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.
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.”