During the longest election campaign in Canadian history, Liberal leader Justin Trudeau seemed to have one objective with respect to the Israel/Palestine issue – keep it off the agenda.
When Prime Minister Harper bragged about his support for Israel during the first televised debate, Mulcair jumped in to go one better. But Trudeau deftly sidelined the discussion. “We are all in agreement on this issue”, commented Trudeau. It now seems that he meant it.
Read more about Trudeau’s strategy.
Trudeau’s campaign advisors sensed that the Canadian public was not comfortable with Harper’s over-the-top support of Israel and his nasty anti-Arab rhetoric. But they understood that successful elections require money and votes, both of which are available from Canada’s prosperous Jewish community. His challenge was how to gain the support of that community without alienating those Canadians interested in rebalancing Canada’s middle east policy.
Trudeau in private campaign mode – credit: Canadian Jewish News
His strategy appears to have been to give repeated private assurances to the Jewish community while keeping Israel/Palestine off the public agenda. He was clearly aiming to curry the support of the Jewish community over Israel, without it becoming an issue of public debate.
Now that he has been elected, Prime Minister Trudeau appears to be following the same successful approach. According to Canadian Jewish News, in the days following the election, prime minister–elect Trudeau “reached out to the Jewish community” in a 10 minute private phone call to David Cape, president of the Council on Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA). According to the CJN, during the call Trudeau reiterated his strong support for Israel.
But Trudeau was more circumspect in public. In the mandate letter Trudeau sent a few weeks later to his new Foreign Affairs minister Stephane Dion, Trudeau sets out 15 foreign affairs priorities for Dion, but Israel/Palestine is not even mentioned. In other words, Trudeau has clearly indicated to Dion that he should not significantly change the course Canada was following under Mr. Harper.
Of course, this was a big disappointment to human rights activists who were hoping that Trudeau might take some small steps to “rectify” the balance – perhaps by reinstating Canadian funding for UNRWA, or even by agreeing to help provide medical support for some of the thousands of Palestinian children injured during Israel’s 2014 attack on Gaza.
But Trudeau is no patsy for CIJA, who would certainly have preferred a reference to the defense of Israel in the mandate letter. And according to Canadian Israel Jewish News, Trudeau “brushed off” CIJA’s attempt to get him to denounce the recent Palestinian violence in the West Bank.
But at the same time, he has quietly taken a number of pro-Israel positions that closely track the policies of the previous Harper government.
Somewhat incredibly, Canada was one of a handful of countries to oppose a recent UN motion to support Palestinian self determination. Of major states in the world, only Canada, Israel and the USA were in opposition, a continuation of Harper’s policy. This vote was almost completely ignored by the Canadian media, but it surely pleased the Israeli government and its supporters in Canada.
In his recent successful election campaign, Mr. Trudeau’s promise of “change’ clearly resonated with many Canadians. But his government’s policy with respect to Israel/Palestine, while less strident than Harper’s, appears to be “steady as she goes”.