Retail boycott of Iran unnecessary: CIJA

Shimon Fogel

Canada recently joined the United States and Great Britain in prohibiting financial transactions with Iran, but a major Jewish community organization believes anti-Iranian sanctions should be even tougher.

CIJA, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, is calling on the Canadian government to target the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) with an enhanced set of sanctions. At the same time, CIJA believes Canadians need not punish ordinary Iranian exporters by refusing to purchase Iranian goods, such as foodstuffs, at the retail level.

Avoiding Iranian goods, such as dates or carpets, would only hurt average Iranians. “Our grievance is not with the Iranian people, so we should have caution that sanctions not have an impact and cause more difficulties for people living under a brutal regime,” said CIJA CEO Shimon Fogel. “Sanctions have to target the perpetrators.”

Fogel noted that many expatriate Iranians hold a favourable view of Israel. “There was a time that a progressive and highly educated population had relations with Israel, so it’s not entirely outside the realm of their experience to see Israel as something other than the little Satan,”  he said.

About two weeks ago, Ottawa announced a new round of sanctions that “prohibit financial transactions with Iran, expand the list of prohibited goods to include additional items that could be used in Iran’s nuclear program and add[ed] new individuals and entities to the list of designated persons [that present a proliferation concern].

“The existing prohibitions on exporting goods used in the refining of oil and liquefaction of natural gas continue unchanged,” Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada announced.

The new measures came after the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported on the militarization of Iran’s nuclear program. Even before the IAEA assessment, Canada had complied with a UN-imposed sanctions regime after Iran refused to suspend its uranium enrichment activities. “These targeted measure are designed to hamper attempts by Iran to develop nuclear, chemical, biological and missile programs, as well as to persuade it to agree to constructive discussions,” Foreign Affairs stated.

Fogel said the Revolutionary Guards should specifically be included as a designated terrorist organization because “they control so much of the financial institutions within the country and these holdings finance terrorism and transfers to Hamas and Hezbollah.”

“The IRGC is a pillar of the Iranian regime, playing a central role in state repression and nuclear proliferation. Iran funds, facilitates, directs and carries out terrorist attacks worldwide via the IRGC, notably the 1994 bombing of Jewish and Israeli targets in Argentina,” Fogel said.

John Thompson, executive director of the Mackenzie Institute, a foreign policy and security think-tank, said it would be difficult to target the Revolutionary Guards and avoid affecting ordinary Iranians. “No one has any desire to punish the ordinary people of Iran,” he said. But the Revolutionary Guards run the bonyads, corrupt and inefficient charitable entities that control much of the Iranian economy, including exports. “It is kind of hard to separate the ordinary Iranian from the regime,” he said. “It [the regime] is trying to control every avenue of their lives.”

“One of the reasons Iranians hate the regime so much is that it runs their lives and the economy… The average Iranian businessperson is already impaired by the regime.”

In Parliament, Liberal MP Irwin Cotler, a longtime proponent of sanctions on Iran, asked whether the Revolutionary Guards would be listed as a designated terrorist organization. “The Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps has emerged as the epicentre of the nuclear weaponization program, of international terrorism from Argentina to Afghanistan and massive domestic repression,” he said.

In response, MP Bob Dechert, parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, stated: “Our latest expansion of sanctions against Iran prohibit almost all financial transactions with the Iranian government. They add individuals and entities to the list of designated persons and expand the list of prohibited goods. We are taking aggressive action to cover the known leadership of the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and block virtually all transactions with Iran, including those with the central bank.”

Fogel said, “Sanctions targeting the IRGC as a whole would completely isolate it financially, curtail its ability to contribute to these core areas of concern and undermine the Iranian regime’s ability to continue along its current trajectory. Listing the IRGC as a terrorist entity would accomplish this, and would importantly ensure that even if Iran were convinced to abandon its nuclear-weapons program, the IRGC would remain off limits to Canadians until its support for and direction of international terrorism comes to an end.

 “We commend the key steps the government of Canada has taken to address the IRGC’s role in Iran’s nuclear-weapons program. Listing the IRGC as a terrorist entity in Canada would have wider-ranging implications and would hopefully contribute to inducing positive change in Iranian policy on a number of fronts.”

Fogel said CIJA would also like to see Ottawa use its influence with governments that trade with Iran, such as China and India, to convince them to sever their business relationships. Canada should offer these governments alternatives, such as the supply of fossil fuels, to strengthen its case, he suggested.

According to government of Canada data, Canadian exports to Iran in 2010 totalled $120 million while imports reached only $38 million.