Fred Maroun
A believer in peace and human dignity

In 1939 Canada failed Hitler’s test and we are now failing Hamas’ test

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau sitting next to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Centennial of the 1918 Armistice Day ceremony Sunday, Nov. 11, 2018, at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, France, only four days after Trudeau delivered his apology to Jews (The White House / Wikimedia Commons).

On June 7, 1939, Canada turned away the German transatlantic liner St. Louis that was carrying over 800 Jewish refugees fleeing the Holocaust, sending them back to Europe where 254 of them perished in the Nazi death camps. On November 7, 2018, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau apologized on behalf of Canada to Jews for what Canada did almost eighty years earlier. Now it appears that he didn’t mean it.

In 2024, while Israel is fighting a war triggered on October 7, 2023, by the worst massacre of Jews since the Holocaust, Canada, under the leadership of the same prime minister, has decided to no longer sell arms to Israel.

The symbolism of this move is unmistakable. Canada is signaling that Israel should not have the right to defend itself against those who are trying to commit a second Holocaust.

Did Trudeau miss this symbolism? I doubt that very much. In fact, symbolism was in all likelihood exactly what he and Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly were going for. After all, ending arms exports by Canada to Israel won’t by itself change the conflict between Israel and its enemies, but it sends the message that it’s okay for other countries to do it too.

If enough countries follow Canada’s lead, Israel’s ability to defend itself against the enemies who swore to wipe it off the map is very likely to be affected. In 1939, Canada didn’t directly murder any Jews, but it was still responsible for the death of 254. Today our responsibility for the potential consequences of our actions is just as real.

Trudeau’s decision to refuse to help Jews at perhaps their most vulnerable moment since the Holocaust, makes me question the sincerity of his apology for Canada’s refusal to help Jews during the Holocaust.

Maybe in a few decades, another Canadian Prime Minister will apologize to Jews for what Canada did to them in 2024, and maybe it will be just as meaningless and hypocritical as Trudeau’s apology was, or maybe it will be sincere. Either way, it will not repair the damage that Trudeau’s government is doing today, just as Trudeau’s apology did not bring back to lives of the Jews who, with the help of Canada, were murdered by the Nazis.

Trudeau undoubtedly doesn’t think of himself as an antisemite. When it comes to Jews living in Canada, he says the right things most of the time. And perhaps he has no animosity towards Jews as individuals, some of whom may even be among his best friends. But Trudeau clearly did not hear or understand what former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney said about Israel being the new Jew and therefore the new target of antisemitism.

As I write this, Mulroney who died on February 29 is being honored by Canada with a state funeral, but in 2003, Mulroney made a speech about Israel. In that speech that should be read in full, he said that, “Contemporary anti-Semitism has added the state of Israel to its list of targets, to deny the Jewish state its rightful place among the community of nations. Israel has become the new Jew.”

Trudeau, like many others who engage in virtue signaling when it comes to denouncing antisemitism, sends a very different message when it comes the new Jew, Israel. The message is that discrimination against Israel is a safe way to discriminate against Jews. It is the antisemitism of polite society.

While this polite, and yet potentially lethal, form of antisemitism is promoted by our own prime minister, antisemitic violence has risen dramatically in Canada since October 7. The antisemites in the street are much less subtle than Trudeau is, but they are undoubtedly heartened by Trudeau’s nudge-nudge wink-wink to antisemitism. Trudeau who is currently badly trailing in the polls is telling them in no uncertain terms that he is on their side.

An Israeli friend reacted to Canada’s announcement by saying, “The announcement of Canada’s arms embargo shocked and depressed me more than anything in this war. There are so many policies that can be pursued to express opposition to Israeli policies, but to affect our ability to defend ourselves while we’re being attacked on multiple borders, fighting a war that was forced upon us in the most barbaric way imaginable, and while we still have 130+ innocent hostages being held by rapist terrorists is just inconceivable. Canada has opened the door for others to follow suit, and the existential dread that we felt when Hamas and Hezbollah first attacked us suddenly feels even more acute now. ‘Never again’ they say at every Holocaust ceremony. Well, that is proving to be not even lip service. Not only do our friends not help defend us in the court of global opinion, but they are even sanctioning us on top of it. The world feels like a particularly dark place to be a Jew and an Israeli right now.”

As Trudeau himself said in 2018, “In the years leading up to the war, Hitler tested the world’s resolve […] Adolf Hitler’s test was one the Canadian government failed miserably”. Today, Hamas is testing the world’s resolve, and again the Canadian government is failing miserably.

Maybe in the end, this deplorable action taken by the Trudeau government will make no difference to Israel, or maybe it will, but either way, Trudeau has given antisemites a reason to rejoice and has given Israelis an additional reason to worry. That alone, in the middle of a war to defend the Jewish state against a great threat, is enough to make many of us Canadians ashamed of our own government. Hopefully it won’t take eighty years this time for a Canadian government to recognize this and apologize yet again.

About the Author
Fred Maroun is a Canadian of Arab origin who lived in Lebanon until 1984, including during 10 years of civil war. Fred supports Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state and to defend itself. Fred supports a liberal and democratic Middle East where all religions and nationalities co-exist in peace with each other, and where human rights are respected. Fred is an atheist, a social liberal, and an advocate of equal rights for LGBT people everywhere.
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