by Bilal Hamade
It might be sheer coincidence that the last two prosecutors in the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) are Canadians. Daniel Bellemare, who held the position since 2009, is now being replaced by Norman Farrell. Nevertheless, this “coincidence” is particularly telling of the increased Canadian interest and involvement in the Hariri assassination case and the politics of the Middle East at large.
It was CBC, a Canadian public broadcasting channel, who first aired the report about “definite” Hezbollah involvement in the assassination, in November of 2010. The 22-minute video starts with a stereotypical oriental beat and ends with an explicit accusation that Hezbollah assassinated Hariri and Wissam Eid. The suspenseful special report of Neil Macdonald, CBC’s Washington correspondent, used dramatization, sensationalism, emotional language, and a set of inaccurate information, to make the case against Hezbollah. This report left out other critical information, especially information related to a possible Israeli involvement. This all while the oriental rhythm of pain and tragedy played in the background.
Why would a once objective and trusted network air such an unprofessional and biased report? There are two possible explanations for the CBC’s conduct. First, airing a scoop story to a direct audience that is unfamiliar with its contextual details is less likely to cause controversy, while it remains good for the network’s ratings.
The second explanation, which is more significant, revolves around the spillover effect of the conservative government’s biased policies towards Israel. Such bias may have reached the media amongst other non-governmental entities, such as universities.
The Harper government has surpassed any other Canadian government in publicly endorsing Israel. This has had detrimental effects on the prestige and the image of Canada around the world. Losing the bid for a Security Council seat in 2011 can be seen as one of them. Furthermore, the Harper government’s support for Israel has also extended to fighting the Zionist state’s contenders. Even before Harper reached office, he was involved in lobbying against Hezbollah and Hamas.
It was Harper’s activism alongside pro-Israeli groups that forced Jean Chretien’s Liberal government to classify Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, back in 2003. Before that, Lebanese Canadians were celebrating the liberation of south Lebanon by raising Hezbollah flags in the parks over barbecue feasts. Moreover, in October of 2002, Prime Minister Chretien sat nearby Hezbollah’s Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah during a conference of La Francophonie summit held in Beirut.
Taking advantage of the panicky environment that followed the 9/11 bombings, the pro-Israeli lobbies, composed of politicians and non-governmental organizations, mounted pressure on the Canadian government. The Canadian Alliance Party (the precursor to today’s Conservative Party) led by Stephen Harper, as well as senior Liberal politicians, led the campaign inside the parliament to list Hezbollah as a terrorist entity. Lobbying groups such as B’nai Brith (a Jewish human rights organization) and the Canadian Jewish Congress, also pressured the Canadian government to go forward with the listing.
Chretien and his foreign minister resisted the pressures by arguing that Hezbollah is a political party that is representative of a large portion of the Lebanese people. However, Chretien’s resistance collapsed after the Canadian media ran a story by the Washington Times that reported Nasrallah saying at a Beirut rally: “Suicide bombings should be exported outside Palestine…I encourage Palestinians to take suicide bombings worldwide, don’t be shy about it.” After major newspapers published the story on their front pages, a public outcry followed. One week later, the Chretien government listed Hezbollah as a terrorist organization.
Shortly after, the same Neil Macdonald, then CBC’s Middle East correspondent, concluded that Nasrallah was misquoted and that he was falsely accused of making the published statements. According to a report by The Daily Star (Beirut), the correct translation of Nasrallah’s remarks at the Jerusalem Day rally was, “Zionists and those behind them should understand that any harm caused to the al-Aqsa Mosque will ignite the whole region.” This misquote was of little significance after the listing was made.
After Harper assumed office in 2005, his support for Israel materialized as domestic and foreign policies. The first action Harper took in that regard was his unprecedented public support for Israel after the start of the 2006 war, where he described Israel’s bombing of civilians as a “measured response.” Later, members of the Lebanese Canadian community, especially Shias, were put under surveillance. This practice was supported by modifying and indiscriminately implementing anti-terrorism laws. It became illegal to “participate in or contribute to, directly or indirectly, any activity” related to Hezbollah.
In 2009, Bnai’ Brith, the same pro-Israeli organization behind Hezbollah’s enlistment, condemned a Canadian university for hiring a suspected “terrorist.” Hassan Diab, a Lebanese Canadian professor at Carlton University, was arrested under suspicion of participating in a Paris Synagogue bombing in 1980. He awaits extradition to France.
The Harper government policies have undoubtedly aligned Canada more than ever with Israel. Benjamin Netanyahu’s words in a press conference with Harper are indicative of this intimate relationship. Addressing Harper, Netanyahu says: “…Stephen, we have a lot in common.”
Consequently, when it comes to the Middle East, Canadian foreign policy takes the Israeli interest at heart. Regarding Lebanon, the Israeli interest is to weaken and destroy Hezbollah. As such, it becomes safe to assume that Canadian involvement in the STL, or any other activity that targets Hezbollah, springs not from Canadian considerations, but Israeli ones.
Ideologically and religiously motivated, Harper’s policies toward the Middle East, are not likely to change anytime soon, especially after winning the majority in the 2011 parliamentary election. Meanwhile, expect more Canadian involvement in the STL.
Bilal Hamade is a graduate student of Political Science and International Relations at the University of Windsor. This article was originally published in the Lebanese Daily Al-Akbhar and can be accessed here.