The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) is urging caution as the Trudeau government shifts Canadian policy on Iran, lifting some economic sanctions while saying it’s willing to discuss restoring diplomatic relations.
Iran remains a threat to Israel, the Jewish People and the international community and should continue to be confronted “through economic and diplomatic tools,” CIJA CEO Shimon Fogel said in an email to supporters last week.
“We remain deeply concerned about the international effort to re-engage Iran. In addition to ensuring Canada maintains an explicit focus on holding Iran accountable, we will continue to emphasize that history shows diplomacy without economic pressure has never been effective in changing Iran’s behaviour,” Fogel stated.
“It is near impossible to exaggerate the threat Iran continues to pose to Israel and the Jewish People globally. The lifting of international sanctions follow the P5+1 agreement on Iran’s nuclear program – a deal fraught with gaps and failures that the regime will no doubt exploit – remains a serious source of anxiety for CIJA and our global partners.”
Fogel urged the Jewish community, “whatever your partisan leanings… to speak out and get involved” by calling on Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion “to continue applying pressure on Iran.”
Fogel was speaking after the government announced changes to Canada’s economic sanctions regime against Iran.
Dion and Chrystia Freeland, minister of international trade, said they were amending Canada’s wide range of sanctions “to allow for a controlled economic re-engagement… including lifting the ban on financial services, imports and exports.
“Canadian companies will now be better positioned to compete with other companies, globally,” they stated.
At the same time, the government said it “continues to have serious concerns regarding Iran’s nuclear ambitions and will continue to maintain tight restrictions on exports to Iran of goods, services and technologies considered sensitive from a security perspective, including nuclear goods and technologies, as well as those that could assist in the development of Iran’s ballistic missile program.”
“Canada’s approach to re-engagement with Iran, as with any country of concern, will be based on efforts to foster dialogue, rather than on withdrawal and isolation,” Dion stated. “Canada will not lower the standard to which we hold Iran accountable, particularly on its human rights record and its aggressiveness toward the state of Israel. We will use any renewed engagement with Iran as a tool to support efforts to advance human rights and regional security.”
Canada’s new policy was questioned by Paul Rotenberg, vice-president of the right-wing Toronto Zionist Council. While he supports engaging other countries, he said such efforts will prove fruitless with Iran.
“You have a regime in Iran whose values are diametrically opposed to us,” he said. Iran has stepped up its public executions, it kills gays, it foments war in Syria and Iraq, it sponsors terrorism, “they don’t believe in human rights. They foment terrorism all over the world.”
Furthermore they don’t comply with the agreements they sign, he said, adding: “Our sanctions are the only way we can express our displeasure with the way they do things, which are diametrically opposed to our Canadian ways of doing things.”
A different perspective came from JSpace, a left-wing Zionist group. Spokesperson Harry Schachter said that because of the P5+1 agreement, Iran had already taken steps to dismantle its nuclear program.
“It was inevitable – and necessary – that Canada along with other countries would lift sanctions against Iran. That was what the deal was all about.”
Turning to diplomatic and commercial engagement, Schachter said, “The new Liberal government prefers dialogue over isolation… The Iran story is a case where diplomacy has worked,” he stated.
Avi Benlolo, CEO of Friends of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, said, “I am opposed to the lifting of sanction because I believe Iran remains the most dangerous player on the world stage today.”
Benlolo cited Iran’s torture and execution of prisoners, the country’s “dire” human rights record, its test firing a nuclear-capable missile in October contrary to a UN Security Council resolution, its denial of the Holocaust, its calls to destroy Israel and its sponsorship of terrorism as reasons to retain sanctions.
“The lifting of sanctions is wrong,” he stated. “The message it sends from the international community is that Iran is free to continue on its dangerous course, free of censure or consequence.”
Tory foreign affairs critic Tony Clement and deputy critic Peter Kent said lifting sanctions “is extremely disappointing, given Canada’s past track record of a principled stance against the regime in Tehran, which cannot be trusted… Iran continues to develop a ballistic missile program, even after being condemned by the United Nations.”