Foreign policy is one of those areas of democratic governance that doesn’t often get on the public’s radar. But when it does it provides citizens with a kind of unsullied opportunity to apply their values. That is, unsullied by considerations of self-interest, we get to ask: what is the right thing to do?
Governments, of course, aren’t quite as free to make such decisions given that they have so-called “national interests” to consider. But Canadians should be able to expect from their federal government that its foreign policy conforms closely to their values.
When it comes to Canada’s policy towards Israel the Trudeau government, aping its predecessor, is several country miles from reflecting Canadian values. That is the irrefutable conclusion of an EKOS poll whose partial results were released February 16. A second batch of survey results released yesterday (all survey results can be found here) focussed on the issue of whether or not Canadians think it is appropriate to use sanctions and/or boycotts to pressure Israel to obey international law.
The results demolish conventional wisdom on this question. Respondents were asked — in the context of the UN Security Council denunciation of settlement building in the West Bank: “[d]o you believe that some sort of Canadian government sanctions on Israel would be reasonable?” Overall, 66 per cent expressing an opinion answered “yes.” But that number is heavily skewed by Conservative supporters, 70 per cent of whom reject sanctions on Israel. Openness to sanctions on Israel by supporters of other federal political parties ranged from 75 per cent for Liberals to 94 per cent for Bloc Quebecois supporters. Eighty-four per cent of NDP supporters believed sanctions on Israel would be reasonable.
Levels of acceptance for the Palestinian call for a boycott of Israel was even higher with fully 78 per cent of those with an opinion stating they believe the Palestinians’ call for a boycott is “reasonable.” Again, Conservative supporters expressed radically different views from respondents supporting other parties: 51 per cent rejected a boycott. Supporters of other parties who were receptive to the Palestinian call for a boycott ranged from 88 per cent for Liberal supporters to 94 per cent for the Bloc Quebecois.
Flashback to February 2016, when Parliament adopted a Conservative motion (by a vote of 229-51) condemning Canadian individuals and organizations who promote the Palestinian call for a boycott. That shameful assault on freedom of expression was supported by the Trudeau government. Only the NDP and Bloc opposed it.
When asked if they supported the passing of this resolution a majority of respondents expressing an opinion — 53 per cent — said “no” while half that that number, 26 per cent, said “yes.” Only 20 per cent of Liberal supporters supported the resolution while 55 per cent disagreed with it.
Most Canadians still have little idea of just how sycophantic the Trudeau Liberals are when it comes to support the right-wing government of Benjamin Netanyahu, particularly when it comes to UN votes on Palestinian rights and Israel’s violations of international law.
The Trudeau government has cemented Canada’s reputation as an embarrassing outlier when it comes to UN votes on Israel. Since October, 2015 when it came to power, the Liberal government has voted against United Nations resolutions that were critical of Israel on over 25 occasions. In fact, it has never voted in favour of a UN resolution that is critical of Israel. Which illustrious democracies does Canada find itself allied with in these votes? Besides Israel and the U.S., its loyal benefactor, our fellow travellers are normally Micronesia, Palau and the Marshall Islands. Most of these resolutions pass by a vote of 156 or 158 to six or eight (with our EU allies voting for or abstaining).
Some of the resolutions Canada actively opposed should shock Canadians. The Trudeau government opposed a UN resolution that reaffirmed “[t]he importance of Israel’s accession to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons [NPT].” Another resolution, supporting “The right of the Palestinian people to self-determination,” was opposed by the Liberals as was a resolution that almost precisely reiterates the government’s official policy — that “Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem” are an obstacle to peace.
Last December the UN Security Council voted unanimously (with the U.S. abstaining) to declare that Israeli settlements on territory intended for a Palestinian state were a “flagrant violation under international law and a major obstacle to the achievement of … peace” between Israel and Palestine. Canada remained absolutely silent as it was (effectively) when Israel passed its “land grab” law which retroactively legalizes settler homes on private Palestinian land.
What could possibly justify Trudeau’s immoral and frankly irrational stance when it comes to promoting peace between Israel and the Palestinians? In determining its policy towards Israel the Trudeau government has three apparent motivations at play: defending Israel’s right to exist, tending to Canada’s specific national interests and reflecting Canadian values.
None of these shine any real light on Canada’s continued blanket support for the Netanyahu government. It is being increasingly argued by Israel’s friends that the trajectory of that country today is in fact the biggest threat to Israel’s existence: a one-party state that can be Jewish or democratic, but not both. Canada on its own has no compelling “national interests” in the Middle East — except as a yes man for the U.S. empire.
And lastly, Trudeau’s inexplicable stance is overwhelmingly at odds with Canadian values. Not only do large majorities see Israel in a negative light, they reject by 91 per cent the notion that criticism of Israel is necessarily anti-Semitic as implied in the Commons resolution. Flying in the face of Trudeau’s cowardly denunciation of BDS supporters are 75 per cent of his own party supporters who are open to sanctions and 88 per cent who say the same of boycotts.
Justin Trudeau has a lot of explaining to do.
Murray Dobbin has been a journalist, broadcaster, author and social activist for 40 years. He writes rabble’s State of the Nation column.