Unraveling the neoliberal, colonial links between Québec and Israel

Read Stefan Christoff’s excellent analysis for the Media Co-op of the ties between Québec and Israel.

Unraveling the neoliberal, colonial links between Québec and Israel

by Stefan Christoff

Political and economic relations between Québec and Israel have developed in major ways over the past decade. A process facilitated by the Parti libéral du Québec, with open complicity from the PQ, neoliberal colonial links articulated clearly in growing business collaborations and corporate military connections.

In 2008, the former Liberal finance minister Raymond Bachand lead an important political delegation to Israel, reported as having over forty people onboard, with both corporate and academic representatives from Québec, also including representatives from the FTQ’s Fonds de la solidarité. Bachand’s trip finalized a new formal economic and technology focused bilateral accord, existing in parallel to the Canada-Israel bilateral free trade agreement signed back in 1997, recently expanded under the Conservatives.

In signing the most recent Québec accord, Bachand stated that “by signing this complementary agreement, Québec is reiterating the attachment it has with Israel and its wish for a closer collaboration in the future.”

Symbolically the accord was signed in Jerusalem, a city that all mainstream political negotiations around Israel/Palestine clearly recognize as contested territory, a point also articulated many times by the UN. Bachand’s move to sign the deal in Jerusalem signaled a direct complicity with long standing Israeli colonial moves to assert control over the historic city as a centre of Israeli political power, while working to erase Jerusalem’s Palestinian identity.

Bachand also signed the bilateral agreement with former Israeli Industry minister Eliyahu Yishai, a right-wing politician and strong backer of ongoing settlement construction on Palestinian lands in violation of international law and UN resolutions.

“I promise to use my ministry, all the resources at my disposal and the ministry’s impact on local authorities for the good of expanding settlements,” stated Yishai when serving as industry minister in Israel. Clearly the ongoing Israeli colonization of Palestinian lands in the West Bank is illegal under international law, even according to Canada’s official policy, a key fact that the Conservative government in Ottawa has systematically avoided. Québec’s accord being signed with an openly pro-settlement minister, in Jerusalem, clearly articulates the pro-Israeli apartheid nature of Québec’s Israel accord.

On that very same delegation in 2008, Bachand also toured the Technion institute of technology in Haifa, highlighting the existing academic links between Québec academic institutions and the Technion, described in a research report by the Tadamon! collective “as an apparatus of Israel’s apartheid policies and practices, and examines how this university serves as an important tool in the denial of justice and freedom for all Palestinians. As an engineering/science university that is heavily involved in arms research and technology, Technion is a key agent in Israel’s military-industrial complex. Through cooperative research programs with Israeli weapons corporations such as Elbit and Rafael, and programs with the Israeli military, Technion participates in the creation and development of technology funded by arms profiteers and the Israeli military. The arms technology/research that is developed at Technion has been used by the Israeli state and military in a variety of guises.

Beyond academic research, Montréal military corporations, or “defense technology” companies, best articulate the disturbing face of Québec’s significant corporate role in bolstering the very Israeli military machinery that has bombarded Gaza and killed over 2200 Palestinians over the past months.

CAE corporation in Montréal, that specializes in flight simulators and “real-time operation systems” has secured multiple contracts involving the Israeli military, including a project with the military company Elbit Systems, to train Israeli military personnel to operate “next-generation combat aircraft.” Another CAE project focuses on operating systems for Israeli air force Black Hawk utility helicopters, corporate military work being done in the heart of Québec, CAE’s ominous buildings can clearly be seen from the Chomedey autoroute in Montréal.

Additionally the engines for the Bell “cobra” helicopter, nicknamed the “viper” on the Israeli Air Force website, are produced in the Montréal region by Pratt & Whitney Canada. Also the Israeli military uses helicopters produced in Mirabel, Quebec by Bell Helicopter Textron Canada, a company also represented on a recent Conservative governmental delegation to Israel.

In the context of the Israeli bombardment and military attack on Gaza this summer, that most human rights organizations articulate as including numerous war crimes, its critically important that progressive forces in Québec examine and take action around our own complicity with Israeli war crimes.

Certainly as politicians have been inking deals between Québec and Israel, a grassroots movement in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle for freedom has been growing on the streets of Québec.

Support in Québec for the the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement is significant and growing within social justice movements. In response to the 2005 Palestinian call to build a BDS movement, modeled after the international solidarity movement with South African resistance to apartheid, Québec student groups such as Association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante (ASSÉ) and workers unions like the Montréal region of the Confédération des syndicats nationaux (CSN) have voted to support the movement. In Montréal a couple years ago 500 artists signed an open letter supporting the global BDS movement.

As support for the BDS movement in Québec grows let’s consider focusing more grassroots political energy toward the critical manifestations of Québec complicity with systems of Israeli apartheid. Clearly Québec complicity with Israeli apartheid is rooted in our own history of violent colonialism that is foundational to the contemporary political, social and economic framework of both Canada and Québec.

Today Québec’s corporate complicity with Israeli military colonialism is clear, numerous corporations are openly and directly involved in empowering the Israeli military machinery. While the academic links with institutions like the Technion illustrate the important role that academic links play in both normalizing apartheid systems but also creating the technology that empowers the violent Israeli military machine. Current neoliberal inspired Liberal leader Philippe Couillard has made no indications of stepping away from these deep policy links with Israeli apartheid.

Québec’s political and corporate complicity with Israeli apartheid is clearly manifested in this economic and technological bilateral agreement, bound by the economic of neoliberalism and the violence of colonialism. An accord that brings together all the different targets for a possible inspiring grassroots local campaign to boost the growing global BDS movement and unravel our own deep complicity with Israeli apartheid at home.

Stefan Christoff is a Montréal based writer, community activist and musician, Stefan is @spirodon

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