The fighting on the Gaza border, relations with Israel and the shooting of Palestinian-Canadian doctor Tarek Loubani provided for spirited debate over two days in the House of Commons.
Most of the fireworks took place between Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
On May 16, Trudeau issued a statement on the violence at the Gaza-Israel frontier, which said, in part, that the “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.”
He was roundly condemned in Jewish circles for failing to mention Hamas’s role in the fighting.
During Question Period on May 22, Scheer took Trudeau to task, saying that the riots were “deliberately orchestrated by the terrorist group Hamas.”
He said Trudeau had “ignored” Hamas’ involvement and “unilaterally blamed Israel – the most democratic, pluralistic nation in the region.”
Scheer called on Trudeau to apologize for his “poorly worded statement” and join the Tory leader in condemning the role Hamas played.
In a reply, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said she was sure that “all Canadians deplore the violence in Gaza … reported use of excessive force and live ammunition is inexcusable.”
She said it was “imperative” to find out what happened in Gaza, especially in regards to Loubani’s shooting. “That is why Canada is calling for an independent investigation to ascertain how the actions of all parties concerned contributed to these events, including reported incitement by Hamas.”
The next day, Scheer tried again.
He repeated that the riots had been orchestrated by Hamas and called on Trudeau to condemn the terrorist group and apologize for his earlier statement.
Trudeau responded by saying that following the shooting of Loubani, he spoke directly with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and explained “that regardless of which country was involved, any time a foreign military sniper shoots a Canadian citizen, a Canadian civilian, we will have questions about that.
Here we are, a week later, after the world has seen Hamas putting innocent civilians in harm’s way just to achieve this very type of tragic incident and the prime minister continues to place the blame unilaterally on Israel.
– Andrew Scheer
“We will stand up and express how concerned we are and ask to know exactly what happened. A Canadian doctor was shot by an Israeli sniper. This is something that we have to actually push back on and ask how that happened.”
Scheer called Trudeau’s stance “shameful.”
“Here we are, a week later, after the world has seen Hamas putting innocent civilians in harm’s way just to achieve this very type of tragic incident and the prime minister continues to place the blame unilaterally on Israel – a country that goes out of its way to minimize civilian casualties,” Scheer said.
He asked: “Will the prime minister finally do what the entire international community has already done: condemn Hamas and recognize its role in this tragic event?”
Trudeau replied that the Liberals have “repeatedly condemned the violence, including the incitement to violence by Hamas, but I will express once again that I am proud that Canada is one of those countries in which support for Israel and friendship with Israel go beyond partisan lines.”
He said the Liberal government has “continued to be a friend to Israel.”
There is only one issue on which Liberals disagree with the Conservatives with regard to Israel, he went on: “It is that we do not think it should be a partisan domestic issue.”
Scheer didn’t bite. Canada, he said, used to have “one voice” when it spoke about the Middle East, “until this prime minister changed the government’s position when it comes to Israel.”
I am proud that Canada is one of those countries in which support for Israel and friendship with Israel go beyond partisan lines.
– Justin Trudeau
He charged that Trudeau had “politicized this issue by failing to condemn Hamas until a week later, by placing the blame unilaterally on Israel and by ignoring the fact that Hamas put those innocent civilians in harm’s way deliberately.”
Why, he asked, did Trudeau take so long to acknowledge Hamas’s role? “Why is he politicizing our relationship with Israel?”
Without mentioning the Conservatives by name, Trudeau said that, “The politicization of the Israel question has been done by them. It is shameful and unhelpful to the kind of pluralistic democracy we are. We will always be a friend to Israel.”