July 2014 - Free Palestine Protest at Parliament Hill, Centre Block, Ottawa, Canada. July 2014 - Free Palestine Protest at Parliament Hill, Centre Block, Ottawa, Canada. Source: Tony Webster - Flickr / cropped from original / used under license CC BY 2.0

Canada’s prime minister is facing difficulties in attempting to hold the line and support Israel, in a sign of the impact of domestic and international opinion, argues John Clarke

True to form, Justin Trudeau has sought to put a progressive face on his government’s support for Israel’s murderous assault on Gaza. Though he has blamed the situation on Hamas and doggedly refuses to call for a ceasefire, Trudeau rather unwisely decided to show up at a Toronto mosque to show everyone how much he cared.

On 20 October, he made an unannounced visit to the International Muslim Organization (IMO) Mosque in the west end of Canada’s largest city. He wanted to deliver some soothing words because ‘everyone is hurt and hurting, everyone is grieving, everyone is scared of what this means’, but those present insisted on tackling more concrete questions relating to the conduct of his government.

‘Shame on you. How many more Palestinian children need to be slaughtered? How many more before you call for a ceasefire?’ demanded one woman who was present. Someone else posed the rather essential question, ‘Do you condemn Israel?’ Calls rang out for Trudeau to be denied the right to speak, and he faced ongoing heckling as he tried to deliver his message.

Following the tense confrontation, Trudeau’s staff sought to reinforce the sentiments he had tried to put forward. ‘A spokesperson for the Prime Minister’s Office said the mosque visit was to “show his support to those impacted in the Muslim community from the horrific events in the Middle East … we are focused on connecting with our communities and speaking to those who are being impacted by what’s going on in the world today”.’

The jarring cynicism of the exercise is readily apparent when daily media reports reveal the scale of the death and destruction in Gaza, and yet Trudeau had the audacity to tell the people at the mosque that his government will ‘continue to work with our allies to emphasize that civilian life must be protected, and their safety must be at the forefront of everything we do.’

Under pressure

As the Liberal government provides cover for Israel’s attacks, a growing wave of protests is unfolding across the country. Increasingly, disruptive tactics are being used to drive home the message of solidarity with the Palestinians and to press the demand for an immediate ceasefire. On 23 October, the major street on which the Israel consulate in Toronto is located was blocked for more than an hour during the morning rush hour. ‘The protesters identified as members of the Toronto Jewish community who stand in support of the people of Palestine and oppose Israeli military action in Gaza.’

Beyond the significant and growing numbers who have been ready to take to the streets in solidarity with the Palestinians, there is little doubt that a deep public sentiment in favour of a ceasefire exists in Canada. It seems that no major opinion poll has yet been conducted on the question, but there is little reason to doubt that results very similar to those in the UK and the US would be obtained.

If the Trudeau government’s continued support for the slaughter in Gaza is unpopular and under attack on the domestic front, Canada and the major Western powers that take this position have to proceed in the face of mounting international opposition. Though there have been predictable calls from Israel for his resignation, UN Secretary-general António Guterres knew that he had the support of the overwhelming majority of member states when he called for an immediate ceasefire. Indeed, he went further and suggested that the Israeli onslaught constituted ‘collective punishment of the Palestinian people’. Though he denounced the actions of Hamas, he pointed out that the ‘Palestinian people have been subjected to 56 years of suffocating occupation. They have seen their land steadily devoured by settlements and plagued by violence; their economy stifled; their people displaced and their homes demolished. Their hopes for a political solution to their plight have been vanishing.’

As an institution of the ‘international community’, the UN is, of course, structured in such a way as to ensure the dominant role of the US and its major imperialist allies and Guterres is in no immediate position to obtain the ceasefire he proposes. However, his comments point to considerable and mounting tensions, as intensifying Israeli brutality unleashes an appalling humanitarian catastrophe. The risk of extending the conflict and the danger of social upheavals throughout the Arab world can only make these tensions worse.

Though Trudeau ducks and weaves on the question of Palestinian suffering, it is important to dispense with carefully fostered illusions that his government is anywhere close to impartial. Taking his cue from US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Trudeau is seeking to avoid a ceasefire by suggesting that ‘humanitarian pauses’ in the carnage might be possible, so as to deliver relief to Palestinians. This constitutes little more than an attempt to buy time for the Israeli killing machine to do its work.

As a former Toronto police chief, Liberal defence minister Bill Blair is a little rougher around the edges than Trudeau, but it is useful that he is somewhat more candid. Blair recently told reporters that no cessation of the Israeli onslaught was possible. He expressed doubts that ‘Hamas would respect a ceasefire and that the terrorist group needed to be “eliminated as a threat” to the world.’ It’s a good thing they didn’t send him to the mosque.

Party of multiculturalism

Clearing the way for the genocidal Israeli course poses problems for all the Western governments that are involved, but the Liberal Party that holds power in Canada finds itself in a particularly difficult situation. The Liberals are the architects and chief operators of the mechanisms of Canadian multiculturalism. Immigrant communities, including those from the Middle East and North Africa, are regulated by this system. It produces representatives that are often directly linked to the Liberal Party and its MPs are very conscious of this base of support and its sensitivities.

Trudeau is presently facing a very significant rebellion among his MPs on the question of a Gaza ceasefire. Toronto Liberal MP Salma Zahid is chair of the Canada-Palestine Parliamentary Friendship and she announced recently that she had worked with NDP and Green Party counterparts ‘to send a letter from 33 MPs to the Prime Minister demanding Canada support a cease-fire to save innocent civilian lives in Gaza and deliver humanitarian aid.’ The right-wing National Post gleefully reports that almost two dozen of those signing the letter were Liberal MPs.

On form, Trudeau said the signatories of the letter were ‘reflecting the very real fears and concerns that everyone has.’ He blustered that ‘this is Canada and, here, our differences must and will remain a source of strength.’ Yet, this particular difference is anything but a source of strength for him and his inner circle, as they line up with the Biden administration and allow the killing in Gaza to continue.

The clique of Western powers that are assisting Israel face huge difficulties on the international front and growing dissent at home. For Trudeau, however, the problem is threatening to spin out of control within his own parliamentary ranks, in a situation where his weakened government must rely on NDP votes to afford it a majority in the House.

The decision of the Canadian and other Western governments to maintain their support for Israel’s reckless and brutal attempt at a final reckoning with Palestinian resistance, while its immediate results for the people of Gaza are horribly clear, is a risky game with unpredictable but potentially catastrophic consequences. The need for a movement of international solidarity that can disrupt the flow of military, economic and political support to the Zionist state has never been more urgent.

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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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