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Defend Palestine House

David Meagher

February 25, 2012

Palestine House is the latest target of the Harper agenda, which is increasingly attacking Palestine solidarity and free speech in Canada in order to support Israeli apartheid and US imperialism. But Palestinian resistance, the Arab spring and solidarity movements continue to raise the hope of a free Palestine.

According to their website, “Palestine House has been providing CIC funded settlement and language instruction services to Canadian immigrants of all walks of life for nearly two decades. The dedicated teachers, settlement workers, childcare workers, and administrative staff have served the community of newcomer Canadians with integrity, professionalism, and compassion. Mr. Kenney’s decision mostly hurts those newcomer Canadians who will no longer be able to rely on Palestine House services to help them integrate successfully into Canadian society.”

This move on the part of Citizenship, Immigration, and Multiculturalism, Minister Jason Kenney, is “entirely political, and part of a broader pattern of government-led censorship and intimidation of anyone who is critical of Canada’s foreign policy, especially in relation to Israel and Palestine,” says the Defend Free Speech Campaign. “This is not the first time Kenney has targeted civil society groups in response to their political views.”

Tory attacks

In a recent visit to Israel, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird provoked the joke of Israeli Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz: having heard repeatedly by Baird how good a friend of Israel Canada is, Steinitz suggested, “I think Canada’s an even better friend of Israel than we are.”

Harper made Canada the first country in the world to cut humanitarian aid to Palestine after the democratic election of Hamas in 2006, defended Israeli war crimes in Lebanon as a “measured response”, was silently complicit in the war on Gaza in 2009, and welcomed Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu during the deadly attack on the Turkish flotilla, the Mavi Marmara, in 2010. While the rest of the world was supporting the Egyptian revolution almost as soon as protesters took to the streets early in 2011, Harper was the last one to continue supporting Mubarak—whose dictatorship has been central in supporting Israeli apartheid.

Increasingly the Tories have targeted Palestine solidarity groups in Canada—cutting funding from the Canadian Arab Federation, KAIROS, UNRWA, Rights & Democracy, banning of British MP George Galloway and Dr. Moustafa Barghouthi from entering Canada, and now defunding Palestine House.

When a shipment of Canadian food and medical supplies to Gaza—on the international flotilla, the Tahrir—was attacked by Israeli officials last summer, the Harper government snubbed its own citizens by failing to intervene in defence of Canadians on board.

While Harper has jumped on the bandwagon to pressure Iran by economic sanctions, the demands for boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israeli apartheid are vilified as anti-Semitic. Liberal and Tory MPs created the so-called Canadian Parliamentary Coalition to Combat Anti-Semitism to smear Palestine solidarity work, and both federal and provincial Tories have attacked Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW) as anti-Semitic. But there is a manifest difference between anti-Semitism and opposition to Israeli border checks, limits on travel visas for Palestinians, detention of Palestinians without charges or trial, the building of settlements on the West Bank, the bombing of Gaza, the blockade of food and medical supplies, and so on.

Arab Spring, Free Palestine

The Canadian government is not Israel’s best friend because it is pressured by Israel, or by Israeli or Jewish groups in Canada, but because it supports US imperialism—which relies on Israeli apartheid and Arab dictatorships to control the Arab world.

But Palestinian resistance helped inspire the Arab spring, and now the Arab spring is raising hopes for free Palestine. The Egyptian revolution has targeted its regime’s support for Israel—including storming of the Israeli embassy last summer, and forcing a partial opening of the Rafah border. The ongoing revolution has the potential to remove a key pillar for Israeli apartheid, and the Western imperialism it supports.

The Arab spring is also shaping politics in Palestine, where resistance has been weakened by factions, while the current Palestinian parliament contains twenty-one members currently detained in Israeli prisons. As the member of the Palestinian Parliament and Secretary General of the Palestinian National Initiative, Moustafa Barghouthi recently suggested in the New York Times, “what is needed is a Palestinian version of the Arab revolutions that have swept the region: a mass movement demanding freedom, dignity, a just peace, real democracy and the right to self-determination. We must take the initiative, practice self-reliance and pursue a form of nonviolent struggle that we can sustain without depending on others to make decisions for us or in our place.”

Palestine has also inspired international solidarity, including the BDS campaign and IAW. IAW is an important time to build solidarity for Palestinian resistance and the Arab Spring, and challenge our own government’s attacks on Palestine, solidarity and free speech.

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