For years, we Canadians have been told by our government that Israel seeks a just peace. Former Prime Minister Stephen Harper told us as much in 2014, when he declared in the Knesset:
Just as we unequivocally support Israel’s right of self-defence, so too Canada has long-supported a just and secure future for the Palestinian people. And, I believe, we share with Israel a sincere hope that the Palestinian people and their leaders will choose a viable, democratic, Palestinian state, committed to living peacefully alongside the Jewish state of Israel.
Stephen Harper never addressed the thorny question of how a state that is forcibly confiscating an occupied people’s land could plausibly be characterized as a peace-loving state. For years, his unconscionable silence on this point allowed Israel’s peacenik charade to continue.
Impunity is a terrible thing, but perhaps it offers one advantage: it breeds complacency in the oppressor. That is precisely what has happened to the government of Israel: western states have allowed Israel to make a mockery of international law for so long that its leaders barely pretend any longer to be committed to a two-state solution.
Benjamin Netanyahu himself abandoned that pretense on the eve of Israel’s 2015 election. With an electoral loss looming, Netanyahu appealed to right-wing voters by stating “I think that anyone who is going to establish a Palestinian state today and evacuate lands, is giving attack grounds to the radical Islam against the state of Israel.”
Netanyahu eked out a victory in that election, but the Obama administration was so irritated by his uncharacteristic candor that it said it would be forced to “re-evaluate” its approach to Israel’s long-running conflict with Palestinians. Having secured electoral victory, and anxious about a possible U.S. re-evaluation of its Israel/Palestine policy, Netanyahu promptly reversed himself on U.S. television, declaring “I want a peaceful, sustainable two-state solution. I have not changed my policy.”
The Israeli government’s impunity persisted, and its complacency grew. It promoted yet more settlement construction – a war crime that has now endured for nearly 50 years. But rather than sanction Israel in some way, the Obama administration rewarded Israel with the largest military aid package in U.S. history.
Then, in the waning days of Obama’s presidency, his exasperation with Israel’s relentless settlement construction persuaded him, finally, not to veto a unanimous U.N. Security Council resolution condemning the settlements as a “flagrant violation” of international law.
On February 6, 2017, Israel’s Knesset responded to the Security Council resolution with an act of supreme chutzpah: it passed a ‘Settlement Regulation’ Law which purported to legalize retroactively dozens of wildcat settlements.
Meanwhile, key members of Israel’s government have dropped entirely the pretense that Israel will withdraw from occupied territory and accept an independent Palestinian state.
It is in this context that, for the first time, a poll examining Canadians’ views toward sanctions and a boycott of Israel has been conducted and published. And the results reveal that Canadians are no longer buying Israel’s two-state masquerade.
The poll, conducted in January and February 2017 by EKOS Research Associates, found that 66% of respondents who expressed a view consider Canadian government sanctions on Israel to be a reasonable means of ensuring Israel’s compliance with international law. An even higher proportion of respondents (78%) believe that the Palestinian call for a boycott is also a reasonable means of ensuring Israel’s respect for international law.
The EKOS survey exposes a vast divide between Canadian government policy and public opinion. Although a large majority of Canadians are now receptive to sanctions and a boycott, the recently elected government of Justin Trudeau is continuing Stephen Harper’s inglorious tradition of aiding and abetting Israel at every opportunity.
In late 2015, within weeks of taking office, the Trudeau government voted repeatedly against United Nations resolutions that were critical of Israel or supportive of Palestinian rights. In 2016, the Trudeau government extended its ‘unblemished’ record of support for Israel at the U.N., voting against six such resolutions. The Trudeau government has yet to vote in favor of a U.N. resolution that is critical of Israel or supportive of Palestinian rights. In every instance in which the Trudeau government opposed such a resolution, the resolution passed with the overwhelming support of the international community.
So extreme is the Trudeau government’s deference to Israel that it even opposed a U.N. resolution which “reaffirms the importance of Israel’s accession to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons [NPT] and placement of all its nuclear facilities under comprehensive International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards, in realizing the goal of universal adherence to the Treaty in the Middle East.” Israel is the only state in the Middle East that possesses a nuclear arsenal, and the Canadian government itself states that the NPT “is fundamental to Canada’s nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation policy… The NPT, ratified by 189 countries, is one of the most broadly-supported treaties in history. Only Israel, India and Pakistan have yet to adhere to it.”
Notably, Canada imposes sanctions on Iran “in response to Iran’s nuclear and WMD [weapons of mass destruction] programs.” However, unlike Israel, Iran possesses no nuclear weapons and is a party to the NPT. Moreover, in 2012, the New York Times reported that “American intelligence analysts continue to believe that there is no hard evidence that Iran has decided to build a nuclear bomb.”
Canada currently imposes sanctions on 21 countries. Those sanctions take a variety of forms, including asset freezes, arms embargoes and financial restrictions. Over two-thirds of the countries sanctioned by Canada are situated in Africa or the Middle East, and nearly one-half of them are predominantly Muslim. Despite its liberal use of sanctions on predominantly Muslim countries, Canada has never imposed sanctions on Israel and, in Canada’s Parliament, there has been no meaningful debate about sanctioning Israel.
Not only does Canada’s Liberal government consider any talk of sanctioning Israel to be utterly taboo, but it also supported a Conservative Party Parliamentary motion condemning supporters of BDS, a non-violent, anti-racist movement designed to do nothing more than secure Israel’s respect for Palestinians’ internationally recognized rights. In arguing for his anti-BDS motion in Canada’s Parliament, Conservative MP Tony Clement stated:
I would put it before this House that this BDS movement is actually a form of discrimination. In targeting all Israelis, BDS is a present-day blacklist and a form of discrimination, strictly based on national origin. Just like boycotts have targeted Jews throughout history, today BDS activists call on boycotting people who come from the Jewish state.
Mr. Clement then baldly asserted that “this motion accurately reflects Canadian values, Canadian interests, Canadian principles, and Canadian morality.” He concluded his remarks in Parliament by urging his fellow MPs to “send a strong message to our fellow Canadians and to freedom lovers around the world and support this motion.”
The EKOS survey confirms not only that a large majority of Canadians are receptive to sanctions and boycotts to ensure Israel’s respect for international law – it also revealed that a majority of Canadians oppose Parliament’s condemnation of the BDS movement. Thus, there is no doubt that Canada’s “freedom lovers” found Mr. Clement’s attack on the BDS movement to be wholly unpersuasive, and that his anti-BDS motion is not reflective of, but is in fact an affront to, Canadian values.