December 1 2003


December 1 2003


Under Paul Martin, Canada is unlikely to support Israel at the UN

EACH YEAR, the Israeli foreign ministry puts out a book listing all the UN resolutions passed on Israel, Palestine and the Middle East. It dutifully sets out the text and records the votes. If inclined, you can see how Brazil or Kiribati voted on Resolution ES-10/10: “Illegal Israeli actions in Occupied East Jerusalem and the rest of the Occupied Palestinian Territory.” (Brazil voted to condemn Israel for its “the attacks committed by the

Israeli occupying forces against the Palestinian people,” Kiribati went missing that day and Canada abstained.)

The latest book, for 2001/2002, makes riveting reading. Every resolution begins with a little throat clearing in italics. The General Assembly is either stressing, reaffirming or possibly bearing in mind. Throat cleared, it speaks very forcefully and demands, condemns and, when it is having a hissy fit, also condemns. Were a Martian reading this book, he would conclude that the wickedest country on earth was Israel, followed by the United States. He would feel that the sole object of Israel’s existence was to persecute the Palestinians and he would have no awareness of the malevolence of the Palestinian Authority or the names of the terrorist groups it funds and which kill Israeli civilians as they work and play.

A MARTIAN, reading about votes on UN resolutions, would conclude that the wickedest country on earth was Israel, followed by the United States

He would not know, for example, the background to Resolution 10/10, which voices its deep concern at “grave breaches of international humanitarian law committed in the Jenin refugee camp ... by the Israeli occupying forces.” He would not know that the Palestinian inhabitants of Jenin found themselves being used as human shields for bomb factories and terrorists. Not being familiar with the Geneva Convention, he would not know that Article 51 outlaws such tactics and makes them a war crime. A Martian would think that Israel laid “siege on the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem” simply because it wanted to destroy some holy sites. He would not know that the church was first occupied by Palestinian militants who desecrated the interior.

Other resolutions would lead him to believe that only Palestinian children were in

danger in the Middle East, because Palestinian children are the only ones in the world the UN has voted to protect by name (Res. 57/188). He would assume these resolutions were fair because decent countries like Canada did not vote against them. And if he looked further into UN resolutions, he would assume that the troubled continent of Africa was comparatively free of atrocities since condemnations of countries such as Zimbabwe or Congo are virtually unknown, no matter how much blood is spilled.

Israel is the only member state denied permanent membership in any of the UN’s five regional groups. It should be in the Asian group, but Muslim countries have kept it out. As did various countries of the “Western Europe and Others Group” which kept it out until 2000, when they granted

Israel temporary membership of four years in an uncharacteristic spurt of warmth after the Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon. But this temporary membership, following 42 years of isolation, came with restrictions. Israel is the only country that cannot take part in most group votes, including those on human rights and racism. Algeria, China, Cuba, Zimbabwe, Libya and Saudi Arabia can pass judgment at the UN High Commission on Human Rights in Geneva, but not Israel. China, home of forced abortions, and Iran and Sudan are key members of the UN Commission on the Status of Women, but not Israel. The Jewish state of

Israel, created by the UN, is, as professor Anne Bayefsky of Toronto’s York University has written, “disqualified, blackballed or left standing in the halls of UN bodies everywhere.” The Israeli ambassador might as well wear the yellow star.

One wonders what Canada has done about this because it makes such an unholy fuss about being the world’s goody-goody at the UN—we are the world’s moral referee in the great game between good and evil. If our leaders were less sanctimonious, one would feel less outraged. And because Israel has become a synonym for the U.S. and its values of Western liberal democracy, it assumes increasing importance. My own support for Israel, for example, is not based on my identity as a Jew. Rather it is because I support Western values.

In a few weeks time, Canada will have a new Liberal prime minister. But to believe that there will be fundamental differences in Canada’s UN policies, one would have to believe that there was a streak of antiIsraeli feeling or even anti-Semitism on the part of Jean Chrétien. Whatever one thinks of him, this is not a fair assumption. It is more a question of Chrétien having read the temper of his Liberal party and the views of the core group of people that support it. To assume that a new leader will particularly want to disregard that temper or reshape it is an assumption both unwarranted and dangerous.

To believe that our country can forgo a sturdy opposition party simply because the new leader will be better strikes me as poor politics on any level. Without a credible opposition, democracy rots. One demands, stresses and requests, one endorses, decides and calls for citizens to come to the aid of a real opposition. We’ve voted yes or sat on the fence to so many bad things, surely we could vote yes on this. ISl

Barbara Amiel’s column appears monthly. bamiel@macleans.ca