Seventy-five years ago today, Israel was established through the violent ethnic cleansing of more than 750,000 Palestinians and the expropriation of their land and property — a settler colonial project that continues to this day.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau even tweeted his congratulations to the people of Israel on “the establishment of the State of Israel.”
Why is Canada celebrating this? Israel is now widely recognized as an apartheid regime by internationally respected human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, B'Tselem, and Human Rights Watch.
Israel’s new far-right government is the most extreme in the country’s history. Israeli ministers are outwardly calling for full annexation and state-sanctioned massacres against Palestinians. Hundreds of thousands of Israelis have protested the new government’s controversial judicial reforms for weeks. Palestinians are sounding the alarm internationally about Israel’s constant deadly raids in Palestinian cities.
These tensions have also permeated into North America where a recent poll found that there is “widespread opposition” among Canada’s Jewish community to the policies of Israel’s new government.
Shamefully for Canada, it’s “business as usual” with Israel’s new government.
This was made clear in a meeting last month between Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly and her Israeli counterpart Eli Cohen, where Joly was proud to tout “shared values” and “Canada and Israel’s strong, multidimensional and enduring friendship.”
This was the first meeting between Joly and Israel’s recently elected far-right government led by Benjamin Netanyahu, which has been in power since the end of 2022. The tone of Joly’s statements at the meeting has demonstrated that no matter how outwardly right-wing, racist, and brutal the Israeli government can be, Canada will continue to turn a blind eye to its growing authoritarianism, its illegal settlement expansion and its deadly occupation.
In the Global Affairs readout of her meeting, Joly “underscored Canada’s support of democracy, the rule of law, and the institutions that uphold them” without challenging Cohen on the weeks of mass protests in Tel Aviv against his government’s plan for judicial reforms. Netanyahu’s far-right coalition has led the effort to adopt judicial reforms, which would limit the Supreme Court’s powers, the only system of checks on the Israeli Parliament (the Knesset). The controversial amendment would give the Knesset the power to override Supreme Court decisions with a simple majority.
Minister Joly’s virtue signalling in support of Israel's government completely ignores the increasingly authoritarian nature of its far-right government.
Joly also “congratulated Israel on its upcoming 75th anniversary and highlighted this important milestone.”
Today’s anniversary that she celebrates is marked by millions of Palestinians worldwide as the Palestinian Nakba or “catastrophe” that led to the mass forced displacement of over 750,000 refugees and the destruction of over 530 towns and villages. Most were banned from ever returning.
There is a direct line from that day to the wildly disproportionate daily violence, such as the recent attack by Israel police in the Al-Aqsa Mosque in occupied East Jerusalem that left at least 12 Palestinians injured.
On the mosque attack, Joly made an unusually sharp response tweeting: "We strongly condemn the acts of violence against Palestinian worshippers in Al-Aqsa." Many Liberal and NDP Ministers also tweeted in condemnation. However, despite this, Canada has not taken any action in response, nor is there any indication that Canada's approach moving forward will change. Prime Minister Trudeau even failed to echo the condemnation of his Foreign Affairs Minister and expressed vague words of "concern" instead. Meanwhile, CJPME is calling for an arms embargo and other sanctions.
Nonetheless, it remains “business as usual” in Canada.
Joly chose not to raise the issue of Israel’s expanding settlement activities in the occupied West Bank. Such settlement activity is an ongoing Nakba in action, where Palestinians continue to be dispossessed of their lands and livelihoods. Israel’s new government has approved thousands of illegal settlement units in recent weeks in an effort to push for the full annexation of the West Bank. Despite Canada being officially opposed to these settlements, Joly seemingly failed to utter a word.
Israel’s new government includes extreme and ultranationalist ministers who have been pushing to expand illegal Israeli settlements and calling for the full annexation of the occupied West Bank. Cohen himself is considered a far-right extremist and annexationist who once said that Palestinian citizens of Israel can “move to Gaza on a one-way ticket.”
Israel’s new National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir is an illegal settler living in the occupied West Bank who heads the extremist, far-right Jewish Power Party and was known to have a portrait of Baruch Goldstein, an extremist who massacred 29 Palestinians praying in a mosque in Hebron in 1994, in his home. Israel’s new Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich has recently infamously claimed that “there is no such thing” as the Palestinian people. After the Israeli settler pogrom on the Palestinian town of Huwara, Smotrich called for the town to be “wiped out” by the Israeli government.
All this was seemingly irrelevant as Joly boasted about Canada and Israel’s “shared values.”
Joly conveyed her condolences to Cohen for the attacks against Israeli civilians without acknowledging the killing of countless Palestinian civilians, including at least 15 children by the Israeli army. Rather than make explicit mention of the over 80 Palestinians killed by Israeli military forces since the start of 2023, in the deadliest period of the last two decades in the occupied West Bank, Joly talked vaguely about “concerns over the recent escalation of violence.”
Such a blatant double standard reasserts Israel’s impunity on a global stage, making Canada complicit.
When an extremist government wants to do away with judicial oversight, this is not a development to be overlooked. When a country’s leaders are calling for the erasure of an entire Palestinian town, it is not something to be ignored. When a country is repeatedly called out for human rights abuses – including apartheid – this should not be disregarded.
There is no excuse for “business as usual” between Canada and Israel unless Canada actually approves of Israel’s appalling behaviour.
Reem is a Policy Analyst at Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME).