Israel Lobby, weak leadership debasing our Middle East policy, says MP Carolyn Parrish


Carolyn Parrish decided her political career needed a boost, so she got Prime Minister Paul Martin to expel her from the Liberal Caucus.

“I forced him into it. I taunted him. I was so filled with anger and he provided me with what I wanted,” she said in an interview Tuesday evening. “Any time I comment on Bush he immediately goes out to say ‘Carolyn Parrish does not speak for cabinet,’ and I told him this made him look weak and over-reactive. ‘Why can’t you roll with the punches?’ I asked.”

Indeed, Martin’s latest remonstration seemed overdone. Parrish described George W. Bush as “warlike,” which is about as controversial as saying Ivan the Terrible had anger-management issues. A cursory glance at Bush’s speeches reveals a man afflicted with religious dementia, megalomania and, according to some psychologists, alcohol-induced brain damage. “I am absolutely, diametrically opposed to Martin’s pandering to George Bush,” said Parrish. “He murdered 100,000 Iraqis to teach them the benefits of democracy.”

When she was a backbencher under Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, Parrish was invisible and felt she could be an individual. The Martin Liberals, she said, do not treat independent thought kindly–””You’re with them or you’re dead.” She wanted out, but couldn’t bring herself to quit on those who elected her. “It was more to my liking to be fired outright.”

Now an independent MP, Parrish can speak her mind without having to answer to caucus martinets. One issue that particularly disturbs her is the unseemly and largely unseen influence of pro-Israel pressure groups inside and outside of government pushing Canada’s foreign policy toward alignment with Israel and the U.S. A conspicuous sign of this shift occurred when Canada abstained on a United Nations vote condemning Israel’s Apartheid Wall, even though Canada originally voted against it.

Parrish cites the meddling of Justice Minister Irwin Cotler, former president of the Canadian Jewish Congress, as a major reason for this shift: “He regularly attends any foreign affairs meeting that involves the Middle East, but there’s no need for the justice minister to attend. It’s an unwritten rule that a minister does not interfere in another minister’s portfolio.”

As mentioned in earlier columns, Cotler is the chief member the government’s Little Knesset (Liberal Parliamentarians for Israel), but since many of these MPs have now been appointed to Cabinet their names have disappeared from the group’s website. Consequently, Canadians cannot identify those who are undermining their country’s foreign policy.*

Parrish said Martin further weakened Canada’s foreign policy when he replaced long-time foreign affairs minister Bill Graham with Pierre Pettigrew:

“I think the respect Graham commands is rather unanimous, but I don’t think Pettigrew has the same grasp of foreign affairs or background in the Middle East. Just when the Middle East is opening up and there’s a chance for renewed negotiations, the best expert is moved. I find that strange.”

In a recent speech at the University of Waterloo, Parrish criticized Pettigrew for having an unbalanced perspective and suggested he spend time in a Palestinian refugee camp.

Outside of Parliament, Parrish noted the influence of the husband and wife team of Gerry Schwartz (CEO of Onyx Crop.) and Heather Reismann (President of Indigo Books/Chapters). Both are big Liberal Party donors and were prominent in Martin’s box during his coronation as party leader. They also happen to be two of the main organizers of the new Zionist umbrella group United Israel Appeal Federations Canada.

The UIAFC, which has been granted charity status even though it has a clear political agenda, recently established the Canadian Council for Israel and Jewish Advocacy (CIJA), which held its inaugural parliamentary dinner earlier this month.

At the dinner, Martin was on his best behaviour as he swore fealty to the powers that be: “Canada will not, nor will we ever, waiver in our support for Israel. We believe strongly, incontrovertibly, in Israel’s right to defend itself against those who would destroy it… [Ariel] Sharon’s plan for Gaza, in my view, will enhance Israel’s security and lead in the direction of peace.”

Martin is obviously unaware of basic historical facts: Israel that’s trying to destroy Palestine, whereas the Palestinians have offered to sign a peace treaty; Israel has deliberately precipitated every war with the Palestinians to avoid signing such a treaty; and Sharon’s much vaunted Gaza pull-out has been exposed as a fraud.

Still this bit of forelock tugging didn’t stop Martin and other party leaders from making nice at the Canadian Arab Federation’s reception. Martin asserted that Canada had a role to play in the Middle East, but this means nothing since Martin has already sold out to Israel.

At the CAF reception, Parrish said Martin failed to address the key concern of Muslim groups–”the odious Bill C-36 by which Muslims are subjected to arbitrary arrest and deportation. Zionists are the bill’s biggest supporters. No matter how politely the government behaves toward the CAF and other Arab/Muslim groups, Canada’s Middle East policy is shifting, she said.

Nevertheless, she doesn’t feel all is lost. Despite her disagreements, she said Martin is kind-hearted and capable of protecting Canada’s foreign policy, if only he knew how to lead: “His problem is a lack confidence in himself and his caucus, and a dependency on back-room advisors. He thinks he owes them.”

One area where Martin could have asserted his authority concerned the government’s response to the death of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. Instead of offering unqualified condolences, Martin said his death was an opportunity “for renewed efforts to bring peace to the Middle East.” Parrish called this response “degrading and disgusting,” but compared to what Opposition foreign affairs critic Stockwell Day did, it was the model of decorum.

Day did not release a statement of condolence or sympathy, but instead sent an internal e-mail to caucus colleagues and constituency officials containing an article by National Post bottom-feeder David Frum that depicted Arafat as a terrorist dying of AIDS.

“As you know, there are two sides to the Arafat story–”one that he was a great statesman and a help to the Palestinian people, and one that reflects on his terrorist background and that he wasn’t a help. You pick,” Day said in an interview.

Despite repeated requests to explain why he did not send condolences to Arafat’s family, Day babbled platitudes about wanting peace and democracy for the Palestinians–”who doesn’t?–”and repeatedly stated that he did not send condolences to Ronald Reagan’s family. Of course, none of this constituted a cognitive response, and it certainly did not excuse Day’s irresponsible, ignorant conduct.

“Yasser Arafat was solely responsible for keeping the possibility of Palestine alive,” said Parrish in response. “How dare Day criticize a man of his stature!”

Whether Martin develops the backbone to defend Canada against the Little Knesset is debatable, but at least Parrish will ensure that Canada’s Middle East policy is made a public issue.


* For an initial list of these MPs see ” ‘Dirty Dozen’ threaten integrity of Canada’s foreign policy,” Alberta Arab News, Jan. 8, 2004.