Trudeau Needs to Be Friend to Justice, not ‘Steadfast Friend’ to Israel

Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. (Author: Justin Trudeau's office, via Wikimedia Commons)

By Paul Salvatori  

I can’t remember the last time Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke publicly when he directly addressed Palestinians. He did so today this week, not long after the violent Israeli first raid of the Al-Aqsa Mosque (there’s been a second time of writing). The forces brutally beat numerous Palestinian worshippers.

It was embarrassing, as a Canadian, hearing Trudeau. Instead of properly condemning Israel for the violence, especially during Ramadan—a sacred time of the Muslim year—he merely expressed concern (minus the indignation appropriate to Israeli’s behavior) over the raid.

As the video shows, he at no point condemned Israel. He was sure however to condemn the rocket attacks fired by Palestinians in Gaza, in response to the Israeli raid. What’s more, he did so without providing a morsel of historical context. 

This, specifically, is important since in the absence of this, Trudeau, like many other Western leaders, contributes to and reinforces the misleading (racist) narrative that when Palestinians exercise force they are again giving in to their “irrational” impulses, including a hostile antisemitism that—not only is opposed to peace—but averse to a more “rational” and “civilized” Israel. 

At no point did Trudeau mention, much less substantively connect, Palestinian aggression with the routine and ongoing violence by Israel against Palestinians—from harassment and torture to extrajudicial killings and housing demolitions—part of the larger settler-colonial project the state has been for decades undertaking to eliminate the Palestinian people.

Deeply troublesome is that even after being somewhat critical of Israel in its leaning towards right-wing fascism, given its leadership that has more respect for racist Israeli ultranationalism than the rule of law, Trudeau still assured Israel—though not Palestine—that Canada is its “steadfast friend.”

This was part of his making clear that such criticism, as it were, was coming mainly from a place of benevolence or care for the overall well-being of Israel. It recalls the family patriarch who, whatever ire he might experience at the moment, chides a wayward son because he ultimately wants him to succeed, do well, and not have to punish or discipline. After all, a father loves his son, no matter how much havoc he wreaks on others. 

But why after all these years of Israeli injustices against the Palestinian people does Trudeau, among many other Canadian Prime Ministers, mimic this affection? Why does he, in word and deed, remain partial to a state devastating innocent Palestinians and then lying about it—calling the devastation “security measures” against terrorism? 

No credible and impartial human rights body—from the United Nations to Amnesty International to Human Rights Watch—corroborates that. In fact they all, through countless fact-based resolutions, studies, reports, etc. show the opposite: Israel routinely commits terrorism against the Palestinian people, and powerful Western entities, including Canada, are facilitating it such as by failing to sanction Israel, let alone making military resources or aid available to it. 

If we’re to be charitable we might assume that Trudeau who, in mildly criticizing Israel without outright condemning it, has “good intentions”, believing (wrongly) there’s a longstanding “war” or “battle” between Israel and Palestine that—for the sake of peace and greater harmony in the world—must end. It’s how I imagine much of the public, given the way mainstream news presents Israel and Palestine, unfortunately still thinks. Though the analogy might be crude it parallels how one might view a boxing fight where contenders are equally matched, though the audience doesn’t want to see either fully decimated before the fight itself is over.             

It’d be at best naive to think this accurately captures Trudeau. He is a head of state, on good terms with Israel. It’s a powerful position that allows him to know well what’s actually happening in Palestine. That likely includes unpublished intel that speaks to how much worse it is, on account of Israeli violence, than most of us know. 

Likewise, I don’t think Trudeau, similar to other heads of state, is trying to simply be “even-handed” or “diplomatic” with respect to Israeli-Palestinian relations. They’ve rather taken the side of Israel and firmly so. By itself, this does not entail they consciously desire the total erasure of Palestine. They are however supporting it by not condemning Israel, not sanctioning it, not disciplining it in any legally and morally responsible way that’s reflective of genuine care for the Palestinian people—as human beings. 

If anything Trudeau fears Israel, being labeled or called an “antisemite” for doing the right thing: siding with Palestine, as well as their allies (of all ethnicities, religious faiths, etc.), against Israeli-led and sanctioned violence. Had he more courage he’d been able to overcome this fear while also slamming those who continue to equate not taking Israel’s side with Jewish hatred. It’s how anti-Palestinian racists get their way, making it easier for Israel to carry out crimes against the Palestinian people with impunity. 

This often occurs alongside actual antisemitism where Israeli ideologues taunt and abuse fellow Jewish brothers and sisters as “self-hating”, for opposing Israel’s attempt to justify its criminality in the name of Judaism. Such racism the likes of Trudeau never criticize. To do so would, like criticizing anti-Palestinian racism perpetrated by Israeli ideologues, threaten their political careers. By the same token siding with Israel means allowing real racism, be it against Palestinians or Jews, to go unaddressed.   

Any justice for the Palestinian people under Trudeau’s government won’t be because of but despite him: the culmination of fellow Canadians, in solidarity with Palestinians and others internationally, working together to achieve that end. The only thing we can expect from Trudeau is for him to push back against that along the way.  

If that’s ever to change, Trudeau must first be a friend to justice, truth and humanity than a “steadfast” one to Israel. 

– Paul Salvatori is a Toronto-based journalist, community worker and artist. Much of his work on Palestine involves public education, such as through his recently created interview series, “Palestine in Perspective” (The Dark Room Podcast), where he speaks with writers, scholars and activists. He contributed this article to The Palestine Chronicle.

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