Marc Garneau, Elizabeth May and Paul Dewar faced off on foreign policy issues at a recent roundtable in Ottawa. They appeared to agree on most things… but not on Israel.
The Israel/Palestine conflict was one of the hottest topics at “Canadian Foreign Policy and the Next Federal Election”, a round table organized in Ottawa by the National Capital Branch of the Canadian International Council on June 3rd
About 240 guests, including many current and former Canadian diplomats, turned up to hear foreign policy spokespeople for the NDP, Liberals and Green Party face off over foreign policy issues. (The Conservative party had been invited to attend but declined to send a representative.)
“Face off” is perhaps a little strong since there appeared to be broad agreement on most issues. The questions ranged over a wide geographical area – from trade with China, to the Russia-Ukraine conflict.
All 3 speakers quickly agreed that current Harper government has diminished Canada’s standing in the world with aggressive posturing on a range of issues over which we have very limited resources to contribute.
But when moderator Lawrence Martin asked Paul Dewar where he most differed from the Liberal Party with respect to Foreign policy – Dewar was quick to answer “Israel”.
Dewar went on to point out that his party:
- supports the resumption of Canadian funding to UNRWA (The UN agency for Palestinian refugees),
- supports the recognition of Palestine as an observer state in the UN
- supports Palestinian admission to the International Criminal Court
- opposes the building of new settlements
- supports a 2 state solution
Dewar also made a strong statement about the need to resolve the issue of the Palestinian refugees. He noted that Canada had been given responsibility for taking the lead on the refugee issue by the international community, but had since “dropped the ball”.
Elizabeth May piled on, pointing out that unlike the Liberals, her party had been very opposed to Israel’s punishing attack on Gaza last summer.
Garneau appeared a little defensive. While agreeing with the other panellists that Canada needs to promote a “2 state solution”, he appeared to accept Prime Minister Netanyahu’s argument that the blame for lack of progress lies with the Palestinians. “The major obstacle to peace”, said Garneau, “is the fact that Palestinians are divided”. It was not clear whether he knew that Israel had refused to negotiate when Hamas and Fatah briefly formed a unity government coalition in April 2014, saying Fatah had to choose between Israel or the “terrorists”.
Unanimous opposition to criminalizing BDS
Encouragingly, during question period, all 3 participants were quick to dissociate their parties from any attempt to label criticism of Israel a “hate crime” or to limit freedom of speech on this issue.
“Given that BDS is a peaceful, non-violent movement, whose objectives are consistent with official Canadian policy (i.e. as written on the Foreign Affairs website), what do you make of Mr. Blaney’s statements that BDS constitutes some kind of “hate crime”?” , I asked, eliciting some applause from the audience.
While not saying they support BDS itself, all three panelists rejected the idea that supporting it was a “hate crime”. Garneau was the only panelist who actively criticized BDS itself. arguing that it is not helpful to resolving the conflict.