Canada has abandoned Israel at the United Nations. Why?
Canada has abandoned Israel at the United Nations. Why?

Canada recently voted against Israel at the United Nations for the first time in nearly 15 years.

This occurred during the UN resolution related to 20 non-binding anti-Israel measures that are adopted annually, including reaffirming the right of Palestinians to self-determination. This year’s co-sponsors included North Korea, Zimbabwe and the Palestinian Liberation Organization.

Many people were furious over Canada ’ s decision. Nimrod Barkan, Israel’s ambassador to Canada, expressed “regret” and noted the resolution “is not a substantive resolution, but an attempt to delegitimize Israel and is part of the whole package that should be rejected out of hand.”

Nikki Haley, the former U S ambassador to the UN, went even further and said that Canada “ surprised Israel ’ s friends by voting for a North Korean resolution that challenges the legitimacy of Israel.” Haley, a likely US presidential candidate in 2024, called it a “deal with the Devil”.

Indeed, this was a stunning reversal of course in the Great White North.

Canada and Israel have maintained good diplomatic relations since the latter became a country in 1948 and a UN member the following year. There have been periods of closeness, for example, under former Conservative Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, and moments of distance under the former Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chrétien. Through all these highs and lows, the two countries remained political allies and trading partners.  

When Stephen Harper, a Conservative, became Prime Minister in 2006, he established a much closer bond with Israel.

Some political analysts have suggested that this occurred due to Harper’s faith (he ’ s a member of the evangelical Protestant denomination Christian and Missionary Alliance) or to his late father Joseph ’ s philosemitism. Having known Harper for many years, and long before I ever worked for him, I can attest that it’s much simpler than this.  

As I wrote for National Review Online on February 6, 2014, “Harper strongly supports liberal-democratic societies. He believes in greater individual rights and freedoms. He promotes a nation’s right to defend its own borders. He values intellectual discourse and freedom of speech. He has a great passion for history. He condemns hatred and religious persecution of adherents of any faith. He is firmly committed to wiping out terrorism from the face of the Earth. In short, Harper ’ s personal beliefs are remarkably similar to Israel’s beliefs. Hence, Harper’s position on Israel is based on principle.”

This helps explain why Harper’s Conservative government:

  • Immediately cut funding to Palestine after Hamas’s victory in the 2006 legislative elections.
  • Why he supported Israel’s invasion of Lebanon that same year as a “measured response ” against Hezbollah.
  • Why he refused to attend the Durban II anti-racism conference in 2008, which was anything but.
  • Why Canada was only one of nine countries to oppose upgrading the Palestinian Authority from “entity” to “nonmember state” at the UN in 2012.
  • Why Canada backed Israel's war in Gaza in 2014, and opposed Hamas.

The Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, called Harper “a great friend of Israel and the Jewish people” and invited him to become the first Canadian PM ever to address the Knesset.
And this is why Harper consistently opposed the UN’s anti-Israel resolutions. Not because of the two-state solution, which Canada endorses, but because the UN criticised Israel’s border wall and didn’t condemn either Hamas or the various Palestinian attacks (rockets, intifadas, terrorism) on Israeli citizens and cities.

Israel greatly appreciated Canada’s strong support during this period. The Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, called Harper “a great friend of Israel and the Jewish people” and invited him to become the first Canadian PM ever to address the Knesset. Harper later received an honorary doctorate from Tel Aviv University. Last month, he witnessed the opening of the Stephen J. Harper Hula Valley Bird Sanctuary Visitor and Education Centre, a 32,300 square foot building which cost $37.3 million to construct.  

Still, many people thought things would not dramatically change when Harper was defeated in the 2015 federal election by Justin Trudeau and the Liberals. While the left-leaning Prime Minister’s relationship with Netanyahu and Israel hasn ’t been nearly as close, his government’s record at the UN had been respectable enough. Trudeau, much like Harper, had consistently rejected the controversial anti-Israel resolutions, too.

So, why did everything change?

There are several reasons that could potentially explain Trudeau’s new strategy. Canada has spent money and political capital to get a seat on the UN Security Council, for instance. One major obstacle to this goal was Canadian support of Israel, including rejection or abstention on UN resolutions that are critical of the Jewish state . 

Meanwhile, the Liberal government may be trying to distance itself from Donald Trump’s strong support for the Israeli border wall and for Israel in general. In 2017, Canada abstained on a UN resolution that condemned the Trump White House’s decision to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. This may have alienated UN members, including those who could be decisive in the upcoming vote for a Security Council seat in 2021-22.

If the Trudeau Liberals are cold-shouldering Israel for purely selfish reasons, that’s disgraceful. If they’re trying to eradicate the strong friendship the Harper Conservatives built with Israel in roughly a decade, that’s embarrassing. If they’re doing it because they dislike Trump’s decision to rebuild US-Israel ties after the Obama years, that’s ridiculous.

Or maybe Nikki Haley's analysis is right, and the Devil is indeed laughing at the deal he has made with Justin Trudeau’s Canada.