This year's sixth international Cairo Conference against imperialism and Zionism continued the same themes as last year: dialogue between the left and Muslims, the struggle against Islamophobia, press censorship, torture and dictatorship, and the chance for Western peace groups to network on Middle East issues. The most inspiring project was the growing campaign to boycott Israel in the West and plans to coordinate this on an international level with the long- standing Arab and Muslim boycott campaign.
Otherwise, there was little to gladden activists, for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan continue apace, not to mention the increased brutality of Israel against the Palestinian people. There are changes going on in Western countries, with increased activism of students and trade unionists. But the political scene is dismal, despite the overwhelming unpopularity of US-NATO/Israeli wars, as governments continue to bow to Zionist pressures -- both internal and external.
A case in point is Canada, which was unofficially represented at the conference by 14 members of the Canadian Peace Alliance (CPA) and others from student organisations. Delegates to last year's conference were attacked in the right-wing National Post and Ottawa Citizen for consorting with "terrorists" and "shouldn't be surprised if they come under scrutiny of the Canadian security services", simply for their willingness to dialogue with Muslims fighting the various wars now being inflicted on them. But they were not intimidated and returned full of energy. The conference gave them the opportunity to continue to share their experiences and make valuable contacts in the anti-war struggle. Al-Ahram Weekly spoke with several delegates about what is happening in the land of the maple leaf.
The Canadian political scene has been transformed in the past year, and not for the better. The 2,500 Canadian troops in the dangerous southern Kandahar region of Afghanistan had their mission extended to 2011 on 13 March in what was billed as a fateful parliamentary vote, as the pro-war Conservatives have only a minority government and the war is deeply unpopular among Canadians. In a recent poll, only 15 per cent favoured extending the troop presence to 2011, with 60 per cent in favour of bringing the troops home now. In fact, the vote was a walk-over, with the Liberals voting alongside the minority Conservative government, with only the small social democratic New Democratic Party (NDP) and the Bloc Quebecois voting against.
How was this possible? The Liberal Party leader, Stephane Dion, should be a natural opponent of the war. In fact, as Liberal critic for foreign affairs in 2006, he voted against extending Canada's original commitment of troops, which was to end in 2005. Quebec politicians -- mainly Liberal -- opposed WWI and WWII, and the federal governments of the time dared not introduce conscription, fearing the collapse of the Canadian confederation.
Yet Dion was manipulated into supporting the Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper and forcing his own Liberals to vote against what is clearly a violation of Canada's sacred role as peacemaker in international affairs. Despite strict pressure by party whip Karen Redman, 20 Liberals didn't show up and one -- Newfoundland MP Bill Matthews -- dared vote against. Redman issued a statement saying she "would make whatever decisions need to be made" to punish the truants and the lone rebel. Meanwhile, in a less than subtle propaganda ploy to counter French-Canadian distaste for "fighting other people's wars", the media is always highlighting Quebecois troops bravely fighting the "detestable scumbags and cowards", as Canadian Chief of Defence Staff General Rick Hillier famously called the Taliban.
A partial answer to Dion's political about-face was revealed at a bi-election meeting two days after the parliamentary vote, on 15 March in Toronto. Bob Rae, an ex-NDP leader and born- again Liberal, was running in a safe Liberal constituency. When CPA members heard about the meeting, 10 snuck in the back door, raised their anti-war banner and demanded to hear why, in a democracy, the overwhelming opinion of the electorate was being ignored by the leading candidate. Dion, who was present, was paralysed, while Rae smoothly offered the protesters their 30 seconds but proceeded to ignore their question. When establishment journalists took up the theme, he neatly sidestepped the issue and escaped unscathed. Interestingly, Rae, a committed Zionist -- his wife is vice-president of the main pro-Israeli lobby, the Canadian Jewish Congress (CJC) -- came second to Dion during the last leadership convention, and is clearly being preened as the heir apparent when the Liberals collapse in the next election.
An earlier bi-election last year in another supposedly safe Liberal riding in Quebec backfired even more spectacularly for the Liberal leader. Outremont has been Liberal for 68 of the 73 years it has existed, and the NDP traditionally fares abysmally in Quebec. Yet they won 48 per cent of the vote there in an election that NDP leader Jack Layton called a "referendum on Afghanistan". Layton is called "Taliban Jack" by pro-war critics, just one step away from being put on a terrorist watch list like last year's Cairo Conference delegates presumably have been. His is virtually the only clear anti-war voice on the national scene, despite the solid anti-war sentiment in Canada, which stubbornly refuses to bow to the pro-war media.
The Afghan debacle has already cost over 80 Canadian soldiers' lives (vs Britain's 91), and the Canadian taxpayers well over $5 billion (official figures are $3 billion by 2009), as the government hurries to slash social spending. An intelligent and brave politician should be able to take this issue and run with it. But just as Democratic presidential contender Obama Barack's anti-war position is now being deriding by US media as his "weak point", no Canadian politician is allowed to do what should come naturally in any democracy worthy of the name.
All this is in fact an eerie replay of John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt's argument about the Israeli lobby in the US, whose "core" is "American Jews who make a significant effort in their daily lives to bend US policy so that it furthers Israel's interests." Its Canadian counterpart, led by the CJC and Bnai Brith, through extensive media control and privileged access to the highest levels of government, has poisoned the Canadian political scene, paralysing the anti-war majority and choking all debate, pushing the Liberals into the Conservatives' arms on the one issue that could win them the next election. Canada's continued agony in Afghanistan is vital to the Israeli lobby; after all, a rejection of the Canadian role in the genocide in Afghanistan is a step down the slippery slope of a rejection of blind support for Israel's genocide in Palestine.
Instead, the Liberals are now very likely to lose -- probably resoundingly, with their indecisive leader flip-flopping on the one issue that could secure him victory. Just as McCain is now the favourite of the US pro-Israeli lobby and US anti- war sentiment is stifled and ignored, Harper has earned their Canadian counterpart's favour and anti-war proponents are silenced, allowing the Conservatives to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat in the next election, with the media cheering him on and a disillusioned electorate splitting the vote among lesser parties or merely staying home.
This poison has unfortunately infected the NDP as well as shown by its caving in to the Zionist lobby on its campaign to boycott Durban 2, the UN Conference against Racism to be held next year in South Africa. The upcoming conference was loudly denounced by both Harper and Dion for daring to criticise Zionism as a form of racism, and NDP foreign affairs critic Paul Dewar, apparently without clearance from Layton, joined the chorus. When CPA activists protested to Layton personally, he claimed ignorance and to his credit had all references to this criticism of the UN conference removed from NDP websites. However, he did not actually support the conference and certainly would never dare criticise Israel or Zionism in any significant way. On the contrary, several NDP MPs are outspoken supporters of Israel. None openly support Palestine. So the rot goes deep into all parties on the Canadian political scene.
An interesting footnote to poor Canada's plight is how it is being used as a Trojan Horse to encourage more NATO troops to actively fight the Taliban alongside Canadian troops. CAP activist Sid Lacombe told the Weekly his Dutch and German colleagues explain that their foreign/defence ministers would never try to convince unsympathetic electorates that the US needs help. Instead, they talk about how "Canada helped liberate us from the Nazis," arguing "we Europeans owe them one."
The sorry state of Canada's political scene is replicated in Britain, according to peace activist Ian Taylor, who told the Weekly the one hope to fight their Israeli lobby, George Galloway's newly minted Respect Party, is collapsing under the weight of too many expectations and media loathing. Labour was long ago co-opted by the Zionists (the latest bribery political scandal involves Labour Friends of Israel). A trip through Western "democracies" surely would turn up similar sad cases of political near death from poisoning. Where is the antidote?
Eric Walberg writes for Al-Ahram Weekly. You can reach him at www.geocities.com/walberg2002/