Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee
Canada changes UN votes on Israel

Staff Reporter

Canada has shifted its votes at the United Nations in support of Israel for the second consecutive year, and while community officials welcome the new direction, they are demanding more and holding Prime Minister Paul Martin to his earlier pledge to reform the UN.

Canada last week changed its votes on three resolutions at the UN General Assembly’s annual debate on the Palestinian issue, adding to Ottawa’s shift toward Israel on four other resolutions last year.

And in a reprise of a stern rebuke to the world body delivered last year by Canadian ambassador Alan Rock, Gilbert Laurin, Canada’s chargé d’affaires at the UN, slammed this year’s litany of anti-Israel measures as “divisive and unhelpful.”

The 20 or so Arab-sponsored resolutions are expected to pass anyway when the session ends sometime next month.

Canada changed its vote from abstention to opposition on the resolution that provides support to a committee on Palestinian rights. Canada said it believes scarce UN resources “should only be committed to bodies that can clearly demonstrate achievements in support of the peace process.”

Canada also changed its vote, from support to abstention, on the resolution on the “Peaceful Settlement of the Question of Palestine.” Laurin said the measure required “a stronger and more unequivocal condemnation of suicide bombing.”

Finally, on the resolution called “The Syrian Golan,” Canada changed its vote from abstention to opposition. Laurin explained that the measure “unfairly placed the onus of responsibility for renewed negotiations on Israel only, while the reality is that confidence-building measures and goodwill gestures are needed from both sides.

“We believe this language is unbalanced and unhelpful to overall goals of the peace process.”

Canada also praised the Palestinian observer to the UN for withdrawing a resolution on Palestinian children. Laurin said it was a step toward reducing “what we have long regarded as the excessive number of Middle East resolutions.”

As of last week, Canada’s votes on three other resolutions did not mark a departure from previous years. In two of those, Canada sided with the majority, including the measure on the status of Jerusalem.

Canada’s position is that Jerusalem “remains an issue for negotiation by the two sides,” and that Israel “should desist from measures which pre-empt such negotiations and risk complicating a peaceful resolution.”

Those include the expansion of settlements within and around Jerusalem, Laurin said.

Marc Gold, national chair of the Canada-Israel Committee, said Canada’s change in votes is a “step in the right direction” and “long overdue. In that respect, we’re happy to see the government continue as it began last year to address real problems at the UN.”

But, Gold stressed, “there’s much more that needs to be done in order to address structural and systemic problems” at the world body.

Community leaders are recalling Prime Minister Paul Martin’s Nov. 13 speech to the United Jewish Communities General Assembly in Toronto, where he pledged to “continue to press for the kinds of reforms that will eliminate the politicization of the United Nations and its agencies, and in particular, the annual ritual of politicized anti-Israel resolutions.”

B’nai Brith Canada called on the government to honour that pledge “by consistently rejecting each and every resolution that does nothing to advance the cause of Middle East peace, that holds Israel solely accountable for the conflict, and that effectively turns a blind eye to ongoing Palestinian terrorism.”

The three changed resolutions represent a fraction of the annual package of anti-Israel measures, B’nai Brith noted, adding that Ottawa should adopt a “zero-tolerance” policy on Israel-bashing at the UN.

In his remarks to the 191-member states, Laurin said Canada has “strongly” encouraged more constructive resolutions.

Canada has also criticized “inflammatory, provocative and divisive language in resolutions; language that creates a sense of imbalance, and seems to suggest that it is only Israel that has obligations.”

Israel’s security needs and Palestinian responsibilities are often under-emphasized, Laurin continued.

Canada, he said, “will not support resolutions that use emotive and provocative language in place of the straight facts.”

He said Canada is working toward fewer, more focused, and more balanced resolutions, and he issued a blanket condemnation of terrorism.

“It is a widely accepted view that non-combatants should not be targeted, by any means, by any party to a conflict. We therefore firmly and unequivocally condemn any form of support, either direct or indirect, to terrorist organizations.

“The use of suicide bombing against innocent civilians is particularly abhorrent. No legitimate, democratic state can ever be built through the use of terrorism. Terrorists and their supporters should immediately be brought to justice and networks disarmed and dismantled.”

But neither did Canada let Israel off the hook completely.

Laurin said the Jewish state “must strive to build trust by refraining from unilateral actions that may prejudge the outcome of final status negotiations.”

Those actions include ensuring that the route of Israel’s security barrier does not stray from the 1967 border, “nor disrupts the livelihoods of Palestinian farmers,” he said.

While Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza was “a courageous step,” further efforts to draw borders “should be achieved through negotiation. It is not a small point: When negotiations succeed, even in modest steps, they provide the strongest ammunition against violence.”

In the past year, Israel has seen several positive moves at the UN, ranging from the decision to dedicate an annual Holocaust memorial day to the first ever Security Council condemnation of Hezbollah following a round of attacks on the Lebanon-Israel border.

“The atmosphere in the UN has changed significantly,” Israeli ambassador Dan Gillerman told the Jerusalem Post last week. “Israel is no longer an isolated country, but rather a normal and accepted member of the UN.”