Jewish groups praise Ottawa’s effort to pressure UN on Syria

Aleppo in 2012
Aleppo, Syria, in 2012 WIKIPEDIA PHOTO

As the war in Syria rages on into its sixth year, after the death and displacement of millions of civilians, the Canadian government’s initiative to call on the United Nations to bring an end to the killing is drawing praise for Canada and criticism for the UN from Canadian Jewish groups.

Earlier this month, the Canadian mission to the United Nations sent a letter on behalf of 70 member states, including Israel, the United Kingdom and the United States, to the president of the General Assembly “to express our serious concern about the humanitarian tragedy that continues to unfold in Syria.”

The letter said the fact that the UN Security Council has failed to achieve peace and security in Syria is “troubling.”

In the years since the start of Syria’s civil war, perpetuated by Syrian President Bashar Assad with military support from Russian President Vladimir Putin, Russia has vetoed five Security Council resolutions aimed at putting a stop to the bloodshed. Earlier this month, Russia vetoed a French-sponsored motion to end the aerial bombardment of rebel-held Aleppo and to ground warplanes.

The Canadian letter urged the General Assembly president to call a plenary meeting to “explore concerted action to apply pressure on the parties of the violence” and determine whether an emergency special session of the General Assembly is needed. The plenary meeting took place Oct. 20.

Martin Sampson, spokesperson for the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), said his group supports Canada’s initiative, because the UN is “failing in its duties.”

“In order for it to remain relevant and live up to its founding ideals, it must demonstrate that it can act to solve a growing number of international crises, including the situation in Syria, which is a humanitarian disaster,” Sampson said.

“We think it is appropriate for Canada to play a leadership role and… to challenge the Security Council, which has proven it is unable or unwilling to stop the crisis in Syria.”

Michael Mostyn, CEO of B’nai Brith Canada, said he thinks the Canadian government’s decision to take the diplomatic lead on this issue is “a testament to Canadian morals and values,” but he added that in light of the passing of a recent UNESCO resolution that denied the Jewish connection to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, the UN lacks credibility.

“We… don’t have much faith in the UN to solve the world’s conflicts.”

Mostyn addressed the Security Council’s failure to end the bloodshed, saying that “hundreds of thousands of Syrians have died, millions have been displaced, and we’re seeing the worst refugee crisis since the end of World War II. After six years of war, with no signs of it abetting, the UN Security Council, like other branches of the UN, is failing to perform its mandate and maintain international peace and security.”

Avi Benlolo, president and CEO
of the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies, said “the slaughter in Syria is heinous and should elicit an immediate international response to end the conflict.”

Just as Nazi war criminals were brought to justice following the Holocaust, so, too, should those who are committing war crimes in Syria, Benlolo said.

“We propose the perpetrators be placed on notice by a newly established commission on war crimes in Syria, which would collect evidence of atrocities committed by the perpetrators.  Additional measures should immediately be undertaken like referring the perpetrators to the International Criminal Court and issuing a red notice to restrict their international travel and motivate immediate arrest,” Benlolo said.

Referring to Canada’s absorption of tens of thousands of Syrian refugees in addition to its latest effort to intervene on behalf of Syrian civilians, Mostyn said Canada also has a responsibility to “make sure that the interests of Canada are being met.”

“[Syrians] do come from a region where blatant anti-Semitism is common. Our role as a human rights organization is to advocate for the community’s safety and well-being, and we take that duty very seriously.”

Sampson said it’s right for Canada to play a role in trying to solve one of the “largest and most pressing” crises of our time.

“While we must always be cognizant of security threats, we believe the Canadian government has the systems and processes in place to minimize risk to Canadians. It is important to note that the situation in Europe, which is cause for serious concern, is markedly different to the situation in Canada, because of the nature of how refugees arrive in the country of destination. The government and relevant security agencies have addressed fully the legitimate concerns that many have expressed regarding security,” Sampson said.