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The World Lacrosse Championships and Israel lobby groups' search for First Nations allies

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Photo: JustLacrosse.com/Flickr

By allowing the Haudenosaunee to travel to Israel for the World Lacrosse Championships on their own passports, Canada undermined its colonial authority. But Ottawa did so at the behest of those promoting the most aggressive ongoing European settler colonialism.

"As Indigenous peoples, we have both seen our traditional lands colonized, our people ethnically cleansed and massacred by colonial settlers," the Palestinian Campaign for Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel wrote the Iroquois (Haudenosaunee) Nationals on July 4. "We are asking you to respect our nonviolent picket line by withdrawing from the 2018 World Lacrosse Championships, denying Israel the opportunity to use the national sport of the Iroquois to cover up its escalating, violent ethnic cleansing of Palestinians throughout our ancestral lands."

While a number of Nationals players expressed support for the Palestinians' plight, the team rejected the call, possibly fearing a fine or banishment from future tournaments. Also affecting the Iroquois' decision, whose confederacy crosses the Canada-U.S. border, was the political importance they place on competing internationally. As "the only First Nations team officially sanctioned to compete in any sport internationally," playing lacrosse internationally is a way to assert their sovereignty, especially when governments accept their Haudenosaunee passports. As such, Canada often makes it difficult for them to travel on their First Nation passports. The Nationals were forced to withdraw from the 2010 World Lacrosse Championships in England for that reason.

Last Monday the Nationals were stopped from flying out of Toronto on their Haudenosaunee passports. But two days later Ottawa came to an agreement with Tel Aviv after Israeli officials, former justice minister Irwin Cotler, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft and the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) intervened. According to the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network, Canada granted the team, though "no other Haudenosaunee passport holders, a one-time exemption to travel to Israel using their Indigenous passports." In response, the co-founder of the Electronic Intifada, Ali Abunimah, noted on Twitter, "Justin Trudeau bends Canada's refusal to recognize Haudenosaunee passports, but only for Israel."

Anti-Palestinian groups labelled the Nationals participation in the tournament "a victory for Israel." "The fact that they are here is a tremendous victory against BDS," said former Israeli Knesset member Dov Lipman, who played a key role in navigating intense diplomatic discussions between Canada and Israel, detailed in a Jerusalem Post story titled "The Iroquois Nationals lacrosse team's incredible journey to Israel."

For its part, CIJA announced that they "were pleased to play a role helping the Iroquois Nationals lacrosse team overcome challenges related to their journey to participate in FILacrosse 2018 World Championships in Netanya. The team is now enroute to Israel."

The campaign to get the Nationals to Israel is the latest example of Israel lobby groups' work to thwart those who associate the plight of First Nations and Palestinians. Over the past 15 years Jewish and Christian Zionist groups have brought hundreds of First Nations leaders, educators, students and clergy to Israel.

In 2006 the Canadian Jewish Congress (CJC) took Assembly of First Nations (AFN) leaders, including Grand Chief Phil Fontaine, to Israel. Two years later the CJC sponsored a delegation of Indigenous women to the Golda Meir Mount Carmel International Training Centre. In 2007 and 2010 former Grand Chief of the AFN and head of the Misipawistik Cree, Ovide Mercredi, participated in tours organized by the Jewish National Fund. 

In 2012 CIJA sponsored an Indigenous tour to Israel with Cree and Inuit leaders as well as Indigenous representatives from Australia, Fiji, New Zealand, Samoa and Greenland. One participant, Ron Evans, was the Chief of Norway House Cree Nation. A former Grand Chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, Evans called Jews "the true, historic Indigenous people of Israel."

In 2014 Stand With Us Canada sponsored a trip for Ryan Bellerose, a Metis from northern Alberta, who has become a leading Israel advocate. Bellerose has written articles titled "Are Jews Indigenous to the Land of Israel? Yes" and spoken about the "effective use of the Indigenous rights argument in Israel advocacy." Despite running into trouble for derogatory comments to Palestinian resistance members, B'nai Brith hired Bellerose as its advocacy coordinator for Western Canada in 2016.

In Manitoba B'nai Brith is part of a Jewish/Aboriginal/Christian round table that has promoted Indigenous Christian Zionism. One of its acolytes is leading Aboriginal Christian zionist preacher Raymond McLean, who was profiled in a November Walrus story titled "Inside the Controversial U.S. Evangelical Movement Targeting Indigenous People."

To highlight Israel's 60th, the pastor of the First Nations Family Worship Centre in Winnipeg launched World Indigenous Nations for Israel. McLean told Israel birthday revellers in Winnipeg: "We are going to be celebrating all year, because the Jewish people got their land back that God had promised them." McLean, who visited Israel 16 times between 2003 and 2012, said: "I believe that since the Jewish people are God's chosen people, we have to stand with them." 

McLean dismisses the connection between settler colonialism in Canada and Israel. But, in doing so he employs a terra nullius/doctrine of discovery type argument -- which was used to justify settling Turtle Island -- to deny Palestinian indigeneity. According to McLean:

"There were Arab nomads who lived in the Holy Land prior to the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 who were hired by the new Jewish settlers. Also, neighbouring Arabs from Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt sought employment and were hired by the Jews who were settling in their new land after returning from exile after 2,500 years to reclaim their inheritance left by the ancestors. These Arabs became known as Palestinians but were originally Arab nomads and neighbours of Israel who Israel endorsed and recognized as Israeli citizens."

Israel lobby groups have worked hard to build support among First Nations. By enabling the Nationals to participate in the World Lacrosse Championships they succeeded in gaining Indigenous cover for the most aggressive ongoing European settler colonialism.

Photo: JustLacrosse.com/Flickr

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