TORONTO (Jan. 24)
With Canada’s Conservative Party poised to take power for the first time in 12 years, Jewish leaders anticipate that the new government will take a firmer stance against Israel-bashing at the United Nations and play a larger role in fostering Israeli-Palestinian peace. “There is an expectation that a Conservative government will take a somewhat more aggressive posture in encouraging the kind of reforms that would allow the U.N. to fulfill the objectives it was initially designed to address,” said Shimon Fogel, CEO of the Canada-Israel Committee. That includes moves to “end the annual cycle of Israel-bashing at the U.N.”
Under the Liberal government, which was defeated in Monday’s election, Canada supported some U.N. resolutions unfavorable to Israel, though it had shown a slight change in voting patterns recently.
Statistics on Jewish voting patterns are not available, but the community’s customary support for the Liberals is believed to have eroded somewhat in recent years.
“The Jewish community is no longer monolithic,” said Bernie Farber, CEO of the Canadian Jewish Congress. “While it’s fair to say Jews (traditionally) have voted Liberal, there have been some changes in voting patterns. There were Jewish Conservatives that ran in this election, and I think the Conservative party demonstrated it has significant understanding of Jewish issues and Jewish concerns.”
For example, the Conservative’s prime minister-elect, Stephen Harper, spoke out emphatically against anti-Israel U.N. resolutions during the campaign.
“A Conservative government will not support resolutions at the United Nations that are aimed specifically at Israel or designed to create a bias in the resolution of the Middle East conflict,” he said during a recent meeting hosted by the Canadian Council for Israel and Jewish Advocacy, or CCIJA.
Harper, 46, is basking in his victory right now, but he may soon face a contentious political situation: His government is a minority, having won just 36 percent of the popular vote and occupying less than half the seats in the House of Commons.
Harper is seen as a social conservative whose views are closer to those of President Bush. Many observers predict better relations with Canada’s southern neighbor, which had hit a rocky patch under Paul Martin, the Liberal prime minister.
Fogel said he believes Harper could push Canada to take a larger role in Mideast peace initiatives.
“The first foreign-policy priority will be to try and reaffirm strong relations with the U.S.,” Fogel said. “And I think from that will flow other things, including the potential for a larger role in the Middle East, by virtue of an elevated sense of confidence the Americans will have in Canada for advancing things toward a peace process.”
Farber said he believes Harper takes seriously the Iranian threat to Israel and will acting accordingly. Iran is believed to be developing nuclear weapons, and its president recently called for Israel to be “wiped off the map.”
“I think the government will be more proactive in seeking remedies to ensure the Iranians do not move forward with their nuclear program,” agreed Frank Dimant, president of B’nai Brith Canada. “I know that they understand the threat Iran is, not just to Israel, but to Canada, Europe and the U.S.”
With Palestinians voting in their own parliamentary election, questions swirl about what contact, if any, the new Canadian government will have with legislators from the terrorist group Hamas. Dimant believes Canada may take a wait-and-see approach based on what Israel decides to do about Hamas.
“If Israel decides to somehow, at some level, begin a process of dialogue (with Hamas), I think it would be exceptionally difficult for the Americans, Australians and Canadians” not to do the same, Dimant said. “But I’d be safe in saying this government will” continue to not engage Hamas for the time being.
During his meeting with the council, Harper referred to Hamas as a terrorist group and implied that the election of Hamas members to the Palestinian Parliament was problematic. But he did not specifically rule out contact.
“On a fundamental level, the advocacy of terrorism and the establishment of stable democratic institutions are… incompatible,” he said. “If institutions committed to terrorism are playing a role in the Palestinian state, whether elected or not, that’s an indication to me that the road to democracy has not been traveled very far.”