Protesting Canadian support for illegal Israeli military recruitment

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IDF soldiers on patrol in Israel. Image credit: Israel Defense Forces/Flickr

Once again a human rights group has determined that Israel's treatment of Palestinians amounts to apartheid. Human Rights Watch is calling for governments around the world "to impose sanctions and reconsider trade deals," according to Tuesday's Globe and Mail.

Once again supporters of Israel claim "bias" and "antisemitism" instead of acknowledging the obvious crime against humanity and promising to change. These apartheid deniers also complain that it is unfair to compare Israel to South Africa. And maybe it is -- just not in the way Israeli nationalists mean. 

As Noam Chomsky has noted, that country's oppression of Palestinians is "much worse" than the racism of the South African regime. Similarly, Canadian support for Israeli apartheid is far greater than it was for the South African variant.  

For example, can anyone imagine major Canadian institutions flouting the law to recruit young white people to join apartheid South Africa's brutal military in the 1980s? But that's exactly what's happening today with the recruitment of Canadians for the military that enforces Israeli apartheid.  

More than a few taxpayer-subsidized groups flout Canadian law to induce young people to move 10,000 kilometres to add their boots to the many already choking Palestinians. Fortunately, a new parliamentary petition is calling for an investigation into illegal Israeli military recruitment in Canada.

Submitted by Rabbi David Mivasair and sponsored by NDP MP Matthew Green, the petition calls "upon the minister of justice to undertake a thorough investigation of those who have recruited or facilitated recruiting for the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), and, if warranted, lay charges against those involved in recruiting and encouraging recruiting for the IDF."

The petition is part of a campaign backed by Chomsky, Roger Waters, Yann Martel and numerous other prominent individuals that delivered evidence of Israeli military recruitment to the justice minister and RCMP commissioner. While aiming to end formal recruitment, the goal is also to disrupt a vast IDF promotion network in Canada.

The reality is many Canadian institutions celebrate Israel's occupation force and some of them do so with taxpayer support. Receiving nearly half of its funds from the public purse, Montréal's largest Jewish school, Hebrew Academy, shows movies that celebrate the Israeli military, has students send gifts to IDF bases, and brings in Israeli emissaries to lead kindergarten classes in "fun IDF programs."

Toronto schools Heschel, Bialik Hebrew, Netivot HaTorah, Bnei Akiva and Leo Baeck also promote the IDF in different ways. These schools feed students to TanenbaumCHAT, Canada's largest private high school, which organizes fundraisers for Israeli military initiatives and holds regular "IDF days." 

At the other end of the age spectrum, a group of 80-something Torontonians gathered regularly before the pandemic to make hand-knitted toques for IDF soldiers. They are part of the Hats for Israeli Soldiers initiative. Another organization that supports the occupation force is Israel Defence Forces Widows & Orphans-Canada, which is a registered charity and partly funded by the Israeli government. 

Sar-El offers more concrete support to the IDF. Some 150 Canadians volunteer on Israeli army supply bases each year with an organization founded by an IDF general. A regular ad in the Canadian Jewish News for Sar-El noted: "Express your Zionism by serving as a civilian volunteer on an Israeli army supply base." 

For its part, the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem (Canada) has sponsored "fun activities" for "lone soldiers." Established by billionaire power couple Gerry Schwartz and Heather Reisman, the Heseg Foundation for Lone Soldiers also supports non-Israelis in the IDF. 

At its Toronto office, the Friends of Israeli Scouts' Garin Tzabar program provides Hebrew lessons and support services, as well as helping with transport and accommodation in Israel, for Canadian "lone soldiers." Nefesh B'Nefesh also helps non-Israelis join the IDF. In probable contravention of the Foreign Enlistment Act, registered charities United Jewish Appeal of Greater Toronto and Federation Combined Jewish Appeal Montréal publicized a webinar by Nefesh B'Nefesh last June titled "Joining the IDF," which claimed to offer participants "everything you need and want to know about joining the IDF." 

A few months before the pandemic began, 1,100 people attended an Association for the Soldiers of Israel-Canada and Canadian Zionist Cultural Association event in Toronto. "The evening featured heartfelt and captivating speeches from IDF commanders, as well as a performance by the IDF Ensemble," reported the Canadian Jewish News

Association for the Soldiers of Israel in Canada, Sar-El, Israel Defence Forces Widows & Orphans, Beit Halochem Canada (Disabled Veterans of Israel), Heseg Foundation for Lone Soldiers, and Hats for Israeli Soldiers have all received sympathetic coverage in the Canadian Jewish News. The news site has published dozens of articles promoting these organizations and repeatedly celebrated Canadians who join or promote the Israeli military. 

While it is immoral to promote and join the occupation force, it's logical from an Israeli nationalist perspective. The military is at the heart of Israeli society. "Israel is an army with a state," goes the saying. Considering its small size, Israel is among the most warlike nations in the history of humanity. Born of months of ethnic cleansing, the country has almost always been at war.

In addition to suffocating Gaza, occupying the West Bank, regularly invading Lebanese airspace and annexing Syria's Golan Heights, Israel has recently attacked Iranian ships and bombed Syria dozens of times. Over the years it's also bombed Palestine, Jordan, Egypt, Sudan, Lebanon, Tunisia, Iraq and unleashed violence in many other places. 

Every time one sees an IDF soldier put their boot on a Palestinian's neck in the West Bank, shoot a protester in Gaza, or bomb Syria, it's important to recognize the Canadian groups actively promoting Israel's military. Anger with these groups is the first step towards disrupting promotion of the IDF in Canada. 

Those of us who oppose all forms of apartheid must challenge IDF recruitment in Canada, which contravenes the law and is obviously immoral. Complaints must also be made against registered charities supporting the IDF in breach of Canada Revenue Agency restrictions on non-Canadian military support. Schools and other groups that promote the IDF should be publicly shamed. 

Finally, please sign the parliamentary petition calling for an investigation into illegal Israeli military recruitment. We need to disrupt Canadian support for the agents of Palestinian misery.

Yves Engler is a Montreal-based writer and political activist.

Image credit: Israel Defense Forces/Flickr

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