This year's sixth international Cairo Conference against
imperialism and Zionism continued the same themes as last year: dialogue
between the left and Muslims, the struggle against Islamophobia, press
censorship, torture and dictatorship, and the chance for Western peace groups
to network on Middle East issues. The most inspiring project was the growing
campaign to boycott Israel in the West and plans to coordinate this on an
international level with the long-standing Arab and Muslim boycott campaign.
Otherwise, there was little to gladden activists, for the
wars in Iraq and Afghanistan continue apace, not to mention the increased
brutality of Israel against the Palestinian people. There are changes going on
in Western countries, with increased activism of students and trade unionists.
But the political scene is dismal, despite the overwhelming unpopularity of
US-NATO/Israeli wars, as governments continue to bow to Zionist pressures --
both internal and external.
A case in point is Canada, which was unofficially
represented at the conference by 14 members of the Canadian Peace Alliance
(CPA) and others from student organisations. Delegates to last year's
conference were attacked in the right-wing National Post and Ottawa
Citizen for consorting with "terrorists" and "shouldn't be
surprised if they come under scrutiny of the Canadian security services,"
simply for their willingness to dialogue with Muslims fighting the various wars
now being inflicted on them. But they were not intimidated and returned full of
energy. The conference gave them the opportunity to continue to share their
experiences and make valuable contacts in the antiwar struggle. Al-Ahram
Weekly spoke with several delegates about what is happening in the land of
the maple leaf.
The Canadian political scene has been transformed in the
past year, and not for the better. The 2,500 Canadian troops in the dangerous
southern Kandahar region of Afghanistan had their mission extended to 2011 on
13 March, in what was billed as a fateful parliamentary vote, as the pro-war
Conservatives have only a minority government and the war is deeply unpopular
among Canadians. In a recent poll, only 15 percent favoured extending the troop
presence to 2011, with 60 per cent in favour of bringing the troops home now.
In fact, the vote was a walk-over, with the Liberals voting alongside the
minority Conservative government, with only the small social democratic New
Democratic Party (NDP) and the Bloc Quebecois voting against.
How was this possible? The Liberal Party leader, Stephane
Dion, should be a natural opponent of the war. In fact, as Liberal critic for
foreign affairs in 2006, he voted against extending Canada's original
commitment of troops, which was to end in 2005. Quebec politicians -- mainly
Liberal -- opposed WWI and WWII, and the federal governments of the time dared
not introduce conscription, fearing the collapse of the Canadian confederation.
Yet Dion was manipulated into supporting the Conservative
prime minister, Stephen Harper, and forcing his own Liberals to vote against
what is clearly a violation of Canada's sacred role as peacemaker in
international affairs. Despite strict pressure by party whip Karen Redman, 20
Liberals didn't show up and one -- Newfoundland MP Bill Matthews -- dared vote
against. Redman issued a statement saying she "would make whatever
decisions need to be made" to punish the truants and the lone rebel. Meanwhile,
in a less than subtle propaganda ploy to counter French-Canadian distaste for
"fighting other people's wars," the media is always highlighting
Quebecois troops bravely fighting the "detestable scumbags and
cowards," as Canadian Chief of Defence Staff General Rick Hillier famously
called the Taliban.
A partial answer to Dion's political about-face was revealed
at a bi-election meeting two days after the parliamentary vote, on 15 March in
Toronto. Bob Rae, an ex-NDP leader and born-again Liberal, was running in a
safe Liberal constituency. When CPA members heard about the meeting, 10 snuck
in the back door, raised their antiwar banner and demanded to hear why, in a
democracy, the overwhelming opinion of the electorate was being ignored by the
leading candidate. Dion, who was present, was paralysed, while Rae smoothly
offered the protesters their 30 seconds but proceeded to ignore their question.
When establishment journalists took up the theme, he neatly sidestepped the
issue and escaped unscathed. Interestingly, Rae, a committed Zionist -- his
wife is vice-president of the main pro-Israeli lobby, the Canadian Jewish
Congress (CJC) -- came second to Dion during the last leadership convention,
and is clearly being preened as the heir apparent when the Liberals collapse in
the next election.
An earlier bi-election last year in another supposedly safe
Liberal riding in Quebec backfired even more spectacularly for the Liberal
leader. Outremont has been Liberal for 68 of the 73 years it has existed, and
the NDP traditionally fares abysmally in Quebec. Yet they won 48 per cent of
the vote there in an election that NDP leader Jack Layton called a
"referendum on Afghanistan." Layton is called "Taliban
Jack" by pro-war critics, just one step away from being put on a terrorist
watch list like last year's Cairo Conference delegates presumably have been.
His is virtually the only clear antiwar voice on the national scene, despite
the solid antiwar sentiment in Canada, which stubbornly refuses to bow to the
The Afghan debacle has already cost over 80 Canadian
soldiers' lives (vs Britain's 91), and the Canadian taxpayers well over $5
billion (official figures are $3 billion by 2009), as the government hurries to
slash social spending. An intelligent and brave politician should be able to
take this issue and run with it. But just as Democratic presidential contender
Barack Obama's antiwar position is now being derided by US media as his
"weak point," no Canadian politician is allowed to do what should come
naturally in any democracy worthy of the name.
All this is, in fact, an eerie replay of John Mearsheimer
and Stephen Walt's argument about the Israel lobby in the US, whose
"core" is "American Jews who make a significant effort in their
daily lives to bend US policy so that it furthers Israel's interests." Its
Canadian counterpart, led by the CJC and B'nai Brith, through extensive media
control and privileged access to the highest levels of government, has poisoned
the Canadian political scene, paralysing the antiwar majority and choking all
debate, pushing the Liberals into the Conservatives' arms on the one issue that
could win them the next election. Canada's continued agony in Afghanistan is
vital to the Israel lobby; after all, a rejection of the Canadian role in the
genocide in Afghanistan is a step down the slippery slope of a rejection of
blind support for Israel's genocide in Palestine.
Instead, the Liberals are now very likely to loose --
probably resoundingly, with their indecisive leader flip-flopping on the one
issue that could secure him victory. Just as McCain is now the favourite of the
US pro-Israeli lobby and US antiwar sentiment is stifled and ignored, Harper
has earned their Canadian counterpart's favour and antiwar proponents are
silenced, allowing the Conservatives to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat
in the next election, with the media cheering him on and a disillusioned
electorate splitting the vote among lesser parties or merely staying home.
This poison has unfortunately infected the NDP as well, as
shown by its caving in to the Zionist lobby on its campaign to boycott the UN's
Durban II Conference on Racism to be held next year in South Africa. The
upcoming conference was loudly denounced by both Harper and Dion for daring to
criticise Zionism as a form of racism, and NDP foreign affairs critic Paul
Dewar, apparently without clearance from Layton, joined the chorus. When CPA
activists protested to Layton personally, he claimed ignorance and to his
credit had all references to this criticism of the UN conference removed from
NDP websites. However, he did not actually support the conference and certainly
would never dare criticise Israel or Zionism in any significant way. On the
contrary, several NDP MPs are outspoken supporters of Israel. None openly
support Palestine. So the rot goes deep into all parties on the Canadian
An interesting footnote to poor Canada's plight is how it is
being used as a Trojan Horse to encourage more NATO troops to actively fight
the Taliban alongside Canadian troops. CAP activist Sid Lacombe told the Weekly
his Dutch and German colleagues explain that their foreign/defence ministers
would never try to convince unsympathetic electorates that the US needs help.
Instead, they talk about how "Canada helped liberate us from the
Nazis," arguing, "We Europeans owe them one."
The sorry state of Canada's political scene is replicated in
Britain, according to peace activist Ian Taylor, who told the Weekly the
one hope to fight their Israel lobby, George Galloway's newly minted Respect
Party, is collapsing under the weight of too many expectations and media
loathing. Labour was long ago co-opted by the Zionists (the latest bribery
political scandal involves Labour Friends of Israel). A trip through Western "democracies"
surely would turn up similar sad cases of political near death from poisoning.
Where is the antidote?
Walberg writes for Al-Ahram Weekly. You can reach him at www.geocities.com/walberg2002.