Stolen Computers, Witch Hunts, a Man Driven to his Death Ultra-Zionism Runs Amok in Harper’s Canada
Stolen Computers, Witch Hunts, a Man Driven to his Death Ultra-Zionism Runs Amok in Harper’s Canada
By Sarah Kamal
“Prime Minister Harper has made it quite clear for some time now and has regularly stated that an attack on Israel would be considered an attack on Canada.”
– Peter Kent, junior minister of foreign affairs, Canada
It has been a rude awakening. For years, Canadians have looked at the U.S.A. with a sense of smug superiority. Ours had been Canada the good: land of tolerance, universal healthcare, multiculturalism, and peacekeeping. But now, after four years of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s fanatic dogmatism, Canadians are facing the prospect of becoming more American than the Americans, with Harper’s ideological attack dogs taking down long-standing liberal institutions, government policy exacerbating divisions along ethnic lines, and Israel’s national interests apparently more important than those of the Canadian public. The recent scandal surrounding the Canadian human rights institution, Rights and Democracy (R&D), highlights Harper’s underhanded tactics and contempt for pluralism, as well as his sedulous pandering to right-wing religious extremists.
Rights and Democracy was created by an act of Parliament in 1988 by the Conservative government of Brian Mulroney. Its function was to promote rights defined in the U.N.’s International Bill of Human Rights internationally. Government-funded yet arm’s-length, R&D was independent of partisan politics yet secure in its core financing. Mulroney appointed a social democrat who had been the leader of an opposing political party as its first president to establish R&D’s nonpartisan identity. Succeeding Liberal and Conservative governments continued supporting the institution and maintained a tradition of appointing presidents of diverse background, in unanimity with the opposition parties, to head R&D.
Canada’s foreign policy was uncontentious for the most part, with Canada maintaining evenhandedness and a somewhat self-aggrandizing perception of its role in peacekeeping. Harper broke sharply with this tradition. Before gaining power, Harper argued successfully for the unification of the two right-wing parties in Canada, the Progressive Conservatives and Canadian Alliance (which he led), to fight the “system of moral relativism, moral neutrality and moral equivalency” of the left. He trolled for issues that would unite social conservatives across denominations and faiths to create a “coalition of the willing.” Foreign policy in particular needed what Harper, parroting U.S. neocons, termed “moral insights on right and wrong.”
Elected prime minister in 2006, Harper embarked on a policy of rabid support for Israel, notoriously calling Israel’s bombing of Lebanon a “measured” response to Hezbollah’s holding two Israeli soldiers, and siding with the U.S.A. in rejecting calls for deploying an international peacekeeping force during the crisis. His was also the first government, before even that of Israel or the United States, to announce that it would not participate in the Durban Review Conference (or, U.N. World Conference Against Racism) in Geneva in 2009, claiming that the conference would promote anti-Semitism. His Israelat-all-costs policy won Harper plaudits from predictable quarters, including the first International Leadership Award from the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations
in December 2008, and the Presidential Gold Medallion for Humanitarianism from B’nai Brith International in June 2008.
This year, along with the G8 and G20 meetings, Canada is hosting the second meeting of the Inter-Parliamentary Coalition for Combating Anti-Semitism (ICCA), which “brings together Parliamentarians from around the world to lead the fight against resurgent global
anti-Semitism.” The ICCA, which held its inaugural meeting in London in 2009, boasted a delegation of 11 Canadian parliamentarians who, upon return to Canada, set up the Canadian Parliamentary Committee to Combat Anti-Semitism (CPCCA). The CPCCA announced itself ready to receive reports
on anti-Semitism in 2009.
In 2009, NGO Monitor, a group based in Jerusalem whose proclaimed objective “is to end the practice used by certain self-declared ‘humanitarian NGOs’ of exploiting the label ‘universal human rights values’ to promote politically and ideologically motivated anti-Israel agendas,” submitted a carefully targeted report on Canadian NGOs. NGO Monitor described Alternatives, an international solidarity and development nongovernmental organization, as intensely hostile to Israel. Four months later, Alternatives announced that its funding from the Canadian government for programming in Haiti, Iraq, Republic of the Congo, Afghanistan, and Central America was no longer certain. At this point, Alternatives has still not received any funding.
In the same report, NGO Monitor also blacklisted the Canadian Arab Federation, an organization mandated to pursue Canadian Arab interests. The Federation had its funding for language
classes cut by the minister of citizenship and immigration, Jason Kenney, because of what Kenney charged were its anti-Semitic views. A third NGO in the NGO Monitor’s report, Palestine House Educational, reported that a Canadian journalist had threatened to take information about them to minister Kenney. The potential for McCarthyism in Harper’s vision for Canada is all too
Perhaps the most high-profile Israel policy-related funding cut, however, was suffered by KAIROS: Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiatives. KAIROS, a multidenominational Christian aid
organization working for social justice, represents the seven largest church denominations in Canada. It had $7 million [all sums in Canadian dollars] – approximately half of its budget – cut in November 2009, severing a 35-year funding relationship with the Canadian International Development Agency
(CIDA). The minister of International Cooperation, Bev Oda, said KAIROS’ funding was not renewed because its programming did not fit with CIDA’s priorities. Then, on December 16, 2009, minister Kenney told an audience at the Global Forum for Combating Anti-Semitism that KAIROS was defunded for “taking a leadership role” in the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions campaign. KAIROS responded by pointing to its 2007 board of directors’ decision against “advocating sanctions against Israel or a
boycott of products from Israel.” KAIROS also said that the word KAIROS in Greek means God’s time, and that a document by Palestinian church leaders named “Kairos Palestine, 2009: A Moment of
Truth” that called for a boycott of Israeli goods was unrelated to KAIROS Canada.
While not originally on the NGO Monitor’s list, KAIROS did face allegations by Gerald Steinberg, the president of NGO Monitor, that KAIROS funded anti-Israeli political initiatives at the expense of health clinics and the welfare of the poor. Mary Corkery, the executive director of KAIROS, responded that KAIROS had built a health clinic in Gaza, but the Israel Defense Force bombed and destroyed it completely in 2009.
Rights and Democracy’s difficulties were dramatically different. As a federal institution reporting to Parliament, drastic changes to its funding would have involved parliamentary debate, undoubtedly
something Harper preferred to avoid. Instead, Rights and Democracy was destroyed through the government giving pro-Israel ideologues unchecked power over the institution.
Rémy Beauregard, a veteran human rights advocate, was president of Rights and Democracy when R&D made three grants totaling $30,000 to Al Haq, Al Mezan, and B’Tselem, NGOs based in the West Bank, Gaza, and Israel respectively, to investigate human rights violations during Israel’s 2008/2009 invasion of the Gaza Strip. The grants were oneoff “urgent action” funds outside of R&D’s ongoing programming and represented 0.27 per cent of R&D’s $11 million budget. A conservative appointee
himself, Beauregard made sure that the grants were approved by the minister of foreign affairs, then signed off on them.
Enter Aurel Braun. On March 5, 2009, the Harper government appointed Braun, a professor at the University of Toronto, to be chair of R&D’s board of directors. Braun, a hawkish political science professor and former board member for B’nai Brith, a Jewish advocacy organization, took immediate umbrage with the grants. Board meetings became combative, and the new chair and his allies, who consti-tuted a minority on the board, demanded information continuously. The costs associated with the board more than doubled in the new fiscal year because of the enormous dossier of documentation that Braun ordered. Braun and his allies also insisted on direct, unaccompanied access to the nonmanagerial staff at R&D, a request Beauregard vigorously denied as inappropriate. The times that the board did engage with staff, they asked personal questions including ethnic profile, Arabic language skills, and the number of Jewish employees at the organization.
In March, after the chair had expressed grave concerns, Beauregard and his senior management made it clear that R&D did not intend to continue with programming related to the Gaza grants. Braun was unwilling to let the issue of the three grants drop. The majority of the board gave president Beauregard a glowing evaluation, but Braun instructed the secretary to not record those proceedings. Instead, a three-person subcommittee was convened under his leadership that wrote and sent a secret evaluation to the Privy Council (a federal executive agency responsible for all other government agencies and departments) against the wishes of the majority of the board. Braun then spent over $10,000 without board approval to obtain a legal opinion to prevent the president and the rest of the board from seeing the evaluation. Beauregard did eventually obtain access to the evaluation, months later through the Freedom of Information Act, confirming his worst fears. The evaluation was vindictive and the charges baseless, including spurious accusations of his sponsoring terrorism, meeting with Hezbollah and Hamas, and not respecting the authority of the board chairman.
The board voted in June to revise the evaluation as deemed necessary at their next meeting. The next meeting in October was canceled at the last moment by the chair. By the time the board reconvened in January 2010, the Harper government had recalled a board member who had tended to vote with Beauregard and added two more pro-Israel zealots. Braun now held a majority by one. Every decision in the vitriolic January meeting was won by Braun’s new majority, including refusal to renew the mandate of an international board member supportive to Beauregard. Two longstanding board members who were sympathetic to Beauregard, including the esteemed Sima Samar, head of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, resigned and walked out in disgust. (Simar had been former deputy president of Afghanistan in Hamid Karzai’s 2001 interim government.) Yet again, the three $10,000 grants were brought up, this time for a vote of “repudiation” as the funds had already been dispensed. Beauregard gave in and voted with Braun. He died of heart failure that night.
With Beauregard’s death, the struggle at Rights and Democracy, a relatively obscure institution in Canada, became front-page news. In an unprecedented move, all but two of the 47 R&D staff
signed a letter expressing nonconfidence and demanding the resignation of Braun and two other board members. Beauregard’s widow said that harassment by certain R&D board members had contributed to her husband’s death. A chorus of protest from prior presidents of Rights and Democracy, opposition
parties, Beauregard’s family, international human rights organizations, and legal experts demanded an independent inquiry and a reassessment of the board.
Coverage only intensified as the board attempted to seize control of the situation. At a board meeting convened shortly before Beauregard’s funeral, the board appointed Jacques Gauthier, one of the board members whose resignation the staff had demanded, as interim president. Gauthier, a Toronto lawyer, had written a doctoral thesis arguing that East Jerusalem, considered occupied under international law, belongs to Jews. Within 24 hours of taking office, he had suspended the three senior managers and sent a bailiff to confiscate their laptops, mobiles, and office entry cards on the justification of “investigation.” He then slapped a gag order on remaining staff and used R&D funds without public tender or a disclosed role to hire a private communications company, a forensic auditing team, and private investigators. Staff in some cases were introduced to a private investigator without being told of his occupation, only later discovering his identity through an Internet search.
A break-in at the R&D office on the day that staff were attending Beauregard’s funeral, with two laptops stolen – including that of a member of the communications team – added to the speculation. A
month later, the three suspended managers were fired for insubordination and a high-profile constitutional lawyer confirmed that he would represent them in court action. That night, the Harper
government announced the appointment of Gérard Latulippe, a man whose nomination had already been rejected by all three opposition parties on the grounds that he had declared Muslim immigration
a threat to society, as new president of R&D.
Meanwhile, a public battle was being waged in op-ed pages and blogs, leaked documents and press releases. The seven-member board majority (the two remaining board members opting out) released collective letters presenting their actions as stemming from concern for accountability and due process. Their actions, they wrote, had nothing whatsoever to do with the Middle East. R&D staff, on the other hand, remained under gag order and were unable to respond. The op-ed battles seemed to reach its climax with the publication of a letter by Sima Samar, the board member who had resigned on the day of Beauregard’s death. As an internationally renowned figure and someone privy to the details that had previously been the privileged domain of the Braun faction, Samar’s public revelations were important and credible. She expressed “distress” over the “baseless” accusations by the board against Beauregard and his staff, the “harassment” of the late president before his death, and the continued sullying of his reputation after his death. Soon after, the Québec Assembly (the provincial legislative body) voted unanimously to recognize the excellence of R&D’s record and called for the preservation of its independence. The opposition also successfully pushed through a vote for Parliamentary hearings to begin.
Political analysts, including career conservatives, have tried to decipher the meaning behind Harper’s deliriously pro-Israel stance. Canada has few electoral districts with a significant proportion of Jewish voters, and Canadian campaign finance limits reduce the significance of campaign contributions by special interest groups. The clearest signals come from Harper’s own writings and circumstances as the leader of a recently unified party that needs to find policies that resonate among disparate strands of conservatism. Support for Israel allows Harper to strut the world stage as a Can-Do leader in the Great War on Terrorism (without needing to concern Canada’s limited military, still mired in Afghanistan), acting in concert with international allies to promote conservative values, as well as galvanizing an activist base among Christian and Jewish constituencies, especially the evangelicals considered to be a significant portion of his constituents.
Around 2003, the more extreme right-wing Christian and Jewish communities in Canada entered into an alliance. B’nai Brith Canada, an organization promoting Israeli settlements and aspiring to be Canadian version of the Anti-Defamation League, decided to ally itself with Canada Christian College, an evangelical college run by Reverend Charles McVety, one of Canada’s most famous dispensationalists (also known as Christian Zionists). McVety was present at the founding of John Hagee’s Christians United for Israel, itself established in 2006 with the support of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson in the United States. He then became the national co-chair for Christians United For Israel Canada. McVety became a frequent speaker at B’nai Brith Canada functions, and his dispensationalist interest in fighting to maintain and expand settlements – to allow for the ingathering of all Jews in all of ancient Israel before the return of the Messiah – was clearly in line with B’nai Brith’s concerns. B’nai Brith and McVety and his associates enjoyed a close relationship with Harper from the outset of his rule, with McVety described as having the “ear of the conservatives” and B’nai Brith functions boasting Stephen Harper’s presence.
Rights and Democracy had long been out of favor, if not actively disliked by the ultra-Zionist community. In January 2010, David Matas, a board member in the 7-person faction opposing late R&D president Beauregard and a longstanding legal counsel to B’nai Brith (he has since been involved in efforts to condemn the Goldstone Report on war crimes during the Gaza invasion), wrote an analysis of the R&D conflict. He said that R&D had previously had a Middle East program, “corrupted by an anti-Zionist agenda,” which was terminated in 1998, one year into his earlier 1997-2003 term on the board. Despite this, in April 2002, the R&D president at the time, Warren Allmand, wrote two letters to the minister of foreign affairs, one expressing concern that Canada voted against a resolution at the U.N. Human Rights Commission that was critical of Israeli behavior, the other, as Matas put it, “an anti-Israel diatribe full of the usual blather.” Under the next president, Jean Louis Roy, R&D made grants to the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group, the International Women’s House in the West Bank, and the St. Ives Society legal aid for Palestinians program. According to Matas, the grants were made using discretionary funds in order to bypass the board, and were part of a “historically entrenched pattern of behavior.”
These grants attracted the attention of the NGO Monitor, which published a report on R&D (then called the International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development) in 2003, claiming that “in practice ICHRDD uses millions of dollars of public Canadian funds to further a strong anti-Israel agenda” – a patently incorrect claim, as the discretionary fund only allows for grants of up to $60,000. What is striking about both of these interventions, however, is the care with which the NGO Monitor and Matas were following developments at R&D, with Matas’ monitoring continuing until 2007, long after the end of his mandate on the board.
Harper may well have focused Rights & Democracy as a target of opportunity, in his political posturings against the “moral relativism” of the left. Certainly, an undercurrent in R&D-Harper relations since 2007 included an awareness on the part of R&D that their institution was out of favor. Harper has wanted to develop an institution in Canada that would parallel the U.S. National Democratic Institute and International Republic Institute – in other words, allow for taxpayer-funded interventions affiliated with party politics of the crudest sort.
The Conservatives commissioned an advisory report that culminated in a November 2009 blueprint for developing the Canadian Centre for Advancing Democracy, a federal agency seeking to build political parties to its liking in the developing world. The blueprint suggests an institutional structure somewhat similar to that of R&D, with offices in Haiti and Afghanistan, where R&D already had long-time field offices. It was to have an annual budget of $30 to $70 million, dwarfing R&D’s annual $11 million – in a time of budgetary restraint. Two can also be a crowd.
R&D did try to move in the direction Harper envisioned, even creating a Democratic Development Program and implementing numerous changes in planning, programming, and staff relations. Beauregard was, in fact, instrumental in leading the institution out of period of decline and difficulty, and had been awaiting policy direction from the board for the future. It was not forthcoming. The five board appointees in 2009 who precipitated the R&D crisis were drawn from a very specific ultra-Zionist demographic, and proved to be hostile and suspicious of the very nature of the institution.
Parliamentary hearings into the crisis at R&D started in March. The government, for all its desire to portray the issue as an internal conflict unrelated to them, faces a difficult time eschewing its responsibility for the disaster. Whatever Harper’s motives, time will likely categorize R&D as an example of loss of control over his Israel policy. Time will also likely show Harper on the wrong side of the Canadian public, who value both Canada’s traditional role as peacekeeper and identity distinct from the United States. Further, Harper will be on the wrong side of history. As the Goldstone Report and world public opinion implicate Israel’s brutal occupation more and more, Harper’s exultant support of Israel will be impossible to forgive. CP
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