Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee
Being even-handed not part of Mideast policy

There has been a lot of loose language in some of the political punditry surrounding the Israel-Hezbollah war to the effect that a "principled" Canadian foreign policy "should not take sides" in the conflict; that "even-handedness" is the hallmark of our "tradition" as an "honest broker;" that we "risk losing our influence" as a respected "interlocutor" in the Middle East.

Regrettably, these musings and meanderings ignore that a principled Canadian foreign policy historically has taken sides, as in the first two World Wars, the Korean War, and NATO intervention in Yugoslavia; that we have eschewed "even-handedness" whether it be opposing the U.S.-led intervention in Iraq, or supporting the Canadian mission in Afghanistan; that "we did not risk our influence" whenever we took a principled stand at the United Nations (as in co-sponsoring a resolution on Iranian human rights violations), nor did we become a more respected interlocutor when we did not (as in not confronting Syria in the Maher Arar matter).

Indeed, these musings — together with such morally obtuse meanderings about the "cycle of violence," or that "it is not important who started the war" — constitute a political Pablum that comports neither with Canadian principles nor with contemporary reality. The notion of being even-handed between terrorist groups sworn to Israel’s destruction and a democratic country defending itself from armed attack is a moral absurdity, a "perversion of our traditions" as The Globe and Mail put it.

In fact, the foundational principles of Canadian foreign policy in the Middle East as affirmed by successive governments require us to "take sides," to eschew even-handedness and to raise our voice as a moral interlocutor in a principled way.

Admittedly, our policy has sometimes not comported with our principles, and when that happens, it is more a failure of policy than principle. But a review of the seven principles of Canadian foreign policy in the Middle East, as appears below, makes it clear that the notion that this foreign policy has been — or should be — even-handed is misplaced. Indeed, the notion that Stephen Harper’s support of Israel is "one-sided" or "ideological" runs the risk of suggesting that if giving expression to Canadian foreign policy principles means ending up siding with Israel, we should thereby jettison our principles. Who, then, is being ideological here?

Principle No. 1 — "The cornerstone of Canadian foreign policy in the Middle East is respect for the security, well-being and legitimacy of Israel," a principle reaffirmed and refined over time. Accordingly, an armed attack on Israel’s security and well-being — or the denial of Israel’s legitimacy and existence — constitutes a frontal attack on this core principle. Even-handedness between a cornerstone principle of our Canadian foreign policy and those who assault it is not a policy option.

Principle No. 2 — "The Palestinians are a people, they have a right to self-determination, and the right to an independent, democratic and viable state alongside an independent, democratic and secure Israel" — what has come to be known as the "two-state solution" to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Unlike Principle No. 1, which has been at the core of Canadian foreign policy since Israel’s founding in 1948, this principle is of more recent vintage.

But while a two-state solution has now emerged as both principle and policy, Hamas and Hezbollah expressly reject it. In fact, their position can be summed up in two words: double rejectionism. They are prepared to forgo the establishment of a Palestinian state if that means countenancing a Jewish state in any boundaries, and they avowedly seek the destruction of that state. Again, taking sides here — on behalf of a two-state solution as against those who would violently reject it — is the principled policy.

Principle No. 3 — U.N. Security Council Resolution 242 is "the basic framework for conflict resolution in the Middle East," involving "the right of all states in the Middle East to exist within secure and recognized boundaries free from any threats or acts of force."

Regrettably, yet again, the armed attack by Hezbollah and Hamas — and threats by their patron, Iran, to "wipe Israel off the map" — are a frontal assault on this seminal principle, with Hezbollah constituting a threat both to the safety and security of Israel, and the independence and integrity of Lebanon.

Simply put, if we can’t "take sides" against the threat and use of force — including genocide — then we have no principles at all.

Principle No. 4 — "Terrorism from whatever quarter, for whatever purpose is unacceptable." Canadian policy, in giving expression to this principle, has listed both Hamas and Hezbollah as terrorist organizations.

The corollary to this principle, and an evolving expression of Canadian policy, is that Israel, like any other democracy, has the right to defend itself against acts of terror, the whole in accordance with principles of international humanitarian law.

Principle No. 5 — "The combating of racism, hatred and incitement to violence, including, in particular, state-sanctioned incitement to genocide." The importance of this principle was recognized in its inclusion in the Speech from the Throne and its underpinning of the National Justice Initiative against Hatred and Racism.

The genocidal anti-Semitism of both Hamas and Hezbollah — wherein anti-Semitism is not just a facet of their politics but at the core of their covenantal commitments — is yet another frontal attack not just against Jews, but against the Canadian mosaic.

Combating such racist hatred is a core Canadian principle and policy. There is no room for indifference or even-handedness here. One must stand clearly against this genre of racist hatred.

Principle No. 6 — "Support for democracy, human rights, good governance and the rule of law" was an evolving principle articulated by former foreign affairs minister Pierre Pettigrew and me as justice minister, in what came to be known as the ME-4 Initiative.

This principle was promoted in our bilateral relations and in visits with each of my counterpart justice ministers in Egypt, Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Jordan. A prospective annual justice forum involving the ME-4, organized around this principle and to be hosted by Canada, was concurred in by all. Here again, we sought to be an interlocutor on behalf of principle, with a hopeful peace dividend.

Principle No. 7 — This involves "the importance of fairness and integrity in our international institutions" and "the international efforts to secure peace" — particularly at the United Nations.

But the singling-out of Israel for discriminatory and differential treatment at the United Nations Human Rights Commission — while granting exculpatory immunity to the major human rights violators — was both prejudicial to the cause of peace and undermining of the integrity of the United Nations. It is hoped that the newly established United Nations Human Rights Council, replacing the discredited UN Human Rights Commission, will bring policy in alignment with principle, but the first meetings of this council have replicated the discriminatory behaviour of this commission.

In summary, these principles, taken together, constitute a "principled" Canadian foreign policy in the Middle East. The Israel-Hezbollah war — and the recently adopted UN Security Council resolution mandating a ceasefire and a political framework for the cessation of hostilities — have emerged as a laboratory for the application in practice of this principled policy.