From Yoni’s Desk: Why did Canada reverse course at the UN?

Flags fly at the United Nations headquarters in New York. DAMZOW/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS PHOTO

On Nov. 24, Hillel Neuer, the Canadian head of UN Watch, mused on social media that watching the inner workings of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) is like experiencing life in a parallel universe. He wasn’t joking. How else can anyone comprehend the fact that the UNHRC counts among its current members Saudi Arabia, China and Pakistan, with Venezuela set to join in 2020? In what world does that make sense?

Nowhere, other than at the United Nations.

That explains why the same anti-Israel resolutions turn up at the UN General Assembly every year around this time, and how countries like North Korea and Zimbabwe, who sponsored a resolution that labels Israel an occupier in east Jerusalem, including the Jewish Quarter, use these sorts of blatant attacks to hide their own disastrous records on human rights, among other things.

But it doesn’t explain why Canada voted in favour of that resolution, which censures Israel’s security barrier just days after another onslaught of missiles from terrorists in Gaza and blames the Jewish state for the security situation in the region. It doesn’t explain why the Trudeau government broke with national policy that goes back more than a decade not to single out Israel at the UN – never mind its own policy prior to the October election.

So what does explain it?

There are various hypotheses. The least plausible is that this was the Liberals’ plan all along – pretending to support Israel, only to realign toward its true course after winning power. Frankly, that doesn’t make a lot of sense, not least of all because Canada and Israel, despite this disagreement, continue to have very strong ties. In the past year alone, the Liberals adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of anti-Semitism and passed an updated Canada-Israel Free Trade Agreement. These are simply not the actions of an Israel-hating government in hiding.

It makes almost as little sense to suggest Canada’s vote was intended as a rebuke of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Bibi, who was indicted last week on three corruption charges, is fighting for his political life, and seems to be losing, albeit slowly. Why give him more ammunition?

Maybe Ottawa changed its vote in its apparent quest for a seat on the UN Security Council. That sounds entirely possible (though its election is anything but likely). Or perhaps in its weakened minority position, taking a tougher stand on Israel – or more significantly, against U.S. President Donald Trump, who last week recognized the West Bank settlements – is part of the price this government has to pay to remain in power and pass legislation. If so, it would behoove the Prime Minister’s Office to consider how much it is willing to sacrifice for illusory international glory or just to stay in office, as well as the policies that got it there in the first place.

(Speaking of parallel universes, Ottawa’s official explanation for its UN vote noted that Canada’s “stated position and concern (is) that there are too many resolutions related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a situation which unfairly singles out Israel for criticism.” Did no one at Global Affairs edit that answer for irony?)

Over the weekend, Marc-Andre Blanchard, Canada’s permanent representative to the UN since 2016, tweeted approvingly a La Presse article titled Le Canada Retrouve Sa Voix à l’ONU (Canada Regains Its Voice at the UN). Whatever the explanation for its vote last week, if this is the voice the government has purportedly found, that is reason for concern.

There is, however, time to reconsider: the resolution doesn’t come up for a second and final vote until the middle of December.