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Daily News Analysis

Canada's conundrum: to follow the law or allow IDF recruitment in Canada

Crescent International

By Karin Brothers

Israel annually recruits about 6,000 foreign youths to serve in the Israeli armed forces, about 75 of whom this year are Canadian.

Canada has allowed this recruitment for decades, and encourages it.

Canada's ambassador to Israel, Deborah Lyons held a reception for Canadian recruits in Tel Aviv on January 16, 2020, and told them how proud the embassy was of them.

A prominent photo of Lyons with the recruits was featured in a Canadian newspaper.

The Canadian government also shows its support for Israeli army recruitment by allowing tax-deductible status for Heseg, a charity run by donors for the Liberal Party, Gerry Schwartz and Heather Reisman.

The organization offers scholarship incentives and occasional gifts to the thousands of non-Israeli “Lone Soldiers”.

Israel recruits Canadians publicly.

The Israeli consulate in Toronto and various educational institutions typically advertise annual recruitment events for the IDF.

Complaints to the Canadian government about foreign recruitment have been ignored.

For three quarters of a century Canadians have been recruited inside this country to fight in Israel’s military. Finally, however, there is an organized effort to stop this practice.

But under Canada’s Foreign Enlistment Act, it is a criminal offense to recruit—or even to aid and abet recruitment of—Canadians for foreign military services in Canada.

Although the law criminalizes recruitment by any foreign military, service with the IDF is particularly problematic because of the war crimes that Israel is committing against Palestinians living under its military occupation.

Israel is imposing an apartheid regime in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.

It is also ethnically cleansing Palestinians from Jerusalem and the Jordan Valley.

In the past couple of years, IDF soldiers, drone operators and IDF snipers have killed hundreds of civilians in occupied Gaza, including farmers, fishermen, members of the press and medical personnel.

Soldiers bear personal responsibility for their actions under international law.

IDF veteran Oren Medicks once estimated that about 95% of those who served in the occupied Palestinian territories were involved, directly or indirectly, in the commission of war crimes.

He also believes that racism against Arabs was inevitable from IDF service.

Israel is presently being investigated for war crimes by the International Criminal Court.

Those who served in its military are potentially liable for criminal actions for which there is no statute of limitations.

Although it is unlikely that IDF veterans will face accountability for acts they may have committed, there are other serious issues.

The racism and violence that recruits had to employ are unwelcome back in Canada and many are traumatized by the situations they faced.

According to Jennifer MacLeod in the January 20, 2020 Canadian Jewish News, “... although lone soldiers comprise only 4 per cent of Israel’s military, they make up 30 per cent of its suicide rate.”

Several Canadian organizations, Just Peace Advocates, Palestinian and Jewish Unity(PAJU), and the Canadian Foreign Policy Institute, are demanding that Canada’s Attorney General and Justice Minister David Lametti investigate and lay charges against those who have been breaking Canada's criminal statutes by aiding and abetting this foreign recruitment.

It remains to be seen how the Canadian government will react, given its strong support for Israel, which it has prioritized over the rights of Canadians:

  • While recent EKOS polls show that 80% of Canadians support boycott of Israel, Trudeau has repeatedly “condemned” boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) as “anti-Semitic” and in 2016 his party supported an anti-BDS Parliamentary motion, implicitly threatening Canadians’ freedom of speech.
  • In 2019, the Trudeau government formally adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance's definition of anti-Semitism, which appears to be more focused on Israel's interests than on racism. If or when this “racism” becomes criminalized, this will severely limit Canadians’ freedom of expression and of the press for the benefit of Israel.
  • The Trudeau government's legal challenge to a 2019 federal court ruling is the closest parallel to its ignoring foreign recruitment laws. The court ruled that wine produced in the illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank must not be labeled “Product of Israel” according to international law. Trudeau’s government is appealing this to the Supreme Court—at taxpayers ‘expense—to help Israel legitimize its illegal presence in the West Bank.

The question of whether Canada will enforce its criminal statutes against an ally or IDF recruitment of Canadians in Canada will actually end may depend on public pressure.

Justice Minister Lametti responded on October 21, 2020 to over 1000 letters from supporters of this campaign (including Noam Chomsky, musician Roger Waters, and filmmaker Ken Loach), stating that diplomats must respect Canadian law, and the issue of IDF recruitment would be referred to the police and the Public Prosecutor for investigation.

It sounds promising, but many are doubtful whether charges actually will be laid or the IDF recruitment stopped.

Without strong ongoing public demands to end the illegal IDF recruitment in Canada, it appears that Trudeau’s government will play for time and ignore the issue. The greater crime would be continuing to allow Canadian youth to serve in Israel’s colonial enterprise.

Karin Brothers is a freelance writer based in Toronto, Canada

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