Conservative minister Jason Kenney is to receive an award for "diversity" from the Jewish National Fund (JNF) in London, Ontario this Sunday. It is hard to say which does more harm to the true values of diversity: the "honouring" organization or the politician being "honoured."
The JNF covenant reserves the 13 per cent of Israeli land it owns for the exclusive benefit of Jews. It plays the same discriminatory role in the Israeli Lands Authority: together, these two interlocking institutions control 93 per cent of land in Israel, which (with a few short-lease exceptions) is not available to Palestinians. Many of these lands, originally belonging to Palestinians expelled in 1948, were expropriated and then sold to the JNF.
In 1998, the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights reported that the "large-scale and systematic confiscation of Palestinian land and property by the State and the transfer of that property to these agencies constitute an institutionalized form of discrimination because these agencies by definition would deny the use of these properties by non-Jews."
Segregation and exclusion are incompatible with diversity, but fine with Minister Kenney. Since the robo-call election of 2011, Ottawa Conservatives have pushed through measures that discriminate against migrants and refugees. Last November they completely halted applications for immigration sponsorships of parents and grandparents until 2014.
The JNF creates forests and parks on the ruins of destroyed Palestinian villages to hide the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians and to prevent Palestinian refugees from returning. Canada Park, built on top of the ruins of the Palestinian villages of Imwas, Yalu and Beit Nuba (deliberately destroyed by Israel in 1967), was funded through Canadian tax-deductible donations to the JNF Canada.
The destruction of the Palestinian villages and the denial of the villagers' right to return to their homes are grave violations of the 4th Geneva Convention. Former Israeli Knesset member Uri Avnery calls this destruction a "war crime under international law."
War crimes (even those subsidized through our tax system) do not promote diversity but they are OK with Kenney and other Conservatives, whose unconditional support for Israeli crimes matches their complete disdain for our own national obligations under international humanitarian law. Just last week, they passed Bill C-31, a law that will result in the arbitrary detention, intimidation and re-victimization of highly vulnerable asylum-seekers in Canada, especially women and children. As of next week, refugees in this country will be denied vital medical services by the same Conservative government.
Like Indigenous peoples elsewhere, Palestinians Bedouins in the Negev have been and continue to be dispossessed of their land, their resources and their livelihoods by occupying populations. While countries like Canada move slowly towards reconciliation with aboriginal peoples through land settlements and compensation, funds raised through JNF dinners and Canadian tax deductions contribute to further dispossession of Bedouins and other Palestinians.
Indigenous dispossession does not help foster diversity, but that doesn't bother Conservatives like Kenney. In April 2012, they pushed through a policy allowing employers pay "temporary" foreign workers up to 15 per cent less than the prevailing local wage.
The JNF's exclusionary practices and policies in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories are not well known in North America, but recently in the U.K. major political party leaders (including the current Prime Minister) have begun distancing themselves from this discriminatory organization.
It is time more Canadians demanded the JNF's charitable status be revoked - in the name of diversity (and international law), while we work to reverse the damage done to vulnerable migrants by Kenney and other Conservatives.
We may not get any awards for "diversity," but we will be helping build a more just world for all.
UWO Faculty for Palestine member David Heap is a Steering Committee member of works with community groups including People for Peace and No One is Illegal in London. He gratefully acknowledges help from allies and colleagues in preparing this column. You can find David and others outside the London Convention Centre on Sunday afternoon.