Earlier this month, nearly 60 former Canadian diplomats and ministers added their names to a letter calling on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his Liberal government to take action against the impending annexation of a large part of the West Bank.
Among the signatories are former ambassadors to Israel who served under both Liberal and Conservative governments.
"The unilateral annexation of territories is strictly prohibited under international law," they write in the letter. "Territorial conquest and annexation are notorious for contributing to fateful results: war, political instability, economic ruin, systematic discrimination and human suffering."
While Trudeau has expressed concern about Israel moving forward with annexation, he has taken no tangible measures to dissuade Benjamin Netanyahu’s government from going ahead with its plans. His reluctance to issue anything more than mild-mannered criticism is shared by his counterparts within the European Union.
The Liberal government has departed from the unabashedly pro-Israel rhetoric of the previous Conservative government. Trudeau refused to move the Canadian embassy to Jerusalem and has increased aid to Palestine. However, when it comes to deterring Israeli human rights abuses, the Liberals have taken a pass.
In 2018, after IDF snipers wounded Tarek Loubani, a Palestinian-Canadian doctor volunteering in Gaza, Trudeau made the following statement:
“We are appalled that […] a Canadian citizen, is among the wounded – along with so many unarmed people, including civilians, members of the media, first responders, and children.”
It is troubling that, in his condemnation, the PM did not invoke Israel’s name, thus managing to simultaneously display his human rights credentials and pacify Israel. This kind of opportunism has only gained strength during Trudeau’s premiership.
As recently as November of 2019, Canada voted in favor of a United Nations (UN) resolution in support of the Palestinians’ right to self-determination. Canada joined 165 other countries – many of them much more powerful – in a routine tally against human rights abuses after having voted against such a resolution on 14 previous occasions. This about-face was part of Trudeau’s strategy to obtain a rotating seat on the UN Security Council in 2021. A few days after the vote, Trudeau declared that Canada’s “enduring friendship with Israel remains.”
Canada has not always been toothless on foreign policy. Upon assuming office in 1984, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney imposed broad economic sanctions against South Africa. The Progressive Conservative leader had also urged the American and British governments to join Canadian efforts in the struggle against white supremacy.
Mulroney abandoned Canada’s long-standing policy of purely rhetorical denunciation of Apartheid, and replaced it with a more hard-line approach. Going against members of his own party, he banned South African imports, forbade new investments in the apartheid nation, and froze the sale of Canadian armaments and sensitive electronic equipment to Pretoria.
Like Mulroney, Trudeau’s foreign policy approach has occasionally been aggressive. Since 2017, his Liberal Party has played a leading role in the Lima Group, an alliance between Canada and over a dozen Latin American nations that has sanctioned the authoritarian regime of Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela. The most egregious human rights violator in the Western Hemisphere, the Maduro regime has overseen mass executions, hyperinflation and the greatest refugee crisis in the history of Latin America. To date, more than five million Venezuelans have fled their homeland.
The Trudeau government has sanctioned hundreds of individual Venezuelan human rights abusers, contributed over $80 million in regional aid efforts to support Venezuelan refugees and expelled the pro-Maduro ambassador from Ottawa. Working closely with democratic Latin American allies, Canada is steadily shifting power away from the regime in Caracas.
Trudeau does more than just speak about the hardships experienced by the majority of Venezuelans. Yet, when Palestinians and Palestinian citizens of Israel are oppressed, all he really does is speak. Anyone can be shot and killed by IDF forces without consequence. Women, children and those with special needs suffer the brunt of Israeli repression. Property is seized and families are expelled from their homes. Yet, unlike the case of Venezuela, Israel manages to escape any kind of non-verbal reaction from the Canadian government.
Russia, Iran, Venezuela and the DRC are just some of the 19 countries that currently face Canadian sanctions. Other notable human rights abusers, like Israel, are excluded from the list–– this, despite the fact that Trudeau could take tangible action without compromising the livelihood of the Canadian people. More than two-thirds of Canadians would consider sanctions against Israel for settlement activity.
The PM has done nothing to distance Canada from Netanyahu’s racist administration as another stage of annexation is set in motion. He avoids imposing diplomatic or economic penalties in response to the occupation of Palestine or the discriminatory treatment of Arabs in Israel. He has deferred to the Israel lobby, while simultaneously dispersing just enough words and aid dollars to maintain his global image.
Canada cannot stand for human rights without holding the Israeli authorities accountable for crimes being committed against the Palestinian people. And, as long as his hypocrisy persists, Trudeau cannot stand for them either – if he ever did at all.
Update (06/17/2020): Canada ultimately lost its bid for a seat on the UN Security Council. Norway and Ireland were selected instead.