Trudeau now at centre of intense debate over Israel’s shooting of unarmed Palestinian demonstrators


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:

hamas mlk

One of the surprising developments has been Hamas’ support for a non violent protest, invoking the memories of Gandhi, MLK and Mandela

  • 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:

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.


Canada Talks Israel Palestine (CTIP) aims to promote a serious discussion in Canada about the complicated and emotional Israel/Palestine issue. We invite brief comments (under 100 words) from readers.

To learn more about what we do, contact us at:


  1. If there is a public debate it should not focus on what is happening now but look at the long-term picture. Israel captured Gaza (from Egyptian control) in same war that it captured East Jerusalem and the West Bank. At first it treated all 3 areas as its own territory and Israelis began to settle. In 2005 it isolated Gaza, turning it into a giant Concentration Camp, and imprisoning its inhabitants without trial. Everything happening in Gaza now is a result of that unjust imprisonment and people’s natural desire to be free.

  2. If horsefeathers – ooops, Housefather – stands with Israel, I wonder if Canada has a foreign agent registration act (FARA in the US)? If so, he should be signing it.

  3. Thanks Peter. The statement from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau PMJT following on FM Freeland’s tweet, perhaps prompted by the wounding of Canadian Palestinian doctor, is welcome and supports the broad international UN opinion about the need to investigate the Israeli gun sniper killings of Palestinian protesters. Such an initiative was killed in the UNSC by the USA but just passed in the UNHRC with the proposed sending of war crime investigators to the Israel Gaza fence – can the ICC be far behind? That PMJT mentioned neither Hamas nor Israel by name makes the frantic overreaction of CIJA and B’nai Brith very self defeating with their derisive dismisal of it as political numbers motivated, as unacceptable and biased and their demand that PMJT and Canada should now aplogize to Israel which is falsely characterized as an ally of Canada implying mutual security and military commitments that do not exist. Independent Jewish Voices in supporting the PMJT statement much better reflected Canadian opinion and interests. PMJT has always said that Canada can and should be able to give advice to our friend Israel but apparently his advice is being rejected. Indeed, this puts PMJT in a much better sutuation to move the moribund peace process forward with support of an internationally acceptable two state solution with Israel and Palestine as sovereign independent entities with their capitals in West and East Jerusalem respectively and freedom, democeacy and human and minority rights for all and a shared international space for the holy sites in the old city of Jerusalem (as promoted by Michael Bell Canada’s illustrious but sadly now deceased former Ambassador to Israel, the Palestinian territories and peace treaty signers Egypt and Jordan and the main architect of Canada’s mid East policy and adviser to PMJT. Let’s hope that Canada gets elected to the UNSC so that PMJT and FM Freeland can pursue a Canadian peace and help to put an end to the violence between Israel and Palestine.that is seen in Gaza

    1. Palestinian lawyer Jonathan Kuttab earlier this month proded the Canadian Churches to stop “drinking the kool-aid of a 2-state solution,” explaining how this was refocusing energy from principles to a mirage. He said this explained why pro-occupation groups suddenly have become 2-staters and “peace process” talkers.

      The Algonquin will see the return of Parliament Hill to their nation before the Palestinians see Jerusalem or and viable land returned to theirs. Ten minutes in the West Bank would disabuse anyone of such fantasies.

      1. You may be disillusioned about the prospects for a two state solution, but you have to suggest something better if you want to promote Palestinian rights through to a final resolution.. A one state solution based on equality of all its citizens would be preferable but is even more distant because of the resistance to Israel to the probable end of the Zionist project as the Arab Palestinian majority emerges. The two state solution based on international law, UN resolutions and the Arab peace plan has been the only formula on the table in past negotiations including most recently the failed Obama Kerry initiative in 2014 and is likely to form a good part of any POTUS TRUMP peace plan. It remains the official position of both Israel and Palestine, even if Netanyahu has undermined it as Israeli politics has moved rightwards to the point where no Israeli party favours it except the Arab list.

        Pushing a fair solution – two states of Israel and Palestine with capitals in West and East Jerusalem respectively and a shared international regime for Jerusalem’s holy sites – in no way detracts from and indeed enhances the principled arguments to support Palestinian rights because there is no threat to Israel. It is insulting to suggest that anyone who favours a two state solution is supportive of the occupation and any other violations of Palestinian rights, while the assertion that the Algonquins will get their pre European arrival lands and rights back before the Palestinians get their rights and land back is merely ludicrous. A consistent vision of a final resolution of the Israel Palestine conflict is essential for progress by the international community in organizing a diplomatic solution and essential to Canada playing a proactive useful role in the face of extreme Israeli resistance to any situation but the status quo of occupation and blockade and discrimination.

        And I say all this after 36 years in the Canadian foreign service nearly half spent on Middle East affairs and postings and developing policy on Israel Palestine and spending considerable time in Israel Palestine including on Peter’s trip..

        George Jacoby

  4. I have sent a letter to the PM’s office and to Christina Freeland supporting Trudeau’s
    statement. I hope others will as well or the government will get the message that only the Israel lobby counts and can muster support. This is a key moment

  5. I can only hope that JT’s political calculus is not rewarded with votes. Fair-Weather friends are the most dangerous type.

  6. Alarm bells immediately start ringing when I read persistent references to a supposedly unified and homogenous (let alone registered) “Israel lobby.” The author offers no substantial citation as to what this means nor does he reference a comparable Arab or Palestinian entity. The word choice may seem trivial and neutral, but rather than framing the mentioned organizations as having (unsurprisingly) similar positions due to similar ideologies (c.f.: Canadian Taxpayers Federation and the Conservative Party), it doesn’t in any way mean that they are colluding behind the scenes.

    The repeated reference to this fantastic “lobby” is symptomatic of a historically deep and pointed suspicion that comes to full flower and can easily be seen in “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.” While author and readers of this blog claim to be engaged in balanced and bridge-building dialogue, they perpetuate the spectre of a Jewish cabal of secret, backroom-dealing conspirators with nefarious and self-serving goals by gulping down (and enflaming) this canard whole.

    1. Hey Sixmmionstitches,
      I don’t mind your disagreeing with me. But I would like to be clear that I do not believe in “a Jewish cabal of secret, backroom-dealing conspirators with nefarious and self serving goals.”

      I do believe, however, that there is a defacto pro-Israel lobby composed mainly of a number of different Jewish organizations, including but not restricted to CIJA, Bnai Brith, Friends of Simon Wiesenthal and the Jewish National Fund, each of which has its own separate, agenda but each of which is very invested in Zionism and defending the Jewish State of Israel. I would also include some of the Canadian Jewish press, like Canadian Jewish News which has a strongly Zionist orientation.

      The lobby would also include Christian Zionist organizations like “The Christian Embassy”, and some others. Taken together, the budget of these organizations would no doubt exceed $10 million and probably involves at least 50, if not 100 fulltime staff.

      This is not secret. The “Israel lobby” is entirely (well almost entirely) above board and doing what is permitted in a democracy – they push their point of view.

      There is nothing remotely similar on the pro Palestinian side. I believe CJPME is the only organization with any full time staff, 1 or 2, I think.

      1. Peter – thank you for your fulsome reply. I realize my perspective is out of sync with you and your readers, and I must confess the canard I actually have in the back of my mind when I read your articles and the posts they elicit is Zionism. I count myself as a Zionist: not of the card-carrying variety, not of the blank-slate, making-something-from-nothing variety – just convinced that Jews need a piece of their ancestral home variety. It’s an indigenous claim.

        It seems there are two indigenous claims to overlapping bits of land and the first generations of Zionists did not take that into account. They did not foresee that their growing presence would provoke the emergence of a national identity amongst those Arabs who lived in Palestine.

        Jews and Palestinians will inevitably live as neighbours. It will take generosity, sacrifice, good will, and above all: wise leadership, to bring about. Recent events, and indeed events over the past century have given no cause for optimism – but the question is how to face up to that fact. I hope your blog contributes to that awareness.

      2. Thank you. I hope so too. But remember that my blog is not aimed at either Israelis or Palestinians. It is aimed at promoting a serious conversation in Canada about what Canada’s position should be.

  7. Something is seriously wrong. Canadian government and other leaders of the civilized world continue to provide unconditional support to the apartheid state that only knows how to kill and who to kill. No one dare to question or even oppose to the Zionists terrorism that started in 1895. Our leaders are sold out to the criminal state that has no legitimacy of existence on other people’s land. UN, US, UK, they all worship the Zionists and follow their criminal agenda of occupation. They are not interested in peace and should never be trusted as honest brokers of the deal to bring harmony in the area while the Arab leaders are proud to act like dummies. All of them have betrayed Palestinians. The whole Zionist project is apocalyptic. It has gone out of control and must be apprehended. The only way that can be achieved is to work together as a unified force of nonviolent struggle and resistance – no matter on what cost.

  8. Good for Trudeau to stand up and denounce Israel’s clearly murderous response to a protest, especially as both Israel and Palestine are commemorating the events of 1948, but to have to await an opinion poll on the potential problems the Liberals might face from hostile friends of Bibi
    here in Canada, is just too much from an over-calculating political regime desperate to retain power in Canada after stumbling through and failing on so many promise it made to get elected when?.

    Why, that was in 2015. don’t you know?

  9. Strangely this horrible snipers shooting ,make me think that what is going on in Palestina is something similar to the shootings in the USA ,the most powerful governement can’t do anything about it ,let the killings continue …and give the “go ahead to the israelis¡¡¡!!!

  10. Thanks Peter for promoting this dialogue. I like the comments section when it involves people of differing positions – it can be a fast track to better understand the complex historical and emotional issues involved. Dialogue works as long as people remain respectful and aim to be honest and evidence-based. Again, thank you for providing just such a space.

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