Palestinians inspect the damage in El-Remal area in Gaza City on Oct 9, 2023 Palestinians inspect the damage in El-Remal area in Gaza City on Oct 9, 2023. Source: Wafa - Wikicommons / cropped from original

Israel’s reckless attacks and the magnitude of the pro-Palestinian protests are increasing the pressure on Trudeau to call for a ceasefire, writes John Clarke

On November 9, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) sent Justin Trudeau a letter asking that his government ‘do everything within its power to achieve an immediate ceasefire in Gaza (because) (e) ending the indiscriminate violence is the only way to prevent more deaths and scale up desperately needed humanitarian assistance.’

The letter spelt out clearly the catastrophic impacts of Israel’s assault on Gaza from the standpoint of front line medical providers. In signing the letter, MSF Executive Director Joseph Belliveau urged Trudeau to ‘do more than just remember healthcare workers and patients in Gaza when it is too late. Take action to uphold our shared humanity by demanding an immediate ceasefire.’

Another horrific week of mass killings has elapsed since the MSF letter landed on Trudeau’s desk and he is still ducking and weaving, trying to put a humanitarian spin on his government’s continued refusal to call for a ceasefire. On November 14, though he repeated the absurd claim that thousands of Palestinians have perished because they have been used as ‘human shields’ by Hamas, Trudeau felt compelled to acknowledge that ‘the world is watching’ as the dreadful bombardment continues.

In a comment that drew a rebuke from Benjamin Netanyahu, Trudeau told reporters that “(w)e’re hearing the testimonies of doctors, family members, survivors, kids who’ve lost their parents. The world is witnessing this — the killing of women and children, of babies. This has to stop.” He added that “I have been clear that the price of justice cannot be the continued suffering of all Palestinian civilians. Even wars have rules. All innocent life is equal in worth — Israeli and Palestinian.

Support for Israel

Despite Trudeau’s efforts to square the circle, his government has remained a part of the US led clique of Western powers that have worked to prevent a ceasefire since the attack on Gaza began last month. In this regard, it is important to make clear that the present effort to provide cover for Israel’s crimes is part of a long and dismal record of Canadian complicity that stretches back over many decades.

The period that led up to the formation of the state of Israel saw ‘a series of United Nations-led committees, reports, and proposals in support of the partition of Palestine, with Canada active at nearly every stage.’

Supreme Court Justice Ivan C. Rand is often presented as a progressive figure in Canada, because of his role in developing the post-war legislation that granted basic rights to workers and unions. He also, however, played a leading part in developing ‘the formulation of the 1947 United Nations Special Committee on Palestine Majority Report (UNSCOP) that led to the Ad Hoc Committee on the Palestinian Question.’ In this capacity, he made a considerable contribution to taking forward the Zionist project.

Rand ‘saw the creation of an Israeli state as a much-needed Western outpost in what he saw as an “otherwise darkened section of humanity.” Israel would be the “beacon of light” and provide the region with the “civilizing influence of the West.’ Senior diplomat Lester B. Pearson, who would go on to become prime minister, also played a major role in this process, arguing ‘that a settler state would be “an outpost, if you will, of the West in the Middle East.”’

Pearson was very concerned ‘to splinter alliances between the Arabs and the Soviets in the region’ but he was also motivated by ‘a deep-seated racism of Palestinian Arabs in line with Judeo-Christian attitudes towards the holy land, as well as colonial, “Orientalist” prejudices.’ In his memoirs, Pearson recalled the deep emotions that drove his support for the establishment of Israel and so vigorous were his efforts in this regard that ‘Zionists dubbed him the ‘Balfour of Canada.’’

Working within the structures of the UN, ‘for decades, Canada has refused to uphold basic Palestinian rights under both Conservative and Liberal governments.’ Indeed, ‘(s)ince 2011, Canada has voted ‘no’ to at least 149 UN resolutions—making it Israel’s biggest backer after the United States.’

Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME) note that, after abstaining since 2011, Canada recently decided to vote for ‘a draft resolution in support of UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestine refugees.’ At the same time, however, the Canadian representatives ‘voted against four other resolutions, including two supporting Palestine refugees and one condemning Israeli settlements.’

Canada’s federal police force, the RCMP, is directly involved in assisting Israeli occupation forces in the Occupied Territories. ‘In their role within Operation Proteus, Canadian police work as police advisors to the team that coordinates security matters between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (and) the Canadian contingent represents the largest group in the mission.’

Criminologist Jeffrey Monaghan, ‘has documented Canada’s role in turning Palestinian security forces in the West Bank into an arm of the Israeli state’s occupation.’ Canadian cops stationed in the West Bank work ‘to integrate elements of the Palestinian Authority Security Forces into Israeli command.

A Canada-Israel Free Trade Agreement (CIFTA) was established in 1997 that was further refined in 2019. An information sheet issued by the Government of Canada notes that ‘Canada and Israel have strong, multidimensional bilateral relations, marked by close political, economic, social and cultural ties.’ It adds that ‘Israel is an important economic partner for Canada in the Middle East and North Africa region, with a full range of business possibilities including trade and investment.’

This ‘bilateral relationship’ between Israel and Canada is cemented by a formal ‘strategic partnership’ ‘that facilitates deeper cooperation in several areas, including energy, security, international aid and development, innovation and the promotion of human rights globally.’ We can see how ‘human rights’ are being promoted in Gaza at this very moment, as Canada works to ensure that the bombardment of its trapped population continues unrelentingly.

‘Civilisation vs barbarism’

The Canadian representatives who, in the period before Israel was established, spoke of the proposed state’s role as an armed guardian of Western interests in the Middle East, echoed the views of Zionism’s ‘founding father’ Theodor Herzl. He hoped that ‘(w)e should there form a part of a wall of defense for Europe in Asia, an outpost of civilization against barbarism.’ This same perspective has continued to dominate the thinking of Canadian politicians in more recent times.

In 2013, then-Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper declared that Israel was a ‘light of freedom and democracy in what is otherwise a region of darkness.’ As a right wing Conservative, Harper was ready to employ somewhat clearer racist language than his Liberal rivals, who prefer to be a little more coded in their formulations. However, the present deputy prime minister Chrystia Freeland, when she was foreign minister in 2018, got the same idea across quite capably when she told an audience in Jerusalem that “(w)e know Israel is a democratic state in a dangerous neighbourhood. And…we fully support Israel’s right to defend itself against aggression.

Given this history of support for Israel, it is hardly surprising that the Trudeau Liberals have joined the US-led grouping of Western powers that are presently allowing the brutal rampage in Gaza to continue. However, the sheer recklessness of the Israeli attack, with no clear endgame in sight, has the Western leaders worried. So too does the scale and momentum of the Palestinian solidarity movement that is now mobilising across the world.   Macron has now openly called for a ceasefire and Blinken is forced to deplore the scale of Palestinian deaths, even as he tries to preserve support for Israel’s efforts to commit even greater atrocities. For the present, the Trudeau government holds the line and refuses to join the call for a ceasefire but the pressure is increasing day by day. In this situation, the movement that is taking to the streets to stop the killing in Gaza, and the huge popular support it is generating, could not be more important.

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John Clarke

John Clarke became an organiser with the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty when it was formed in 1990 and has been involved in mobilising poor communities under attack ever since.

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