For weeks, Prime Minister Trudeau maintained silence on the rising number of deaths of unarmed Palestinian protesters in Gaza despite increasing calls for him to say something. On May 16, he finally spoke out calling for an independent investigation. Immediately, he was attacked by the Israel lobby which wants to avoid an investigation and instead just blame Hamas. It’s now a political tug of war. Read more.
It took the injury of a Canadian doctor, shot by an Israeli sniper, to prod Prime Minister Trudeau to make a statement on Gaza. For 5 weeks the Canadian government had turned a blind eye to the rising death toll in the face of statements by international organizations such as Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and even the Israeli organization B’tslem which had urged Israeli soldiers to refuse orders. While NDP leader Jagmeet Singh, and Green Party Leader Elizabeth May denounced the Israeli violence, Trudeau studiously looked the other way.
But on May 16, five weeks after the protests had begun, and only a few days after Israeli soldiers killed an additional 50 Palestinians and wounded thousands more, including Tarek Loubani, a Canadian doctor, Trudeau finally spoke out. In a strong statement to the parliamentary press gallery, Trudeau demanded that Israel’s leaders explain how a Canadian doctor tending to injured protesters was shot by an Israeli sniper, and threw his support behind calls for an independent investigation.
“Canada deplores and is gravely concerned by the violence in the Gaza Strip that has led to a tragic loss of life and injured countless people. We are appalled that Dr. Tarek Loubani, a Canadian citizen, is among the wounded — along with so many unarmed people, including civilians, members of the media, first responders, and children,” he said.
How to explain Trudeau’s delay in commenting and then his sudden interest in the loss of Palestinian lives? The wounding of Dr. Tareq Loubani, and the media attention it got, seems to have played an important role. In addition, CBC, CTV, The Globe and Mail and the Toronto Star all ran stories which clearly expressed concern about the massacres. The Globe even ran an editorial entitled “The Forgotten people of Gaza”. Many Canadians were clearly concerned.
A well-informed commentator at Canadian Jewish News opined, “It took two days for Trudeau to respond because the Liberals had to do internal polling to see what position was most popular amongst their supporters and to weigh the pros and cons of loosing Jewish donors whilst gaining/retaining voters from other voting blocks,” he wrote. “It was determined by Gerald Butts that they should try to outflank the NDP on this, in the hopes of siphoning off more votes from them.”
Whether this is precisely accurate or not, it appears that Trudeau’s team has made a calculated decision. They must have known that the Israel lobby including the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), B’nai Brith (BB) and the Simon Wisenthal Centre (FSWC) would be mounting a strong counter attack.
In fact, the lobby wasted no time in doing so. First off the mark was the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), whose President Shimon Fogel quickly issued a press statement: “We are deeply disappointed the government’s statement ignores Hamas’ direct responsibility for recent violence on the Israel-Gaza border. This contradicts the government’s long-stated position that, as a close ally and fellow liberal democracy, Israel can count on Canada’s support when its security is threatened.”
CIJA has even launched a petition labelled “Why is Canada ignoring Hamas?” CIJA claims it has already gathered “thousands” of signatures.
Bnai Brith head Michael Mostyn even went so far as to claim in an article published int the Toronto Sun that “Trudeau owes the Jewish State an apology”.
Hamas, Hamas, Hamas!!
The main argument put forward by both CIJA and Bnai Brith is that it’s all the fault of the “terrorist, murderous” Hamas organization. This argument is the one Israeli Defence Minister Lieberman uses, of course, but it avoids some awkward truths:
- The demonstrations are fuelled by widespread frustration over the Israeli blockade and the deteriorating living conditions in the Gaza Strip
- Tens of thousands of young people are unemployed and unable to leave the strip
- Electricity is rationed to four hours a day
- The “Great March of Return” is run by a Citizens Committee which includes many organizations, of which Hamas is only one
- Hamas leaders themselves agreed to a non violent protest. In fact, it appears that not a single shot has been fired so far by any Hamas (or any other) militant in the six weeks since the protests started.
Will pressure from the Israel lobby succeed in making Trudeau back down?
CIJA’s petition, Bna’i Brith’s attack and pressure from major Jewish donors will certainly make Trudeau and his Liberal caucus nervous.
Two Libéral MPs, Anthony Housefather and Michael Levitt, both members of the Canada Israel Parliamentary Friendship group, have already issued a statement declaring they “stand with Israel” and unsurprisingly blaming Hamas for all of the violence: https://mobile.twitter.com/AHousefather/status/997215679391715329
At this stage, the key players – the Prime Ministers Office and the office of Chrystia Freeland – are basically assembling two piles of letters – one supporting him and the other denouncing him. Liberal caucus members, meanwhile, are out in their ridings sensing which way the wind is blowing. So, no doubt, are the NDP and Green parties and members.
Israel’s astonishing violence has prompted a public discussion in Canada about what is right and wrong. What Prime Minister Trudeau thinks and says is important. But even more important is what Canadians think and say.
A public debate on Gaza is opening. Everyone is invited to participate. This will be interesting.
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