February 22nd, 2024

UN vote for Gaza ceasefire disappoints Israel’s ambassador, divides Liberal caucus

By Dylan Robertson and Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press on December 13, 2023.

Salma Zahid, Liberal MP for Scarborough Centre, speaks during a discussion titled "Voices for Peace" organized by the Ahmadiyya Muslim Youth Association in the Parliamentary Precinct of Ottawa, on Monday, Dec. 4, 2023. Liberal MPs are set to gather for what is expected to be their final caucus meeting of the year, a day after Canada shifted its stance to join international calls for an immediate ceasefire between Israel and Hamas. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Spencer Colby

OTTAWA – Israel’s ambassador in Ottawa says his country feels singled out by Canada’s vote at the United Nations calling for a ceasefire – a decision that has some in the Liberal caucus saying they wish the resolution had echoed an earlier statement that condemned the actions of Hamas.

“It’s very disappointing to see that, knowing all the facts, still Canada took a decision to stand together with those who basically point the finger at Israel, as a culprit of the situation that is happening at the moment,” Israel’s Ambassador Iddo Moed said in an interview Wednesday.

“In this fight, we need the international community to stand with us. And unfortunately, we see that the international community does exactly the opposite,” he said.

“It singles Israel out in the United Nations.”

On Tuesday, Canada voted in favour of a non-binding resolution at the UN that calls for “an immediate humanitarian ceasefire” between Israel and Hamas. The vote represents a shift in Canada’s long-standing position of siding with Israel on major resolutions.

The latest war between Israel and Hamas began after the armed group’s militants launched a surprise attack in Israel on Oct. 7, killing 1,200 people, including hundreds of civilians, and taking about 240 people hostage.

Israel retaliated with airstrikes on the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, and by cutting off its access to many essential supplies. Local authorities say more than 18,000 Palestinians have been killed.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stood by the vote on Wednesday.

“We’re going to keep participating in urgent, international efforts toward a sustainable ceasefire, but it cannot be one-sided. We need to see Hamas lay down its arms,” he said on Parliament Hill.

Shortly after casting Canada’s vote on Tuesday, UN ambassador Bob Rae told the General Assembly that supporting a humanitarian ceasefire was necessary due to the “continuous” suffering of Palestinian civilians who have “diminishing” areas of safety in Gaza.

After his remarks, Rae’s voice was heard on microphone during the UN broadcast, saying: “See how that flies.” Rae was unavailable for an interview on Wednesday.

Israel’s ambassador to Canada saidRae’s comments on the humanitarian situation did not put into context Hamas’s role in suppressing Palestinians, diverting essential supplies toward its operations and using civilians as human shields.

“To pin everything now on Israel is very lamentable. And this plays very much into the hands of those who don’t want Israel to exist,” Moed said.

He said Canada had consulted Israel ahead of the vote, but added: “I’m not sure that these consultations are getting the right weight.”

Moed stressed that Israel is trying to respect international law and limit casualties, and he says Hamas is ultimately responsible for the many Palestinians killed in the war.

“We can mention the fact that Hamas exaggerates the numbers “¦ but it doesn’t take away the fact that many people die. A lot of people – innocent people, babies, families – we know that. We are aware of that. We try to avoid that. But Hamas is responsible for that.”

Trudeau’s Liberal caucus was divided on the UN vote.

“I think when you take a principled position, it may not satisfy anyone,” Gould said Wednesday as Liberal MPs headed into what was expected to be their last national caucus meeting before they head back to their ridings for the winter holiday break.

“There are very strong emotions on both sides of this conflict, and understandably,” she said. “There have been horrific tragedies both in Israel and in Gaza.”

Liberal MP Anthony Housefather said he was “very disappointed” in Canada’s decision.

“I don’t believe the majority of my constituents support an unconditional call for a ceasefire,” said Housefather, who represents the Montreal riding of Mount Royal.

“It’s my obligation as an individually elected MP to speak out when I think that Canada has abandoned its traditional position at the UN in support of Israel, at a time when Israel is at war.”

He also said he thought the resolution was inconsistent with a joint statement that Trudeau and his counterparts in Australia and New Zealand issued earlier Tuesday.

That statement said Canada continues to support Israel’s right to defend itself, and condemned Hamas for its atrocities.

Many Liberals were insisting Wednesday that the statement was the most robust explanation of Canada’s position and should be considered alongside the vote.

“I think in this debate, we lose a lot of nuance. And it’s important that multiple things can be true at the same time,” said MP Chris Bittle.

While the UN resolution did not specifically name Hamas, Canada supported a U.S. amendment that would have done so. It did not get the two-thirds support it would have needed to pass.

Housing Minister Sean Fraser said Wednesday “it would have been preferred” for that language to be in the main resolution. But the UN is “never going to have the perfect draft that Canada would have drafted,” he said.

“I wish that the world at the UN had supported that amendment,” added Liberal MP Julie Dabrusin. “But we can also say that we want the world to move towards a peace in that region. I think that we can say both.”

Liberal MP Ben Carr said the resolution should have also laid out conditions for a ceasefire, saying it “fell short.”

Asked about the divisions within his caucus, Carr said: “I’m a Liberal, and it’s OK for me to at times question or disagree or ponder the positions on certain issues that my party has taken.”

Addressing MPs and staff at a holiday gathering Tuesday evening, Trudeau acknowledged the war was reverberating across the world and within the party.

Trudeau characterized what he called the “hard, but necessary conversations” happening with the party as a product of its diversity.

Earlier Tuesday, Liberal MP Salma Zahid – who had helped organize an open letter signed by more than 20 other government MPs calling on Canada to press for a ceasefire – welcomed the vote.

In a statement, she thanked fellow MPs who “raised their voices for peace,” as well as thousands who took to the streets in “peaceful protest” to push for a ceasefire.

The UN vote is about “protecting innocent civilians,” Zahid said Wednesday.

The federal Conservatives called for Hamas to surrender unconditionally to Israel and release all hostages, but did not directly address the UN vote when asked for comment on Tuesday.

The NDP’s foreign affairs critic, Heather McPherson, lauded the move and said it was “about time.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 13, 2023.

– With files from Mickey Djuric and Mia Rabson.

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version erroneously reported that government House leader Karina Gould said emotions are strong on both sides of this “problem.”

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