No 1747 Posted by fw, August 10, 2016
“Well, until I put forward this resolution, to my knowledge I had never even been on the radar of the B’nai B’rith. But when they learned that I was the sponsor of the resolution, and that it had been supported by a significant majority in an online vote, all manner of attack was launched against me. I’m really not interested in repeating the quite awful things that were said. I can tell you that the B’nai B’rith, which audaciously claims to be a human rights organization, even though it’s acting as an apologist for a government that is violating international law on a daily basis. It has no regard for the truth.” —Dimitri Lascaris, The Real News Network
For about the first 8 minutes of a 19-minute video-recorded interview, Dimitri Lascaris, a London, Ontario based lawyer, and currently the justice critic of the shadow cabinet of the Green Party of Canada, provides a fascinating insider’s account of the events leading up to the Green Party’s passage of a resolution in support of the Palestinian BDS movement. Dimitri also explains how it came about that the Jewish National Fund resolution was stripped of any identifying reference to that organization.
But it’s the last half of the interview, beginning at about the 11:10-minute point, that particularly captured my attention. The segment begins when Real News interviewer Sharmini Peries asked Lascaris to respond to an alleged effort by B’nai B’rith to defame him:
“Dimitri, now, this resolution passed, but not without some personal costs. There was an effort by the B’nai B’rith Organization of Canada to defame you, to put it lightly. Tell us a little bit more about that.”
Below is an embedded video of the TRNN interview with Dimitri. An abridged version of the transcript is also included along with subheadings to facilitate browsing. Alternatively, watch the video and read the full transcript by clicking on the following linked title.
Green Party shadow cabinet member Dimitri Lascaris says the passage of the resolution in support of BDS could embolden other Canadian parties to take on the occupation.
Sharmini Peries, TRNN — It’s the Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore. The Green Party of Canada actively engaged its members in open debate about Palestinian human rights and Israeli assertions on Palestinian land at the Green Party convention in Ottawa this [past] weekend. There were two resolutions that were passed by the party. One about supporting Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions campaign, and another resolution about the Jewish National Funds activities and its charitable status.
Joining me now to talk about all of this is Dimitri Lascaris. Dimitri is a lawyer, and currently the justice critic of the shadow cabinet of the Green Party of Canada. He does legal work in the field of human rights and environmental law. He’s also board member at the Real News Network.
Peries — So Dimitri, tell us about these two very significant resolutions that were passed about BDS and JNF and its charitable status in Canada.
Jewish National Fund (JNF) resolution called for the Canada Revenue Agency to revoke JNF’s charitable status
Dimitri Lascaris — So the first one, the one relating to the JNF, the Jewish National Fund, or the Canadian branch of it, has had terrible status for many years. In essence, an organization involving human rights violations is not to be given charitable status under Canadian law and an amazing human rights activist by the name of [Cory Lavigne] on the west coast conceived and brought forward the JNF resolution which called upon the Canada Revenue Agency to revoke its charitable status.
Witnessing firsthand the brutality of Israel’s occupation, led Dimitri to sponsor a resolution in support of BDS
And she did that on her own initiative without my knowledge. But I was asked after she brought it forward to be a cosponsor and I readily accepted. Separately and independently of [Cory Lavigne], and in significant part because I visited this year, in April or May, East Jerusalem in the West Bank while I was in Israel to deal with some unrelated legal work and saw firsthand, the brutality of the occupation and the daily suffering of the Palestinian people, I decided to bring forward a resolution calling for support for BDS and opposing any attempts to demonize or criminalize or punish or deter expressions of support for BDS. And Cory kindly and promptly agreed to cosponsor my resolution because she fully supports it.
The JNF resolution, disappointingly, was stripped of references to that body
Both [resolutions] receive strong report from the people at the workshop and they emerged unamended. [But] on the [plenary] floor after that, the JNF resolution was frankly, I would say, cleansed of references to the Jewish National Fund. But the core principle was preserved, which is to say that organizations that are violating human rights should not have charitable status in Canada. Myself, I and Cory, I think it’s fair to say we’re disappointed by that outcome. But nonetheless at least the principle was intact.
The BDS resolution passed with enough support to make a hand count unnecessary
The BDS resolution was divided into two. But neither part of the resolution was changed substantially and both parts passed. And they passed with enough support that it wasn’t necessary to conduct a hand count.
Both resolutions are now party policy
Now these [resolutions] are party policy.
Pro-Israeli groups in Canada and Israel will make every effort to sabotage this victory
And you know I know that every, I’m quite conscious of that fact that every effort is going to be made by the apologists in this country and they’re quite vociferous for the government of Israel, in particular the extreme right wing government of Benjamin Netanyahu and every effort will be made somehow to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. And so that we have to be, those of us who support these resolutions, and the strong majority do, have to be vigilant and not take anything for granted. We have to preserve the victory and build upon it. And that’s going to require a lot of work.
Peries — Dimitri, in your opinion, is JNF at the moment violating Canadian international and human rights law in pursuing the work they’re doing, and should their status be revoked? And what were the conditions that led to this resolution in naming JNF specifically?
Under Canadian law, any organization complicit in human rights violations is not entitled to charitable status
Lascaris — As I said, I was not the author of that resolution so I’m basically reporting for you what I understand from Cory’s motivation for bringing it forward. But in terms of Canadian law I can certainly speak to that. And any organization which is complicit in human rights violations cannot have and should not have charitable status under Canadian law.
Peries — And what is it doing that counts for human rights violations?
JNF’s rules and policies prevent non-Jews from leasing or owning land that it (JNF) owns
Lascaris — Well as I said, it owns 13% of the land in Israel, and its explicit mandate is to use that land for the benefit of the Jewish populations. Its rules and polices are to the effect that anybody who’s not Jewish cannot lease or own the land that it currently owns. This is what’s being done in Israel. It works to the advantage of Jewish people.
JNF’s discriminatory practices have been complicit in concealing ethnic cleansing
So it’s an explicitly discriminatory organization and furthermore it’s actually been complicit in the concealing of ethnic cleansing, which is a war crime.
JNF developed a forest built on the ruins of three ancient Palestinian villages that they destroyed and ethnically cleansed
And in one particular place it’s a place that you know, that to the shame of our country is called Canada Park. The Jewish National Fund has developed a forest built on the ruins of three Palestinian villages that were destroyed and ethnically cleansed. Ancient villages.
One JNF official actually admitted to this cleansing, a human rights violation
And in fact, one official of the Jewish National Fund, and Corey Lavigne quoted him at the convention, has admitted explicitly that the JNF tries to camouflage the destruction of Palestinian villages and their replacement with some sort of Jewish-only land or facility or park. So these are serious human right violations. They’re well documented.
Worse still, the Canadian government has known of this for decades, yet JNF continues to be granted charitable status
They have been known to the Canadian government for decades. There’s absolutely no excuse for the Jewish National Fund having charitable status in this country.
Peries — And that particular reference to the Jewish National Fund was actually removed from the resolution, and therefore how effective is it going to be?
Party leader Elizabeth May has committed to take this matter to the Canadian Revenue Agency (CRA)
Lascaris — Well, our leader, I think quite rightly, Elizabeth May, she committed on the convention floor to Cory Lavigne and to myself and others to send a letter to the Canadian Revenue Agency asking for it to investigate the charity status of the Jewish National Fund.
So this resolution will have immediate practical significance
So it’s not going to simply a statement of principle. It’s going to be concrete action taken in relation to the Jewish National Fund following the convention. And we’ll have to see where all of that leads.
Lascaris believes Green’s BDS support “would have quite significant impact” but doesn’t explain the mechanism for gaining broad support for it from other parties in the House of Commons
The BDS movement, and our party’s support for that would have quite significant impact on those sectors of Israel’s economy and society that are profiting from the settling and the occupation. That was really I think the biggest battle of all by far. And there was a decisive win. In the workshop there was decisive support for the BDS and JNF resolutions. And on the convention floor [Elizabeth May] our party’s leader…. opposed it for reasons with which I disagreed but nonetheless she opposed it. The members heard Elizabeth May, and they decided in their wisdom to adopt it nonetheless. If this party is at all serious about democratic legitimacy, and I believe it is, then we will give scrupulous respect to those votes.
[The Alleged B’nai B’rith Attack]
Peries — Dimitri, now, this resolution passed, but not without some personal costs. There was an effort by the B’nai B’rith Organization of Canada to defame you, to put it lightly. Tell us a little bit more about that.
B’nai B’rith Organization of Canada launches a personal smear attack against Lascaris
Lascaris — Well, until I put forward this resolution, to my knowledge I had never even been on the radar of the B’nai B’rith. But when they learned that I was the sponsor of the resolution, and that it had been supported by a significant majority in an online vote, all manner of attack was launched against me. I’m really not interested in repeating the quite awful things that were said.
B’nai B’rith has no regard for the truth
I can tell you that the B’nai B’rith, which audaciously claims to be a human rights organization, even though it’s acting as an apologist for a government that is violating international law on a daily basis. It has no regard for the truth.
The thrust of their attack was an illogical accusation that Lascaris was singling out Israel, alone, as a human rights violator
And began to say things about me that, really, the fundamental argument, when you boil it all down, was that I was singling out Israel, because I hadn’t brought forward and no one else had brought forward a resolution, a foreign policy resolution, at this particular convention, relating to a human rights violator other than Israel.
This argument is a feeble attempt to deflect attention from Israel’s human rights record
Now, this argument, which has been used many times before I entered this debate against those who have condemned Israel’s human rights record, is really a canard. It’s an attempt to deflect attention away from Israel’s human rights record. First of all, if you look at the totality of my work in human rights advocacy you would never, if you’re remotely rational and objective, think that I have, that Israel is the only concern that I have in terms of human rights violators.
In fact, Lascaris had recently opposed Canada’s arms deal with Saudi Arabia, a known violator of human rights
In fact, on this very program, Sharmini, you may recall during the election last year in Canada I was condemning an arms deal between General Dynamics here in Canada, and the Saudi government, pursuant to which $15 billion worth of weaponized armored personnel carriers are being sold to the Saudi government. That was a very difficult position for me to take, because that arms deal is being executed in my own community, and it purportedly accounts for 3,000 jobs in a city that’s been hard hit by manufacturing losses. I was the only candidate in my riding to oppose it. In fact, all of the ridings in this area, the mainstream parties, all sung the same tune. They didn’t want to see the arms deal canceled. I was very adamant about this, even though it was not the politically expedient thing to do.
Why is it that when we condemn Israel’s human rights violations we are expected to concurrently condemn all other human rights violators on earth?
So if you look at my record in human rights advocacy you’d never say that I have some kind of fixation with Israel. But furthermore, and this is an argument, really, that was developed very well by a gentleman named Michael [Lesher], who’s an Orthodox Jew, and he’s a member of Jewish Voice for Peace. He said, only when we criticize Israel are we expected to yoke together with our condemnation of Israel a condemnation of all other human rights violators on earth. But if, for example, you single out another state, let’s take the case of Saudi Arabia, in some particular campaign, you almost never identify it as being racist against that particular population.
When Lascaris criticized the Saudi arms deal, no one condemned him for being anti-Saudi, anti-Arab, anti-Muslim
And in fact, when I was advocating during the election the cancellation of the Saudi arms deal, nobody said to me that that made me anti-Saudi, or anti-Arab, or anti-Muslim. No one said to me that it wasn’t legitimate to criticize Saudi Arabia if I didn’t criticize at the same time all the other human rights violators on the planet.
So when Israel claims, the government claims, that there’s a double standard, it’s quite right, there is a double standard. But it’s not telling us, and it’s not admitting that that double standard operates to the advantage [inaud.] its disadvantage.
The Mohammed Aleghan affair — B’nai B’rith accuse Lascaris of being a “supporter of terrorism”
Peries — Dimitri, now, one of the things that B’nai B’rith accused you of doing in their statement is going and meeting with a father of an accused terrorist who was then killed by the Israeli military. You had met with him, therefore by association you were condemned as a supporter of terrorism. Explain that meeting, and why you were there.
Lascaris’ account of his meeting with the father of an accused terrorist
Lascaris — Until I went to Israel this year I’d never even heard of this gentleman. His name is Mohammed Aleghan[?]. He’s a lawyer in East Jerusalem. By all accounts he’s well-respected by the Arab population of East Jerusalem. He’s a writer, he’s an activist. He’s had to deal with the Israeli military’s oppressive techniques before. But he himself, as far as I know, to this day, is not accused of any terrorist act, not by Israel, not by anybody.
Mohammed’s son was accused of killing three settlers
What happened was that his son, who was a well-regarded activist in East Jerusalem, is accused of having attacked three settlers in East Jerusalem, and killed three settlers in East Jerusalem last year. I don’t know, and I don’t purport to know, whether in fact his son committed the crimes of which he is accused. And if he actually attacked innocent civilians I condemn that. I do not condone any attacks by anybody on any innocent civilians or civilian infrastructure. That’s against international law. It’s an atrocity. And it’s not to be tolerated.
But Mohammed Aleghan is not accused of any such thing.
The Israeli government refused to return the son’s body to his father
What happened after his son was killed was that he demanded the return of his son’s body so he could give it a proper burial, and also he wanted it to be forensically examined because he has doubts about what happened to his son. He doesn’t readily accept the claims of the Israeli government. And the Israeli government refused to return the body of his son. He joined forces with others in East Jerusalem, other families that were in a similar predicament. And they appointed Mohammed because of the position he commands in the community to be their spokesperson.
Israeli authorities attached unreasonable conditions to the return of the son’s body
And in a meeting he was told by the Israeli authorities that if he did not agree to bury his son’s body within one hour of it being given to him, that they wouldn’t return it to him.
When the father refused Israeli demands, Israeli authorities demolished Mohammed [Aleghan’s] house
He refused, because he wanted to give his son a proper burial, and also for it to be, his son’s body, to be forensically examined. Within 24 hours of that refusal, the Israeli authorities demolished Mohammed [Aleghan’s] house. And that was an act of collective punishment. That is a violation of the 4th Geneva Convention. That is a war crime.
Regardless of what the son did/did not do, house demolition is an act of collective punishment and a war crime
I don’t know what his son did. I don’t know whether there is any credibility to these allegations. But I know that collective punishment is a violation of international law. The Israeli government doesn’t deny, to my knowledge, that it demolished his home after he refused to accept his son’s body on these extremely restrictive conditions. The B’nai B’rith, it took a snippet of a Facebook post which talked about my meeting with him, and completely omitted from its attack on me any discussion of the destruction of Mohammed [Aleghan’s] home. Any discussion of the offense of collective punishment, and its severity as an offense under international law.
Bottom line, B’nai B’rith has no regard for the truth
And that’s why I say that the B’nai B’rith, which amazingly claims to be a human rights organization, has no regard for the truth, because if they were really trying to get to the bottom of why I saw Mohammed [Aleghan], and why I expressed support for him, they would have told the public that my motivation was to address the offense of collective punishment. And that was completely omitted from their attack.
Peries — Dimitri, I thank you so much for that explanation. I think it was important to have your point of view, there. I thank you so much for joining us today, and look forward to seeing how these two resolutions take their course in the Canadian political milieu.
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