FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Strange Case of Canadian Zionism

The Conservatives are trying to rally Canadian Jews to their right wing imperialistic worldview.

At the start of last month Stephen Harper spoke to the annual Toronto gala of the Jewish National Fund, which has a long history of dispossessing Palestinians and discriminating against non-Jews. Alluding to Arab/Persian/Muslim barbarians at the gate, Harper told the 4,000 attendees that Israel is a “light of freedom and democracy in what is otherwise a region of darkness.”

A few days before this event Minister for Employment and Social Development Jason Kenney spoke at the launch of the Canadian chapter of the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI). Established by a former colonel in the Israel Defense Forces, MEMRI selectively (mis)translates stories from Arab and Iranian media in a bid to advance expansionist Israeli interests. Kenney told the audience assembled at Montreal’s Shaar Hashomayim Synagogue that MEMRI is “a peaceful weapon of truth-telling in a civilizational conflict in which we are all engaged.”

Harper and Kenney’s comments certainly play well with those in the Jewish community committed to Israeli/Western imperialism, but they also spur that sentiment. Most people respect power and when leading politicians say a country is involved in a “civilizational conflict” against “a region of darkness” it tends to shape opinion. Few Canadian Jews – or others among the target audience for that matter – realize that Harper and Kenney don’t take this ‘clash of civilizations’ talk literally (if they did they wouldn’t be deepening political ties with a number of Middle Eastern monarchies and selling billions of dollars in weaponry to the region’s “darkest” regime, Saudi Arabia.)

While the Harper government’s pro-Israel comments are particularly extreme, they are far from unique in Canadian history. For more than a century non-Jewish Canadians have promoted a Jewish homeland in Palestine.

Similar to Europe, Zionism’s roots in Canada are Christian, not Jewish. Early Canadian support for Zionism was based on the more literal readings of the Bible that flowed out of the Protestant Reformation. They were also tied to this country’s status as a Dominion of the British Empire, which in the later half of the 19th century began to see Zionism as a potential vehicle to strengthen its geostrategic position in the region.

At the time of Confederation Canada’s preeminent Christian Zionist was Henry Wentworth Monk. To buy Palestine from the Ottomans (Turkey) in 1875 Monk began the Palestine Restoration Fund. Unsuccessful, seven years later he took out an ad in the Jewish Worldproposing a “Bank of Israel” to finance Jewish resettlement. In A Coat of Many ColoursTwo Centuries of Jewish Life in Canada Irving Abella explains: “Henry Wentworth Monk, an eccentric but respected businessman, spent much of his time and money crusading for a Jewish homeland. In the 1870s and 1880s — long before Theodore Herzl, the Austrian founder of Zionism, even thought of a Jewish state — Monk took up a campaign in Canada and England to raise funds to buy land in Palestine for European Jews. In 1881 Monk even proposed setting up a Jewish National Fund. He issued manifestoes, wrote long articles, spoke to assorted meetings and lobbied extensively in England and Canada to realize his dream.”

Monk called for the British Empire to establish a “Dominion of Israel”, similar to the Dominion of Canada. In Canada and PalestineZachariah Kay notes: “Monk believed that Palestine was the logical center of the British Empire, and could help form a confederation of the English- speaking world.”

Monk was not alone in Canada. Citing a mix of Christian and pro-British rationale, leading Canadian politicians repeatedly expressed support for Zionism. In 1907, two cabinet ministers attended the Federation of Zionist Societies of Canada convention, telling delegates that “Zionism had the support of the government.” Solicitor General (and later Prime Minister) Arthur Meighen proclaimed in November 1915: “I think I can speak for those of the Christian faith when I express the wish that God speed the day when the land of your forefathers shall be yours again. This task I hope will be performed by that champion of liberty the world over — the British Empire.”

The 1917 Balfour declaration, which declared British support for a Jewish homeland in Palestine, boosted support for Zionism in this country. In the years thereafter, Canadian politicians of various stripes repeatedly urged Jews (and others) to support Zionism.

During a July 1922 speech to the Zionist Federation of Canada anti-Semitic Prime Minister Mackenzie King “was effusive with praise for Zionism”, explains David Bercuson in Canada and the Birth of Israel. He told participants their aspirations were “in consonance” with the greatest ideals of “Englishman”. A dozen years later Prime Minister R.B. Bennett told a coast to-coast radio broadcast for the launch of the United Palestine Appeal fund drive that the Balfour declaration and the British conquest of Palestine represented the beginning of the fulfillment of biblical prophecies. “When the promises of God, speaking through his prophets, are that the home will be restored in the homeland of their forefathers … Scriptural prophecy is being fulfilled. The restoration of Zion has begun.”

Jewish Zionism must be understood from within the political climate in which it operated. And Canada’s political culture clearly fostered Zionist ideals. British imperialism, Christian Zionism and nationalist ideology were all part of this country’s political fabric. Additionally, in the early 1900s most Canadians did not find it odd that Europeans would take a “backward” people’s land, which is what settlers did to the indigenous population here.

A number of books about Canada’s Jewish community discuss how elite Canadian Jews, especially after the 1917 Balfour declaration, were more active Zionists than their US counterparts. In Canada’s Jews: a People’s journey Gerald Tulchinsky explains: “The First World War accentuated differences between Canadian and American Jewry. For example, loyalty to Britain’s cause provided Zionists with opportunities to identify their purposes with Britain’s imperial mission.”

When British General Edmund Allenby led a campaign in late 1917 to take Palestine from the Ottomans as many as 400 Canadians (about half recruited specifically for the task) fought in Allenby’s Jewish Legion. Sometimes beleaguered Jewish communities were praised by the media for taking up England’s cause to conquer modern day Israel/Palestine.

Since Israel’s creation in 1948 different governments have expressed varying degrees of support. But overall, the laudatory public declarations have continued.

After a long career of support for Zionism/Israel as External Minister and Prime Minister Lester Pearson referred to that country as “an outpost, if you will, of the West in the Middle East.” External Affairs Minister Don Jamieson echoed this sentiment in an October 1977 speech. “Israel is an increasingly valuable ally of the West and Jews and non-Jews alike should see to it that Israel remains … an ally of the Western world. … We in Canada must see to it that when Israel is making such tremendous sacrifices, we should stand ready to help Israel with oil and material assistance.”

Yes, the current government is more aggressive in its public declarations than any before it and this has helped drive the establishment Jewish community to an even more hardline position.

To the Conservatives’ delight two years ago the 90-year old Canadian Jewish Congress Centre was disbanded by its wealthy donors in favour of an even more Israel-focused Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs. Similarly, the Conservatives’ strong ties to Christian Zionism has prodded B’nai B’rith to deepen its ties with Canada Christian College and Charles McVety.

At the same time the antiracist sectors of Canada’s Jewish community have made major strides in recent years. Groups such as Independent Jewish Voices, Not In Our Name, Jewish Voices for Peace, the International Jewish Anti- Zionist Network, Women in Solidarity with Palestine and Jews for a Just Peace, have undercut the notion that all Canadian Jews support Israeli policy or Zionism. But these groups are unlikely to become dominant voices within the Jewish community until there is a shift in Canada’s political culture.

Canadian Zionism has long been part of the religious/political establishment. In every community there are those who take the side of the rich and powerful.

Yves Engler’s the author of Canada and Israel: building apartheid. His latest co-authored book is the New Commune-ist Manifesto — Workers of the World It Really is Time to Unite. For more information go towww.newcommuneist.com

 

More articles by:

Yves Engler’s latest book is ‪Canada in Africa: 300 years of Aid and Exploitation.

December 18, 2018
Charles Pierson
Where No Corn Has Grown Before: Better Living Through Climate Change?
Evaggelos Vallianatos
The Waters of American Democracy
Patrick Cockburn
Will Anger in Washington Over the Murder of Khashoggi End the War in Yemen?
George Ochenski
Trump is on the Ropes, But the Pillage of Natural Resources Continues
Farzana Versey
Tribals, Missionaries and Hindutva
Robert Hunziker
Is COP24 One More Big Bust?
David Macaray
The Truth About Nursing Homes
Nino Pagliccia
Have the Russian Military Aircrafts in Venezuela Breached the Door to “America’s Backyard”?
Paul Edwards
Make America Grate Again
David Rosnick
The Impact of OPEC on Climate Change
Binoy Kampmark
The Kosovo Blunder: Moving Towards a Standing Army
Andrew Stewart
Shine a Light for Immigration Rights in Providence
December 17, 2018
Susan Abulhawa
Marc Lamont Hill’s Detractors are the True Anti-Semites
Jake Palmer
Viktor Orban, Trump and the Populist Battle Over Public Space
Martha Rosenberg
Big Pharma Fights Proposal to Keep It From Looting Medicare
David Rosen
December 17th: International Day to End Violence against Sex Workers
Binoy Kampmark
The Case that Dare Not Speak Its Name: the Conviction of Cardinal Pell
Dave Lindorff
Making Trump and Other Climate Criminals Pay
Bill Martin
Seeing Yellow
Julian Vigo
The World Google Controls and Surveillance Capitalism
ANIS SHIVANI
What is Neoliberalism?
James Haught
Evangelicals Vote, “Nones” Falter
Vacy Vlanza
The Australian Prime Minister’s Rapture for Jerusalem
Martin Billheimer
Late Year’s Hits for the Hanging Sock
Weekend Edition
December 14, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
A Tale of Two Cities
Peter Linebaugh
The Significance of The Common Wind
Bruce E. Levine
The Ketamine Chorus: NYT Trumpets New Anti-Suicide Drug
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Fathers and Sons, Bushes and Bin Ladens
Kathy Deacon
Coffee, Social Stratification and the Retail Sector in a Small Maritime Village
Nick Pemberton
Praise For America’s Second Leading Intellectual
Robert Hunziker
The Yellow Vest Insurgency – What’s Next?
Patrick Cockburn
The Yemeni Dead: Six Times Higher Than Previously Reported
Nick Alexandrov
George H. W. Bush: Another Eulogy
Brian Cloughley
Principles and Morality Versus Cash and Profit? No Contest
Michael F. Duggan
Climate Change and the Limits of Reason
Victor Grossman
Sighs of Relief in Germany
Ron Jacobs
A Propagandist of Privatization
Robert Fantina
What Does Beto Have Against the Palestinians?
Richard Falk – Daniel Falcone
Sartre, Said, Chomsky and the Meaning of the Public Intellectual
Andrew Glikson
Crimes Against the Earth
Robert Fisk
The Parasitic Relationship Between Power and the American Media
Stephen Cooper
When Will Journalism Grapple With the Ethics of Interviewing Mentally Ill Arrestees?
Jill Richardson
A War on Science, Morals and Law
Ron Jacobs
A Propagandist of Privatization
Evaggelos Vallianatos
It’s Not Easy Being Greek
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail