Canadian government, people differ sharply on Middle East

Canadian government, people differ sharply on Middle East

Mohammed Azhar Ali Khan

By Mohammed Azhar Ali Khan
The Middle East is not a hot topic in Canada right now, except for refugees, but Canadians care about the region and their opinions are sharply at odds with those of their government and the media.

A public survey, conducted by EKOS and Associates, shows that:

l Most Canadians view their government as biased toward Israel,

l Far more Canadians view Israeli policies negatively than those who view them positively,

l Canadians reject the notion that criticizing Israel is anti-Semitic, and

l More Canadians view the Canadian media as prejudiced in favor of Israel.

The survey of 1,000 Canadians in January and February of 2017 was commissioned by Independent Jewish Voices, Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East, activist Dimitri Lascaris and journalist Murray Dobbin. IJV and CJPME favor peace on the basis of fairness and equality for the rights of Arabs and Israelis alike.

The survey debunks the claim of the powerful pro-Israeli lobby, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), that it speaks for the Jewish community - 39 percent of Canadian Jews hold a negative view of the Israeli government while 32 percent support it. Forty-eight percent find the Canadian media biased toward Israel while seven percent feel the media favors the Palestinians.

A whopping 93 percent - against seven percent - assert that criticism of Israeli policies does not reflect anti-Semitism.

These findings are no surprise because Canada shows compassion for victims of oppression. It has repeatedly opened its doors to such people, as it is doing right now with Syrians and Yazidis.

Many Canadians used to believe the Israeli lobby’s claim that Israel is the Middle East’s only democracy and it respects human rights but is threatened by hateful neighbors. But as Canadians turn to social media, student groups and human rights champions such as IJV and CJPME, which are mostly Jewish and Christian, they become less influenced by the Israeli lobby, a pro-Israel media and politicians and more concerned with promoting justice and human rights.

So now 46 percent of Canadians have a negative picture of Israel while 28 percent hold a favorable view. Among Liberal party supporters, the ratio is 55 percent to 22, among the Greens 58 percent to five, among Bloc Quebecois 78 percent to 10 and among the National Democratic Party 61 percent to 22. But in the Conservative Party, regarded by some as a bastion of racists and bigots, 58 percent favor Israel and 21 percent oppose its policies.

Overall, 61 percent of Canadians believe their government is pro-Israel while 16 percent feel it favors Palestinians.

It is on the policy of boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel to prod it to end its occupation of Palestinian lands that the people differ most from their government. While the Liberal government and the Conservative and New Democrat parties strongly oppose BDS, the poll shows that 91 percent of Canadians declare that sanctions are a reasonable way for Canada to censure countries that violate international law and human rights. Sixty-six percent of Canadians believe that sanctions on Israel are reasonable while 78 percent of Canadians believe that the Palestinians’ call for a boycott of Israel is reasonable.

In keeping with their reputation as supporters of human rights, 57 percent of religious Jews and 82 percent of all Jews consider the Palestinians’ call for a boycott of Israel to be reasonable. Church groups, student groups, universities and human rights groups have backed the BDS.
The boycott, divestment and sanctions policy was initiated in 2005 by 170 Palestinian civil rights organizations to pressure Israel “until it complies with international law and universal principles of human rights.”

BDS is modeled on the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa. BDS also works closely with the Israeli Apartheid Week, which is arranged every year at universities and also features rallies to present a view of the situation in occupied territories and discrimination within Israel against Israeli Arabs. It started in Toronto in 2005 and has now spread to all the continents. It will be held throughout Canada this month.

The opponents of BDS say it represents a veiled form of anti-Semitism. The Canadian Parliament and the Ontario Legislature have passed motions condemning it for promoting “the demonization and delegitimization of the State of Israel.” Parliament also condemned attempts by Canadians to promote it at home and abroad.

Western governments pay lip service to a just settlement but most such regimes overlook Israel’s ongoing occupation of Palestinian land and its violations of international law and UN resolutions. They are quite content to let Israel violate Palestinians’ rights and UN resolutions. The US provides billions in military and economic assistance that makes Israeli actions possible.

In Canada, at least, organizations led by Jews and Christians are sending the message that human rights should not be used by politicians to win votes but should apply equally to all people to bring about justice, peace and security throughout the world.

Mohammed Azhar Ali Khan is a retired Canadian journalist, civil servant and refugee judge.