Globe & Mail Commentator Calls for Canada to Downgrade Ties With Israel

July 28, 2023

When the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, passed an important component of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s judicial overhaul legislation on July 24, it attracted news coverage around the world, highly unsurprisingly given the ongoing regular protests across Israel against the proposal.

And while many pundits have criticized the legislation, others have dishonestly used the opportunity to call into question Canada’s relationship with Israel.

In a July 28 column in The Globe & Mail entitled: “Canada must rethink its friendship with Israel,” Thomas Juneau, an associate professor at the University of Ottawa, called Israel’s judicial overhaul an “assault on democratic norms,” and wrote that it raises “difficult questions for Canada” as it relates to Israel. He later argued that Canada should refuse to deal with some Israeli government ministers, become more vocal in its opposition to Israeli government actions, and even “freeze or reduce co-operation with Israel on some issues.” He also called for Canada to cease voting in favour of Israel at the United Nations (UN), which it regularly does.

Juneau lamented the lack of progress in the two-state solution between Israelis and Palestinians, and while he acknowledges “the extremist Hamas ruling the Gaza Strip with an iron fist,” and the “fragmentation of the Palestinian leadership” haven’t helped the peace process, he pinned much of the blame on the lack of progress of a two-state solution on Israel, which has “expanded settlements in the West Bank, largely closing the door on a viable Palestinian state.”

While common, claims that Israeli communities in Judea & Samaria (called the “West Bank” by news media outlets) are an obstacle to peace, does not stand up to scrutiny. Not only does Israel possess extensive legal rights to the land in question, but the concept that Israelis living in the lands of their ancestors is as much a hurdle as Hamas and the Palestinian Authority (PA), which widely incite their population against the very concept of peace with Israel, is absurd.

In Hamas’ case, the hateful rhetoric is only the beginning; the Islamist terrorist group has been warring with Israel for decades, including in major rocket attacks on the Jewish State in 2021, and continues to call for the country’s elimination, and in its place, a fundamentalist Islamic theocracy.

There simply is no equivalence between Israelis living in the land of their ancestors, and the Palestinian leadership inciting murderous hatred against Israelis, and putting them on the same level is tone-deaf moral equivocation.

In his column, Juneau also targeted Israel’s judicial overhaul legislation, using it as an opportunity to call for Canada to demote ties with Israel.

And while Juneau is free to criticize the Israeli government’s judicial overhaul, as indeed, many Israelis have done so as well, by calling for a de facto downgrading of Canadian-Israeli relations, he is applying a significant double standard towards Israel.

One of the components of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s judicial overhaul is an element similar to Canada’s notwithstanding clause, which allows provincial and federal governments to overrule the judiciary. And while many critics have pointed out key differences between Canada’s laws and Israel’s proposal, both Israel’s proposal and Canada’s notwithstanding clause provide limitations on the judiciary, but Juneau nevertheless sees Israel’s legislation as unforgiveable.

Therefore, while Juneau may stridently oppose Israel’s legislation and is entitled to do so, however, his using it as a cudgel against Canadian ties with Israel at large is intellectually dishonest.

While Juneau does call for Canada to “increase pressure on the Palestinian Authority to reform itself and organize fresh elections,” he makes no call for a serious reduction in bilateral ties, as he does regarding Israel.

This is an extraordinary juxtaposition. Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, was last elected in 2005 for a four-year term, and has not been re-elected since, refusing multiple requests to be held accountable. But all he does is ask that Canada to “increase pressure,” a veritable slap on the wrist compared to his maximal demands towards Israel, which regularly holds free and fair democratic elections.

For all of Juneau’s purported concern about democratic norms, his placing of such disproportionate blame on Israel, a liberal and democratic state, all while leaving only tepid critiques of the Palestinians, raise valid questions about whether his concerns about Israel’s judicial overhaul is merely being used as a convenient cover to single out Israel for opprobrium.

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