Basis for Canada’s support for Israel is economic, not ethnic

By Dave McKee  

Just days after the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled that Israel’s siege of Gaza is “plausible genocide,” the mainstream media in Canada shifted its attention almost entirely to focus on the functioning of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), the main agency providing humanitarian aid to Gaza.

That a landmark decision by the highest court in the world – based on the 1948 Genocide Convention to which Canada is a signatory – could so quickly and easily be marginalized by unproven accusations against 12 of UNRWA’s 30,000 employees, is a sign of the powerful forces in this country which unconditionally support Israel as imperialism’s main beachhead in the Middle East-North Africa (MENA) region.

There are some in the anti-war and solidarity movement who claim that Canada’s support for Israel stems from similarities in state policies towards colonialism. It is absolutely true that there are many historical and continuing parallels between Canada’s treatment of Indigenous people and Israeli apartheid. But to argue that Canadian foreign policy is guided by some sort of ethnicity-based “settler-colonial affinity” is simplistic.

To understand Canada’s support for Israel, we have to look to the economic basis for this country’s foreign policy.

The Canadian government’s position toward Palestine has hardened over the past several years, particularly since the Canada-Israel Free Trade Agreement (CIFTA) was updated in two rounds between 2014 and 2018. CIFTA notably covers products from the Occupied Territories in Palestine as well as Syria (Golan). In the context of the deal’s updates, Canada’s trade with Israel has increased sharply to over $2 billion annually. In discussing CIFTA, the Canadian government singles out the area of military industry: arms exports to Israel have skyrocketed from around $7 million in 2014 to nearly $28 million in 2022.

But trade benefits from CIFTA do not alone account for Canada’s shameful support for Israel’s genocide in Gaza, and they certainly do not explain Ottawa’s participation in efforts to foment a wider regional war, through such provocations as airstrikes on Houthi targets in Yemen.

One of the key factors in Canadian foreign policy toward Israel is Western imperialism’s urgent need for a stable base of operations in the Middle East-North Africa region.

This was explicitly confirmed at a November 2021 meeting of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly (PA), NATO’s political indoctrination camp for its member countries. At that meeting, Sonia Krimi, Chairperson of the PA’s Mediterranean and Middle East Special Group, said that “stability in the Middle East, North Africa and the Sahel region is essential, and the transatlantic community is not immune to sometimes dramatic developments [in the region].”

Dramatic developments indeed – since 2020 there have been six coup d’états in the Sahel region alone and virtually all of them have been oriented, to greater or lesser degree, against Western (especially French) imperialism. Canada’s mining industry has been linked to the coup government in Mali, no doubt with the intention of reorienting more of that country’s mining resources away from France. Add to this the massive popular democratic movement in Sudan, the utter failure of Western imperialism to force regime change in Syria and the increased competition from Russia and especially China in the region, and the motives and urgency for a brutal imperialist foreign policy become clear.

As the Canadian government tries to marginalize the ICJ decision and pave the way for a wider war, anti-war and solidarity movements need to continue mobilizing their mass campaign. We need to firmly reject the attacks on UNRWA and pressure the government to take concrete action to stop the genocide and block an escalation in the war.

All democratic-minded people, all progressive organizations and, especially, the labour movement, must stand with the Palestinian people in forcing Ottawa to demand Israel’s accountability, beginning with an immediate ceasefire and withdrawal of its military.

[Photo: Ontario’s previous Liberal government on a $90 million trade mission to Israel]

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