Yves Engler interview in Vue Weekly

This week’s Vue Weekly features an interview with Yves Engler on his new book, Canada and Israel: Building Apartheid. Engler will be in town for the Edmonton launch on Wednesday, March 31. Click here for full event details.

ISRAEL-PALESTINE: Canada’s complicity
Yves Engler explores how Canada helped build apartheid in Israel

Samantha Power / samantha@vueweekly.com

For years the mythical advice to travellers has been to sew a Canadian flag patch to your back pack. The world loves Canadians. We created peacekeeping, we rushed in to save hundreds of thousands in the Second World War, we … haven’t done a lot in the 50 years since any of our grand, celebrated international actions. Lately Canada has not fared so well. Stalling tactics at December’s Copenhagen Climate Summit, growing international opposition to Canada’s tar sands and, recently, a confused position on women’s health, to the point that Britain has wondered whether Canada understood British intent to create women’s health as a G8 priority. But this should not come as a surprise to Canadians.

Canadian author Yves Engler’s last book opened up the case for Canada’s failing status as a world leader as well as complicity with some of the most egregious international crimes, including forced relocation of Colombia’s population for Canadian mining projects and support for coups of democratically elected leaders. Canada is not the star many Canadians believe we are on the international stage.

With the debate over Israel and Palestine becoming a growing topic on Canadian campuses and amongst Canadian youth, Engler has returned to shed light on Canada’s historical relationship with Israel and how that has led to Israel’s ability to continue to suppress Palestinians. His new book, Canada and Israel: Building Apartheid, deconstructs the historical and unilateral support Canada has given Israel over Palestine for decades.

Many Canadians would like to believe we have not taken a side in this international dispute. But the truth is, from the very beginning, Canada has supported Israel, and that support, with this Conservative government, is only becoming stronger.

Canada’s junior foreign minister Peter Kent has publicly stated, “An attack on Israel would be considered an attack on Canada.” Harper’s Conservative government has also cut $7 million funding to Kairos, a Christian aid agency that has stated they are working toward a “just peace” in Israel and Palestine. And just recently, the federal government cut $15 million in funding to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees. Canada has a position on the conflict, and it clearly supports Israel. And according to Engler, it’s been that way since the beginning.

“Despite mythology of Canada as an honest broker, this country has been overwhelmingly supportive of Israel.” says Engler, “There are very few institutions that are not supportive of Israeli policies. A handful of unions in this country. That does not reflect the vast majority of people’s opinions in Canada. University administrations tend to be quite hostile to Palestinian activists but, increasingly, student bodies and university professors are increasingly hostile to their insitutions’ complicity with Israeli policy.”

Engler’s new book outlines just how Canada has supported Israel over the years from selling a significant number of weapons—which Israel subsequently used in its attacks on other countries, to abstaining on UN resolutions calling for Israel’s withdrawal from occupied territories, to extending millions of dollars in lines of credit and loans to Israel. Engler believes Canadians should be upset by this.

“The controversy comes from the fact there are some people who do not want to admit the extent to which Israel’s reality of a brutal colonial nature that has stolen Palestinian land for basically a century now and continues to steal or disposess Palestinians of the final 22 percent of historic Palestine in the West Bank and Gaza.”

In the 2008 Israeli led offensive, over 700 Palestinian civilians lost their lives in Gaza, while three Israeli civilians lost theirs. So while it should never come down to numbers and both sides violated international law, it’s perceptions that often rule the day. FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting) reports that there is not a straightforward representation of attacks in Western media, but that Hamas was more often given the blame in media reports for the latest round of attacks in Gaza. It’s these perceptions that Engler is driving at with his newest book.

“There hasn’t been a countervailing political force that rejects Canadian support for Israeli policies. So there has been very little literature produced with solidarity with Palestinians and being critical of Canada’s position on Israel.”

Even traditionally progressive groups have not taken on the challenge of analyzing Canada’s position on Israel. Just as Michael Ignatieff criticized apartheid weeks across Canada it was revealed he had once stated that the situation of Palestinians in the West Bank were similar to the “bantustans” of South African apartheid. Engler believes Ignatieff’s original statement in 2002 is his personal feeling, but that he has been forced to state a new policy. “His position is reflective of the political culture of this country.”

And it’s a position the political left in Canada knows well. No major political party has defended Palestine since the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation denounced anti-semitism, but refused to endorse Zionism. But, according to Engler’s new book, by 1945 the CCF fully endorsed the creation of a state in Israel.

But Engler believes all that is changing with growing support for Palestinian solidarity. “Studies show the more Canadians know about the Palestinian issue, the more they’re supportive of the Palestinian cause.” With the recent controversy over the naming of Israeli Apartheid Weeks across the country Engler believes the solidarity movement is actually gaining ground, and that Harper’s drastic cuts to Palestinian aid groups are actually a sign that Canadians are waking up to the reality of the Palestinian story. “Apartheid week attendance is growing. Every event has had a growth in attendance … Two decades ago groups like Kairos were not particularly pro-Palestinian, these groups have been changing their position on the issue. The backlash—it’s a response to the growing Palestinian solidarity movement.”

For now, Engler hopes the discussion becomes more balanced, “Part of the discussion with Palestinian solidarity activists [is] just talking about [the fact] that a girl born in Gaza deserves equal rights to a girl born as a Jewish Israeli 25 kms away. Just saying that challenges the political culture in this country. What this book is trying to do—politically speaking—is to make the critique or the challenge to the Canadian establishment a lot more explicit.” V

Wed, March 31 (4:30 pm)
Canada and Israel: Building Apartheid Book Launch
Telus Centre room 236
University of Alberta campus

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