Most of the 14 federal Conservative leadership candidates have expressed strong support for Israel and condemned recent events at the UN, with one of them vowing a major shift in Canada’s Mideast policy.
Late last month, former labour minister Kellie Leitch pledged that she would move Canada’s embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, echoing the same pledge by U.S. President Donald Trump and repeating a 1979 promise by Tory leadership hopeful Joe Clark, who backtracked once he became prime minister.
“In the wake of the recent UN vote and the comments of [former U.S. secretary of state] John Kerry, Canada must demonstrate its support for Israel… As prime minister, I will move the Canadian embassy in Israel to Jerusalem,” Leitch tweeted.
— Kellie Leitch (@KellieLeitch) December 30, 2016
She was referring to UN Security Council Resolution 2334, which passed 14-0 last month after the United States’ surprising refusal to use its veto power. It called Israel’s settlements illegal and a major obstacle to peace.
Canada’s response was to reiterate its policy of support for a two-state solution and direct talks between the two sides.
“There will be no light between [former prime minister Stephen Harper’s] commitment to Israel and my own,” Leitch states on her website. “As a country that daily faces existential threats based on religious hatred, our support for Israel becomes a moral imperative. When I am prime minister, Israel will know that it always has a friend in Canada.”
Leitch has also said she was “shocked” by the Trudeau Liberals’ decision to restore funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), “a group alleged to have ties to Hamas.”
Refunding UNRWA “is a clear example of the Liberal elite pandering to groups with anti-Canadian values, in an effort to feel good about itself by staying ‘neutral’… it is dangerous.”
Former cabinet minister Lisa Raitt also denounced the UN measure and the Liberal government’s lack of response to Kerry’s criticism of Israel.
The Milton MP accused the Trudeau government of staying silent on Israel after the UN resolution and Kerry’s criticism.
“We should never accept silence on Israel. We should never be silent when Israel is singled out at the UN,” she said on Facebook.
Raitt called the UN resolution “disgusting,” saying, “Canada needs a principled stance.” As prime minister, she said Canada’s voice would be heard “loud and clear all over the world as Israel’s best friend and ally – no matter what.”
In an email to The CJN, Chris Alexander, a onetime ambassador to Afghanistan and former minister of citizenship and immigration, called Resolution 2334 “yet another round of UN anti-Semitism.”
“The main problem in the Middle East is terrorism, dictatorship and the failure of Arab and Iranian authorities alike to recognize the existence of the State of Israel… and to allow the Palestinians to negotiate their future in good faith, independently of outside interference,” he wrote.
Pierre Lemieux, a former MP and soldier, told The CJN “the only road to a just and enduring peace between Israel and the Palestinians is direct negotiations without pre-conditions.”
Under his leadership, he said Canada would be “unequivocal in its support for Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East, while working to ensure a fair and lasting solution for all parties in the region.”
Lemieux said Resolution 2334 “irresponsibly focused on the settlement issue as an obstacle to peace, failed to sufficiently condemn ongoing Palestinian terrorism, and was misguided in making definitive legal assertions regarding territories captured by Israel in June, 1967.”
MP Maxime Bernier, who made an official trip to Israel and the Palestinian territories as Canada’s foreign affairs minister in 2007-2008, told The CJN he supports Israel “because it is right to do so.”
He noted that bilateral trade with Israel is valued at $1.6 billion annually, and as prime minister, he’d continue to build economic partnerships.
“We all know what the real solution to the conflict is mutual recognition and mutual reconciliation,” he said. “There can be no peace while Hamas and other jihadists continue to attack innocent civilians in Israel.”
During his visit to Israel, he called on Israel to halt settlement expansion.
“Any new growth of settlements is contrary to the peace process,” he declared.
But when asked whether that statement included Jerusalem’s Har Homa neighbourhood, where Israel had recently announced plans to build hundreds of new housing units, Bernier declined to answer, and his silence irked Palestinians.
He also said Canada’s $300-million commitment over five years for Palestinian nation-building was “not unconditional,” stressing it was earmarked partly for educational programs “to help combat hatred and incitement” against Israel.
Regina MP Andrew Scheer, a former House of Commons speaker, directed The CJN to his tweet after the UN vote. “I will always be a strong voice for Israel. Shameful that [former U.S. president Barack] Obama closes out his term by allowing a one-sided UN resolution to attack Israel.”
In a statement, Durham MP Erin O’Toole said he supports “Israel as a democratic, Jewish state with secure borders… Israel has been ready to sign a final peace deal several times. Each time, the Palestinian leadership has walked away from the table. Palestinian leaders still refuse to accept the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state. It is this, and not the settlements, that is the obstacle to peace.”
He said he’d “advance peace by establishing an exchange program between the Canadian Armed Forces and the IDF, and vocally opposing efforts to isolate Israel, such as the recent UNSC resolution that the Trudeau government remained silent on.”
In a tweet, Quebec MP Steven Blaney said: “I condemn the biased UN resolution on Israel, counter-productive to a real conflict resolution.”
Former MP Andrew Saxton told The CJN he “spearheaded” Canadian efforts to ensure that UN motions condemning Israel were not passed. He said it was “disgraceful” the United States abstained on the UN motion, which “only serves to destabilize the area.”
The CJN was unable to obtain policy statements on Israel from the other candidates.