And no, I don’t mean his government’s perplexing and inexcusable failure to intervene on behalf of Canadian citizen Dr. Hassan Diab. Dr. Diab was locked up in a French jail for two years with scant evidence suggesting he is guilty of anything. He remains enmeshed in the French legal system.
I am referring instead to small slights that point to much bigger transgressions. The truth often resides in nuance. For the second year running, the prime minister ignored requests from the Palestinian-Canadian community to issue an official statement on ‘Nakba Day’.
That is the day thousands of Palestinians here, and around the world, commemorate the loss of their territory when the state of Israel was created. Here is what Aiman Shakra, president of the Palestinian Canadian Congress, said about Ottawa’s official silence:
“This day commemorates the dispossession of the Palestinian people between 1947 and 1949, when the state of Israel was established over the ruins of our ancestors’ homes … We are greatly disappointed that Mr. Trudeau chose not to issue a public statement, let alone respond to our outreach. This is a very hurtful slight of the Palestinian Canadian community.”
Trudeau is, of course, acting with deliberation. Instead of blazing a new path on the Israeli/Palestinian file, he has essentially continued the one-sided policy of the Harper government. That means ignoring the fate of Palestinians — millions of ordinary people who have been living under a military occupation of their territory for 50 years. Like Dr. Diab, they are prisoners who have committed no crime, other than being Palestinian.
Things are getting worse, not better. There’s not the faintest sign that anyone is willing to cut through the Gordian Knot poisoning the Middle East. U.S. President Donald Trump compared the situation to a “real estate deal” that might be easier to resolve than people think.
As they usually do, the facts utterly repudiate Trump’s cartoonish nonsense. Canadian Michael Lynk, the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council’s special rapporteur on human rights in the occupied Palestinian Territories, had this to say in his 2017 report:
“To perpetuate an alien rule over almost five million people, against their fervent wishes, inevitably requires the repression of rights, the erosion of the rule of law, the abrogation of international commitments, the imposition of deeply discriminatory practices, the hollowing out of well-accepted standards of military behaviour, the subjugation of the humanity of the Other …”
You get the picture. What Palestinians here and abroad are asking for is something far more modest than a champion for their cause. What they’re asking for is a basic acknowledgement that there are two sides to this story — and that the need to bring about a two-state solution is urgent.
Without that basic recognition, there is no hope for a just settlement in an ongoing international catastrophe that has continued for half a century, in violation of key tenets of international law which Canada has committed itself to upholding.
So it is a painful rebuke for Palestinian Canadians to see Nakba Day ignored, while the Trudeau government puts out an official statement on Yom Ha’Atzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day. Commemorating Israel’s birth is fitting and welcome. But why turn a blind eye to the Palestinians’ day of remembrance?
Part of the answer is that ignoring the Palestinians is perfectly in keeping with Canadian policy in the region. When the UN General Assembly voted 138-9 back in 2012 to change Palestine’s status from a “non-member observer entity” to “non-member observer state,” Canada was among the minority voting against the measure — joining hands with the Czech Republic, the Marshall Islands and Micronesia.
Back in 2011, something very interesting happened. Although Palestine failed to be admitted to the UN that year, its application was approved by a higher percentage of UN members than the one Israel received when it was successfully admitted to the world’s premier international institution back in 1948. As reported by the Huffington Post, 68 per cent of UN members favoured Palestinian admission, compared to 64 per cent for Israel.
Canada was largely silent when the UN Security Council voted 14-0 in 2016 to condemn Israeli settlements in the Palestinian Territories as illegal and harmful to the peace process. President Barack Obama made that outcome possible by having the United States abstain from the Security Council vote — an unprecedented decision to not use his veto to protect Israeli-government interests at the UN.
As then-Secretary of State John Kerry put it, “We cannot in good conscience stand in the way of a resolution that both sides must act now to preserve the possibility of peace.”
In other words, the expansion of illegal settlements on Palestinian land would kill any chance of a negotiated conclusion to this ongoing social tragedy — or at least it did in the opinion of the Obama administration.
Finally, when the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, passed a Judea and Samaria ‘Settlement Regulation’ law to retroactively legalize settlements that are clearly illegal under the Fourth Geneva Convention — settlements that have transplanted 600,000 Israeli Jewish settlers into the Occupied Territories — the best the Trudeau government could come up with was a world-class euphemism.
According to Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, this piece of legislation was “unhelpful” to the peace process. That’s like calling a punch in the face “impolite”. In the eighteen months that Trudeau has been in power, Canada has voted against resolutions critical of Israel on sixteen occasions. That is what is not helpful.
Which is not to say that Prime Minister Trudeau has done nothing to improve Canada’s image as an engaged, multilateral player on the world stage. Canada has returned to peacekeeping, for example. Under Trudeau, Canada also set a brilliant example to the world on how to embrace refugees from the hideous wars in Syria and Iraq.
On Trudeau’s watch, and with the “strong and clear” support of his government, M-103 was passed. That was the anti-Islamaphobia motion put forward by Liberal backbencher Iqra Khalid.
And when it comes to the Palestinians themselves, the Trudeau government rightly, and courageously, restored $25 million in funding for a UN relief agency for Palestinian refugees — funding that Stephen Harper had cut off.
“We want to see Palestinian refugee children in classrooms where they can learn the universal values of tolerance and respect,” said International Development Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau. “Vulnerable Palestinians deserve all the opportunities they can to contribute positively to their communities and Canada’s funding will help to better the lives of millions in the region.”
That’s laudable, to be sure, but it’s not enough — not nearly enough. After all, Trudeau promised that Canada’s Middle East policy would return us to the status of “honest broker.” Yet his Foreign Affairs minister has stated repeatedly that the centrepiece of Canada’s approach to the Middle East is the security of Israel.
That is frankly absurd. Nobody is better equipped than Israel to deal with its own security. It has by far the most powerful military in the region — and that includes Iran, according to GlobalFirePower.com. It also has nuclear weapons and is backed by the most powerful military nation on the planet, the United States.
So why do successive governments in this country ignore the Palestinians? Why did Harper declare that even criticizing the government of Israel was out of bounds, amounting to a new form of anti-Semitism?
The conventional answer has always referred back to the political consequences of criticizing Israel. But a recent EKOS poll in the Toronto Star found that 46 per cent of Canadians had an unfavourable view of that country, compared to just 28 per cent who viewed Israel positively.
An important point has been made about the EKOS poll by Michael Regenstreif, writing in the Ottawa Jewish Bulletin. He stressed that it was the government of Israel — not Israel or Israelis themselves — that attracted the high disapproval numbers. And he pointed out one other very telling fact: 48 per cent of Israelis also have a negative view of the Israeli government.
Here are a few of the questions that Special Rapporteur Lynk has left in the Trudeau government’s lap:
Does the prime minister agree that the Government of Israel should comply with international law and bring a complete end to its 50-year occupation of Palestinian territory?
Does the prime minister agree that the government of Israel should repeal recent legislation which confiscated private Palestinian lands?
Does the prime minister agree that the government of Israel should end the blockade of Gaza, remove all restrictions on imports and exports and facilitate the rebuilding of its housing and infrastructure, “with due consideration to justifiable security considerations”?
And does the prime minister believe that the government of Israel should repeal all restrictive legislation targeting human rights defenders, like Michael Lynk himself?
The answers to those questions will play a big part in whether or not Mr. Trudeau gets a seat on the Security Council in 2021. Continuing Harper’s one-sided policies at the UN will almost guarantee that he won’t.
The world is weary of waiting for the end of an injustice of vast proportions in the Middle East. It’s time for the government of Canada to get with the program.
Author: Michael Harris