A member of Parliament has agreed to sponsor a petition calling on Canada to investigate allegedly illegal recruitment by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) in Canada.
NDP MP Matthew Green (Hamilton Centre) is sponsoring the e-petition, launched April 19. It follows a campaign that began last October, when a coalition of activists asked Ottawa to probe a practice they said violates the law.
At the time, the Canadian Foreign Policy Institute, Palestinian and Jewish Unity, and Just Peace Advocates presented a letter to Justice Minister David Lametti calling for an investigation and possible charges against those who recruit or encourage recruiting in Canada for the IDF.
The coalition says recruiting by the IDF in Canada violates the Foreign Enlistment Act.
As well, an open letter signed by the American public intellectual Noam Chomsky, Pink Floyd frontman Roger Waters, author Yann Martel, and more than 170 prominent Canadians was delivered to Lametti last autumn asking him to investigate recruitment taking place in Canada for the IDF.
At the time, Lametti said diplomats representing foreign countries in Canada, and “therefore the diplomats of Israel who are here, follow Canadian law.”
He referred the matter to the RCMP.
In an email, the RCMP said only that it is “aware” of the allegation, and that only if an investigation results in criminal charges would it confirm its investigation, the nature of charges laid, and the identity of the individuals involved.
The petition before Parliament quotes the Foreign Enlistment Act: “Any person who, within Canada, recruits or otherwise induces any person or body of persons to enlist or to accept any commission or engagement in the armed forces of any foreign state or other armed forces operating in that state is guilty of an offence.”
The petition charges that Israel’s consulate in Toronto has advertised “on several occasions” an IDF representative available for personal appointments for those wishing to join – not just those who are required to do mandatory service.
It further alleges that the IDF has shot and injured at least two Canadian citizens since 2015; that it has “repeatedly contravened” the Fourth Geneva Convention and “illegally” attacked Syria and Lebanon by missile or drone; and that Canada’s ambassador to Israel (at the time, Deborah Lyons) honoured Canadians serving in the IDF at an event in Tel Aviv on Jan. 16, 2020.
The petition calls on the minister of justice to “undertake a thorough investigation of those who have recruited or facilitated recruiting for the (IDF) and, if warranted, lay charges against those involved in recruiting and encouraging recruiting for the IDF.”
It was initiated by David Mivasair of Hamilton, Ont., a longtime pro-Palestinian activist.
Petitions that are sponsored by an MP and receive 500 signatures are tabled in the House of Commons. The government must then respond within 45 days. In many cases, it simply acknowledges their receipt.
The petition closes for signatures on Aug. 17. It exceeded 800 signatures within 24 hours of being posted.
In a statement to The CJN, Galit Baram, Israel’s consul general in Toronto and Western Canada, said: “Israeli law dictates compulsory military service to Israeli citizens over the age of 18, whether male or female. Consequently, Israeli citizens of drafting age living abroad are required to settle their status with the Israeli authorities, through Israeli consulates around the world.”
Any claims of alleged recruitment attempts in Canadian schools or summer camps, or any other such accusations regarding this matter, are misleading and completely unfounded,” Baram continued. “These claims are part of an anti-Israel campaign, which attempts to smear the State of Israel and undermine Israel’s steadfast alliance with Canada. This discredited campaign has been rejected by the Canadian government and should therefore be understood for what it is and dismissed.”
When the matter first came to light last October, Israel’s Consul General in Montreal, David Levy, told Le Devoir, where the story was front-page news, that “these consular services we provide are reserved for Israeli citizens and do not apply to non-Israelis who volunteer for the army.”
Also last October, Winnipeg lawyer David Matas was quoted as saying that Israel’s consulates practiced neither recruitment nor inducement since Canadian citizens wishing to join the IDF had already made up their minds.
“These persons would already have formed the wish to join the forces,” Matas said. “There is no inducement nor (does there) need be any for persons who have already formed the wish to join the (IDF).”
Those behind the campaign have countered that Israel’s Toronto consulate at one point posted an ad on its website, in both English and Hebrew, saying that an IDF representative was coming to the consulate. “If you are interested in joining the IDF or you have not fulfilled your duty according to the defence service law, you are welcome to book an appointment,” it said.
The activists alleged that the ad seemed to appeal, in part, to those who aren’t required to join the IDF. They have also alleged that some Jewish day schools, as well as community institutions and organizations, have hosted IDF members, who shared their experiences.
In an interview earlier this year, Costanza Musu, an associate professor in public and international affairs at the University of Ottawa who studies Israeli-Palestinian relations and Canada’s policy in the Mideast, said the issue seems to be “a gray area.”
She said some “impropriety” might occur if the IDF were to openly recruit outside Israeli diplomatic missions, but “people who are interested might also have Israeli citizenship (and) they need to hear about this.”Musu called the campaign “not really a legal issue but very much a political issue,” which would explain Lametti’s “reluctance to get involved.”
She said members of the IDF have spoken to her classes on the Arab-Israeli conflict, “and that’s not recruitment, obviously.”
In 2019, the CBC reported that at least 230 Canadians were serving in the IDF, citing 2017 statistics from the IDF.
One estimate put the number of lone soldiers from Canada – those with no immediate family in Israel – at about 150.Green’s office did not respond to a request for comment. The MP made headlines last summer when he deleted a tweet in which he had falsely accused Israel of demolishing a COVID testing centre in the Palestinian city of Hebron. The tweet drew an angry rebuttal from Israel’s embassy in Ottawa.