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Trudeau under fire for Gaza comments

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks at an event in Hamburg, Germany. WIKIMEDIA COMMONS PHOTO

Jewish groups are incensed at Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s comments on the recent violence in the Gaza Strip.

After Israeli military forces killed more than 50 protesters in Gaza on May 14, the Canadian government was slow to respond. Only after two days, when media reported that Tarek Loubani, a Canadian-Palestinian doctor, was non-lethally shot by Israeli forces, did Trudeau break his silence.

“Canada deplores and is gravely concerned by the violence in the Gaza Strip,” the prime minister said in a statement.

“Canada calls for an immediate independent investigation to thoroughly examine the facts on the ground – including any incitement, violence, and the excessive use of force.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded by personally calling Trudeau to reject that request. Netanyahu said the Israeli Defence Force would instead conduct an internal inquiry.

The Israeli ambassador to Canada, Nimrod Barkan, backed up Netanyahu’s words by outlining the IDF’s inquiry in a press release, confirming their process is in accordance with international law and reviewed by Israel’s Supreme Court.

“We are deeply disappointed the government’s statement ignores Hamas’ direct responsibility for recent violence on the Israel-Gaza border.”

– CIJA CEO Shimon Koffler Fogel

Trudeau’s initial comments, however, incited the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) to launch a petition demanding the Canadian government uphold its previous stance on Israel – namely, to condemn Hamas as a terrorist organization, which Trudeau did not do.

“We are deeply disappointed the government’s statement ignores Hamas’ direct responsibility for recent violence on the Israel-Gaza border,” CIJA CEO Shimon Koffler Fogel wrote in a press release.

“This contradicts the government’s long-stated position that, as a close ally and fellow liberal democracy, Israel can count on Canada’s support when its security is threatened.”

His words were echoed in a statement released by the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center.

“While we despair about loss of life, Canada should steadfastly condemn Hamas for inciting violence and for attempting to enter a sovereign nation to carry out terrorism,” said Avi Benlolo, the group’s president and CEO. “It’s disappointing that our prime minister did not condemn Hamas in his statement.”

Two of Parliament Hill’s most prominent Jewish Liberal MPs, Michael Levitt and Anthony Housefather, responded with a joint statement condemning Hamas and acknowledging that the shooting of Loubani was “troubling.”

“It is clear that the terrorist organization Hamas bears direct moral responsibility and culpability for the senseless loss of life,” they wrote.

READ: HOW DID CANADIAN OFFICIALS REACT TO THE VIOLENCE IN GAZA?

Trudeau’s comments came two full days after the violence broke out. In the immediate aftermath, the government’s lone address came from Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, who wrote on Twitter that she was “deeply concerned by violence in Gaza Strip,” calling the deaths of children, journalists and civilians “inexcusable.”

“All parties to the conflict have a responsibility to ensure civilians are protected,” she added.

Her reference to “all parties” struck many as equivocal.


Read the prime minister’s statement in full:

Canada deplores and is gravely concerned by the violence in the Gaza Strip that has led to a tragic loss of life and injured countless people. We are appalled that Dr. Tarek Loubani, a Canadian citizen, is among the wounded – along with so many unarmed people, including civilians, members of the media, first responders, and children.

We are doing everything we can to assist Dr. Loubani and his family, and to determine how a Canadian citizen came to be injured. We are engaging with Israeli officials to get to the bottom of these events.

Reported use of excessive force and live ammunition is inexcusable. It is imperative we establish the facts of what is happening in Gaza. Canada calls for an immediate independent investigation to thoroughly examine the facts on the ground – including any incitement, violence, and the excessive use of force.

Canada stands ready to assist in such an endeavour. We will work closely with our international partners and through international institutions to address this serious situation.