Benjamin Netanyahu and Justin Trudeau Benjamin Netanyahu meets with Justin Trudeau, 2015. Photo: IsraeliPM/Youtube

John Clarke examines the glaring hypocrisy of Canada’s prime minister, who condemns the deportation of Ukrainian children to Russia as genocide, but applies very different criteria to the killing of children in Gaza 

While attending the ‘Global Peace Summit’ on Ukraine that was recently convened in Switzerland, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau offered the delegates a glimpse of his views on the question of genocide. From what he had to say, it seems clear that he requires much more stringent proof when Palestinians are the victims.

As the Summit proceeded, ‘Trudeau co-chaired a session alongside Norway on the human dimension of the war, which touche(d) on prisoners of war, civilian detainees and deported children.’ He used this as an opportunity to roundly condemn ‘the forcible deportation of Ukrainian children by Russia.’ Ukraine has alleged that ‘some 20,000 children had been transferred to Russian territory.’ The UN hasn’t confirmed these numbers but has concluded, despite Russian denials, that there is evidence to support the claim that children have been deported.

Trudeau told the audience that ‘regardless of what a given person or a given country around the world might think of the causes of the war, or the responsibility that Russia wields, everyone can agree that taking kids away from their families, trying to erase their language, their culture — that’s an element of genocide. That’s pure colonialism. These are things that Russia needs to be accountable for.’

I have no intention of dismissing the charges against Russia with regard to the removal of Ukrainian children or of supporting Putin’s invasion of their country. The issue is quite simply that Trudeau is very ready to describe the deportation of Ukrainian children in genocidal terms while the mass slaughter of children in Gaza by the Israeli military doesn’t provide him with enough evidence to draw such conclusions. The selectivity with which he approaches each situation is quite remarkable.

 The CBC notes that ‘as the International Court of Justice (ICJ) hears South Africa’s genocide case against Israel, Trudeau is holding off on using the term for the situation in Gaza.’ It quotes Trudeau as asserting evasively that ‘we are continuing to follow the international institutions that we have…We continue to … watch the work done with the [International Criminal Court] and ICJ. Canada supports international law and we always will.’

Though it has yet to rule definitively on the matter, the ICJ has found plausible evidence of genocide and issued interim orders accordingly. The ICC Prosecutor, Karim Khan, has also applied for arrest warrants against Benjamin Netanyahu and Yoav Gallant. The vast devastation and mass slaughter of civilians in Gaza has also been documented with a thoroughness that is unprecedented. Certainly, there were more than enough grounds for Trudeau to have accused Israel at the Summit in terms that were every bit as clear as those he hurled at Russia, as he well knows.

If Trudeau is anxious to apply the term ‘genocide’ in the case of deported Ukrainian children but throws up a smokescreen when asked about the carnage in Gaza, it can only be described as an exercise in duplicity and the basis for his appalling double standard isn’t hard to determine.

Ducking and weaving

It’s noteworthy that, while Trudeau stayed well clear of any implication that Israel might be committing a genocide in Gaza, he was anxious to appear as non-committal as possible on the issue and he stressed his respect for the international courts and their decision making processes. He carefully avoided the kind of language coming from Joe Biden, who has declared the ICC Prosecutor’s conduct as ‘outrageous.’ This kind of ducking and weaving reflects the desire of the Trudeau government to remain firmly in the camp of Western powers that fully support Israel while trying to preserve a ‘progressive’ posture in the hopes of placating a significant portion of its base of support.

The Liberal Party of Canada that Trudeau presently leads has played the key role, over the last fifty years, in developing and maintaining the policy of official multiculturalism. It has carefully built a political base within many immigrant communities and the shock and outrage that the Israeli assault on Gaza has produced have created major tensions and difficulties for the Liberals.

Not long after 7 October, Trudeau faced a situation where 23 of his MPs signed a letter calling for a ceasefire in Gaza, putting him under considerable pressure. In February of this year, the ‘National Council of Canadian Muslims and a number of prominent mosques,’ frustrated with the government’s support for the Israeli onslaught, signed an open letter that demanded support for a ceasefire in Gaza. The letter made clear that Liberal MPs who failed to support this demand wouldn’t be ‘provided with a platform to address our congregations.’

These developments, along with the large and powerful Palestine solidarity movement that has been taking to the streets, forced the Liberals to put some limits on their support for Israel. After months of stalling on the call for a ceasefire, the Canadian representatives at the UN broke with the Biden administration in December and voted for a non-binding ceasefire motion at the General Assembly.

By March of this year, still under continuous pressure, the Liberals agreed to abide by a non-binding parliamentary motion to ‘cease the further authorisation and transfer of arms exports to Israel.’ Though Netenyahu publicly expressed anger at this measure, he could not have been unaware of just how weak it was. Permits that had already been granted to arms manufacturers would allow them to supply Israel with weapons on a large scale. At the same time, Canada’s greatest contribution to the arms trade consists of component parts that are shipped to the United States to be used as part of weapons systems exported from that country and this process is largely unregulated. The Liberals’ initiative had far more to do with deflecting criticism than weakening the Israeli killing machine.

Long standing support for Israel

Despite these efforts to pretend that a ‘balanced’ approach to the crisis is Gaza is being taken, the Trudeau Liberals, like other Canadian governments before them, have been stalwart supporters of Israel and consistent enablers of the oppression of the Palestinians. This goes all the way back to the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP) in 1947. ‘Canada’s lead representative on UNSCOP, Ivan C. Rand, pushed for the largest possible Zionist state and is considered the lead author of the majority report in support of partitioning Palestine into ethnically segregated states.’

In 2020, when the Trudeau government made an unsuccessful bid for a seat on the UN Security Council, an article in Al Jazeera noted that ‘for the last 20 years, Ottawa has been slavishly following the lead of Washington on issues related to Palestine at the UN. Since 2000, it voted “No” to 166 different General Assembly resolutions on Palestine.’ The article made very clear that the Trudeau Liberals were completely implicated in this approach, pointing out the Liberal ‘Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland openly said that she hopes securing a seat at the UNSC would allow Canada to serve as an “asset for Israel.”’

That Trudeau would simply run out of progressive pretensions as he did at the gathering in Switzerland is hardly surprising. The role that the Liberals have played for decades in upholding the dispossession of the Palestinians made it inconceivable that he would break with the US led Western powers that have continued to back Israel up to the present moment in the face of growing international opposition. However jarring and absurd it was to describe the forced removal and Ukrainian children as genocide, while refusing to apply the term to the mass slaughter of Palestinian children, Trudeau could only take such a position.

Trudeau’s performance at the Summit expresses a crisis of legitimacy for his Liberal government and its supposed commitment to standards of international justice. That crisis, however, is impacting all the Western governments that continue to support the assault on Gaza, especially the Biden administration, as it prepares for a presidential election. As the Palestine solidarity movement continues to demand an end to the slaughter and popular opinion shifts massively in its favour, Western double standards have become a toxic liability.

Before you go

Counterfire is growing faster than ever before

We need to raise £20,000 as we are having to expand operations. We are moving to a bigger, better central office, upping our print run and distribution, buying a new printer, new computers and employing more staff.

Please give generously.

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.

Tagged under: