jewish community has long received funds from and supported an organization whose raison d’être likely breaches Canadian law. But a recent legal victory could help change this sad state of affairs.
For years one of the most common advertisements in the Canadian Jewish News was for Sar-El Canada. “Express your Zionism by serving as a civilian volunteer on an Israeli army supply base”, read a regular Sar-El print ad. Another noted, “Volunteer as a Civilian worker for 2 or 3 weeks on an Israeli army supply base”.
Sar-El Canada brings about 150 Canadians to volunteer on Israeli army bases each year. They maintain the facilities, stock shelves and clean guns. According to Sar-El, the volunteers are responsible for “routine logistical support tasks normally assigned to active-duty soldiers and reservists.”
Sar-El Canada’s parent organization in Israel was set up by Israeli general Aharon Davidi four decades ago. The Israeli Defense Ministry said it “acquired services from the Sar-El organization in the area of volunteer recruitment to the IDF.”
But Canada’s Foreign Enlistment Act says, “Any person who, within Canada, recruits or otherwise induces any person or body of persons to enlist or to accept any commission or engagement [combat or non-combat] in the armed forces of any foreign state or other armed forces operating in that state is guilty of an offense.” A Justice of the Peace recently allowed a private prosecution case to move forward so Sar-El Canada will soon have to defend itself in court.
CJN received funds from Sar-El Canada for ads inducing Canadians to assist the IDF. They’ve also published numerous stories promoting the organization. “Toronto brothers volunteer for Sar-El at height of war”, “91-year-old volunteers on Israeli army base”, “Sar-El: my way to thank Israel’s soldiers”, “Sar-El promotes volunteerism in Israel”, “Sar-El program heightens Diaspora ties to Israel”, “Canadians mark Sar-El’s 25th anniversary” and “Toronto artist’s mural unites Israeli army base” are some CJN headlines about the organization.
The Sar-El articles and ads reflect the impunity with which Zionists operate. They openly violate – skirt at minimum – Canadian law with little consequence. When a dossier of evidence detailing how Sar-El Canada violated the Foreign Enlistment Act was brought to the attention of the federal government and Toronto Police they both failed to act. It’s only because lawyer Shane Martinez diligently pursued a private prosecution on behalf of claimants Palestinian-Canadian Rehab Nazzal and Rabbi David Mivasair that Sar-El will have to respond to evidence they are violating the Foreign Enlistment Act.
While Sar-El Canada will obviously be angered by having to defend themselves in court, other Israel lobby groups should also be troubled. A slew of organizations from Nefesh-B’Nefesh to United Jewish Appeal Toronto, Leo Baeck School to the Israeli consulate in Toronto, have recruited/induced Canadians to join/assist the Israeli military.
Sar-El Canada’s legal troubles put those groups on notice. In fact, they began to face pressure on the issue when a campaign was launched two years ago to oppose illegal Israeli recruitment. At the time a formal legal complaint was delivered to Justice Minister David Lametti detailing recruitment for the IDF and an open letter was released demanding the Trudeau government take action on illegal Israeli recruitment. It received front page attention in Le Devoir and wide coverage in left wing and pro-Palestinian media.
Generally quick to denounce pro-Palestinian activists “toxic obsession with Israel”, the Israel lobby has basically stayed mum on a campaign suggesting they are engaged in criminal activity. They understand that publicly denouncing the anti-recruitment campaign would draw attention to an issue difficult to defend. The potential illegality of the recruitment is embarrassing and promoting a foreign army rests uneasily with even right-wing nationalist thinking, which is generally sympathetic to an anti-Palestinian outlook.
Don’t expect CIJA, B’nai B’rith, Honest Reporting Canada, Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre and the other Israel lobby groups to comment publicly on Sar-El Canada’s legal troubles. They are more likely to quietly push the Crown to intervene or assist Sar-El with its legal defence.
But the case has significant implications for Israel supporters. Shutting down a group assisting the Israeli military in Canada would be an important victory, which could impact Sar-El elsewhere.
While Sar-El reportedly saves the IDF more than $14 million a year, the organization also serves an ideological function. It seeks to connect Jewish communities to the Israeli military or as the group puts it “we build a stronger link between the I.D.F. and the Diaspora”. The bevy of ads and articles promoting the organization in the Canadian Jewish News reflects this.
It will be interesting to see how that paper responds to Sar-El Canada’s legal troubles.