Survey: Government Policy Disconnected from Canadian Attitudes on Israel

This article was originally published on Feb. 17, 2017 in the Huffington Post.


New survey results indicate that on the question of Israel-Palestine politics, the Trudeau government is grossly out of step with the Canadian electorate.  New survey results indicate that while Canadians were far more likely to have a negative opinion of Israeli government, most Canadians believe their government is biased in favour of Israel.

In a survey co-sponsored by my organization and conducted by EKOS, 46 percent of Canadians who expressed an opinion had a negative or somewhat negative view of the government of Israel.  Only 28 percent had a positive or mostly positive view of Israel.  On the other hand, 61 percent believed that their government held a pro-Israel Middle East policy, while only 16 percent thought Canada was pro-Palestinian.

My organization co-sponsored this survey because we had serious concerns that both the Harper and Trudeau governments had taken positions in the Middle East that did not reflect the views of most Canadians.  Conventional wisdom suggests that Canadians are a fair-minded people: historically, for example, we’ve been forced to balance concerns between French and English, between Europe and North America. Lester B. Pearson won a Nobel peace prize for his role in mediating the Suez crisis in 1956, and for many decades afterwards, many perceived Canada as an “honest broker” in the Middle East, trusted by both Israel and the Palestinians.

With the Harper government, however, all pretence of balance was thrown out the window.  Examples of Harper’s extreme pro-Israel stance abound.  In UN votes around Israeli violations of Palestinian human rights, Harper’s Canada began voting with a small minority of countries that unquestioningly supported Israel.  In 2011, the Harper government ceased contributions to UNESCO when it accepted Palestine as a full member.  In 2012, Harper was a lone voice opposing Obama’s G8 peace deal based on 1967 borders between Israel and Palestine.  In 2013, the Harper government joined a small minority of countries opposing an upgrade in the status of Palestine at the UN.

With Trudeau, it has been little different.  The Trudeau government not only maintained Harper’s voting patterns at the UN, but also adopted much of the same language as the Harper government.  For example, in its very first statement on Israel-Palestine politics, the Trudeau government expressed its opposition to the Palestinians using UN institutions to advance their cause, effectively reassuring Israel it had veto power over all things Palestinian.  Most recently, while its allies issued prompt condemnations of illegal settlement expansion announcements by Israel, the Trudeau government waited weeks before publishing a gentle admonishment last Thursday evening. 

A representative democracy is based on the principle that elected officials will advance the positions of their electors.  When it comes to Israel and the Middle East, both Harper and Trudeau seem to have grievously violated this principle. 

Especially for Trudeau, when you break down the numbers in the survey, there is absolutely no “democratic” justification for his government’s positions.  55 percent of Liberal voters hold a negative opinion of the government of Israel, vs. 22 percent who have a positive opinion.  Quebec voters are highly sought by both Liberals and Conservatives, yet 57 percent of them have a negative opinion of the government of Israel, vs. only 16 percent who have a positive opinion. 

Most voters who have a negative opinion of the government of Israel may not be expecting the government of Canada to chastise Israel.  But it’s also reasonable to believe that such voters wouldn’t expect their government to protect and favour Israel.  But that’s exactly what Harper and Trudeau have been doing for years. 

Clearly there is something going on which has nothing to do with “representation” and nothing to do with “democracy.”  It’s also probably fair to say that the actions of the Harper and Trudeau government’s have nothing to do with Canada’s interests.  Following Harper’s visit to Israel in 2014, columnist Murray Dobbin summed it up by writing, “Harper [seemed] intent on setting back the peace process, insulting the entire Arab world, making Canada persona non grata throughout the Middle East, and angering the United States government…”

 As with all things political, there may be other motives.  Many pondered Harper’s reasons for being so pro-Israel.  Some wondered if Harper were acting under the influence of Christian evangelical ideology which favours Israel.  Columnist Mark Kennedy concluded that Harper was attracted to the “simplicity of right and wrong, of good and evil.”  Some argue that Harper sought to steal the Jewish Canadian vote from the Liberals through his extreme pro-Israel positions.  As a vocal, politically active community, the Jewish Canadian vote carries a weight beyond its actual numbers.  It may be that Trudeau seeks to win the vote back with his own pro-Israel style. 

 With the new survey results, it is no longer possible for our political leaders to say that they don’t know how Canadians truly feel on these issues. But while many voters may believe that Canada’s government is too pro-Israel, they don’t necessarily want Canada to be pro-Palestinian.  In fact, most probably want our government to be foremost pro-Canadian.  And for most of us, being pro-Canadian means finding solutions and promoting positions that are good for everyone, even – and especially – when you’re talking about Israel and the Palestinians. 


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