In the lead-up to the Second World War, many young idealists departed for Spain to help turn the tide against rising fascism in Europe. They fought to defend its elected Republican government from general Francisco Franco's fascist forces who were backed by Hitler and Mussolini.
In response to communist and socialist groups recruiting Canadians to fight in Spain, William Lyon Mackenzie King's government introduced the Foreign Enlistment Act. It notes, "any person who, within Canada, recruits or otherwise induces any person or body of persons to enlist or to accept any commission or engagement in the armed forces of any foreign state or other armed forces operating in that state is guilty of an offence."
This measure was an immoral response to the civil war. Still, the broader principle largely holds that Canadians should not be recruited to fight for other countries' militaries.
This is the backdrop to a legal complaint and open letter delivered today to Justice Minister David Lametti opposing the recruitment of Canadians for the Israeli military. Signed by Noam Chomsky, Roger Waters, former MP Jim Manly, filmmaker Ken Loach as well as poet El Jones, author Yann Martel and more than 150 others, it calls on the federal government to apply the Foreign Enlistment Act to those recruiting Canadians to fight in the Israeli military.
The open letter notes:
"the Israeli consulate in Toronto has advertised on several occasions that they have an IDF representative available for personal appointments for those wishing to join the IDF, not just those who are required to do mandatory service ... for years, we understand that the Israeli military has also conducted programs in Canadian schools and community organizations which are designed to induce persons in Canada to enlist in the Israeli military in direct violation of the Foreign Enlistment Act."
While the number is constantly fluctuating, there have been as many as 230 Canadians in the IDF at any one time. It is unclear how many of these individuals were recruited in ways that may have violated the Foreign Enlistment Act.
But, the Trudeau government has shown little interest in potential violations of Canadian law. As the letter notes, Canada's ambassador in Tel Aviv, Deborah Lyons, invited 78 Canadians in the IDF to her residence in January for a pizza party. She praised the soldiers as "a particularly special group" and told her guests "we at the embassy are very proud of what you're doing."
A Canadian ambassador celebrating Canadians fighting for another country's military is bizarre. As the open letter points out, the IDF has shot a number of Canadians in recent years. In 2018, for instance, an Israeli sniper shot London, Ontario, physician Tarek Loubani while he was providing medical care at a demonstration in the Gaza Strip.
Ambassador Lyons effectively celebrated Canadians fighting for a military that continues to administer what our federal government officially considers an illegal, 50-year occupation.
During a trip to the World Education Forum a decade ago, I saw firsthand the immense separation wall and segregated roads in the West Bank. I witnessed checkpoints with their parapets and machine guns and talked to communities whose olive trees had been uprooted and homes razed by the Israeli army.
It is clear that Canadians should not be recruited to enforce Israel's occupation.
The letter calls for "a thorough investigation to be undertaken of those who have facilitated this recruiting for the Israeli Defense Forces, and if warranted that charges be laid against all those involved in recruiting and encouraging recruiting in Canada for the IDF."
The ball is now in minister Lametti's court.
Bianca Mugyenyi is an author, activist and former co-executive director of The Leap. She currently directs the Canadian Foreign Policy Institute.
Image: Dennis Jarvis/Flickr
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