Archives for category: Politics

Joe Biden has gone on the record to declare, like many US presidents before him, that Israel has the right to defend itself. And of course it does! If zombie Hitler rose from the grave to lead an undead Fourth Reich into the heart of Israel to finish the job, then yes, Israel should do its best to save humanity from the zombie Nazis. We would all be counting on them! However, now that 2020 is over and the likelihood of this event has dwindled, we have to look at the cold reality.

Hamas is firing rockets into Israel. That’s obviously a bad thing, so maybe Israel does have the right to retaliate against journalists, and the right to ensure that children are just under one third of all Palestinian deaths. Given that life expectancy in the area is so short that the median age is about 21 years old, it’s just statistically likely that there would be disproportionately younger victims. It’s simple math! But wait! Why is life expectancy so short in Palestine? Now a lot of folks don’t like talking about that because that means you’re bringing context into the conversation. Context would require us to look at what happened before Hamas started firing rockets into Israel, and if we do that, then maybe it doesn’t look so much like defense after all…

The body of a Palestinian child, killed during an Israeli airstrike, is carried to Al-Shifa hospital in the Gaza Strip, Palestine, on May 13, 2021. Photo: Mahmoud Issa/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images
Oh shit! Context!

What had happened just before the rockets was a police raid on the Al-Aqsa mosque in East Jerusalem. There were a whole bunch of Muslims praying there because, you know, Islam, and it’s the third holiest site of Islam, and it’s the month of Ramadan, so some Muslims wanted to do some praying. At the same time, some Israelis wanted to do some celebrating of Jerusalem Day to commemorate their invasion and occupation of the area back in 1967. Since the mosque is technically owned by the Muslims (though the grounds are patrolled by Israeli forces), the police banned the revelers from the area. They decided to plan their parade anyway. The police opened fire on the Muslim worshippers with rubber bullets, tear gas, and stun grenades; the worshippers were, at most, throwing rocks. If you were wondering, those revelers were still able to enjoy their party as flames leapt over the mosque! It’s not a great look.

East Jerusalem wasn’t bent out of shape for no reason, either. In the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood, Israelis were doing their best to forcibly evict Palestinians from their homes in order to claim them for themselves. It’s not like the Palestinians were behind on their rent or anything; the Israeli settlers just wanted to take their homes. So they did.

“If I don’t steal it, someone else will!” Well, they might, but it’s unlikely they would be an Arab.

We’re trying to look at context, so what’s the context of all this? What happened before? Well it started with the Nakba, or the ‘Catastrophe’, where over 700 000 Palestinians left or were kicked out of their land when Israel first became a thing in 1948. There were likely some atrocities to encourage them to leave, but these are being hidden by Israeli authorities. It’s pretty straight forward really. The British gave Jewish people a homeland thanks to the Balfour declaration, but it’s not like the land they were ‘giving away’ was empty (the British had also promised the land to the Arabs for helping them out with another thing, but you know, who gives a shit I guess?). Also, what’s the morality of a colonial empire ‘giving away’ land that it only ‘owns’ in an exploitative context? Anyway, the whole thing was a shit show, and all the Arabs in the area were kind of pissed for pretty obvious reasons.

In 1967, Israel decided to expand. To give a bit of nuance, a bunch of neighbouring countries were lining up military forces along Israel’s border, and overall tensions in the Middle East were high (the fact that there were hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees roaming around didn’t help, and Arabic countries kept trying to invade Israel to undo the crime they believe had been committed). However, Israel attacked first and attacked hard. To be clear in the context of this blog’s title, defense is not aggression. In about six days, Israel drove beyond its borders, and then annexed a bunch of the land it had invaded. Israel tripled in size at the further expense of the surrounding Arab countryside. This was (and still is) hella illegal under established international law, and the United Nations passed Resolution 242 to point out that you can’t just invade and take people’s land if you’re trying to establish peace in the Middle East. For comparison, when Russia annexed the Republic of Crimea, everybody got mad and imposed a bunch of sanctions even though Russia said that since Crimea was part of the USSR back in 1991 and had been a part of Russia since about 1783, it was entitled to have it back. Israel claims that because Jewish stories talk about a holy land, they have similar entitlement. I wonder if there’s a movement to sanction Israel, or at least boycott or divest investments…

Your laws mean nothing to me!

I’m not a historian, and I don’t advise utilizing this blog as any kind of historical education. There is much more to this story, and Israel arguably became a much safer country for its citizens after the 1967 expansion. The issue isn’t really related to traditional geopolitical affairs, but much more the creation and expansion of an ethno-state. Jews have what’s called a Right of Return that allows any diasporic Jewish person to easily immigrate to Israel; the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians that were displaced during its creation do not because Israel is a democracy and they don’t want non-Jewish voices influencing their political decisions. The overwhelming desire is to maintain a Jewish ethno-state. As an example, in 2018, it was enshrined in law that only Jews have a right to self-determination in Israel; Arabs in Israel, who also lost the official recognition of their language in the same bill, apparently do not. Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza Strip have no political voice whatsoever in Israel, despite Israel maintaining militarized checkpoints and controlling imports throughout the region.

This control manifests in many harmful ways. Checkpoints limit Palestinian ability to go to the hospital, go to a school outside of one’s ‘zone’, attend a funeral, whatever you can think of, because these checkpoints involve navigating hostile military police that can occasionally prove fatal. Israel also controls the water supply of Palestine and deprives them of this life-sustaining liquid. Israel actually illegally takes water out of Palestine to supply its own citizens. Palestinians only receive the aid that Israel allows, and with restrictions on fishing and lack of water, the food supply doesn’t do too well either. With Covid, despite Israel leading the world by having vaccinated 60% of its population, Palestinians aren’t doing nearly that well. They’re at about 5%. The conditions are so bad that the United Nations predicted that the land would be “uninhabitable” by… actually, according to their predictions, it already is.

Seems totally habitable!

Palestinians quite frequently rise up against Israel. They’re doing it right now, even, as I write this. Israel’s policy usually involves what is called “mowing the lawn“: when Palestinians get a little too uppity, the Israeli military will just come in and kill a whole bunch of them until they quiet down again. Even when Palestinians are protesting peacefully and unarmed, Israeli soldiers have been documented cheering on a sniper using them for target practice (the unit was reprimanded for taking a video, not for shooting unarmed protesters, if you were wondering). This ‘self-defense’ results in really disproportionate harms.

Palestinians aren’t too keen on all that stuff I mentioned above (and more – remember this isn’t an exhaustive blog), and Israel doesn’t want to give up its ethno-state. Really, it wants to keep expanding its illegal settlements into Palestinian territory to manifest the shit out of its destiny. Options are often framed as a binary between one and two-state solutions, but another, less discussed option is the perpetuation of a status quo that involves the gradual annexation of the surrounding territory and expulsion/extermination of the Palestinians living there.

It’s going well!

The world is trying to establish a degree of accountability. The International Criminal Court (ICC) is seeking to investigate potential war crimes committed by Israel when they were “mowing the lawn” back in 2014 (see statistics above). Hamas will also be investigated, but again, the statistics point to fairly disproportionate moral responsibility. The UN routinely attempts to condemn and interrupt Israel’s more pernicious behaviour, but the United States keeps stepping in to veto them. They’re even doing it again for the current crisis – 53 vetoes and counting! The Boycott, Divest, and Sanction (BDS) movement calls for non-violent intervention against Israel in a manner comparable to the successful international intervention that ended South African apartheid. However, in the United States, they’ve legislated against this kind of protest across the country, some places requiring professionals to sign an oath to never support the BDS movement lest they lose their job. In Canada, we’ve used our hate speech laws to stifle the BDS movement here at home as well. Elected Israeli officials offer no support either, and ‘alternate Prime Minister‘ Benny Gantz zealously seeks to develop illegal settlements with equal vigor to Benjamin Netanyahu. Israeli settlements in occupied territory are illegal under the 4th Geneva Convention. According to Human Rights Watch, what Israel is doing amounts to apartheid, but nobody ever seems able to do anything about it! Is firing rockets into Tel Aviv the best solution? Probably not, but the options available are quite limited.

Israeli violence against Palestinians cannot be considered defensive because it is an occupying colonial state – any violence is inherently an enforcement of its own hegemony. Even if Palestinians, or Hamas, or whomever, were to attack without ‘provocation’ which might necessitate ‘defense’, it’s hard to truly condemn insurrection based on the context of its evolution. We don’t cheer the explosion of Alderaan just because rebel forces might have attacked imperial storm troopers at a check point. Typical watchings result in rooting for the rebels.

The Death Star has the right to defend itself

To finish off, I’d like to quickly go over some of the counter arguments that I’ve seen in defense of Israel:

“Don’t you get it? Israel needs to bomb schools, hospitals, residential apartment buildings, media offices, and critical infrastructure because that’s where Hamas is hiding all their weapons and terrorists!!” The evidence that’s provided by the Israeli military about where Hamas might be holding its WMDs is often quite dubious. But let’s say for the sake of argument that the average, non-combatant citizen is so sympathetic to the Palestinian cause that they’re willing to let Hamas store weapons in the schools where children go to learn their ABCs (or the Arabic equivalent). Hamas is accused of using civilians as human shields, that’s part of the ICC investigation described above. Are people consenting to this? What does it say about the occupation that there are so many collaborators hidden among the Palestinian population? Maybe the depths that people are willing to go to resist Israel’s apartheid isn’t the slam dunk argument you think it is.

“Why does the left support Palestine?! Muslims hate gays, and the left LOVES the gays!! They’re all terrorists and Israel is doing what it can to keep order in a land filled with terrorists!!” Ah, I see you have chosen… racism. Demonizing a group of people as bogeymen to justify violent oppression against them is bad. No group is a monolith, and it’s quite dehumanizing to categorize them as such: hence, racism. Funny thing about racism, though: Israel is actually used as a template by some far right white supremacists for the ‘handling’ of minorities. The idea of an ethno-state is quite palatable to racists everywhere, and Israel certainly fits that bill. You can just ask Richard Spencer.

“Palestine wasn’t even a place when Israel was created! It was Syria and Jordan! It’s not their land!!” It was a territory of the British called Mandatory Palestine. Palestine has a long history of being associated with the region even if it was never established as an independent nation. It’s essentially irrelevant though: are you suggesting that they moved there from these other countries? Pretty sure the whole ordeal arises from the fact that these people were already there when was Israel was created, completely irrespective of what they were called. The problem doesn’t change! Let’s say they were truly stateless, does that mean they deserve the treatment they’re getting now? This one boggles my mind because like, this group doesn’t deserve dignity because the name doesn’t align with your understanding of history?

“You’re just being anti-Semitic! Why do you hate Jews so much!?” This is an obscenely common refrain when criticism of Israel arises, regardless of context. It’s offensive because it equates Judaism with the modern state of Israel (remember from earlier that no group is a monolith?). Plenty of Jewish organizations and individuals reject Israeli oppression. Hell, I would even go so far to say that criticism of Israel doesn’t even need to be considered anti-Zionist. Some Zionists need their Messiah to arrive before Israel can be founded, and see the secular institution of the nation as outside of their religious beliefs. Some Zionists don’t even recognize the current incarnation as a state!

Can’t we all just get along!?

Israel is in the midst of more lawn maintenance. What Palestinians are doing is fighting for their lives. This isn’t a ‘conflict’, or whatever milquetoast term some news organizations will use to try to be ‘neutral’ in their headlines, because that implies equitable forces on both sides. It’s a violent enforcement of apartheid being resisted by a group that doesn’t have many good options. Questions of ‘defense’ and ‘rights’ are often heavily loaded. When we look at all the context, the question shouldn’t involve such abstractions at all. What we should really be asking is: do Palestinians have the right to be alive?

I am a Canadian. This means that I get the first Monday of September off to have one last barbecue of the summer. In theory, I get this day off because the labour movement is something to commemorate, equal in its importance to families and to the birthday of the last British monarch of the 19th century. They just laboured so hard, so the government rewarded workers with a day off just to be nice. But why is it in September? Was Jim Labour, the founder of the movement, born ambiguously at the beginning of September? Is it to give children one last day of freedom before school starts and isn’t actually associated with labour at all? Most countries, from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, celebrate their Labour day (International Workers’ day) on or around May 1st. So what is North America’s deal?

Nothing shows international worker solidarity like pitting workers against each other, rather than holding accountable the company outsourcing to the cheapest labour standards possible. Why promote workers on Labour day when xenophobic misunderstandings of the decline of manufacturing is an option?

The biggest irony is that International Workers day has its roots in the labour movement of the United States, even though they would spell it differently. Labour day in both Canada and the US was originally commemorated in the spring as well, but was moved to September. It began as an acknowledgement of the Haymarket affair when union strikers were fighting for an eight hour work day, down from around 10 to 16 hours or so. Starting on May 1st, 1886, Chicago union workers began what was to be a lengthy peaceful protest. On May 3rd, the police opened fire on the protesters for no documented reason. May 4th, the strikers thought that maybe police brutality was a bad thing, and decided to protest that too. The mayor of Chicago at the time went to observe the protest, and confirmed that they were peaceful until… well, the police showed up. Once the cops arrived, somebody threw a bomb (nobody knows who) that killed a police officer, and then a riot broke out. A bunch of people died; it wasn’t particularly pretty.

Because aesthetics are important in American politics, they had a trial for the throwing of the bomb that instigated the riot. Unfortunately for reality, of the eight defendants, only two were actually present at the rally when the bomb went off. Seven of them ended up being sentenced to death, while the eighth got 15 years in prison. Four were hanged, one committed suicide the night before his execution, and the remaining three were pardoned in 1893 when I guess they realized that a jury that admitted prejudice against the defendants, an openly hostile judge, and no evidence whatsoever probably means that this was a gross miscarriage of ‘justice’. Oh yeah, I forgot to say that five of them were immigrants too. I’m sure that had nothing to do with it though.

Well, someone has to be guilty. Why not the innocent? I mean, how innocent could they have been, really?

What the defendants had in common was a political inclination toward anarchism. The anarchists were the de facto terrorists of the day and an anarchist even went on to successfully assassinate the American president in 1901. Even the “failing New York Times” produced very pro-police and anti-labour articles denouncing the violent ways of anarchism in response to the Chicago protests. However, much like terrorists today, anarchists served better as bogeymen rather than legitimate interlocutors on abuses of power, and those benefiting from those abuses preferred to focus on the frightening veneer of anarchism rather than an ideology that fought for the eight hour work day, the end of child labour, and fair wages.

This brings us back to Labour day. In 1894, President Grover Cleveland sent in the military to crush more striking workers, and at least 26 people died. With no anarchists to blame this time, Cleveland knew he had to do something, and it certainly wasn’t going to be better labour standards, so he gave the people a national holiday. Despite workers’ established connection to May 1st, Cleveland picked the first Monday of September. While this day is ostensibly linked to the celebration of workers done by the then mostly defunct Knights of Labor, Cleveland didn’t want any association with the Haymarket Affair because he was worried that its connection to anarchists, socialists, and communists might encourage further, radical labour action. Who wants more progress than an eight hour work day, anyway?

This radical notion took shape even before the radical notion that women should have a say in politics. I wonder what radical notions crushed by police brutality these days will seem well within the Overton window in another hundred years? Hint: it’s not going to be anti-maskers

In what is surely the largest coincidence of all time, Canada implemented its own Labour day on the first Monday of September in the exact same year. Those Knights of Labour sure were successful, just not in providing a day of international worker solidarity with most other countries of the world. While some of this is sarcastic speculation on my part, and I’m sure the Knights of Labour were huge in the development of the labour movement (they were linked to the fight for the eight hour work day and the Haymarket Affair), the reality is that a solid percentage of the world celebrates their Labour day on May 1st to commemorate the political crushing of a labour movement under the guise of “both sides” rhetoric on a continent that actively tries to sweep that history under the rug.

Today, anarchists are still used as bogeymen to scare pearl-clutching citizens away from progressive movements being brutalized by the police. It is somewhat funny that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Rather than thanking God for Friday, workers really ought to be thanking Marx and the anarchists that fought and died for their right to a weekend – anarchists that were murdered by the State just for being anarchists. But we don’t. We barbecue in September instead.

Happy International Workers’ Day!

When it comes to highest global carbon emissions, Canada is ranked 11th overall, contributing about 2% of the world’s CO2 emissions. On a per capita basis, however, Canada joins other oil producing nations of the Middle East and jumps to 7th place, ahead of the two largest polluters in absolute terms, China and the United States. Because Canada is supposed to be the “nice” country, we make claims of producing “ethical oil” to allay the fears of Western oil consumers not wanting to give their petro-dollars to evil Muslims. Our way of syphoning oil from the ground may make Canadians one of the biggest polluters on the planet, but we’ll be damned sure to do it politely. This brings us to the current debate around pipelines in Canada.

Pipelines are the practical manifestation of ethical oil. They reduce carbon emissions in long-distance transfers of oil (when compared to rail), they produce less spillage than rail, and they are typically built further from communities than rail. If we assume that oil production is going to continue into the near future, which is a safe bet all things considered, then the use of pipelines could be considered a harm reduction approach. If we are going to be polluting anyway, let’s pollute in the least pollution-y way possible. I mean, oil advocates also say that the pipelines are good because they’re going to expand the market, which would indicate more pollution since additional oil production will likely offset the reduction of carbon emission created by pipelines, but let’s sweep that one under the rug for now. All us hippie progressives love harm reduction when it comes to our drugs, why not embrace harm reduction when it comes to CO2 emissions?

It’s okay because the world has access to a needle exchange program

Vancouver is known worldwide for its harm reduction approach to drugs. They give heroin to heroin addicts, so surely their methodology is suitable for examining pipelines from this perspective. Vancouver invested in a four-pillars approach to fighting drug addiction in its city. These pillars are prevention, treatment, enforcement, and of course, harm reduction.

When looking at the pillar of harm reduction, its big caveat is that it does not condone the usage of drugs, but highlights that abstinence is not an immediate goal for some users, thus necessitating a pragmatic approach. Oil isn’t going away any time soon no matter how hard we might wish it to be so, so the first point goes to harm reduction.

Next, it wants to define what the harms actually are. Physical harms of drugs are obvious (death and illness, for example), but there are also psychological harms (the fear of crime/violence/family breakdown), social harms (the breakdown of social systems), economic harms (lost productivity, workplace accidents, health care costs, etc.), and community harms (public disorder, drug litter, etc.). Harm reduction is literally the name of the game, and pipelines do reduce the harms listed above. I mean, there are harms that pipelines ignore, like the aforementioned problem of expanding markets. Also, if we assume the jobs, jobs, jobs promised in pipeline development addresses economic harms, we have to ignore that oil is still a dying industry and renewable energy is the 8th fastest growing market in Canada. Short-term economic benefits may result in long-term harms, but I’m still fine burying my head in the sand over this for right now. Let’s just say that pipelines reduce measurable harms because they still technically reduce some harms.

You know, from this perspective, it looks like oil is going to last forever!

The next course of action within harm reduction is to maximize intervention options. Drug users need clean needles, sure, but they also need stable housing, supervised consumption, safe supply, street drug testing, and so on. Pipelines are one issue. While you can certainly find centrists who will advocate for pipelines being built alongside investments in renewable energy (the current Liberal government is one such example), those investments paints a different picture. Canada spends about $4.8 billion dollars a year on fossil fuel companies; this is not direct cash payments (though cash does appear occasionally, such as money for oil well cleanup costs – $1.7 billion), but includes things like tax breaks, research and development support, etc. Our environmentally conscious Liberals spent $4.5 billion on a pipeline that may actually go nowhere. In the wannabe petro-state Alberta, they spent $1.5 billion on a pipeline that the Biden administration very predictably cancelled. Alberta’s government also spends millions of dollars on a propaganda outlet that takes to task such things like the accurate reporting of the New York Times and cartoons. Remember these are tax dollars, not Big Oil corporate expenditures. When you realize that 10-30% of what the world’s governments spend on fossil fuels could pay for the entire green shift to renewable energy, it becomes clear that this is where we depart from the harm reduction philosophy. In order to truly reduce harm, we actually need to be putting real effort into moving away from fossil fuels.

Are you telling me that being nice about our oil isn’t actually enough to stop climate change??

The final aspect of harm reduction within the four pillars approach is the respect of basic human dignity. Drug users are human beings. They have endured trauma, and in order to cope with that trauma, they use drugs. It’s not a perfect system, but society needs to approach the problem with compassion and respect. However, the planet isn’t emotionally coping with anything. There is no autonomy to respect. The dignity of the Earth does not demand pipelines in the way that the dignity of a human being demands shelter and livelihood. Harm reduction is actually a failed metaphor because the planet is not doing this to itself. It’s an assault that we need to prevent from becoming a murder. Beating someone to death with a cushion may hurt less than a ball-peen hammer, but just because it takes longer doesn’t mean it still doesn’t ultimately lead to death. Harm reduction is allowing a person to do what they’re normally going to do in the safest way possible; the same kind of concession would mean allowing the planet to do what it would normally do as best it could with human beings dicking around on top of it. We are the ones addicted to oil. We are the ones needing intervention. Pipelines are the addict telling his family that he’s quitting for sure this time, but he still needs to borrow $40. A pipeline is not a clean needle. It’s a lie.