Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that a recent shift in Canada’s traditional support for Israel at the United Nations does not signal a change in this country’s Middle East policy.
Trudeau made the remarks on Dec. 9 at a menorah lighting ceremony on Parliament Hill, where about 100 parliamentarians and members of the Jewish community gathered to mark Hanukkah.
Many in the Jewish community criticized the government last month when it moved from voting against an annual resolution on Palestinian self-determination, to supporting it.
The measure referred to “occupied Palestinian territory” – east Jerusalem and its Jewish holy sites included – and said that Israel’s security barrier “severely impedes the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination.” Critics also said the resolution ignored Palestinian terror and put the onus for peace in the region solely on Israel.
Canada’s vote prompted the Israeli Embassy in Ottawa to lodge a formal protest. Others expressed anger and disappointment that Canada’s stance changed dramatically from a No to a Yes – jumping over abstaining – and may have signalled a disturbing departure from its traditional support for Israel at the UN.
Even Nikki Haley, the former U.S. ambassador the UN, chimed in, saying that Canada made a “deal with the devil” by supporting the resolution in bid to curry favour in its quest for a seat on the Security Council.
“I hear you,” Trudeau told those gathered around the menorah. “I understand that many of you were alarmed by this decision.”
For more than a decade, Canada voted against this particular resolution, but Trudeau said his government felt it had to change course to emphasize its support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“The government felt that it was important to reiterate its commitment to a two-states-for-two-peoples solution at a time when its prospects appear increasingly under threat,” Trudeau said.
“But let me be very clear: our enduring friendship with Israel remains. We will continue to stand strongly against the singling out of Israel at the UN. Canada remains a steadfast supporter of Israel and Canada will always defend Israel’s right to live in security. And we will always, always, speak up against anti-Semitism at home and abroad. You have my word.”
Trudeau said he met before the event with Jewish community leaders who expressed their concerns about the UN vote. He said he heard similar concerns from other parties and from members of his own caucus.
Canada returned to voting with Israel on several other UN resolutions singling out the Jewish state this month. All the resolutions, which are non-binding, passed by comfortable margins, as they have in previous years.
At the menorah lighting, Trudeau denounced recent incidents of anti-Semitism at York University, the University of Toronto and McGill University.
Students “were made to feel uncomfortable because of their identity, because of their support of Israel,” Trudeau said.
“Calling into question Israel’s right to exist, or the right of Jewish people to self-determination, is promoting anti-Semitism, and that’s unacceptable. We will never, ever be silent in the face of such acts. Hatred has no place in Canada and we will continue to condemn it.”
In his remarks, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said the story of Hanukkah marks the triumph of Jews over their oppressors. “For many, this story hits far too close to home, as anti-Semitism continues to rise, both around the world and disturbingly, here in Canada,” he said.
If history has proven one thing, “it is the resilience of the Jewish people,” Scheer continued. “Anti-Semitism has taken many forms over the years, from blatant attempts of genocide throughout history, to more subtle forms that today have crept onto our university campuses and brought fear to Jewish-Canadians students.
“Yet here we are again. Here you are again … publicly – openly – celebrating your culture, your faith and your traditions.”
He said that lighting the menorah shows that “hope can never die.”