Israel illegally recruits Canadian citizens to its army

Federal law prohibits the recruitment of Canadians to foreign armies (Shadi Hatem - APA Images)

Nora Barrows-Friedman

The Electronic Intifada  /  December 21, 2020

Human rights activists are demanding an end to the Israeli military’s recruitment of Canadians, which violates the laws of that country.

The Canadian government has so far refused to enforce its laws, allowing Israel to continue the practice.

Canadians joined Zionist militias during the Nakba, the forced expulsion of Palestinians from their homeland in 1947 and 1948.

The Israeli army has boasted in recent years that it has enlisted hundreds of Canadian citizens to its occupation military, joining other foreigners including those from the US.

The CBC reported last year that Canadian government agencies do not keep track of how many of its citizens join the Israeli army.

Last year, the Israeli consulate in Toronto said that a representative of its military would be interviewing potential recruits.

Legal experts say this is a violation of the Foreign Enlistment Act which prohibits a foreign state from enlisting Canadian citizens into its armed forces.

The act, which passed in 1937, was originally an anti-communist measure to criminalize Canadians who travelled to Spain to help fight against the fascist Franco dictatorship.

In mid-October, 170 prominent Canadian faith leaders, activists, artists and intellectuals called on justice minister David Lametti to investigate and potentially take legal action “against all those involved in recruiting and encouraging recruiting” in the country for the Israeli army.

In addition to the prominent Canadian signatories, leftist scholar Noam Chomsky, Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters, filmmaker Ken Loach, Nobel Peace Laureate Mairead Maguire and journalist Chris Hedges signed the letter.

John Philpot, a criminal litigation attorney and international law expert, filed a formal complaint with Lametti over Israel’s recruitment within Canada.

Such recruitment is “a crime under the criminal code of Canada,” Philpot told The Electronic Intifada.

Philpot also called on Lametti to investigate Deborah Lyons, Canada’s ambassador to Israel, who held a party at the country’s embassy in Tel Aviv to honour its citizens serving in the Israeli army.

Only 33 of the 78 Canadian citizens in the Israeli army were able to attend the January event. Many were unavailable because they were deployed to the Golan Heights – Syrian territory occupied by Israel – and along the Gaza boundary, Canada’s defense attaché told media.

“We consider that [Lyons], potentially, is encouraging people to join the Israeli army and could be charged,” Philpot said.

Nearly 1,500 people have sent letters to Lametti demanding that recruiting schemes be stopped.

Lametti deferred responsibility to the police.

“It is necessary that the diplomats from another country, therefore the diplomats of Israel who are here, follow Canadian law,” he said.

“It is up to the police investigators to decide whether there have been offenses and, if there is one, for the prosecutor to proceed with formal charges.”

Following justice minister Lametti’s response, Philpot sent a complaint to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in early November.

The RCMP acknowledged receipt of the complaint, according to Philpot.

Canada’s pro-Israel policies, including its opposition to the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement for Palestinian rights, are out of step with public opinion.

A September poll found that 86 percent of Canadians do not want Israel to be held to a different standard than other countries.

“The fact that illegal recruiting by Israel can happen here with impunity is a reflection of the overall situation,” Bruce Katz, co-president of the group Palestinian and Jewish Unity, told The Electronic Intifada.

“We’re dealing with a very well-organized, well-funded machine,” Katz added, referring to Israel lobby groups that have a distorting influence over Canadian policy.

“They can be held liable”

Philpot said that leaders of schools who promote student enlistment into the Israeli army could be liable to charges.

Various “Lone Soldier” programs attract and sponsor international recruits to the Israeli military.

As reporter Yves Engler has noted, some Jewish schools in Toronto, for example, incorporate promotion of Israeli soldiers and army officials into their curricula.

Israel lobby groups also promote Israeli military propaganda at Canadian universities.

In November 2019, Palestine rights activists were physically attacked by far-right extremists at York University in Toronto when they protested an event glorifying Israeli soldiers.

The event featuring Reservists on Duty, a group created to defend the Israeli army and counter the Israel boycott movement at university campuses, was hosted by Herut, a Canadian Zionist organization.

The organizers billed the event as an opportunity to hear from “real Israeli soldiers.”

Philpot said that human rights advocates should continue to document and protest these recruitment schemes.

“Canadians are joining a criminal army and putting themselves in the service of war crimes to which they can be held liable,” Philpot warned.

Nora Barrows-Friedman is a staff writer and associate editor at The Electronic Intifada, and is the author of In Our Power: US Students Organize for Justice in Palestine (Just World Books, 2014)