Canada's continuing support for fiercely worded pro-Palestinian resolutions at the United Nations is unacceptable and politically perplexing, given the traditional support the Liberals have enjoyed among Jewish voters. It is also puzzling because Ottawa's recognition of the controversial Palestinian leadership of Yasser Arafat has never been debated here nor has public acceptance of such a stand been earned.
There is absolutely no justification for taking sides in the Middle East conflict and more than enough justification, if forced to take sides, to side with Israel. So we can only guess why the Liberals have given support to the Palestinian side of the equation. My speculation is that this is simply cynical Liberal politics. It is about getting votes in Quebec, anti-Americanism and left-wing populism.
The only party leader during the last election to speak out against Ottawa's recent anti-Israeli, pro-Palestinian stance was Canadian Alliance Leader Stockwell Day. He condemned the UN resolutions, which numbered more than one dozen last year. And he was correct to do so -- Israel is not the bad guy here. That country bent over backward before the peace process was derailed to make concessions to Arafat and his followers. But unfortunate deaths escalated into more violent conflicts as both sides overreacted, deploying trigger-happy youths.
Interestingly, at the beginning of the election these anti-Israeli resolutions were blamed on former foreign affairs minister Lloyd Axworthy. This was because he was one of the most left-wing members of the cabinet and everyone knows that the left worldwide dislikes Israel. Why? Because the left dislikes Israel's principal ally, the United States. So the friends of my enemy become my enemy, as they say in the Middle East.
Israel, in reality, is the model state in the Middle East. It is the region's only democracy. It is the only country in the Middle East with the rule of law. And it is one of a handful of nations in the area with high living standards, economic opportunities and economic growth. Israel's Palestinian minority includes some of the most successful and educated Palestinians in the world.
Israel deserves respect and consideration. It does not deserve to become the scapegoat for a bunch of old Cold War warriors or Canadian policy wonks and politicians who still dislike and envy the United States.
The UN anti-Israeli resolutions led to one of the most vile incidences during last year's Canadian election. Day's pro-Israel position, and the nomination by the Alliance of a Jewish candidate in her Toronto-area riding, threatened the re-election of Immigration Minister Elinor Caplan. Instead of trying to defend the indefensible position taken by Ottawa, she viciously and without proof slandered the Alliance supporters as "Holocaust-deniers, prominent bigots and racists." Her attack worked and Day was forced to defend himself against charges that never should have been made in the first place. This meant instead of policy debate, he was pushed into the "when did you stop beating your wife" corner.
This amounted to the lowest point in the entire campaign. But Caplan came by her unscrupulous methods honestly. As immigration minister, she has stooped to the same techniques whenever anyone criticizes the level, or quality, of immigration into this country. She has been a defender of the status quo and done nothing to address the many serious issues involving refugee and immigrant policy. Anyone who dares question those matters, it appears, risks being labelled a racist, bigot and perhaps even a Holocaust-denier. But now that the election is over, the Liberals should not be off the hook and should have to explain their growing dislike for Israel. Caplan did not address this issue. She merely changed the subject by damaging a competitor unfairly.
As an ardent supporter and fan of Israel, I would certainly like an explanation. So would others. I suspect that what's going on here has much to do with Montreal voters. A new voting bloc exists there because for nearly a generation Quebec has been in charge of immigration into that province. The bias has been to encourage francophone immigrants and the result has been that significant communities of Arab francophones have sprung up in Montreal. This includes people from Lebanon, Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia. Needless to say, these people are not fans of Israel and must be doing handsprings over Ottawa's agreement to support, without question or debate, the enemies of Israel.
While Middle East tensions are not foremost in the minds of most Canadians, the fact is that the Liberals and Ottawa foreign affairs "experts" are misrepresenting this country on the world stage. Canadians are not anti-Israel. They are also not anti-Palestinian. As well, it's insulting to think that our government has thrown support behind a bunch of nations run by a collection of dictators, feudal monarchs, terrorists and fanatic religious leaders who routinely trample human rights.
Instead, Canada should have been playing a role in trying to broker an agreement among all sides. But that is now impossible. That's because the Liberals have ignored their Jewish supporters, played cynical politics at home and backed the causes of people who have no respect for the values and beliefs that Canadians hold dear.
©Maclean's - January 15, 2001