A screenshot from a Sar-El Canada promotional video showing volunteers preparing equipment for IDF soldiers.
A screenshot from a Sar-El Canada promotional video showing volunteers preparing equipment for IDF soldiers.

In a recent victory, the Justice of the Peace ruled that Sar-El Canada must attend court and respond to allegations it violated section 11 of the Foreign Enlistment Act by recruiting &/or inducing individuals to volunteer for the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).

The Foreign Enlistment Act states it is illegal to “recruit” or “induce” someone into “any commission or engagement”, combat or not, “in the armed forces of any foreign state.” But, Sar-El openly recruits Canadians to volunteer on Israeli military bases.

On its website Sar-El Canada calls for those who want to “work with IDF soldiers” and the Toronto-based organization has taken out advertisements inviting individuals to “Volunteer as a Civilian worker for 2 or 3 weeks on an Israeli army supply base”. A Sar-El volunteer told the Montréal Gazette in 2015 that “we’re taking on tasks that free up soldiers and give them more time to do the important work they’re trained for.” Sar-El Canada has also published pictures of Canadian recruits checking ammunition for the IDF and holding military assault rifles. 

According to Newswire, “It is alleged that Sar-El Canada acted as an intermediary to recruit or induce individuals to volunteer in a non-combatant role with the Israeli military. It is further alleged that once in Israel volunteers would reside on military bases, wear military uniforms, and complete tasks that would otherwise be assigned to soldiers. These tasks allegedly included (but were not limited to) packing food rations or medical kits, cleaning tanks, painting helmets, radio repairs, and gas mask refurbishment.”

Rabbi David Mivasair and Rehab Nazzal launched the case as a private prosecution after the federal government and Toronto Police failed to act on evidence they were presented with about Sar-El Canada violating the Foreign Enlistment Act. Rabbi Mivasair was the spiritual leader of two synagogues over 21 years while Nazzal is a Palestinian-born Canadian artist who was shot in the leg by a sniper while photographing IDF activities in Bethlehem seven years ago.

On November 23 Sar-El Canada representatives will have to state their plea to the criminal charges they are facing. Convincing a Justice of the Peace that the evidence warrants a trial is a relatively rare occurrence and a big step forward for a multifaceted campaign to pressure the Canadian authorities to apply the Foreign Enlistment Act vis-à-vis the Israeli military.

This campaign has included a public letter signed by numerous prominent individuals, a formal legal complaint submitted to the Justice Minister, dossiers of evidence delivered to the RCMP and Toronto police, thousands of emails sent to political and policing officials as well as parliamentary petitions, webinars and more.

On September 20, the Liberals finally responded formally to the parliamentary petition. While they agreed it was illegal to recruit for a foreign military, they sidestepped the matter, arguing it was a matter for law-enforcement (the police previously sought to pass the buck to Global Affairs Canada.)

Sar-El Canada is not alone. A series of Canadian organizations have promoted joining or assisting the IDF. Three years ago, the Israeli consulate in Toronto announced, “an IDF representative will conduct personal interviews at the Consulate on November 11-14. Young people who wish to enlist in the IDF or anyone who has not fulfilled their obligations according to the Israeli Defense Service Law are invited to meet with him.” In June 2020 Federation CJA Montreal publicized a webinar by Nefesh-B’Nefesh titled “Joining the IDF”, which claimed to offer participants “everything you need and want to know about joining the IDF.” In a particularly bizarre incident, Canada’s ambassador in Israel, Deborah Lyons, hosted a pizza party in January 2020 for Canadians fighting in the Israeli military.

It’s important to challenge support for the IDF in Canada. Since the start of the year, the Israeli military has killed at least 34 Palestinian children and multiple journalists. For 15 years the Israeli military has enforced an illegal blockade of Gaza and regularly bombs the coastal strip. Additionally, over the past four years the Israeli military has bombed Syria 100 times.

Forcing Sar-El to defend itself in court is a victory. It also puts other groups on notice that recruiting Canadians to assist the IDF is a violation of the law that will not go unchallenged.

Bianca Mugyenyi

Bianca Mugyenyi is an author and the director of the Canadian Foreign Policy Institute. She is the co-author with Yves Engler of Stop Signs: Cars and Capitalism on the Road to Economic, Social and...