UNRWA (the UN’s relief agency for Palestinian refugees) runs schools and medical clinics for millions of Palestinians. Prime Minister Harper cut off Canada’s financial contribution in 2012. Mr. Trudeau just reinstated it. The Israel lobby is angry and wants it reversed. Read more…
Liberal Cabinet minister Marie-Claude Bibeau announced the resumption of Canadian funding for Palestinian refugees last week, indicating that she would “rather see Palestinian youth in school than in the street”. The funding had been cut by Prime Minister Harper in 2010.
As soon as the announcement was made, Conservative leader Rona Ambrose was on the attack, as can be seen in this Toronto Star video clip. (Apologies – you have to wait for a 30 second advertisement).
Tory foreign affairs critic Peter Kent said he was “horrified” by the decision.
Outside Parliament, Israel lobby organizations like Bnai Brith, The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) and even the Israeli embassy immediately launched a counter offensive attacking the move.
B’nai Brith expressed “outrage”, even trying to link UNRWA to terrorism. It has launched a petition, demanding that the Canadian Government “provide evidence” that the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) no longer engages in “problematic and dangerous behaviour”.
The Liberals were no doubt anticipating this attack. This probably goes some way to explaining why they dithered for over a year before finally restoring the funding to almost pre-Harper levels.
But the Liberals appear to have done their homework. The day after their announcement, US Secretary of State John Kerry issued a press statement indicating that the USA “welcomed” the Canadian decision.
What to do?
UNJPPI, a human rights group associated with the United Church of Canada has already written a congratulatory letter to Mme. Bibeau. Given the campaign that is now being waged by the Israel lobby, other Canadians who support the Liberal decision might also want to write their own note of encouragement to Hon. Marie-Claude Bibeau with a copy to their own Member of Parliament.
Ironically, the B’nai Brith petition demanding that the Government of Canada get “more evidence” on the activities of UNRWA is not such a bad idea. An all-party delegation to refugee camps in Gaza, Lebanon, Jordan or Syria (or even in the West Bank) would learn a lot about the living conditions of over 5 million Palestinian refugees and about the humanitarian mission of UNRWA itself.
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