A version of this article appeared in the Ottawa Citizen on March 24, 1999 

Some complain about the “pro-Israel” tilt of the Department of Foreign Affairs and the influence of the Jewish community. Many in the Jewish community are frustrated at what they see as an anti- Israel bias in departmental actions. How can these perceptions be so far apart?

Those who perceive a pro-Israel tilt usually argue that Canada should never have recognized Israel as a legitimate state and that partition of British mandate Palestine was a mistake.

In this, they agree with the Arab states that invaded Israel in 1948 with the intention of destroying it. They agree with Palestinians who were ready to push the Jews into the sea in 1948 and are still ready to do so, without interference from Palestinian Authority leader Yassar Arafat, who arrives in Ottawa today. Often, they rationalize the actions of the suicide bombers who have killed more than 200 Israeli civilians and wounded thousands.

They did not understand how Canadians could see it in their interest, or in the interest of international justice, to recognize the existence of a Jewish state. They turned against Lester B. Pearson and others who, against the prejudices of the bureaucrats, fought for the recognition of a Jewish state.

The Jewish community and others in Canada saw the creation of a Jewish homeland as a necessity following the Second World War.

The destruction of the European Jewry and the indifference of the rest of the world to its fate characterized a period where Jews were considered “life unworthy of living.” The act of recognizing the Jewish right to exist was so rare that the decision not to destroy Jews was perceived as a great humanitarian gesture.

It is only in this sense that Canada’s policy at one time had a “pro-Israel” tilt. It recognized the right of the Jewish state to exist.

What is astonishing is that this recognition can hardly be attributed to the actions of the Jewish community of Canada at that time. Numerically small and with little political impact, the community had been unable to reverse the government’s refusal to accept Jewish refugees, even as late as 1947. The only reason the Jewish community seemed to have an effect in 1948 is that the policy direction it recommended coincided with the direction favoured by many Canadians. Pearson, for instance, in part attributed his urge to recognize Israel to what he had learned in Sunday School — hardly the hangout of the Jewish community.

Otherwise, Canada’s policy towards Israel has been relatively consistent. Canada has never recognized Israel’s presence in the West Bank and Gaza and has not recognized Israel’s incorporation of Jerusalem into its territory as the undivided capital of Israel. Canada has leaned increasingly toward recognition of the Palestinian people.

The most consistent factor driving Canada’s policy has been the desire to play the role of broker between parties in international conflicts, at first in order to build bridges between the United States and Great Britain but eventually to build bridges and gain influence with other players in the Third World and in the Middle East.

While aware of the biased nature of many anti-Israel resolutions from the United Nations, Canada has often abstained or voted for them, with gradually increasing frequency since 1967.

Most recently, Canada voted to convene a meeting under the Geneva Conventions to deal with allegations of the contravention of Palestinian rights (building apartments on Har Homa), despite the fact this mechanism is supposed to be used only for extreme violations of human rights.

Such a meeting has only been convened once before, to deal with the German atrocities in the Second World War.

No similar meeting has been convened to deal with the genocides in Bosnia, Rwanda or Cambodia, or with the egregious violations of human rights in other parts of the world.

Indeed, the Canadian delegate felt the need to issue an “explanation” of Canada’s vote, confirmation that Canada was uneasy in supporting the obviously vicious rhetoric in the resolution and in apparently taking a position on matters it says should be settled in direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

This tilt is not in favour of Israel and the Jewish Community lobbies against it. It is ironic that the more organized and “influential” the community is supposed to have become, the more this policy is being implemented.

What is most disturbing is Canada’s increasingly cynical participation in anti-Israeli votes and its apparent decision that seeking fair treatment for Israel is useless.

Canada, like many others, remained silent when anti-Semitic allegations against Israeli doctors were read into the record at the UN Commission on Human Rights.

At the annual meeting of the commission, Israel is the only country in the world scrutinized by a special investigator, whose mandate predetermines the negative outcome of the investigation.

Israel is the only country that has a whole day devoted to allegations against it. Allegations against other countries, including such well-known human rights violators as Iran, Iraq, Myanmar, Indonesia, Serbia, Rwanda, Congo and Sudan are lumped together and dealt with on one day.

Israel is the only country that cannot participate in any regional discussion group where countries frequently explain their situations and make trade-offs about which allegations will go forward. It is the only country whose national movement was labelled “racist” at the UN General Assembly (a 1975 resolution recently rescinded).

The UN has passed resolutions about religious rights in Jerusalem since 1967 but passed none in the 20-year period when Jews were not allowed to approach the Temple Mount, the Western Wall or the graves of the patriarchs at Hebron.

When Jewish inhabitants were expelled from Jerusalem by the Jordanians and their synagogue burned to the ground, no protest was raised by other religious leaders or by the UN. No one in the international human rights scene was particularly exercised about the rights of Jews in the Holy Land. Very few are now.

While the UN cannot find the will to deal with the extensive violations of human rights in Algeria and other countries, it passes anti-lsrael resolutions by the bushel.

These resolutions never make reference to aggressive acts by Arab countries or by non-state actors such as Hezbollah, Hamas or the Palestinian Authority and it is almost impossible to deal with violations by these groups, even the outrageous human rights violations of the PA against its own people.

Such politically biased actions by the UN do not increase its credibility.

Yasser Arafat and the PA have received generous help from Canada, but accountability issues remain. What is Canada doing to stop Mr. Arafat’s rush to become a Fidel Castro clone, in a small police state dictatorship where Palestinians themselves do not benefit?

It is essential that the PA, as well as Israel, be held accountable for meeting all the conditions of agreements, accords and human rights standards.

If Canada and other Western nations do not stand up for what is right — as opposed to what is expedient — these international mechanisms will be treated with disdain by all.

We need to address not the non-existent “pro-lsrael” tilt of our government, but the blatant and institutionally biased framework at the UN to which the Canadian government silently acquiesces.