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Saudi Arabia has North America’s political establishment wrapped around its finger.

Along with Israel, it is one of the few states that can commit almost any offence, and still guarantee the complete, unfettered support from almost any administration, liberal or conservative.

In Canada, for instance, Saudi Arabia reached its zenith of influence during the tenure of former Conservative Party leader and Prime Minister, Stephen Harper.

While in office (2006-2015), Harper made the expansion of commercial relations with Saudi Arabia one of his government’s top priorities. That prioritization later bore (poisoned) fruit, when Harper and the Saudis brokered the largest arms deal in Canadian history. It’s a deal Harper still expresses pride in, despite the fact that military arms he sold enabled the Saudis to commit countless atrocities against civilians in neighbouring Yemen.

Nothing can quench Harper’s love affair for the Saudis though. It persists to this day, even in political retirement.

Just this fall, he traveled to Riyadh for a business trip and gushed about the “profound transformation” the Kingdom was experiencing. Most telling, he expressed not one single concern about its mass executions, its crackdown on human rights defenders or its subjugation of women and girls. It was all just fawning praise from the former PM.

Of course, Harper is not the only member of the Conservative Party to cozy up to the Saudis.

Prior to becoming Conservative Party leader, one of Harper’s political lieutenants, Erin O’Toole, pledged in the 2019 election to “win some trust” and increase commercial links with Saudi Arabia. A year before that, another dutiful neophyte, the former Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, appeared on a Saudi-owned television station to chastise Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, after his then Global Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, for tweeting out support for the imprisoned Saudi activist and blogger, Raif Badawi.

It was a disgraceful and dishonourable move on Baird’s part; one that only served to humiliate him and severely damage his integrity, all while highlighting the Liberal’s more principled approach to taking on the Saudis. At that point, the Liberals had shown commendable nerve by suspending the arms deal that they had inherited from the Conservatives, after news broke that the Saudi Crown Prince had arranged for the brutal murder and dismemberment of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Unfortunately, the Liberal’s grit did not last long. In the face of Saudi pushback, the Liberals quickly abandoned their previous principle and became just as complicit as their Conservative predecessors. In no time at all, they reinstated the permits they had previously suspended and continued the exportation of light armored vehicles, along with sniper riflesexplosives, and other military equipment.

The political situation is much the same south of the border.

Soon after taking office in 2017, former Republican President Donald Trump snubbed traditional allies in Canada and Mexico by selecting Saudi Arabia as the destination for his first foreign trip. His government’s subsequent exportation of more than $8 billion worth of arms to the Saudis, with seemingly no regard for the immense misery and suffering experienced by Yemeni civilians – the disproportionate victims of Riyadh’s unlawful and indiscriminate airstrikes –  was further proof of he (and his party’s) unbecoming allyship with the Gulf Kingdom.

For a time, the election victory of Joe Biden offered a brief moment of hope (just as it did in Canada with Trudeau’s 2015 electoral triumph) that the U.S. might pursue a more just and even-handed approach when dealing with the Saudis. In his first foreign policy speech as President, Biden declared that that the war in Yemen had to end and that his administration would be eliminating “all American support for offensive operations in the war in Yemen, including relevant arm sales.

As you might have guessed, the public’s optimism didn’t last long.

Within a matter of months of delivering those lofty remarks, Biden had authorized the sale of $650 million of missiles to the Saudi Kingdom, along with hundreds of millions more in U.S. military maintenance for Saudi aircraft.

It was a move entirely out of the Trudeau Liberals’ playbook: promise a more humanitarian foreign policy when it is easy to do so (i.e., before an election) and then renege on your word once in office. Or in Trudeau’s case, after the first threats of financial retribution are made.

As recent history has shown, neither the centrist Liberals and the Democrats, nor the right-wing Conservatives and the Republicans, are capable of pursuing a foreign policy that is complicit-free from the war crimes and human rights abuses committed by the Saudi regime.

With the political establishment in both Canada and U.S. unwilling to stand up against the Saudi regime, it has once again fallen to the members of the public and their political champions on the social democratic left, to stand up against such immorality and demand real policy change from the status quo.

In the U.S., progressive standard-bearers like Democratic Rep. and Squad member Ilhan Omar and Independent Senator Bernie Sanders deserve credit for their legislative attempts to block Biden’s newest arms deal (together with strange political bedfellows, Republican Senators Rand Paul, and Mike Lee).

In Canada, Jagmeet Singh and his left-leaning team of third-party New Democrats deserve equal praise for their steadfast opposition of weapons sales to Saudi Arabia, and for their electoral promise in general to ensure that “Canadian-made weapons are not fueling conflict and human rights abuses abroad.”

Whatever their faults, Omar, Sanders, Singh, and their fellow social democrats are at least showing some bravery and morality by speaking out against both the Saudis and their own respective governments for facilitating violence and bloodshed. That in itself is whole lot more honourable than anything on display from the political establishment these days.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.

There are many words to describe Canada’s $15 billion arms deal with the human-rights abusing, war crimes committing regime of Saudi Arabia.

‘Disgraceful’ is one. ‘Reprehensible’ would be another. ‘Immoral’ and ‘inexcusable’ also come to mind. So too does ‘shameful’ and ‘sordid’.

As for how everyday Canadians feel about said deal, I’m sure the words ‘appalled’ and ‘mortified’ would not be far from their lips, especially after learning that Riyadh is using Canadian-made arms to perpetuate its war in Yemen; a war, which let us not forget, has resulted in the death of a quarter of a million people – ten thousand of whom have been children. With millions more displaced and on the brink of starvation, the battleground in Yemen has long been referred to as the “world’s worst humanitarian crisis.”

In the face of such calamity (and with the knowledge of our governments culpability for that calamity), most Canadians probably aren’t feeling too proud of their country’s arms sales.

Well, most Canadians outside Stephen Harper that is.

In a recent post on twitter, Harper announced his plans to tour the United Arab Emirates, Oman, and Saudi Arabia, all to promote “Israeli-based surveillance systems.” After heaping praise upon the three Gulf countries, Harper egregiously wrote of the pride he has for the military contract he brokered with the Saudis.

In typical fashion, Harper omitted the fact that the contract in question, the one that he is so “proud” of, enabled the Saudis to obtain hundreds of Canadian-made, light-armoured vehicles (LAVs), which they subsequently used to lay-waste upon Yemen.

Instead, Harper had the nerve to describe the deal as nothing other than a “manufacturing contract” though he still lauded it as the most lucrative of its kind in Canadian history.

The $15 billion LAV sale may indeed be Canada’s largest export manufacturing contract, as Harper says it is. But that does not make the deal any less odious, as no amount of financial profit or number of jobs secured can ever justify the facilitation of violence and war.

Granted, that has not stopped Harper from defending the deal, both in and out of office.

During his final years as Prime Minister, when Canada’s military agreement with the Saudis was first being brokered, Harper tried his best to justify the deal, including by citing the Gulf Kingdom’s opposition to the Islamic state as cause for selling them arms. He continued to do so even as reports were coming in saying that “the LAVs that Canada had already sold to Saudi Arabia had been used in Bahrain when Saudi Arabia went in there to suppress a peaceful demonstration.”

Six years later, and Harper is still making the same weak justifications for the deal. In his twitter communique, Harper claimed that Canada’s relationship with Saudi Arabia is “grounded in shared opposition to the threat posed to the region and wider world by the regime in Iran.

Do you see the pattern here? Harper can absolve himself of all blame for the ruination of Yemen and the subjugation of the Saudi people, so long as he can point the finger at the Islamic State, Iran, or any other regime that he can use to justify his selling of arms to Riyadh. He picks and chooses the countries whose human rights records concern him, as defined by his own narrow worldview.

So unflinching is he in his beliefs, that even if Iran didn’t exist, the former Prime Minister would just fabricate a new enemy in its place to explain and excuse his unbending support for the Crown Prince. He’d find any way he could to not see the flaws in his own thinking, or the culpability he has for the devastation of Yemen.

No matter the human rights abuses and war crimes that pile up, Harper will only continue his defence of Saudi Arabia and the noxious arms deal he brokered.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.

There appears no end in sight to the Israeli bombardment of Gaza.

Despite the death of at least 213 Gazans, 61 of whom were children, and the wounding of 1,500 others (along with 12 Israelis, including two children), Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu remains undeterred in his campaign of violence against the Palestinians.

Dismissing calls from many in the international community, pleading for an immediate ceasefire, the ever-belligerent Netanyahu has doubled down on Israel’s “natural right of self-defense” and pledged “full force” against Gaza.

The repercussions of Netanyahu’s destructive aggression cannot be understated.

By continuing Israel’s immoral (not to mention completely disproportionate) onslaught on Gaza, Netanyahu is escalating the cycle of violence that has plagued the middle east for decades.

Then, as in now, the overwhelming victims are Palestinian children. As Israeli bombs fall relentlessly down from the skies above, far too many young Palestinians will have their lives cut short. And even those that do survive will have their innocence forever tainted by the carnage they were forced to witness and endure.

Not that Netanyahu could give a dam.

As long as the Israeli government’s most prominent backer, the United States, maintains its duplicitous support- by blocking UN Security Council attempts calling for an immediate ceasefire, and by providing billions in no-strings attached military aid – they are unlikely to prematurely end their deadly air strikes.

In Canada, our influence in the middle east is far less consequential than our American neighbours, though no less complicit.

In response to the crisis, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and foreign affairs minister, Marc Garneau, issued the usual round meaningless statements, full of government jargon, all while offering nothing to end the bloodshed.

Conservative leader Erin O’Toole was even worse.

With his entirely pro-Israeli statement (in which he makes no mention of the immense suffering endured by the Palestinian people) O’Toole demonstrated again that the Conservatives are even more ill-suited than the Liberals to advocate for justice in the middle east.

After all, the Conservatives are a party that still endorse, in full Trumpian fashion, the relocation of the Canadian embassy in Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. They, like their Republican compatriots to the south, are both blinded by their unconditional support for Israel’s intolerant and repressive government, and to the principles of international justice.

In fact, the only major political leader who has displayed even an ounce of integrity on the issue was the NDP’s Jagmeet Singh.

During a press conference last week, and later in Question Period, Singh demanded that the governing Liberals suspend their arms sales to Israel. Singh wisely noted that “…by arming one side of the conflict” the federal government “is undermining the peace process and it is supporting illegal occupation.”

Not only is this an entirely reasonable proposal, but it is also an incredibly necessary one to limit Canada’s culpability for the violence and systemic oppression incurred upon the Palestinians by the Israeli government.

Of course, that is not the opinion held by the “esteemed” thinkers in the editorial newsroom of the National Post, who went on the offensive against Singh.

According to them, because Canada’s military arms sales to Israel is limited ($13.7 million worth in 2019) and because Canada has had “longtime friendly relations” with Israel, Singh’s proposal is both absurd and yet another example of misguided equivocation between a fellow democracy (Israel) and a terrorist cell (Hamas).

Views like this must be countered, as this is a shockingly simplistic take on the situation; one that fails to recognize that the violence unleashed by an internationally recognized, democratic country such as Israel, is no more morally acceptable than the violence unleashed by the militant Hamas.

Nor does it consider, as wiser minds have (like United States Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez) that even if it was more morally acceptable, Israel is still anything but an egalitarian, rule of law democracy, as “apartheid states aren’t democracies

But this is the reality of Israel.

After years of systematically oppressing millions of Palestinians and denying them even their most basic human rights, it is little wonder that Israel has been credibly charged by the Human Rights Watch for committing “crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution.” With indictments like these, it is credible to argue that Israel should not even be considered a “flawed democracy.”

As such, any arms sales to Israel under the current circumstances is utterly unacceptable. As argued by both Singh and Human Rights Watch, continued arms sales from some of the world’s wealthiest do nothing but enable the Israeli government to continue its human rights abuses against the Palestinians.

By stating as much, Singh has faced a barrage of ridicule and admonishment for his lonely stance amongst Canada’s political elites.

He need not fret though.

His position is a noble one that would do more to bring about peace in the middle east than anything either of his two main political rivals are proposing.

Photo Credit: CBC News

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.