When U.S. President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel last week, Canadian Jews wondered how our government would respond. The answer came quickly. As Lila Sarick reports in this week’s issue, Ottawa’s stance on Jerusalem remains unchanged. According to a statement from the office of Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, “Canada’s long-standing position is that the status of Jerusalem can be resolved only as part of a general settlement of the Palestinian-Israeli dispute.”
Some Canadian Jews will be sorely disappointed by our government’s decision not to follow in Trump’s footsteps. Here was an opportunity for Ottawa to state the obvious: Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. While European leaders fumed over a decision they said would lead only to violence and bloodshed, our prime minister might have calmly explained why Israel has a right to name its own capital, just like any other nation, and how doing so does not prejudge a final peace agreement with the Palestinians, nor negate the possibility of east Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state.
The fact that he did not may be frustrating, sure, but it should not be taken to mean that the Liberal government is anti-Israel or anti-Semitic. After all, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been outspoken in his opposition to BDS, and Ottawa has been a rare defender of Israel at the United Nations. In fact, as Ron Csillag explains on page 13, Canada voted last week against a number of anti-Israel UN resolutions, including one calling for the right of “all persons displaced as a result of the June 1967 and subsequent hostilities to return to their homes or former places of residence in the territories occupied by Israel since 1967,” and another stating that “any actions taken by Israel to impose its laws, jurisdiction and administration on the Holy City of Jerusalem are illegal and therefore null and void and have no validity whatsoever.”
Ottawa even rejected a resolution advocating “the complete cessation of all Israeli settlement activities in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including east Jerusalem, and in the occupied Syrian Golan.”
It is fair, however, for Canadian Jews to keep the issue of Jerusalem on the front burner – and not only when it comes to the Liberals, but the Conservatives and NDP, too. Not surprisingly, the latter has already come out forcefully against Trump’s decision, with leader Jagmeet Singh calling the move “counterproductive.” (His foreign affairs critic, Hélène Laverdière, went further, tweeting: “A devastating day for those who believe in peace, justice and security in the Middle East.”) More surprising, perhaps, the Conservatives were decidedly diplomatic on the matter – foreign affairs critic Erin O’Toole would only say, “We’re going to talk about … how (we can) make sure that it’s clear Israel is a strong ally and friend of Canada but without destabilizing the situation.”
As the next federal election inches closer – we’re already more than halfway there – the issue of recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital will be on the minds of many Canadian Jewish voters. It will be interesting to see how the government and its would-be successors react. There is certainly room to improve on their initial responses.