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Lieblein: Trudeau understands Jewish community better than we know ourselves

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (Presidencia de la República Mexicana/CC BY 2.0)

He may have lost his majority in Parliament, a good deal of his personal dignity, and quite a bit of his authority to newly empowered Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, but Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s anti-Israel switch at the UN shows that as long as he- or at least his advisors- understands and manages the expectations of Canadians, he’s unlikely to lose his hold on power.

The fact that many Jews seemed surprised by Canada’s vote in favour of a non-binding anti-Israel measure at the UN in November is a testament to how the Liberals seem to understand the Jewish community better than we know ourselves. Trudeau knew he’d get away with this, and the fact that the outrage seems to have died down after the initial wave of condemnation seems to have proven him right.

Canada’s voting record at the UN matters to Canadian Jews, of course, but we’re preoccupied with other things as of late: synagogue attacks, shootings in New Jersey, and yet another resurgence of anti-Semitic rhetoric on the ground and online. The UN seems far away and even more marginal than usual. Not only that, but the UN voting issue hasn’t been top of mind for a long time amongst Jewish organizers. Are we really going to have to go into the vault and dust off those mouldy talking points about “shared values”?

When pressed on this issue, the prime minister went with his usual platitude of “Let me be clear. We will always stand strongly with [X].” But it was a platitude delivered when he was talking about standing for Israel, against anti-Semitism, while wearing a kippah and lighting a menorah besides. All the boxes were checked that day, so maybe one anti-Israel vote at the UN wasn’t as bad as it sounded? That was certainly the impression that the Liberals were hoping to convey.     


It’s also worth noting that the Liberals waited until the election was over, and for the other parties to be in a state of confusion as well, to make this move. Even if Liberal-voting Canadian Jews are angry enough to switch their vote to the Conservatives, they’d have to stick with them through the upcoming clown car demolition derby of a leadership race- a daunting prospect even for partisan Conservatives- and then wait however long it’s going to be until the next election after that.

If the Liberals have an endgame here, it’s to regain that much-coveted seat on the UN Security Council. Is one vote going to make that difference? Probably not, but once again: this is about managing domestic expectations. If nothing else, the Liberals just want to be able to say to those who still care about whether Canada sits on the Security Council or not that they tried. And guess what: Israel’s enemies in Canada, and those who really don’t care either way but want Canada to stay “balanced,” are just as satisfied with empty words from the prime minister.

This has been a pattern with the Trudeau government’s foreign relations: make a show of “standing up” to a foreign power- Saudi Arabia, China, the U.S.- while the foreign power either laughs or responds threateningly before realizing, “Wait a second, this is Canada we’re talking about here,” and moving on to fry bigger fish. The UN vote is the same kind of grandstanding, done for the tiny subsection of Canadians who know what the Security Council is and why it matters, and watch Canada’s votes there closely.

If you think Trudeau has finally “shown his true anti-Semitic colours” by voting for this resolution, ask yourself: if he got away with wearing blackface, do you imagine he’s worried about the backlash from the Jewish community for this?

Furthermore, note the absence of support for the vote against Israel from those quarters of Canada where it might be expected. If there was any statement to that effect, then it could be alleged that Trudeau is pandering to these groups – but either intentionally or unintentionally, the government has managed this possibility as well.

Simply put: Trudeau voted for this resolution because he had no reason to expect that he should do otherwise, and his government has worked assiduously to make sure that no such reason would exist. We should not expect the prime minister to adhere to principles on this matter unless the Jewish community gives him a reason to.