The Liberals must be proud of themselves. They’ve spent the two months since Hamas slaughtered 1,200 Israelis, kicking off the war in Gaza, by ensuring no one thinks they support Israel too much. For example, the government abstained, rather than oppose, a UN motion in October calling for an immediate “truce” between Jerusalem and Hamas.
Ottawa continued this wishy washy tactic Tuesday morning when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called for a “sustainable ceasefire” in Gaza, in a statement co-signed by the leaders of Australia and New Zealand. The statement came just hours before a scheduled vote in the UN General Assembly on a resolution calling for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire in the warzone.
While the joint statement did call on Hamas to “release all hostages, stop using Palestinian civilians as human shields, and lay down its arms,” Trudeau and his co-signees couldn’t resist also lecturing Israel on “respect” for “international human law,” implying, yet again, some kind of moral equivalency between the terrorists who started this war and Israel, which is defending itself. “The price of defeating Hamas cannot be the continuous suffering of all Palestinian civilians,” they said.
The equivocating statement, reprimanding both sides, is a departure from Canada’s longstanding history of standing by Israel in times of crisis; but it shouldn’t surprise anybody who’s been watching closely. In fact, Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly tipped the federal government’s hand just one day earlier, during an appearance on CBC’s Power & Politics.
Joly told host David Cochrane on Monday, “(W)e need to make sure the way Israel is conducting itself (in Gaza) is in line with international humanitarian law,” indicating that she would support an international “accountability system” to investigate the Israeli military. It’s unclear how such a system would work; Israel is a non-member of the International Criminal Court and, historically, has not cooperated with international war crimes investigations.
The foreign minister also repeated, without any contextualization, the Hamas-controlled Gaza health authority’s claim that some 18,000 Gazans (as of Monday) have perished since Oct. 7, asserting that “70 per cent of these people were women and children.” (United States President Joe Biden has said he has “no confidence” in the health authority’s data.)
As a kicker, Joly touted Canada’s increased funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), an agency whose open antipathy toward Israel has led major benefactors like Germany and the EU to withhold donations.
Over the weekend, Joly hosted a trio of foreign affairs ministers from Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the Palestinian Authority in Ottawa, shrugging off the group’s characterization of Israel’s operation in Gaza as a “killing machine.”
“We need to make sure that we work (with) many countries together to bring back on track the discussion on the two-state solution,” Joly told Cochrane in response to a question about her meeting with the Middle Eastern foreign affairs ministers.
Joly’s actions over the past few days reflect a larger, months-long pattern of ambivalence and evasiveness on the Israel file — one that’s likely motivated by Liberal polling numbers, and possibly her own rumoured aspirations to one day lead the party.
Case in point, Joly waited until last week, fully two months into the conflict, to condemn Hamas’ systematic rape of Israeli women and girls, despite evidence of sexual violence coming to light in the conflict’s opening hours. (Joly was quick to jump on the erroneous claim that Israel bombed a hospital in Gaza City in October, so we know her delay in condemning Hamas can’t be pinned on being locked out of her X account). The lackadaisical response to one of the most horrific episodes of mass rape in recent memory is especially puzzling coming from a minister whose championed a “Feminist Foreign Policy” and “Feminist International Assistance Policy.”
Joly, who was one of just a handful of ministers to keep her job after the summer cabinet shuffle, had a chance to set an example of moral clarity through what’s arguably been the biggest international crisis of her tenure at foreign affairs. Instead, her mealy mouthed and half-hearted performance over the past two months will be remembered as a stain on her legacy — even if it helps stop the Liberals’ bleeding at the polls in the short run.
Over the past two months, Israel has quickly learned who its real friends are. And with allies like Joly (and, for that matter, Prime Minister Trudeau), who needs enemies?
Carson Jerema: Mélanie Joly embarrasses herself
Michael Higgins: Mélanie Joly sees the tragedy of Gaza — but not the evil behind it