"This is how I understand the struggle...To stand steadily like spears, and never give up." Naji Al-Ali

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Ethical Oil: The Canadian Oil Industry and the Israel Connection

Last month I discovered a piece on Feministing about a recent Canadian ad campaign for Ethical Oil. According to Ethical Oil’s website, the group:

Encourages people, businesses and governments to choose Ethical Oil from Canada, its oil sands and other liberal democracies. Unlike Conflict Oil from some of the world’s most politically oppressive and environmentally reckless regimes, Ethical Oil is the “Fair Trade” choice in oil. Countries that produce Ethical Oil protect the rights of women, workers, indigenous peoples and other minorities including gays and lesbians. Conflict Oil regimes, by contrast, oppress their citizens and operate in secret with no accountability to voters, the press or independent judiciaries.

The group’s now infamous ad, which can be seen here, speaks of the abuse women endure in Saudi Arabia, and paints Canada’s environmentally disastrous tar sands as the only alternative. But intelligent women aren’t falling for it. As one blogger puts it, “I am a feminist and I am an environmentalist. I don’t really appreciate being asked to compromise one to support the other….If Ethical Oil was truly interested in women’s rights, they’d be campaign for fuel efficiency standards. Instead they’re using the condition of Saudi women as a disgusting gateway to destroying the planet and encouraging an environmental disaster.”

The ad currently runs on Oprah’s OWN network. Upon discovering this, the exceptionally thorough environmentalist and writer Emma Pullman did some investigative work and found the following, which she then included in an open letter to Ms. Winfrey (the article also does an amazing job of unraveling the absurd logic Ethical Oil operates by):
According to Deep Climate, Ethical Oil isn't the low budget grassroots organization it purports to be. Its principals are some of the rising stars of the conservative movement in Canada, and one is a lawyer for tar sands firms.
Here's the back story: Ezra Levant turned "ethical oil" into a meme late last year. Almost overnight, pro-industry and government officials, keen to sell the filthy oil to a skeptical public, picked up the term and ran with it.  After the Conservative election victory in May, Conservative government spokesperson (and former American Enterprise Institute intern) Alykhan Velshi took over at the helm of the ethicaloil.org blog. The blog is registered to Levant, who also has strong links to the Conservatives.

And, here's another thing that just doesn't add up for me. How is it that a former advisor to Environment Minister John Baird, and communications director for Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, would find himself taking an "unpaid" job as a blogger?

Thanks to the folks over at Deep Climate, it makes a lot more sense. EthicalOil.org is connected to the obscure Ethical Oil Institute. Though there is scant reference to them online, according to their notice of incorporation, the institute was registered on March 9, 2011 to an Edmonton address, 12220 Stony Plain Road, Edmonton AB T5N 3Y4.  

That just so happens to be the address of the law firm McLennan Ross. McLennan Ross makes bathtubs full of money doing work for tar sands firms.

The two members of the Ethical Oil Institute's board of directors are Ezra Levant and McLellan Ross partner Thomas Ross. Thomas Ross is one of ten lead partners in McLellan Ross’s OilSandsLaw.com initiative, a “slick new oilsands cross-selling strategy" and marketing campaign.
But it gets better. Pullman mentioned that Alykhan Velshi also contributes to the group. In fact, Ethical Oil openly states this, saying the site “began as a blog created by Alykhan Velshi.” More than simply an “intern for the American Enterprise Institute,” Velshi was also head of research at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, where he co-founded the Center for Law and Counterterrorism. He is an open supporter of Bush’s doctrine of pre-emptive war, does not believe the Geneva Conventions should apply to those captured in the War on Terror, and advocates the creation of a special National Security Court to try terrorism suspects.

More importantly, Velshi is an open and unabashed Zionist, working for Canadian Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Jason Kenney as his Director of Communications and Parliamentary Affairs. You might recall that Kenney made the news in 2009 as he was embroiled in a battle with Canadian Arab Federation president Khaled Mouammar in which Kenney and Velshi were able to successfully defund CAF after comments Mouammar made criticizing Kenney’s support for Operation Cast Lead. According to Velshi, Mouammar was “anti-Semetic.” See here for the full story.

And there's more. Writing for the Huffington Post, Velshi criticized the Saudi government’s attempt to get Ethical Oil’s ad off the air, explaining:
I have also alerted Foreign Minister John Baird and Dean Allison, Chairman of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade, about the incident in writing, calling on the Harper government and the parliamentary committee to investigate a foreign dictatorship trying to censor what Canadians can and cannot see on their televisions.

While in a free, open, and democratic society, we can have vigorous disagreements about energy policy and the role Canada's oil sands should play in the energy supply mix, when a foreign dictatorship like Saudi Arabia tries to censor one side of that debate, we all need to stand as one in defending our rights as Canadians. That means that all of us -- including oil sands critics like Greenpeace -- need to condemn this brazen act of domestic political interference by a blood-soaked, conflict oil-fueled foreign dictatorship.
Wait, what? Need I remind you, this is the same man who played an instrumental role in successfully banning British PM and outspoken Israel critic George Galloway from entering Canada. From wiki:
Velshi told the media that the Canadian government would not reverse this decision, stating that Galloway had expressed sympathy for the Taliban cause in Afghanistan and describing him as an "infandous street-corner Cromwell who actually brags about giving 'financial support' to Hamas, a terrorist organisation banned in Canada.[33] The decision to ban Galloway was supported by the Canadian Jewish Congress, B'nai Brith Canada and the far-right Jewish Defence League of Canada, which took credit for initiating the action.[34] It was subsequently noted that Velshi had begun preparing media lines regarding Galloway several days before the ban was announced.[32]
The Canadian border police would not let Galloway into the country based on instructions from Velshi. Now tell me again, what did he say about free speech and debate?

I guess Velshi has no sense of irony. Either that, or he’s just a hypocrite. A neoconservative Zionist taking talking points from the Canadian Jewish Congress and B’nai Birth Canada, which act as in part as agents of Israel to insulate its “blood-soaked” apartheid regime from Western criticism has the gall to talk about other countries meddling in Canadian affairs. What exactly is his angle here?

In truth, Ethical Oil is guilty of myriad hasbara-esque techniques, among them greenwashing, pinkwashing, and the old familiar but-look-at-those-evil-Arabs-over-THERE excuse by comparison, except this time they're in the service of Canada rather than Israel. But these obfuscations don't work for Israel, and they shouldn't work for Canada either.

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