Almost three years ago, after Justin Trudeau led the Liberal Party to victory in the federal election, I wrote a column suggesting Canada’s strong friendship with Israel would continue unabated under the new government (From the Editor, November 9, 2015). Stephen Harper, then the outgoing prime minister, had often been lauded for his strong support of Israel.
Indeed, Canada and Israel have maintained strong ties since Trudeau became prime minister. Just a few months after taking office, Trudeau’s Liberals joined with the Conservatives in passing a motion strongly denouncing the anti-Israel boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement. In the debate, Liberal cabinet ministers denounced the BDS movement as a modern-day form of anti-Semitism. And, on May 28, a modernized and more comprehensive Canada-Israel Free Trade Agreement was announced by the two countries.
So while the relationship between Canada and Israel has remained strong, there have been a few “sore spots” in the relationship, which have troubled many in the Canadian Jewish community.
One is that the Trudeau government declined to follow the U.S. lead and move the Canadian Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. That decision reflects the policy that “Canada considers the status of Jerusalem can be resolved only as part of a general settlement of the Palestinian-Israeli dispute. Canada does not recognize Israel’s unilateral annexation of East Jerusalem,” and that an Embassy move should only take place after a settlement has been reached.
Former prime minister Harper has since stated that Canada should follow the U.S. lead and move our Embassy to Jerusalem as well. However, Harper made no move to take that lead himself while he was in office from 2006 until 2015 – and the official policy on Jerusalem quoted above is unchanged from the Harper era.
Two other sore spots came up recently over Canada’s response to Palestinian deaths during the violent protests on Israel’s border with Gaza.
On May 16, Trudeau issued a statement condemning the use of excessive force against the demonstrators and the loss of life and injuries. Trudeau’s statement came in the wake of a Palestinian-Canadian doctor being wounded while treating injured Palestinians on the front lines in Gaza. Trudeau’s major sin of omission was that he failed to mention the role of Hamas, the terrorist organization that controls Gaza, in engineering the violence or that many of the Palestinians killed were actually Hamas terrorists.
Then, on June 13, Canada abstained from a United Nations General Assembly vote condemning Israel for the violence in Gaza. The vote passed by a margin of 120-8 with Canada being one of 45 countries that abstained. (Canada did however support a failed U.S. amendment that would have recognized the role of Hamas and its ongoing campaign of rocket attacks in the conflict.)
There was a not-unjustified feeling among many in the community that Canada abstained rather than voted against the resolution condemning Israel because of Canada’s campaign to win one of the temporary seats on the UN Security Council in 2021. Canada’s support for Israel was seen as a reason it failed to win a seat in 2010. If that was the motivation, I doubt that an abstention will be seen as enough for the overwhelming anti-Israel bloc at the UN.
Disturbed by Trudeau’s statement and the UN abstention, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) arranged a meeting with the prime minister on July 5.
After the meeting CIJA CEO Shimon Koffler Fogel issued a statement saying, “The discussion was frank, constructive, and encouraging. The prime minister was very receptive and responsive to the issues we raised. He absolutely recognized the destructive role played by Hamas. He expressed full confidence in Israel’s capacity and will to hold its troops to a high ethical standard, rather than be singled out for an inherently biased international investigation. And he reaffirmed Canada’s support for Israel, and committed to be more vigilant in countering anti-Israel resolutions at the UN.”
Although we’ll have to see how future developments unfold, I would certainly feel encouraged by the results of the July 5 meeting.