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Trudeau seriously out of step with Canadian attitudes towards Israel's violations of Palestinian human rights

Sydney Nestel at a protest of the UJA-Toronto Walk with Israel, May 27, 2018. Photo: Raghd Hamzeh.

At a Brock University town hall on January 15, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was challenged by an audience member who lauded the PM's apology for Canada's role in turning back Jewish refugees from Nazi persecution during the Second World War, but then went on to dispute the PM's understanding of contemporary anti-Semitism. "I believe, to my consternation," stated the questioner, "that you equated the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement with anti-Semitism. Will you take this opportunity today to retract your condemnation of the BDS movement?" The PM's response appeared to come straight from the playbook of Israel-affiliated lobby groups when he declared that the BDS call is anti-Semitic and that "Canadian values" dictate that it must be opposed. Indeed, even Trudeau's language ("single out Israel," "delegitimize and demonize") directly references Israeli government talking points. Adhering to the "anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism" position of the Israeli government and many pro-Israel Jewish organizations, the PM demonizes and potentially imperils the rights of those who care about and advocate for Palestinian self-determination and an end to violations of the rights of the indigenous population of Palestine.

Just how out of step is Justin Trudeau with the Canadian public's attitudes towards Israel's violations of Palestinian human rights? The PM's most recent attack on the non-violent Palestinian civil society-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement appears to be in direct contradiction to the opinions of the majority of Canadians. The evidence for this claim can be found in two surveys conducted recently by the EKOS polling organization. The first survey, conducted in 2017 and sponsored by Independent Jewish Voices Canada and Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East, revealed that 46 per cent of Canadians hold a negative view of the Israeli government. In Trudeau's own Liberal party, the number of those with negative views was a substantial 55 per cent. Nonetheless, Canada's Liberal government continues to demonstrate virtually uncritical support for Israel. They justify their position by claiming that it is necessary to "support Jews and to oppose anti-Semitism." This serves to perpetuate the misconception, encouraged by Israel-aligned Jewish communal organizations such as the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) and B'nai Brith Canada, that Jews are ideologically unified in their support for the Jewish state's current political regime. A recently released EKOS survey of Canadian Jews' opinions on Israel, sponsored by Independent Jewish Voices Canada and the United Jewish People's Order, is the first of its kind and demonstrates conclusively that there is no unity among Canadian Jews regarding Israel's policies.

Indeed, the study concludes that Jewish Canadians are deeply divided in their opinions of the Israeli government. More than a third of Canadian Jews (37 per cent) have a negative opinion of the Israeli government, while only half view it positively. In addition, almost one in three Canadian Jews (31 per cent) oppose the military blockade of the Gaza Strip, and nearly half (45 per cent) oppose the U.S. decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish state. Fifty-eight per cent of Canadian Jews do not see criticism of Israel as necessarily anti-Semitic, and 48 per cent believe that charges of anti-Semitism are often used to silence legitimate criticism of the Jewish state. Astonishingly, over a third (36 per cent) of Jews in Canada think that the Palestinian call for a boycott of Israel is reasonable, while 44 per cent oppose Parliamentary condemnation of those who endorse a boycott of Israel. Unlike Prime Minister Trudeau, 28 per cent of Canada's Jews believe it is reasonable to impose sanctions on Israel for its violations of Palestinian human rights.

Clearly, Trudeau does not represent general Canadian public opinion when it comes to Israel/Palestine. Moreover, his opposition to BDS, his support for measures that would censure anti-Zionist expression, and his clear mimicking of Israeli Foreign Ministry language and ideology are unacceptable to significant numbers of Canadian Jews who have parted ways with those in the community who march in lockstep with the Israeli government. Trudeau's position is not only ill-advised, it is dangerous -- dangerous for Palestinians whose situation grows graver by the day, and dangerous for Jews in the current climate of rising anti-Semitism from the right. As Oxford philosophy professor Brian Klug has argued, "When anti-Semitism is everywhere, it is nowhere. And when every anti-Zionist is an anti-Semite, we no longer know how to recognize the real thing -- the concept of anti-Semitism loses its significance." It's time to bring our government's policies on Israel's 51-year occupation into alignment with the decidedly more critical, and ultimately more moral, stance of the Canadian public.

Sheryl Nestel is a retired Lecturer in Sociology (OISE/University of Toronto) and a long-time member of the Steering Committee of Independent Jewish Voices Canada. She lived in Israel from 1974 to 1988.

Photo: Raghd Hamzeh

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