Yves Engler: Canadian government attacking aid groups aiding needy Palestinians while giving tax-exempt status to organizations bankrolling Israeli settlement expansion, considered illegal under international law
SHARMINI PERIES, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries in Baltimore.
In Canada, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police raided the offices of a Canadian aid group, IRFAN. And it labeled this a terrorist organization.
Here to talk about all of this is Yves Engler. Yves Engler is a Canadian commentator and author, his most recent book, The Ugly Canadian: Stephen Harper’s Foreign Policy.
Yves, what’s going on in Canada?
YVES ENGLER, AUTHOR AND POLITICAL ACTIVIST: Well, this is a big step forward in the Conservative government’s extreme pro-Israel policy, labeling a Toronto-area Muslim charity a terrorist organization–only the second time that a domestic organization has been labeled a terrorist organization, added to Canada’s terrorism list. This is a campaign, a decade-long campaign that the Conservative government has been waging, Conservative Party has been waging against this, the International Relief Fund for the Afflicted and Needy, which is a–operating in numerous countries around the world, obviously including Palestine, the West Bank and Gaza. And before coming to office, then Conservative official Member of Parliament Stockwell Day in 2004 claimed that IRFAN was a front for Hamas.
There was a–the Canada Revenue Agency looked into the matter back then, did not find that was the case. Once the Conservatives took office in 2006, once again the Canada Revenue Agency was prodded to look into IRFAN. They, after a long investigation, spent hundreds of thousands of dollars investigating the organization. They concluded that IRFAN was in fact providing resources to Hamas. The main evidence against IRFAN was that it had delivered a dialysis machine to a hospital in Gaza. The hospital in Gaza fell under the Health Ministry. When Hamas won elections in 2006, of course they took control of the Health Ministry in Gaza, hence claim that IRFAN was supporting Hamas. Also, IRFAN continued to provide support for orphans in Gaza. The money was channeled through the post office. The post office, again, when Hamas won elections in 2006, was overseen by Hamas. So you have the Canada Revenue Agency claiming that this money was–because a dialysis machine and money through the post offices, which are operated by or overseen by Hamas, therefore IRFAN was supporting Hamas.
It’s a completely bizarre accusation, because even during the time of the conflict between Hamas and Fatah, which dominates in the West Bank, IRFAN continued to work with Fatah, the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, who were furious, you know, basically at war with Hamas. So Fatah and the Palestinian Authority did not consider IRFAN to be a supporter of Hamas. But for some reason the Canada Revenue Agency has information that the Palestinian Authority does not have on that front, which is very hard to believe.
And now what you see happening is basically not only–this was about three years ago that they had–IRFAN had their charitable status revoked by the Canada Revenue Agency–and the charitable status means you can give people a tax write-off when they donate money. So that’s something that is very helpful to charities. But now they had their charitable status revoked three years ago, and now they’re actually being branded as a terrorist organization. And this happens only a week before IRFAN was going to court with the Canada Revenue Agency over the matter of their having their charitable status revoked. So the timing of this attack against–or the listing of IRFAN is of very questionable timing.
But it really–this has to be seen in the context of the Conservatives’ ardently pro-Israel policy, their repeated attacks against nongovernmental organizations, solidarity groups that in one way or another have supported the Palestinian cause.
PERIES: Yves, it appears that there’s a coordinated effort by the Canadian government to isolate organizations working in Palestine. And is there a similar assessment of organizations, Jewish organizations working in the region?
ENGLER: Well, certainly in terms of groups that are seen as pro-Israel, it’s a completely different perspective. I mean, there’s lots of Jewish organizations in this country that are critical of Israeli policy, and those groups tend to be offside with the Conservative government. But there’s a number of charities in this country that support different Israeli institutions, including the Israeli Defense Force, including settlement projects in the West Bank, in the occupied West Bank, which contravene international law. And in 2010, the Conservative minister in charge of the Canada Revenue Agency said it was openly–it was acceptable for Canadian charities to openly raise funds for settlement projects, which, again, are contrary to international law, and even ostensibly contrary to official Canadian policy.
So on one hand, you have a situation where the Conservatives are targeting a Palestinian or a Muslim charity based in Canada that funds orphans, that provides support for orphans in Gaza, that has provided support for a hospital in Gaza. So they’re targeting them and they’re actually accusing them of being terrorists. On the other hand, they’re making it openly acceptable for registered charities in this country to raise funds for settlements, to continue to support the Israeli Defense Forces. And so this is ostensibly being subsidized by the Canadian taxpayer, because registered charities provide tax receipts to donors, and that can be as much as 40 percent of the money ostensibly comes from Canadian taxpayers. So the double-standard on this issue is just completely flagrant, where it’s one more example of the Conservative government supporting Israel, and not just Israel, but the most aggressive and expansionist forces in Israel, through the tax code in this country and allowing for donations to the settlements underwritten by the Canadian taxpayer.
PERIES: Yves, thank you for joining us.
ENGLER: Thanks for having me.
PERIES: Thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
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