Oct. 28, 2020
By RON CSILLAG
Progressive activists want Canada to prohibit what they call “illegal” recruitment by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) in this country.
In an Oct. 19 letter to federal Justice Minister David Lametti, they called on the government to conduct a “thorough investigation…of those who have facilitated this recruiting for the IDF, and if warranted, that charges be laid against all those involved in recruiting and encouraging recruiting in Canada for the IDF.”
The campaign is being waged by the Canadian Foreign Policy Institute, Palestinian and Jewish Unity, and Just Peace Advocates.
An open letter signed by the American linguist and public intellectual Noam Chomsky, Pink Floyd frontman Roger Waters, author Yann Martel, and more than 170 Canadians was delivered to Lametti this month asking him to investigate recruitment taking place in Canada for the IDF.
“It is a crime in Canada to recruit anyone for a foreign military,” says a statement from Just Peace Advocates. “It is also a crime to aid and abet such recruitment by offering incentives and encouraging any person to serve in a foreign military.”
The groups cite Canada’s Foreign Enlistment Act, which states that “any person who, within Canada, recruits or otherwise induces any person or body of persons to enlist or to accept any commission or engagement in the armed forces of any foreign state or other armed forces operating in that state is guilty of an offence.”
The groups note that the only exception would be the recruitment of Israeli citizens who are not Canadian.
On “several occasions,” they allege, the Israeli consulate in Toronto “has advertised that they have an IDF representative available for personal appointments for those wishing to join the IDF.”
The consulate has “gone further” and arranged for IDF soldiers and veterans to be present in schools, summer camps and other venues in Canada “with the goal of inducing people to enlist.”
They add that according to one estimate from the CBC, 230 Canadians were serving in the IDF in 2017. “It is unclear how many of these individuals were recruited in ways that violate the Foreign Enlistment Act,” they say.
The campaign made front-page news in Montreal’s Le Devoir newspaper on Oct. 19.
Asked about the effort at an unrelated news conference in Ottawa on Oct. 19, Lametti said “diplomats from another country, therefore the diplomats of Israel who are here, follow Canadian law,” adding that the issue is “a question for investigators [and] the police, to decide whether there have been violations… I will leave the decision to the institutions we have in Canada to monitor the situation.”
Asked by Le Devoir whether he “completely wash[es] his hands” of the matter, Lametti replied that “we have institutions in Canada that are responsible for reacting to such situations. They are not exactly the same institutions in other countries and so as I said in the first answer, I will leave room for the responsible people in Canada to do what needs to be done.”
In a statement to the CJR, Galit Baram, Consul General of Israel in Toronto and Western Canada, said: “In Israel, the law requires compulsory service. Every Israeli, male or female, must serve in the Israel Defense Forces. Israeli citizens living abroad are obligated to settle their status with the Israeli authorities.
“As part of the consular services provided to Israelis living abroad, Israeli diplomatic missions assist in connecting with the IDF authorities. In large Israeli communities abroad, such as Toronto, which is the largest in Canada, a recruiting office representative may be dispatched at times to conduct in-person interviews.
“Israel and Canada are steadfast allies. Any allegations against Israel in this matter are unfounded,” Baram said.
In a similar vein, Israel’s Consul General in Montreal, David Levy, told Le Devoir that “these consular services we provide are reserved for Israeli citizens and do not apply to non-Israelis who volunteer for the army.”
Winnipeg-based lawyer David Matas points out that the Foreign Enlistment Act prohibits enlistment “in the armed forces of any foreign state at war with any friendly foreign state.”
Israel, said Matas, “is not at war with any foreign state which is a friend of Canada.”
He said the prohibition described in the act is limited to recruitment or other inducement.
“The behaviour of the Israeli consulate described in the [letter to Lametti] is not a recruitment or other inducement, since the Israeli announcement is limited to persons who wish to join the Israeli armed forces,” according to Matas, who’s considered an expert in the intersection of Canadian and international law, particularly as it applies to Israel.
“These persons would already have formed the wish to join the forces. There is no inducement nor [does there] need be any for persons who have already formed the wish to join the [IDF].”
Matas said those people “are self induced, not induced by the Israeli consulate.”