Israeli Assault on Gaza Reminds Us: Stopping Harper Requires Challenging his Foreign Policy
Israeli assault on Gaza reminds us: Stopping Harper requires challenging his foreign policy
By Derrick O'Keefe; November 20, 2012 - rabble.ca
"Justice is indivisible, and injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." -Martin Luther King Jr.
For the past week, people from all walks of life have come together in Vancouver -- and right across Canada -- to publicly express outrage about the latest round of Israeli atrocities against the people of Gaza.
This is the least we can do in the face of such grotesque injustice. Thus far, at least 140 Palestinians and three Israelis have been killed. This ratio gives us an idea about the real nature of this 'conflict' between the Israeli state and the Palestinians.
This is not, in fact, a conflict between two equal sides. This is a settler-colonial project that has dispossessed, oppressed and tortured the Palestinian people for decades. Today, this is one of the world's most powerful militaries unleashing sadistic levels of violence -- bomb strikes from the sky, artillery shelling from the sea -- on an impoverished and imprisoned population in Gaza.
What Israel is doing, and has been doing for years with its blockade of Gaza, is medieval in its cruelty. But don't take my word for it.
"The goal of the operation is to send Gaza back to the Middle Ages," says Israeli Interior Minister Eli Yishai.
This the voice of barbarism. And the toll it's taking in innocent blood is rising daily.
Why write -- again -- about Gaza, when there are so many pressing social justice issues here in British Columbia and in Canada?
For several reasons: because, as King stressed, justice truly is indivisible. The inequality that has grown in recent years here in Canada is part of an unequal global system. And because the Canadian government led by Stephen Harper is the world's most unabashed, over-the-top supporter of Israel's oppression of Palestinians.
After the first day of this latest massacre on Gaza, Harper's government released a statement supporting Israel, which made no reference whatsoever to the Palestinians who had been killed. This is par for the course with Harper. Back in 2006, after a prolonged Israeli bombardment of Lebanon had claimed more than 1,000 lives, including many civilians, the prime minister called it "a measured response." Harper has said he will stand with Israel "whatever the cost."
Given this over-the-top support for Israeli war crimes by the Harper government, it is our responsibility to speak out, to denounce and to work towards the day when we can have a government that works for peace and justice in the world.
Unfortunately, very few elected opposition politicians in Canada have been willing to speak out against Harper's pro-Israel policy. Many know the truth but fear reprisals from right-wing media outlets and from a well organized lobby that supports Israeli policies. A number of progressive elected officials have told me this explicitly.
Against this fear of speaking out, we need more political courage. We need politicians who speak up for basic principles "whatever the cost." Politicians love to talk about opposing bullying, but too often allow themselves to be bullied into silence.
Even outside the parliamentary arena, there are many activists in the social justice and environmental movements who avoid the issue of the Middle East, and of foreign policy in general. I've heard many iterations of the same rationale for this silence: Canadians don't care about global issues, and they don’t vote on foreign policy.
This approach is both cynical and short-sighted. Even if we could "stop Harper" and change the government without dealing with its foreign policy, it would be a pyrrhic victory. Harper, in his six years of governing, has already substantially changed Canada’s posture towards the world, and he is working consistently to change Canadians' self-perception. In short, he is working to make Canada more aggressive and militaristic -- this is central to his overall political project.
So we have to take Harper on directly, and we need to develop our own political project, one which imagines a truly just foreign policy for Canada. To that end, and with the lack of political courage amongst many of our 'progressive' elected representatives, it’s essential to organize civil society and grassroots coalitions to work for peace and justice.
As long as the Canadian government gives it's unconditional support to a government bombing a people "back to the Middle Ages," we must continue to protest and to speak out.
An earlier version of this column appeared in The Source.
Derrick O'Keefe is a writer and social justice activist in Vancouver, BC. He is the author of the new Verso book, Michael Ignatieff: The Lesser Evil? and the co-writer of Afghan MP Malalai Joya's political memoir, A Woman Among Warlords: The Extraordinary Story of an Afghan Who Dared to Raise Her Voice. Derrick also served as rabble.ca's editor from 2007 to 2009, a position he currently holds. Topics covered on this blog will include the war in Afghanistan and foreign policy, Canadian politics, media analysis, climate justice and ecology. You can follow him at http://twitter.com/derrickokeefe