Somewhere in the great book of Conservative Party strategy it is written that, when muddying the political waters, members shall in all cases employ the expression “very clear.”
It’s rumoured that the marketing group considered using “perfectly clear,” but rejected it for its Nixonian association. In any case, informed Ottawa-watchers know that whenever Stephen Harper or any of his cabinet ministers declare themselves to be very clear, a gob of bitumen to the eyeballs is sure to follow.
Maxime Bernier pronounced himself very clear when he, Harper, and Peter Mackay were denying all knowledge that the notorious torturers of the NDS were torturing prisoners handed over to them by Canadian troops. Less clear was why they ever believed that the Afghan secret police would make an exception for Canada’s detainees. Peter Mackay was again very clear about the F-35 fighter jet, as the price played billion-dollar leapfrog with itself.
Jim Flaherty wants to be “very clear” that he is “committed to balancing the budget in 2015. Period,” though he was equally clear in the past that it would be balanced by now. At press time, teams of researchers were still busy tabulating the number of times Harper has declared himself very clear while ducking questions on the Senate scandal.
Most recently, according to Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, the government has been “very clear” about its position on Israeli settlements on the West Bank, despite the fact that it’s impossible to tell what that position is.
The website of the Department of Foreign Affairs makes the following declaration: “As referred to in UN Security Council Resolutions 446 and 465, Israeli settlements in the occupied territories are a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention. The settlements also constitute a serious obstacle to achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace.”
The occupied territories are lands taken by Israel during the Six Day War in 1967. Settlements are illegal Israeli housing projects on those lands, as well as in annexed territories in East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. Leaders of the settler movement are unequivocal about its purpose, which is to extend Israeli sovereignty into areas claimed by the Palestinians, to make it impossible that the land will ever be returned. In condemning this act of aggression, the DFA joins not only the UN Security Council, but the International Court of Justice and almost every other country in the world.
But while the Canadian government officially opposes the settlements, Harper and Baird have been very clear that they will neither engage in nor tolerate public criticism of this or any other action taken by the Israeli government. During his recent love-fest in Israel, Harper told the Knesset that criticism of Israeli policy is “the face of the new anti-Semitism.” Baird told an appreciative crowd at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee that there would be “consequences” for the Palestinian Authority if they file an international legal complaint against Israel’s settlement program.
Though loath to criticize Israel for its deeds, Baird has no problem with issuing sharp criticism of the PA for its words. When Abbas made his successful bid for UN recognition of Palestinian statehood, Baird was there to oppose him. The general assembly overwhelmingly supported Abbas, but the Canadian government didn’t like his speech. “He could have been generous, and we didn’t see any generosity in his remarks,” Baird told the AIPAC convention. “And that deeply, deeply concerned many of us.”
In response to Abbas’s speech and the decision of the UN to recognize the existence of a Palestinian state, Israel announced that it would build 3,000 new illegal homes in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Canada of course officially opposes this development, but neither Baird nor Harper has made any public expression of deep concern. In fact, according to Baird, the Palestinians themselves are to blame for this appropriation of their territory. Had Abbas not made such an ungenerous speech, Baird explained, Israel would not have had to retaliate.
NGOs who take steps to oppose the settlements cause the Conservatives concern too, as Oxfam Canada was just reminded. Oxfam opposes international trade with the Israeli settlements, a fact which came to light recently when the international development agency fired its “global ambassador” Scarlett Johansson. Johansson came into conflict with Oxfam policy when she took a job representing Sodastream, a gadget manufactured by an Israeli company on occupied Palestinian land.
Jason Kenney, Canada’s minister of employment and one of the most powerful figures in the Conservative Party, responded with a tweet announcing that he had “bought a nice Sodastream” and thanking Oxfam for the tip. For a Canadian NGO, such a jab is not to be taken lightly. In 2009, the church-based aid group Kairos lost its government funding for exactly this: opposing the illegal settlements that the DFA also opposes.
Canada opposes Israeli settlements on occupied land. We also oppose opposition to those settlements, whether by word or by deed. We recognize that the settlements are in violation of the Geneva Conventions and an obstacle to peace, but we can’t say so out loud, and there will be consequences for anyone who does. In the Conservative Party of Canada, this is what passes for clarity.
Al Pope won the Canadian Community Newspaper Award for best columnist in 2013. He also won the Ma Murray Award for Best Columnist in B.C./Yukon in 2010 and 2002.