By Shiryn Ghermezian
(JNS) Aside from the United States, Canada has been one of Israel’s most stalwart allies on the international stage, often voting against one-sided resolutions targeting the Jewish state. However, a number of recent votes by Canada at the United Nations have led to growing concern that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau may be shifting towards a more critical stance on Israel.
In early December, Canada voted in favor of a U.N. General Assembly resolution that supports Palestinian self-determination while denouncing Israel’s presence in Jerusalem, characterizing it as “Occupied Palestinian Territory.” The resolution, co-sponsored by North Korea, also condemns Israel’s security barrier—built in 2004 during the Second Intifada and helps protect the country against suicide-bombings—by claiming it “severely impedes the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination.”
That vote, which passed 167-5 with 11 abstentions, follows a preliminary vote in late November at the Third Committee, where Canada also voted “yes.” Canada’s vote went against its own principled record over two decades in opposing the annual targeting of Israel through 20 one-sided resolutions, according to the Geneva-based U.N. Watch.
B’nai Brith Canada CEO Michael Mostyn rejected Trudeau’s claim that the votes were meant to support a two-state solution, saying that Canada could have issued a public statement that, for example, told the United Nations that it cannot expect a “yes” vote on such resolutions until it “takes a more balanced and objective approach on Israel.”
Mostyn continued, saying, “Anti-Israel positions and attitudes in U.N. bodies feed a vicious circle, which is used to equate these positions as support for anti-Zionism and antisemitism. This vote reflects poorly on Canada’s record as a defender of democracy and justice. It will be a stain on Canada’s reputation. The key point is that strong words in defense of Israel at the U.N. must go hand-in-hand with a concrete demonstration of courage when the chips are down.”
The resolution will not help the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, he said, but only “embolden hard-liners who refuse to recognize Israel’s right to exist and to engage Israel in a meaningful way through negotiations.”
After the United States, Canada under Trudeau’s leadership has the best voting track record among major countries when it comes to resolutions related to Israel from the world body. The Canadian government has stood with Israel by either rejecting or abstaining from recurrent resolutions on Palestinian and Arab issues that go before the General Assembly for a vote every year.
The Canadian government began to take a more pro-Israel stance with its votes at the United Nations in 2003 under the Liberal government of Prime Minister Paul Martin, and it continued under Conservative Stephen Harper’s leadership from 2006 to 2015.
During his first term, Trudeau spoke out against BDS, Canada’s parliament froze relations with Iran and designated its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force as a terrorist organization. On the other hand, Trudeau has also restored funding to the anti-Israel agency U.N. Relief and Works Agency—aid that Harper halted during his time as prime minister—and called for a probe into Gaza violence without mentioning Hamas’s role in the unrest.
Trudeau was re-elected last October as prime minister, but his Liberal Party saw drop in a number of seats and now rules as a minority government.
At the same time, Canada is vying for a seat on the U.N. Security Council, and some experts think that may be influencing Trudeau’s stance at the world body.
‘A Faustian bargain with dictatorships’
Meryle Kates, executive director of StandWithUS Canada, told JNS that “it would be shameful if they deem it necessary to throw Israel to the anti-Israel wolves at the U.N. to achieve their political goal. This vote is a deep betrayal of the Jewish community in Canada. And indeed, of all democracies that are our allies, seeking peaceful resolutions in the Middle East.”
She added, “We can’t speak to the motives of the prime minister, who has said that Canada is still a strong ally of Israel, but those of us in the Jewish community who care about the safety and security of Israel, and the efforts to promote peace and coexistence, are justifiably concerned that this shift in policy indicates otherwise.
“The Jewish community in Canada has had reason to expect that the long-stated policy of our government to support our ally, Israel—the only democracy in the region—would continue. This reversal of support has led many to question the motives of the prime minister’s position.”
Hillel Neuer, executive director of U.N. Watch, called Trudeau’s move “a Faustian bargain with dictatorships.”
U.N. Watch has collected more than 46,000 signatures for an online petition calling on Trudeau to reverse Canada’s vote.
Meanwhile, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs met with Trudeau last month, and the prime minster said Canada’s vote on this resolution “will not change back because Canada seeks to underscore its commitment to a two-state solution,” said Shimon Fogel, president and CEO of CIJA. He noted that Trudeau vowed not to change any other votes related to Israel at the world body.
Fogel told JNS that the Canadian government had “a range of actions” that it could have considered for how to express support for a two-state solution, “all of which would have been more effective and would have avoided adding Canada’s credibility to the distorted, anti-Israel narrative that Israel’s adversaries seek to advance within the U.N.”
Commenting on speculation that Trudeau cast his vote to garner support for his U.N. Security Council bid, he believes that the vote “will hardly yield more support” for Canada. “Indeed, other realities, including ongoing tensions with Russia, China and Saudi Arabia, suggest that Canada’s prospects for securing a seat on the council are, unfortunately, quite remote,” he said.
Global Affairs Canada spokesperson Sylvain Leclerc told JNS that the country is “opposed to efforts that unfairly single out Israel for criticism and seek to isolate it internationally. We are committed to a comprehensive, just and lasting peace, including the creation of a Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with Israel.”
Nevertheless, Leclerc said that Canada believes that a two-state solution is “increasingly under threat,” and that the government felt it was “important to reiterate Canada’s long-standing position, by voting in favor of this resolution on the self-determination of Palestinian people.”
“At the same time, we agree that there are too many resolutions related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and we have called on the international community to channel its efforts towards helping both sides to resume direct negotiations and work towards achieving a lasting peace for both peoples.”
‘Our enduring friendship with Israel remains’
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu highlighted a “steadfast friendship” between Israel and Canada recently in a letter he sent to Trudeau, pleading for him to condemn the International Criminal Court for taking steps towards investigating Israel for alleged war crimes against Palestinians.
Indeed, Canada still remains one of Israel’s greatest supporters at the United Nations and has maintained Canada’s “excellent pro-Israel voting record” up at the General Assembly on the annual 20 resolutions until last month, according to Neuer. However, he pointed out that some new resolutions dealing with Israel, such as one that criticizes moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, Canada abstained in the General Assembly.
He added that if Canada wanted to show its commitment to the two-state solution, it could have still done so by abstaining from the recent anti-Israel and biased resolution, or voting “no” and giving a speech reiterating their stance.
Considering Trudeau’s motives behind the recent policy shift, Neuer said, “I don’t know if it’s only for the Security Council [seat]. There may be others in the Trudeau government who are happy to distance themselves somewhat from Israel, so I am concerned about that.”
He added that “there is a concern that those votes up until now, Trudeau did not talk about them; the government did not seem to be proud of them. It seems to be something that they kept perhaps as a promise to the Jewish community made prior to the elections, and it is to be noted that the change in this vote came right after an election. He did not tell people he would do this before the election. That’s problematic.”
At a recent menorah-lighting ceremony in December, he assured the Jewish community that Canada recent vote does not mean that his government has changed its policy against singling out Israel in the international body.
“But let me be very clear. Our enduring friendship with Israel remains. We will continue to stand strongly against the singling out of Israel at the United Nations,” he told the crowd. “Canada remains a steadfast supporter of Israel, and Canada will always defend Israel’s right to live in security. And we will always, always, speak up against anti-Semitism at home and abroad. You have my word.”
“His actions belie his remarks,” Neuer told JNS. “The notion that Israel defending itself against Palestinian terrorism is somehow frustrating Palestinian self-determination is a theme of that resolution, and therefore by joining that resolution, Trudeau joined in on the singling out of Israel. So his remarks are hollow given his actions, which have achieved the opposite of what his remarks say.”
Main Photo: Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada, making an address at the United Nations in 2017. Photo by Manuel Elias/UN.