Harper’s attack on democracy and the Arab and Muslim community

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The federal government’s attempt to censor or to marginalize pro-Palestinian individuals and organizations is a serious problem facing Canada’s Arab and Muslim communities.

This campaign even threatens our democratic traditions and the independence of many institutions.

An example of censorship is the Harper government’s decision to ban British Member of Parliament George Galloway from entering the country.

He gave money and food to Hamas, the duly elected governing authority in Palestine, and because of this humanitarian act he was denied the right to express his opinions on the Middle East.

Having a British MP publicly oppose the Israeli siege of Gaza, the occupation of Iraq, and the war in Afghanistan would have been inconvenient to Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Citizenship Minister Jason Kenney, both strong proponents of Israel and supporters of George W. Bush’s “war on terror.”

The question becomes: Will the present Conservative government also ban Andrew Phillips (Lord Sudbury), a Liberal Democrat in the British House of Lords?

Will it ban other British MPs who have called for an end to the collective punishment being imposed on Gaza?

On Jan. 21, 2010, 12 Members of the European Parliament took part in the most representative parliamentary delegation ever to visit Gaza.

The delegation also contained members of regional and national parliaments from these countries–”in total, nearly 60 parliamentarians. They entered Gaza from Egypt through the Rafah Crossing on a fact-finding mission to gather information about the humanitarian situation in Gaza, which has been under siege since Hamas won the 2006 election.

The mission was organized by the European Campaign to End the Siege on Gaza (ECESG), the umbrella body of 30 NGOs across Europe. It was led by Jewish MP Sir Gerald Kaufman.

Will the Harper Government to ban Kaufman and these 60 MPs because they entered Gaza and met with local elected Palestinian officials?

Numerous other politicians–”including Vice President of the European Parliament Luisa Morgantini, Bishop Desmond Tutu and former U.S. President Jimmy Carter have also called for an end to the siege of Gaza.

Would they be allowed in? Would Nelson Mandela be banned if he sent food to the 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza who are being slowly starved to death?

Unfortunately, the Galloway incident seems to be part of a pattern of deliberate harassment. Here in Canada, the Harper government, through Kenney, abruptly canceled English-language training funding to the Canadian Arab Federation because its leaders criticized Kenney’s public support for Israel’s attack on Gaza.

What did Kenney expect from a national organization that represents Canada’s Arab community–”a ringing endorsement of his support for the Israeli attack on the Arabs in Gaza?! The matter is now the subject of a legal action at the Federal Court of Canada, where leave was granted to pursue the claim against Kenney.

The government also canceled funding to Kairos, an internationally known Christian human rights organization, which is officially supported by the seven largest Christian denominations in Canada.

Kairos’ human rights work includes projects in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East. While addressing the Global Forum to Counter Anti-Semitism in Jerusalem, Kenney cited the defunding of Kairos as an example of his government’s fight against anti-Semitism.

After 35 years of Canadian government support, this Christian human rights organization is suddenly labeled “anti-Semitic” and stripped of its ability to fund its international commitments. This was a politically motivated attack because of Kairos support for Palestinians and other marginalized groups.

Most recently, the Harper government ended the country’s long-standing funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA).

The Agency provides humanitarian and social assistance to Palestinian refugees displaced by the creation of Israel. These Palestinian refugees are not allowed to return to their homes in defiance of numerous UN resolutions including the one that granted Israel membership in the UN. Canada’s money is now being given to Mahmoud Abbas’ Palestinian Authority for justice and security purposes.

In addition to sabotaging the work of human rights groups, the Harper government has politicized organizations to ensure they serve Israel.

For example, it appointed hard-line Israel supporters to the board the once-respected Montreal-based Rights & Democracy. It was set up by former Conservative Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and is supposed to be non-partisan. Its mandate is to promote Canada’s foreign policy by supporting the rule of law in troubled countries like Haiti and Afghanistan.

Once Harper had appointed a majority of Conservative stalwarts to the board they immediately held a “repudiation vote” against funding B’Tselem, and its Palestinian West Bank partner: Al-Haq (Law in the Service of Man) and Al Mezan in Gaza. All three organizations have criticized both Israeli and Palestinian human rights violations, including the December 2008 Israeli attack on Gaza.

When he approved grants to these three Middle East organizations, President Rémy Beauregard had the support of the Department of Foreign Affairs, according to two former presidents of the Organization–”Warren Allmand, a former Solicitor General of Canada, and Ed Broadbent, a former leader of the federal New Democratic Party.

Faced with unprecedented government interference, 45 of 47 staffers, both management and union, demanded the firing of the Harper-appointed board chair, University of Toronto political science professor Aurel Braun (a Zionist Jew), and the removal of his vice-chair and another director.

“After the war in Gaza, the two Palestinian and one Israeli group were checking if there had been human rights abuses. When Mr. Braun found out, I’m told, he went completely bonkers,” said Broadbent.

One of those to resign in protest was Dr. Sima Samar of Afghanistan. One of the foreign board members, she was honoured last year with the Order of Canada for defending women’s rights. Only a handful of non-Canadians, such as Nelson Mandela, have received this award.

Samar said she quit because of the board’s secrecy, “toxic” atmosphere, disrespect for the three international members, and its narrow political agenda, especially from Braun.

“I find it incongruous that a centre dedicated to human rights had violated the rights of its top employee; that rather than being transparent, it was secretive; and instead of standing up for the victims of human rights violations, it was siding with the violators.” Samar said in an interview from Kabul.

The Vice Chair, whom the employees almost unanimously wanted removed, Jacques Gauthier, was appointed interim president after Beauregard died from a sudden heart attack.

Beauregard, the former head of the Ontario Human Rights Commission, was well respected for his managerial competency and his commitment to civil liberties. His heart attack came shortly after a vitriolic board meeting with its new Conservative-appointed majority.

As an example of Braun’s pro-Israel bias, he moderated Michael Ignatieff’s April 14, 2008, talk at Holy Blossom Temple, at which he tried to make amends to the Jewish community for saying Israel committed “war crimes” when it bombed civilians in Qana during the 2006 attack on Lebanon.

Braun asked Ignatieff probing questions in what was described as “a frontal assault.” Braun also compared John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, authors of acclaimed book

This politicization of institutions has not gone unnoticed.

Le Devoir, the influential French-language Montreal newspaper, even reported that the Harper appointees are harassing Arab speakers at Democracy & Rights.

In the Toronto Star, columnist Haroon Siddiqui wrote: “There remains the larger issue of Harper emasculating institutions that used to operate at arm’s length, independent of the partisan needs and ideology of the ruling party.”

Beyond these public examples, though, one has to wonder what else is going on to entrench the ideological agenda of the Harper government.

Taken together these actions are an attack on free speech the likes of which we haven’t seen since the 1950s anti-Communist McCarthy witch hunts.

Harper’s actions systematically target an entire ethnic and religious community in a way that is reminiscent of attacks that were made against another community in the 1930s.

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