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Huwaida Araf
photo by Rhonda Spivak

Naval commandos who stormed the Gaza bound flotilla, who are not allowed to be identified in photos.
Photo by Rhonda Spivak

John Baird, Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs


Report and Comment By Rhonda Spivak, June 3, 2011

The Toronto Sun reported this week that the Canadian government has been funding a group of "radicals" who are organizing  "to take part in a flotilla that will try to run the Israeli naval blockade of Gaza."

According to Sun columnist Brian Lilley, "A boat from this country is expected to be part of that flotilla in June [of this year] and one of the main groups involved gets millions of your tax dollars."

 "This time, instead of just having Canadians on the boat, a group called Alternatives International has a whole boat from Canada.

"The Montreal-based Alternatives, which has received $5 million from the federal government over the last few years, is not what most people think of when they think of an aid group. They don’t feed the hungry or clothe the naked. They are political organizers.

"According to their website, they “help the networking, building, and promoting of innovative initiatives in popular and social movements that are fighting for economic, social, political, cultural and environmental rights.

"Now they are organizing radicals in this country to join radicals from around the world in taking on the only democracy in the Middle East. The only country in the region that gives rights to minorities, that respects the rule of law.

"They are partnering with radical Islam to attack an ally.

"With your tax dollars.

"The Congressional Research Service in Washington has linked IHH, the Turkish charity behind the international flotilla effort, to Hamas and other terrorist groups.

"This is the group our own “peace activists” are partnering with to take a run at the Gaza blockade.

"I wish Alternatives were an isolated group, but they are not. Our foreign aid system has bought into the idea of capacity building to such a degree that we spend millions paying left-wing radicals from this country to train and organize left-wing radicals in other countries.

"It’s time to clean up this mess and it’s up to the Harper government to do it."

The Winnipeg Jewish Review sent email correspondence on May 31  to the Canadian  Department of Foreign Affairs to ask or a response to group Alternatives being listed as one of the "Canadian Endorsers" on the Canada Boat to Gaza website. We asked about the extent to which The Canadian Government funded the group  Alternatives, and what, if any, investigation will take place as a result of this group's involvement  in the flotilla. We asked to know the result of  any conversations the government has had with Alternatives in light of  their participating in the flotailla. We also specifically asked :" Will you look into whether such funding ought to continue in light of the group’s defying the Canadian Minister of Foreign Affair’s directive to Canadian groups not to participate in the planned flotilla... which is  aprovokative political action?

Rather than receive a response from  the  Department of  Foreign Affaris, we received a response from  Scott Cantin, Manager, Media Relations and Public, Canadian International Development Agency [CIDA] who wrote:

In reference to your questions sent yesterday [to the Department of  Foreign Affairs] we have the following answers for you:

 "The Government is very clear, we will not tolerate any Canadian aid being misused to undermine legitimate democratic states.

"CIDA does not support any Alternatives activities in West Bank and Gaza, and has never done so under this government.

"Our Government is committed to making Canada's international assistance more focused, more efficient and more accountable."

However, when we asked Cantin to tell us the last year  Alternatives received funding, Canton clarified that although  Alternatives did not recieve funding for projects in the Palestinian teritories, it has in the last  number of  years received funding directed to three other countries for specific projects. He said that Alternatives isn't able to divert money from one country to another. Cantin wrote:

"CIDA's current funding for Alternatives totals $769,828 over three years. This funding is for work in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Haiti to reduce poverty and foster economic development. The projects proposed by Alternatives in Afghanistan, Iraq and Haiti are aligned with CIDA’s objectives in these countries.[emphasis added] 

"More information on the project can be found on CIDA's Project Browser:

We asked further whether it was posible that money towards a flotilla could be considered to be funds that are not allocated to Gaza, because the flotilla will begin sailing form elsewhere in the world"

Cantin responded that the three countries are located "nowhere near" Gaza.

Since the Canadian governmenrt clearly has a relationship with Alternatives and funds it in other counntries, the Winnipeg Jewish Review asked Cantin if the government has had any conversations with Alternatives about its participation in the upcoming  Canada boat to Gaza.

He responded, "I am not aware of any," but also at one point  he mentioned that they would clearly be looking at the guidelnes for  projects funded.

Cantin's responses in my view confirm the concerns expressed by the Toronto Sun,  and one would think the Canadian government would be in a postiion to tell Alternatives that if they proceed to sponsor a Canadian boat in the flotilla, (which is especially unnecessary since there is no  food crisis in Gaza and since Egypt has opened th e Rafah Crossing) that they will put at risk  future funding  they recive  for all projects, whatever the country. Clearly, the Canadian government ought to have significant leverage over Alternatives, but I did not hear they are using it (although maybe behind the scenes they are).

Although Canada is not funding Alternatives activities in the West Bank or Gaza, by funding Alternatives in other countries, are they not effectively enabling it to put money aside for other political purposes such as  the flotilla ?

Canada's Foreign Minister John Baird  has "strongly" urged against Canadian involvement in this year's  flotilla.

He called the planned aid flotilla "provocative and, ultimately, unhelpful to the people of Gaza."

"I strongly urge those wishing to deliver humanitarian goods to the Gaza Strip to do so through established channels," Baird said in a statement issued May 28.

There are about about 100 Canadian organizations that have formed an umbrella group  planing to send  the Canadian boat,  named the Tahrir, to Gaza, such that even if Alternatives were not a part of it, it would sail anyway.

This year's flotilla is to comprise some 15 ships from several countries.

Baird said Canada "recognizes Israel's legitimate security concerns and its right to protect itself and its residents from attacks by Hamas and other terrorist groups, including by preventing the smuggling of weapons."

 A more "legitimate and constructive" way to help the people of Gaza, he suggested, is to donate to the International Committee of the Red Cross/Red Crescent.

When questioned by the Winnipeg Jewsh Review  about whether  Israel would be asking Canada to investigate its funding of Alternatives, Miriam Ziv , Israel's Consul  in Ottawa responded that she very pleased with the statement by Minister Baird and she did not need to raise the issue about Alternatives, as "I'm sure the Canada will investigate this themselves."

Baird also that "Canada continues to call for the immediate return of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, held by Hamas for almost five years, to his family in Israel."

In March of  2011, the Winnipeg Jewish Review intereviewed  Hawaida Araf, a Paelstinian activist who was on campus at the University of Manitoba asking students to join her in this year's flotilla. Our interview with her makes it clear that Araf does not belive that there ought to be a Jewish state in the Middle East, and takes the position that  Palestinian refugees have the right to  return to pre-67 Israel on masse. [see;  ]

Israel first imposed the  naval blockade on Gaza for  after Hamas,  which does not recognize Israel’s right to exist, ousted the Fatah movement in the Strip in 2007,. Hamas  has used ships to bring in rockets that have rained down on Israel.

Last year, when the Mavi Marmara would not turn around,  Israeli commandos landed on it. Those commandos were beaten with steel pipes, while other "peace activits" brandished knives at them.  Israeli forces opened fire and after the fighting was over nine people were killed.The Winnipeg Jewish Review met the Israeli  commandoes who intercepted the flotilla last summer.

On  May 27,2011, Secretary General of the United Nations  Ban Ki-moon voiced his concern about potential flotillas to Gaza, and wrote to Governments of countries around the Mediterranean Sea asking them to discourage their use to deliver assistance to the territory.

"The Secretary-General called on all Governments concerned to use their influence to discourage such flotillas, which carry the potential to escalate into violent conflict,” his spokesperson said in a statement.

“He further called on all, including the Government of Israel, to act responsibly and with caution to avoid any violent incident.”

In his letter to the Governments, Mr. Ban expressed his belief “that assistance and goods destined to Gaza should be channelled through legitimate crossings and established channels.”

Ban also urged Israel to take “meaningful and far-reaching” steps to end the closure of Gaza, adding that it was essential for the operation of legitimate crossings to be adequate to meet the needs of the civilian population living in the territory.

“The Secretary-General reiterated that, while he believed that flotillas were not helpful in resolving the basic economic problems in Gaza, the situation there remains unsustainable,” the statement said.




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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.