Has Canada “downgraded” its relation to Israel, or just wordsmithed it? Open letter to Hon. Chrystia Freeland: What does it mean to say Canada is an “ally” of Israel?


International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland answers a question during Question Period in the House of Commons in Ottawa, on Monday, Dec. 7, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Until very recently, Canada’s foreign affairs minister Hon. Chrystia Freeland repeatedly stated that “Canada is a steadfast ally and friend of Israel, and a friend to the Palestinian people”. Two months ago, CTIP wrote the minister asking for clarification on what she meant, exactly, to say that Israel is an “ally” of Canada. We never got an answer, or even an acknowledgement. But as Palestinian casualties began mounting in Gaza, the official wording was quietly changed. No more reference to Israel being an “ally”. Just a “friend”. Did CTIP’s letter prompt this change? Or was it Israel’s behaviour in Gaza? We will never know. But, here is our letter…..


Hon. Chrystia Freeland,

Minister of Global Affairs

Government of Canada

 RE: Canada and Israel as “allies”

Dear Minister Freeland,

According to a December 19th, 2017 press release from your department, “Canada is a steadfast ally and friend of Israel and friend to the Palestinian people.”

bibi mad

Is he still an ally?

I would like to better understand what is intended or implied by the use of the term “ally” in relation to Israel, and the difference between being an ‘ally and friend” as opposed to merely a “friend”.

The word “ally” is normally used to describe our relations with other nations in specific circumstances, as in “NATO allies” for example.

Used with respect to Israel is the term “ally” simply an expression of “special friendship” but without any actual implications? Or does Canada have some special, legal relationship with Israel that it does not have with other nations?

In specific:

  1. Are Canadas’s military, diplomatic or security relations with Israel subject to any kind of bilateral treaty? If so, are these public? What are these obligations?
  2. Is Canada bound to support Israel in the event of armed conflict, as we are bound to the “collective defense” of our NATO allies by Article 5 of the NATO agreement, for example?
  3. Does Canada consider any other countries in the Middle East to be “allies”. (e.g. Lebanon, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, etc.)?
  4. If Israel were to invade Lebanon again, as it did in 1982, would we be obliged to offer support?
  5. Are there any treaties or agreements with Israel that provide for an exchange of Foreign Service Personnel at head office? Could you please provide a list of any Israeli nationals working in exchange programs at GAC, other federal ministries, the Canadian Armed Forces or in your own office? Are any Canadian nationals working in exchange programs in Israeli government ministries or armed forces?

Mme Minister, I understand you will have to ask for information from your officials before answering. I would appreciate acknowledgement of receipt of this letter giving an estimated date for a substantive answer.

I thank you in advance for your attention to this matter.

Yours truly,

Peter Larson, Chair

Canada Talks Israel Palestine

copied to:

  • Hon Catherine McKenna, MP, Ottawa Centre (my member)
  • Mr. Marwan Tabbara, Chair, Canada Palestine Parliamentary Friendship Group
  • Mr. Alexandre Boulerice, co-chair, Canada Palestine Parliamentary Friendship Group
  • Mme. Helene Laverdiere, Foreign Affairs critic, NDP
  • Ms. Elizabeth May, Leader, Green Party of Canada


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 membership.ctip@gmail.com.



  1. Human beings seem to “wired” to side with an underdog. During, and immediately after, the Holocaust, we Jews seemed to be the underdog, having been attacked by the much more powerful Nazi police and war machine. Then, it seemed natural to support the surviving underdogs as they sought refuge. This led to support for the establishment of a Jewish Homeland as it had been called in the Balfour Declaration. Canada, and many other nations felt some guilt for not having supported those fleeing the Nazis.

    However, it is time to recognize that the Jews in Israel are no longer an underdog. Their strength overwhelms that of others in the area. Canada should be a friend to all who live in the area historically called Palestine regardless of religion, race, or ethnicity. It should oppose discrimination on those grounds.

    1. I don’t think Jewish people are underdogs in any western nation. They, and their culture, have become integrated to the extent that Jewishness had become a non issue. I put that in the past tense because, sadly, I think the bell is swinging back. Not because of Jewishness per se but because of attempts to wed Jewishness with Israel. I honestly think these are perilous times due to the blending of being Jewish with mandatory support of Israel.
      Regardless in international terms Israel is hardly an underdog. It not only has one of the best armed forces but it has (nearly) complete conscription resulting in a wrll trained army enumerated in the millions.
      At the same time being Jewish is becoming an issue in increasingly right wing east european states and of course in some middle eastern cultures.
      I’m also not sure we are wired but yes it seems that way to me too.
      I personally hope we find a moral just amd equitable solution before the bell completes it’s arc or there are dire times ahead for our offspring.
      Whether one is Jewish Muslim Christian or atheist (etc) I don’t think it is what we hope to leave behind

    2. Dr. David Lorge Parnas

      With respect, the 1917 Balfour Declaration did not call for a “Jewish Homeland” (or a “Jewish State”) in Palestine. It viewed “with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish peoples…” A “national home” Is neither a homeland nor a state.

      The Balfour Declaration was also in violation of the well established legal maxim, “nemo dat quod non habet,” nobody can give what he does not possess, i.e., in 1917, Palestine was a province of the Ottoman Empire. The Balfour Declaration did, however, lay the foundation for the eventual dispossession and expulsion of Palestine’s indigenous Arab Muslim and Christian inhabitants. To quote Chaim Weizmann, “the Balfour Declaration of 1917 was built on air.”

      The 1919 American King-Crane Commission made it clear where it stood regarding the Zionist’s historical claim to Palestine: “…the initial claim, often submitted by Zionist representatives, that they have a `right’ to Palestine, based on an occupation of two thousand years ago, can hardly be seriously considered.” (“The American King-Crane Commission of Inquiry, 1919.”) Or as Lord Sydenham stated before the British House of Lords on 21 June 1922: “If we are going to admit claims on conquest thousands of years ago, the whole world will have to be turned upside down.” (Hansard)

      The Balfour Declaration was also opposed by Gertrude Bell, one of the era’s most highly respected Arabists, a colleague of T.E. Lawrence and a member of British intelligence in Cairo. Realizing what it could lead to, she wrote the British cabinet of PM Lloyd George advising it that “an independent Jewish Palestine” was impractical because “[Palestine]…is not Jewish; ” the native population would not “accept Jewish authority…. Jerusalem is equally sacred to three faiths and should not be put under the exclusive control of any one….” (Sanders, The High Walls of Jerusalem, p. 585)

      By incorporating the Balfour Declaration the 1922 League of Nations British Class A mandate for Palestine did facilitate Jewish immigration to “secure the establishment of the Jewish National Home,” but it did not call for the creation of a sovereign Jewish state or homeland in Palestine or any form of partition. This was made very clear in the Churchill Memorandum (1 July 1922) regarding the British Mandate: “[T]he status of all citizens of Palestine in the eyes of the law shall be Palestinian, and it has never been intended that they, or any section of them, should possess any other juridical status.”

      Furthermore, regarding the British Mandate, as approved by the Council of the League of Nations, the British government declared: “His Majesty’s Government therefore now declare unequivocally that it is not part of their policy that Palestine should become a Jewish State.” (Command Paper, 1922)

      In May 1939, the British government issued the MacDonald White Paper, which in accordance with the Mandate, ruled out any possibility of a Jewish state, and declared Great Britain “could not have intended Palestine should be converted into a Jewish state against the will of the Arab population of the country.” It called for a Palestinian state in which Jews and Arabs would govern jointly based on a constitution to be drafted by their representatives and those of Britain. The constitution would safeguard the “Jewish National Home” in Palestine and if good relations developed between Jews and Arabs, the country would be granted independence in ten years. Land sales to Jews were to be restricted and the annual level of Jewish immigration was to be limited to 15,000 for five years, following which, Palestinian Arab acquiescence would be required.

      1. David, Thanks for the correction. I mention the Balfour declaration because I often hear Zionists cite it as evidence that they were entitled to establish a state. We both agree that it does no such thing, Frankly, I would not be able to explain the difference between “Jewish homeland” and “national home for the Jewish people” so I was not careful about distinguishing those terms. I should have been.

  2. Peter,

    Very good questions for minister Freeland! I think you may have moved the compass with your insightful comments.

    Cheers Kathy

    On Thu, May 31, 2018, 3:46 PM Canada Talks Israel/Palestine, wrote:

    > Peter Larson posted: ” Until very recently, Canada’s foreign affairs > minister Hon. Chrystia Freeland repeatedly stated that “Canada is a > steadfast ally and friend of Israel, and a friend to the Palestinian > people”. Two months ago, CTIP wrote the minister asking for clarificat” >

    1. Hey Kathy, i wish i had that kind of influence. I think there were already people inside the system who were uncomfortable with calling Israel an “ally”. But perhaps the letter helped them press their case.

  3. Canada being a friend or an ally to Israel simply means that it is Ok to kill people, it is Ok to continue land theft, it is OK to carry on systematic abuse of children and women, it is alright whatever Israeli government do to Palestinians, Canada will continue to stand by and support unconditionally despite its human rights violations and injustice. The question is who is honest?
    Look at the history, Mr.Harper, Mr. Netanyahu’s best friend and his longstanding support for Israel, “Israel has no greater friend than Canada,” Harper said at the time.
    1982 Israel attack in Lebanon, prime minister Pierre Trudeau said that, “The death and destruction visited on innocent Lebanese civilians are unacceptable.” Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin had harsh words in his reply to Trudeau – so harsh that Israel’s ambassador to Canada almost didn’t deliver it.
    April 1979, when Conservative leader Joe Clark announced that, if elected, his government would move the Canadian embassy to Jerusalem, why and what for?
    In 2017, PM Justin Trudeau said that, “Today, while we celebrate Israel’s independence, we also reaffirm our commitment to fight anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism.” He glorified the Zionism so directly as an ideology that no one has done before in Canada.
    Unfortunately, being a friend or ally to Israel is only one-sided. IN return, pressure, threats, violations and intimidations from the Israeli apartheid government is expected.

  4. Dr. Parnas’ comment is very timely, but the recognition he suggests that we seek assumes one critical thing. It assumes that knowledge and awareness of that knowledge is truly cumulative rather than [what i call] tsunamic. When i was teaching ecology at the University of Guelph, I would show evidence to students that things learned and things understood in the early history of ecology – things that are still true – are largely unknown to the current generation of students or even to the large array of current active researchers. The wheel gets reinvented over and over because awareness of what was learned before gets labelled as ‘old school’ stuff and not worth studying. So our understanding of ecology was less cumulative than emerging as simply a large wave of current knowledge that does not (because it does not believe it has to) refer to the past. So instead of an ever increasing curve of understanding, the shape of the knowledge curve looks more like a tsunami wave or the shape of a garden hose when it is whipped to untangle it. Just one big bump that represents NOW. The current tsunamic understanding of the Palestinian/Israeli conflict, in my opinion, shows that the only labels that apply NOW are those of struggling Jewish democracy in a tiny homeland vs. terrorists trying to wipe them out. Fixing this requires a different species than the one we have now. If only Richard Dawkins were right and that this kind of meme-ic limitation could be fixed.

    1. Has Canada downgraded her relation to Israel? Given that both countries just signed a new and comprehensive trade agreement, I’d say that the answer is a resounding “No”
      It’s also telling to compare the attitude of Trudeau senior and that of his son to the Likud Party prime minister in Israel
      Benjamin Netanyau is not nearly as restrained as his roll model Menahem Begín was, and yet Begín had a tenuous relationship with Pierre Elliott and Netanyahu seems to get almost everything he wants from Justin

      1. Hey Ahik, for once we seem to be in agreement.

        I was sent a Facebook post by Dimitri Lascaris who attended an event in Toronto recently where Canada’s ambassador to Israel was speaking to a Jewish group at Synagogue. She told the crowd about our special relationship to Israel and how she runs an “activist” embassy promoting Israel to Canadians, on instructions from our PM. I think that is rather unusual. I don’t think our Ambassador in France promotes France to Canadians.

        As you say “Netanyahu seems to get almost everything he wants from Justin.”

      2. Ahik, Canada has more than a dozen “free trade” agreements in force and is formally negotiating half a dozen more. Among the countries with whom we now have agreements are Panama, Honduras, Columbia and Jordan and . I don’t think that a trade agreement indicates a stronger “friend and ally” status.

  5. Great point made in the article, and interesting comments as usual.

    In reply to Doug Larson’s comments about the unfortunate tendency of people to accumulate knowledge in a tsunamic rather than cumulative pattern, I would reflect that followers of these
    CTIP articles and conversations over the long haul gain a deeper understanding with historical perspective – in a cumulative pattern.

    I hope our government is indeed shifting away from it’s uncritical “friend and ally” position with Israel.

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