On November 19, Canada made a startling and ill-advised decision to upend its long-standing UN strategy concerning Israel and renege on its undertakings to Canadian Jewish voters.
Coming in the aftermath of U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s comments about the legality of Jewish communities in disputed territories, the decision was a political about-face that felt like a betrayal.
With this vote, Canada chose to validate the Palestinian rejectionism for which the United Nations has, perversely, become the chief enabler and cheerleader. Its decision also contradicts explicit commitments, made by Liberal candidates during the recent election, to maintain Canada’s principled opposition to the twenty annual UN resolutions whose sole purpose is to isolate and delegitimize Israel.
Worst of all, it moves us further away from the deeply cherished goal of peace.
And, coming on the heels of a sustained and obscene barrage of rocket attacks from Gaza onto Israeli civilian targets, an assault that the UN saw fit to ignore entirely, the explanations offered to date for this decision ring awfully hollow.
For the last fifteen years, through successive Liberal and Conservative governments, Canada’s voting policy at the United Nations was grounded in principled opposition to UN resolutions that singled out Israel for condemnation. These resolutions ignore Palestinian intransigence and provocations aimed at sabotaging efforts to advance peace and reconciliation.
In short, Canadian policy was based on recognition that the UN had been hijacked to advance an anti-Israel agenda. That policy continues based on a consensus among the Canadian electorate that the Jewish people’s right to a homeland merits domestic and international support.
As journalist Yossi Klein Halevy once noted, “Israel exists because it never stopped existing, even if only in prayer.”
For two thousand years following the Jewish people’s expulsion by the Romans, the hope for a return to Jerusalem – to the land of Israel – remained a cherished and unextinguished dream.
A critical step in the international validation of that dream took place in 1947, when the United Nations adopted Resolution 181, recommending a partition of Mandatory Palestine and the creation of independent Arab and Jewish States.
Sadly, the same United Nations which, in 1947, so proudly affirmed the right of the Jewish people – like all other peoples – to a homeland has now become the wellspring of international delegitimization of Israel. Until this week, Canada’s actions have been consistent with a recognition that such delegitimization is inherently antisemitic, and that Palestinian rejection if the Jewish state must be firmly resisted.
Over the last seven decades, Palestinian rejectionism has caused the failure of successive attempts to find the compromise that is the prerequisite to a negotiated peace and Palestinian statehood.
Last Tuesday’s near-unanimous ritual condemnation of Israel at the UN only served to reinforce Palestinian obstinacy. It gives comfort to those who, since before 1947, have rejected Jewish presence in the sliver of land that lies between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean. It encourages those who deny Jewish historical roots in the region and who, while starving and murdering their own citizens, cast Israel as an offender of human rights.
The Canadian policy of the last fifteen years correctly avoided prejudgment of the outcome of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.
It was a policy that advanced the vision of Resolution 181 – of two states for two peoples. It was a policy that was consistent with United Nations Security Council Resolution 242, which entails that a future Palestinian state be conditioned on the right of “every state in the area…to live in peace within secured boundaries free from threats or acts of force.”
Because of that policy, and regardless of the substance of any single resolution, successive Canadian prime ministers correctly signalled unwillingness to add credibility to that charade.
Until this week.
In joining with the anti-Israel chorus that condemns Israel’s presence in Jerusalem and characterizes it as “Occupied Palestinian Territory,” the Government of Canada has undermined both an important commitment and a crucial principle. It will take significant effort by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to restore the credible, thoughtful position he inherited and maintained during his first mandate.
It may be harder still to rebuild the pro-Israel community’s trust and confidence.
Shimon Koffler Fogel is President and CEO of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA)