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"A majority of Canadians had no idea what was going on and in fact lacked a basic understanding of our parliamentary system. This is a crisis. Wake up and get informed; because quite frankly our members of parliament can't be trusted with it anymore." Rick Mercer, January 14, 2009

Rick Mercer, comedian and TV personality, thus urged Canadians to get informed in order to be better citizens. However, if the current trend continues, the variety that is required in our sources of information will be more difficult to come by. Neither Canadians nor our political leaders will therefore be equipped to ensure that our children will live in a responsible, respectful of the rule of law, and internationally respected Canada.

Our country is being used as a fly-trap by a propaganda network that churns out and cross-feeds reports and articles for use by those who lobby hard for Israel. Their reach is wide and deep within our political body, be they religious groups such as Charles McVety and his CanadaChristianCollege extremists, or secular groups and individuals such as ".. . who rejoiced at the change of policy, not minding that it was done on the basis of a narrow partisan view, without any other opinion even being heard.

NGO Monitor's assault on human rights organizations for what it considers interference into Israel's domestic affairs doesn't stop it from meddling in the politics of Canada and other countries.

Beyond the talking points issued by the National Information Directorate, the Israel Project, Canadian Centre for Israel Activism, and advocacy projects by Hasbara Fellowships (a joint Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Aish International program) such as Campus Advocacy, Israel on Campus Coalition (North America), direct influence is brought to bear on groups of federal and provincial leaders, parliamentarians and/or their staff, legislators, chiefs of police (more than 30 in 2005), presidents of universities and educators, mayors and other officials who are taken every year to Israel, with most or all expenses paid.

The intent, as one organizer put it, is "to focus on elevating our Israel-Canada connection to a higher, deeper level, so they have a more emotional level of understanding of our shared values". The means? Highly partisan and sophisticated use of McCarthyite techniques, such as cherry-picking facts and guilt by association.

For example, Rosie Di Manno thinks that since "Kairos is intimately aligned with other groups internationally, that have aggressively called for economic and academic boycotts against Israel," it is automatically guilty as charged.

NGO Monitor has attacked a long list of NGOs, including Human Rights Watch, and questioned their source of funding. However, NGO Monitor's own source of funding remains rather nebulous.

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And of course, the biggest, ongoing, guilt-by-association canard, that all Palestinians are guilty of terrorism for having fulfilled their democratic duty as voters, "justifies' the collective punishment imposed on the whole civilian Palestinian population in Gaza.

Operations Cast Lead that saw more than 1400 Palestinians killed, over 300 of them children and the ongoing siege of Gaza have led a growing number of the Jewish diaspora to question Israel's expansionist policies. They have also taken notice of books and rabbinical fatwas that tell Israeli soldiers to disobey evacuation orders, although such decrees are not new.

In 1993, Shlomo Goren, a former Chief Rabbi of Israel and Chief Rabbi of the IDF, forbade Jews, including soldiers, to evacuate any settlement. U.S. Rabbi Moshe Tendler, confirmed that "Orthodox rabbis who support the Middle East peace process are accomplices in murder and in violation of Jewish law."

These are the groups with whom many of those who advocate for Israel, including the Christian elements of the lobby, have aligned themselves - a mix of religion and expediency.

Canadians should ask why these groups have brought the Middle East to our institutions, even to those in which it has no business. If the case of Rights and Democracy is any indication, our institutions are libelled and their independence is threatened. Civil society and civil servants who deal with the Middle East have been scared into silence. Never before in Canadian history has the mention of a foreign state evoked such "chill', to use former NDP leader Ed Broadbent's term.

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The resulting asymmetry in advocacy impact and in access to political leaders weakens the very fabric of our society, undermines our institutions and our civil society in general, and stifles the debates that are necessary in a democracy. It also results in a one-sided understanding of the conflict leading to biased public policy.

Rick Mercer's message was given during the 2009 prorogation of Parliament. It is even more valid now that Parliament has been shut down for a second time and policy is being formed according to the dictates of special interests.

It is the job of politicians to serve the interests of the people, and it is the job of the people to continually hold their feet to the fire. As Canadians, we have no right to be apathetic towards politics and the administration of our country.


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Bahija Reghai is a Canadian Human Rights activist and a former president of the National COuncil on Canada-Arab Relations (NCCAR).

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