Canadians don’t share Justin Trudeau’s pro-Israel stance — poll

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau meets with his Israeli counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu in Paris in November 2015.

Amos Ben Gershom

A new survey has revealed a major disconnect between Canadians’ views of Israel and the policies of their government.

Large numbers of Canadians see Israel’s government negatively, and Canadians reject almost unanimously the view that criticizing Israel is anti-Semitic.

The poll conducted by EKOS Research Associates from 25 January to 2 February was commissioned by Independent Jewish Voices, Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East and journalists Dimitri Lascaris and Murray Dobbin.

According to the report accompanying the results, “no published survey has previously examined whether Canadians consider criticism of the Israeli government to be anti-Semitic.”

Overall, far more Canadians (46 percent) had a negative opinion of the Israeli government than a positive one (28 percent). Similar to trends noted in the US in recent years, there are sharp political and generational differences.

Among supporters of the governing Liberal Party, the opposition New Democratic Party (NDP), Bloc Québécois and Greens – all of which are considered left of center in Canada – negative views of Israel’s government ranged from 55 to 78 percent.

As in the United States, where support for Israel is much more concentrated among Republicans, 58 percent of Canadians who identify with the right-wing opposition Conservative Party view Israel’s government positively.

More than half of Canadians under age 35 view the Israeli government negatively, compared with just 37 percent of those aged over 65 who tended to hold a negative view of the Israeli government.

Just 17 percent of Canadians aged under 35 view Israeli government policy positively.

The EKOS survey also found that in “all ethnic categories including ethnically identified Jews, more respondents held negative than positive opinions of the Israeli government.”

Overall, in the province of Quebec, whose own nationalist movement has traditionally expressed strong solidarity for Palestinians, 57 percent of residents held a negative view of the Israeli government – the highest proportion of any region.

Criticizing Israel not anti-Semitic

Canadians see their government as more biased toward Israel: 61 percent said the government is pro-Israel, while just 16 percent see it as pro-Palestinian.

Among those supporting the left of center parties, including the governing Liberals, the number who see a pro-Israel bias ranges from 70 to 77 percent.

And in sharp contrast to their government, Canadians overwhelmingly reject efforts to paint criticism of Israel as anti-Semitic.

The survey found that that 91 percent “accept the view that criticism of Israeli government policy [is] like criticism of any other country and is not necessarily anti-Semitic.”

This figure rose to 100 percent among supporters of the NDP and the Bloc Québécois, and 97 percent among supporters of the Liberals, the party led by Justin Trudeau, Canada’s prime minister.

This is a stark contrast with efforts by the political class to stigmatize criticism of Israel and activism for Palestinian rights.

Last February, Trudeau’s government backed an opposition motion in the federal parliament condemning the Palestinian-led boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.

In December 2016, the legislature in Ontario. Canada’s most populous province, passed a non-binding resolution tarring the BDS movement as racist.

The previous May, however, the Ontario legislature soundly rejected a bill that would have created a government blacklist of supporters of Palestinian rights.

“Historically, Canadian government policy has been staunchly pro-Israel, despite Israel’s decades-long construction of settlements in occupied Palestinian territory, which virtually the entire international community, including Canada, considers illegal,” the report states.

Canadian government policy formally “recognizes the Palestinian right to self-determination and supports the creation of a sovereign, independent, viable, democratic and territorially contiguous Palestinian state, as part of a comprehensive, just and lasting peace settlement.”

But the report notes that “successive Liberal and Conservative governments have emphasized their commitment to Israel and to protecting its security, while saying little if anything about the security of Palestinians. Under their watch, Canada created unprecedented trade and security pacts with Israel.”

This has not changed since the Liberals returned to power in November 2015. “In Trudeau’s brief time in office, Canada has voted against 16 motions critical of Israel in the [United Nations] General Assembly – the only major country, alongside the US, to do so,” the report states.

Scope for change

A major conclusion of the study is that the left of center and left parties – Liberals, NDP, Greens and Bloc Québécois – can afford to be much more bold on the question of Palestine without losing support.

“In Canada, political elites cling to the view that a vigorous defense of Palestinians rights would erode support for their parties,” the report states. “The results of this survey strongly suggest that the opposite is true, that demanding Israel’s respect for Palestinian rights will attract support from centrist and left-leaning voters.”

The survey also sends a message to members of these parties that they can “more confidently” push for policy changes.

Lascaris, a lawyer, journalist and former justice spokesperson for the Green Party, told The Electronic Intifada that the survey holds profound messages for Canadian leaders, including that they would likely find broad public support if they were to impose sanctions on Israel, for example over settlements.

“There is clearly a very negative view of the Israeli government in Canada, including a substantial majority of Liberal supporters,” Lascaris said. “If the political class in Canada pay attention to this poll, they should profoundly rethink their approach to sanctions.”

Lascaris noted that Canadians are highly skeptical of Israeli government policy despite the fact that Canadian media – like their counterparts in the United States – scarcely report on Israel’s human rights abuses.

“The Israeli government’s behavior has become so brazen and so inconsistent with a just and lasting peace, that even the mainstream media can’t prevent a significant section of the Canadian public from holding a negative view about the Israeli government,” he added. “If the media were being balanced and telling Canadians what is happening to Palestinians – and they are not – support for Palestinians would be stratospheric.”

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Here is a copy of a letter to Mr. Trudeau and all the party leaders in Canada sent this morning.

Dear Mr. Trudeau,

Please listen to Canadians. Your reneging on proportional representation was a worrisome sign. You created a questionnaire without giving the participants adequate understanding of proportional representation and touted the results as a 'you see, Canadians don't want it!". A similar thing happened in British Columbia a few years ago: inadequate education, a hurried referendum and a 'okay, voters don't want it'.

Your failure to change Canada's foreign policy from the Conservative 'we-are-a-combat-nation' back to peacekeeping is even more worrisome. What are you thinking? Who are you listening to? Troops against Russia?! Over Ukraine, that phony revolution orchestrated by neocons! Listen to Canadians: they will tell you that alongside our healthcare, Canada's peacekeeping is what makes them most proud to be Canadian.

And, a terrible policy of hitching our wagon to Israel and turning a blind eye is disastrous for Canada and the world. Find a way to curb this fanatical nation. It boggles my mind that one of the questions on the survey below was 'do you think criticism of Israel is 'necessarily' anti-semitic?' However, I think the sampling and the clear questions should tell you something that you should keep in mind when speaking to the Canadian people. Please keep away from talking about Israeli-Canadian shared values. The majority do not share Israeli values.

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Thanks for your comments.....I've been pretty bummed about the Canadian stance on Israel. Criticism does NOT equal antisemitism. I'm soooooo tired of that canard.

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"the left of center and left parties – Liberals, NDP, Greens and Bloc Québécois" -- Perhaps it looks this way from the United States, but that description is wholly misleading.

There are no left parties in the Canadian parliament.

Mainstream media often tars the New Democratic Party with that brush, going back to its social democratic (but anti-communist) roots 80 years ago, but the modern NDP followed Tony Blair's neoliberal 'Third Way' for the last two decades. It routinely ditches potential candidates if they criticize Israel. At best the NDP is left of centre, but more accurately centre-left, IMO.

Similarly the Bloc Québécois had social democratic roots in the nationalist upsurge of the 1960s and '70s. And it opposed neoliberal polices (slashing health and education, unemployment insurance, etc.) when it was the Official Opposition 20 years ago. But it too has drifted into neoliberalism, among other things supporting corporate rights charters (misleadingly called free trade deals).

The Liberals can't even be called centre-left, let alone left of centre. Though they often campaign from the left, and usually have better public relations (and hair) than the Conservatives, invariably they govern from the centre or even right -- Tweedledee to the Tories' Tweedledum. The current Liberal government, for instance, backs the same corporate rights charters, builds pipelines and loves Israel. It recently brazenly broke its central election promise to end the so-called first-past-the-post electoral system, brilliantly illustrating the difference between its rhetoric in opposition and its policy in government. Do not confuse Canadian "Liberal" with American "liberal".

The Greens are an enigma -- next post.

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Canada's Green Party is hard to characterize as left or right. Like Greens elsewhere, it sometimes claims to be neither, but straight ahead. So its economic platform doesn't challenge capitalism but wants to charge polluters for the real cost of pollution and foster green economic alternatives. It says less about social policy (though it tends to be liberal), foreign takeovers and international alignments.

But aggressive neoliberalism, with its disregard for or hostility to the environment, has led the Greens to strongly oppose corporate rights charters like the TPP, CETA and WTO. And party leader Elizabeth May won much praise in fighting the previous Harper/Tory government's war on the environment and science. She has also taken progressive positions on unions and many social and political issues.

But on Israel, May and the party have feet of clay. A few years ago she told a Zionist publication she planned to lecture CJPME (a co-sponsor of the poll) about its wrong-headed policy on Israel/Palestine -- and then claimed she hadn't (disproved by tape and transcript of the interview).

During Israel's 2014 massive attack on Gaza, the party president wrote a crude op-ed supporting Israel. In the uproar that followed he resigned, but a cloud remained over the party's real position.

This past year, an internal motion from justice critic (and poll c0-sponsor) Lascaris and others supported part of the BDS platform. May initially backed it (and another motion, later dropped, to remove the JNF's charitable status in Canada), but later fought hard against it. After a party convention passed it overwhelmingly May initially threatened to resign, but then got the party exec to call a special meeting about it (and nominally other resolutions). A compromise resolution is arguably at least as strong as the original, but deletes mention of BDS and frames it as "to preserve the two-state solution." Since then, the party has downplayed and hidden even this stand.

Ali Abunimah

Co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and author of The Battle for Justice in Palestine, now out from Haymarket Books.

Also wrote One Country: A Bold-Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse. Opinions are mine alone.