A spectre is haunting the Harper government and its pro-Israel allies. It's been dubbed CBG and it stands for Canadian Boat to Gaza.
Pro-Palestinian activists recently began raising $300,000 to send a Canadian-registered ship to help break Israel's illegal blockade of Gaza. The plan is to fill the ship with various supplies, a couple dozen prominent activists and to return with Palestinian exports.
Collecting $300,000 is not easy, but it's important that Canada be represented in the next international Free Gaza flotilla, which is expected to include boats from the U.S., India and many European countries. The Harper government continues to adopt an extreme pro-Israel position and the flotilla is an opportunity to demonstrate that there is a countervailing force supporting Palestinian rights.
The CBG could also be used to embarrass the Conservative government. Presumably, the prime minister would like to maintain his "Israel no matter what" position, which is popular with evangelical Christians and right-wing Jews, but can he actually support an Israeli assault against a Canadian-flagged ship?
If Harper supports Israeli forces commandeering a Canadian vessel in international waters -- tantamount to piracy -- Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff would be under enormous pressure to defend international law.
Irrespective of the positions taken by Canadian leaders, the ship will draw attention to Israel's siege of Gaza and the suffering of Palestinians.
Despite many logistical hurdles, the CBG was given a significant boost by the Canadian Union of Postal Workers. After Canada Post announced that it would no longer send mail to Gaza (Israel Post decided to halt mail to the area last month), the union called on Canadians to send their Gaza-bound mail on the CBG.
A number of Quebec unions also look set to support the initiative.
The media understands that the CBG could mark a watershed moment in pro-Palestinian activism. Both the National Post and Toronto Star have already run front-page stories about the effort and pro-Israel commentators have unleashed a torrent of criticism.
The Canadian Security Intelligence Service has taken interest as well. CSIS agents visited the home of one of the organizers, Ehab Lotayef, twice in one week. They claimed to be concerned that unfriendly individuals might take advantage of the endeavour, but this follows their recent harassment of other Pro-Palestinian activists.
Sending a boat to Gaza would be a major step forward for a movement that has made remarkable strides in recent years.
A decade ago, Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights didn't exist and now they have a dozen chapters across the country. Similarly, groups such as the Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid, Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East and Tadamon! have all been established in recent years. Ditto for Independent Jewish Voices and its six active chapters.
The organizing efforts of these groups are increasingly bearing fruit. During Israel's 22-day assault on Gaza at the end of 2008, many Canadian cities witnessed their largest ever pro-Palestinian demonstrations, while this year's Israeli Apartheid Week was bigger than the previous one. In February, 500 Quebec artists stated their intent to boycott Israel, and a few months ago pro-Israel groups suffered a humiliating defeat after trying to get Queers Against Israeli Apartheid barred from Toronto's Gay Pride parade.
Continuing this momentum forward, at the end of October Montreal will host an international boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) organizing conference that looks set to boost the nascent movement. The CBG provides the pro-Palestinian movement with another more high-profile opportunity to draw attention to Canada's role in Palestinian suffering.
For Israeli decision makers the forthcoming international flotilla is a major threat. Since killing nine aboard a Turkish vessel in May, Israeli officials have been under growing international pressure to end the blockade. A month ago, the new Conservative British prime minister, David Cameron, called Gaza a "prison camp."
But Israeli leaders are concerned that softening their policies in Gaza might have longer-term consequences. By conceding to international grassroots pressure they risk giving a boost to the international boycott campaign. It would further confirm that the tide is turning towards a just settlement
The Canadian Boat to Gaza depends upon many individuals donating $20, $40, or more and many others bringing fundraising proposals to their union, church or student group. Once the money is raised, the boat gives us an opportunity to stir outrage at Israel's brutal treatment of Palestinians and Canada's complicity therein.
People who support justice and peace should get behind the flotilla.
To donate click here.
Yves Engler's most recent book is Canada and Israel: Building Apartheid. For more information visit www.yvesengler.com
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