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Quebec elites out of touch with rest of province on Israel

The most recent poll regarding Canadian's attitudes towards Israel has just been released and the results are telling. Quite strikingly, far more Canadians have a negative view of the government of Israel than a positive one. Even more remarkable, Quebec respondents have a far harsher view of the government of Israel than their fellow Canadians.

Some have argued that Quebecers have always been more critical of the Israeli government, and more sympathetic to the Palestinians. This assumption was up in the air, however, when a survey by Crop-La Presse issued in 2014 during the Gaza conflict between Israel and Hamas found that the majority (64 per cent) of Quebecers chose not to pick sides in the messy flare up.

With this most recent poll co-sponsored by my organization, it is clear that regardless of what happened in 2014, Quebecers remain wary of the Israeli government. Of those who expressed an opinion, 57 per cent of Quebecers had a negative opinion of the Israeli government, as compared to 46 per cent overall in Canada. Only 16 per cent of Quebecers had a positive opinion, as compared to 28 per cent overall in Canada.

While this doesn't tell us whether Quebecers are pro-Palestinian, it does show that they are far more negative than other provinces when it comes to the Israeli government.

With survey results like these, one would expect Quebec politicians to be guarded with respect to relations with the Israeli government. This could not be more wrong. With Montreal mayor Denis Coderre's recent economic mission, Premier Philippe Couillard's upcoming one and a recent statement on Israel by CPC leadership candidate Maxime Bernier, it is easy to feel as if our political elite are detached from the population's concerns over Israel's human rights abuses.

Rather than asking Israeli leaders tough questions about violations of international law, Quebec leaders only seem to idolize Israel for being such an innovative and business-friendly country. This is especially the case for the particularly effusive Coderre, who came back full of praise for Israel following his economic mission to Israel and (symbolically) the West-Bank.

While having a negative perception of the Israeli government does not mean that Quebecers want their leaders to be anti-Israel, they still might prefer a more balanced approach.

Nobody can deny the fact that Israel has managed to achieve an impressive economic success and that their innovation sector is quite enviable. However, considering the fact that this country is repeatedly cited for violations of international law, and that Netanyahu's right-wing coalition government continues the illegal colonization of Palestinian territory, many Quebecers may believe that our politicians should not engage in a "business as usual" economic approach with Israel.

In China, Philippe Couillard experienced firsthand the difficulty of pursuing economic relations while being under pressure to denounce human rights violations. It is especially hard for premiers since because of the Constitution, Canadian provinces cannot lead their own international policies and diplomacy.

However, Quebec has found a way to circumvent this by engaging in various economic and cultural missions and investing in permanent delegations throughout the world. This broader role undertaken by Quebec political elites is not exempt from responsibilities -- and leaders like Couillard and Coderre need to find a way to achieve both: pursue economic motivations while making sure violators of international law are held accountable.

In the current international political climate, such proposals may seem like wishful thinking: economic incentives are almost always prioritized to the detriment of human rights issues. However, Western leaders are becoming more and more vocal about their disapproval of Israel's increasing settlements expansion, and ongoing disregard for Palestinian human rights.

It's time that Quebec leaders find a way to do the same, and these new poll results should give them all the incentive they need.

Image: www.premier-ministre.gouv.qc.ca

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