Canada, Israel and the “Rule of Law”

david kattenburg

David Kattenburg

Guest Columnist David Kattenburg is a Winnipeg-based educator, journalist, activist and child of Holocaust survivors. He has traveled to Israel/Palestine on a host of occasions, reporting for his Green Planet Monitor web magazine ( Kattenburg is pursuing a truthful wine labeling case to be heard by the Federal Court of Canada in late May 2019.

On the ropes for arresting Huawei executive Meng Wanzhau, as US-Canada extradition law required, now under fire, two of its own diplomats held by the vengeful Chinese, and a third Canadian facing execution on drug-smuggling charges, coveted trade relations in peril, Ottawa has been staking out high minded positions.

Few are higher minded — or richer — than that of Liberal MP John McKay, Chair of the Commons Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security, speaking to CBC news about China and its Canadian captives: “It’s hard to make a trade deal with another country that doesn’t respect the rule of law,” McKay declared.

Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Chrystia Freeland, has been trumpeting a similar line. The rule of law is not a “smorgasbord” to pick and choose from, Freeland said the other day, regarding the China imbroglio.

Really? Although Israel’s West Bank settlements are flagrantly illegal under the most canonical of twentieth century laws, the 4th Geneva Convention (Global Affairs Canada says so at its website) the Canadian government is pleased to do business with settlement businesses (i.e. invest) under the most favourable terms.

To be precise, Israel’s settlement enterprise violates Article 49(6) of the Convention. In Convention lingo, it constitutes a “grave breach.” Article 1 of the Convention obliges State Parties like Canada to hold miscreants accountable for grave breaches. The FGC has been incorporated into Canadian law, as the Geneva Convention Act. Under the Act, grave breaches are subject to prosecution and lengthy imprisonment in Canada. Of course, Canada cuts Israel lots of slack.

Then there’s Article 25 of the UN Charter, obliging member states to uphold and abide by Security Council Resolutions. Several dozen have declared settlements unlawful. UNSC 2334, passed unanimously in December 2016, called on State Parties to “differentiate” in their trade relations between Israel ‘proper’ and the settlements.

If Canada were to apply “the rule of law” argues Kattenburg, this wine produced in the occupied Palestinian territories would not be labelled “Product of Israel”

(Full disclosure: I am Applicant in a law case on this issue before the Federal Court of Canada).

Israel appreciates Canada’s subtle endorsement of its de facto annexation strategy. But the annexation of territory acquired by force is strictly prohibited in modern public law. So is the economic exploitation that typically ensues. These prohibitions are “customary” in status. Everyone must abide by them. No exemptions. No excuses.

Tell this to Israel’s staunch friend Justin Trudeau. Quietly, without the fuss generated by Donald Trump’s flashy but symbolic Jerusalem decision, Canadian trade officials have been cleansing legal clauses from the Canada-Israel Free Trade Agreement (CIFTA). A minute provision stipulating that trade will be carried out “in accordance with applicable rules of international law” has been extirpated from the new, improved deal heading for Third Reading and certain passage in the next few weeks.

Invited to reconsider, late last November, Liberal members of the Standing Committee on International Trade refused. An amending line to the new CIFTA Act put forward by committee member Tracey Ramsey (NDP) — “relations between the Government of Canada and the State of Israel as well the implementation of the provisions of the agreement itself shall be based on respect for human rights and international law” — was declared “inadmissible” by the committee’s Chair. The amendment would “create new obligations on the Government of Canada,” the Chair ruled.

Two days later, Canadian authorities arrested Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhau on a US warrant, throwing Ottawa on the ropes simply for doing what the law required. Stung by China’s revengeful response, Canadian leaders now appeal to the rule of law. Their righteous calls would carry more weight if Canada played by the rule book with its own best friends.

This guest column by


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  1. I like the sources I quote to be Jewish ( this author is a child of Holocaust survivors) so I cannot be accused of anti-Semitism.

    Sent from my iPhone


  2. Thanks for this, Peter. I am thoroughly disgusted by the Canadian government’s selective application of the “Rule of law” and its flagrant disregard of Palestinian Rights in the so-called “occupied territories”. Also, if BDS was good enough to bring about much needed change in South Africa, then it should be good enough to bring about change in Palestine-Israel. As long as the government is intransigent on these two fronts it can kiss farewell to my vote in October.

  3. Being governed by the rule of law is a laudable aspiration for any country. We would all like to live in a country with perfect laws, perfect enforcement, and perfect courts. No country can achieve that goal! Legal systems are complex, often ambiguous, and have unintended consequences. The laws we can write are never eternal. It is not possible to foresee all future situations or to anticipate the reactions of others. No country ever lives exactly by its laws and most laws have an “escape mechanism” that allows someone (usually a Minister) to make the final decision in exceptional cases.

    When politicians claim that they are following the rule of law they are using that claim to hide the fact that they have a choice. It is exactly like, “I was only following orders” which was used by Nazi officials to excuse their crimes against Jews. Moreover, when we accuse another country of not living by the rule of law, we usually mean that they are not living by our laws. Israel, for example, has its own laws and could claim that they follow them but not the international laws that it labels “antisemitic”. They can even point to numerous cases where Israeli Judges have ruled that some of Israel’s actions are violations of their own laws and thereby prevented or delayed some of Israel’s most horrid plans.

    Human legal systems are so imperfect and so malleable that the “rule of law” goal is really not adequate if our goal is justice. We need to look for a “higher” law.

    The Talmudic Sage Rabbi Hillel is said to have told a student, “”What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. That is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation of this—go and study it!”. The self-named “Jewish State” is violating the Torah, which is supposed to be the highest Jewish Law.

    1. Dr Parnass great to read you confirming that you’re well. Your analysis and point of view remind me of your immense computer science contribution: “The Parness Information Hiding Principle” which I valued as a student at UT (Toronto). With the eternal impasse (or so it seems) situation in Palestine (I now more than ever appreciate Einstein’s position on the subject), and the drum beating revival of the Latin America obsession now oil pronounced, I sink in my thoughts and suddenly I remember the only 2 things that I recall from my forced Eco 100 class: “The Law of Diminishing Returns” and the “The Guns vs Butter” macroeconomics modality. My favorite topic though is pollution: Everybody contributes to it yet everybody complains about it. Science unfortunately has not been able to illuminate people but rather rendered them complicit in malfaisance and wrong doing, like voting for Trump as POTUS.

  4. Yes, rule of law selectively applies, particularly when it comes to Israel and its occupation and control of Palestine. Best recourse is for Canada ( and all of EU) is to join with Sweden and 140 other countries to recognize the state of Palestine (with the Russian formulation of East Jerusalem as its capital.)
    This would be upholding the rule of law in Israel Palestine and serving notice that Canada supports and is willing to work towards a 2 state solution according to international law and it’s own policy).

    1. Hey George, I admire your dogged pursuit of a 2 state solution in the face of all the evidence. 🙂 I hope you will be able to come to hear Ali Abunimah when he comes to Ottawa on March 11th. I doubt he will change your mind, as you are very convinced, but you might find his views interesting all the less. Best.

      (BTW – to be clear – I am NOT opposed to a 2 state solution. Its just that I don’t think it can possibly bring peace to the region because it leaves too many important issues unresolved.

      1. Agree that no solution for Israel Palestine, whether 1 or 2 state or some other appears promising. Supporting 2 states because it is the main and most internationally acceptable formula based on international law and UN resolutions.
        Also, it retains Israel as a Jewish majority state and therefore counteracts best Israel and pro Israel lobby propaganda that Israel is under an existential threat and that any criticism of Israel and any solution that Israel does not accept constitutes “antisemitism.” of course combined with internationalization of Jerusalem holy sites, it is in the best interest of Israel allbeit difficult to get agreement on even if it does not satisfy all Palestinian aspirations under the original partition plan and the full right of return. It is also official Canadian policy on which the Govt can be cajoled to be more activist. Next milestone will be whether and to what extent the POTUS plan resembles a real 2 state model based on the Arab peace plan and therefore can be pushed forward, notwithstanding atrocious
        US treatment of Palestinians and likely resistance by any Israeli government.

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