Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, December 2000, Pages 48, 77, 78

Canada Calling

Canada’s Support of U.N. Security Council Resolution Draws Mixed Reaction From Politicians

By Faisal Kutty

On Oct. 7, the Canadian government supported the Malaysian-sponsored United Nations Security Council Resolution 1322, which called on Israel to use restraint in dealing with Palestinian protesters. The resolution pushed forward by several European countries also called for an international inquiry into the cause of the violence. The Americans agreed to abstain rather than veto in exchange for certain amendments, and the council passed the watered-down resolution 14 to 0.

Canada’s 400,000-strong Jewish community has come out against Ottawa’s support of the Security Council resolution. Moshe Ronen, president of the Canadian Jewish Congress, told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) that the Liberals should reconsider their position if they want to keep the Jewish vote. Some members of the Jewish community, in fact, are threatening to vote for the official opposition Canadian Alliance Party in the upcoming November elections announced on Oct. 22.

Canadian Alliance Party leader Stockwell Day quickly fell from the graces of the country’s Muslim and Arab communities when he openly joined the pro-Israel camp by criticizing the government’s support of the U.N. resolution. Day and his foreign affairs critic, Monte Solberg, issued the following statement opposing the Canadian government position:

“I am disappointed that the Chretien government appears to be openly taking sides in this crisis by passing Resolution 1322,” said Day. “The resolution is clearly slanted with an anti-Israeli bias. I am not sure we will further the cause of peace if we as a nation join in the finger pointing, rather than working with both sides cooperatively.”

Day, whose party stands on a platform of religion and family values, enjoyed strong support from Canada’s Muslim community for his social conservative views on abortion, homosexuality and support for equally funded private schools. The response from Canada’s fast-growing Muslim community was unprecedented. Indeed, a number of people who never before had given any thought to politics joined the newly formed party. As had no other Canadian politician before him, Day was able to garner a great deal of support from Canadian Muslims, who actively worked to recruit members and candidates to run on the Alliance ticket in the upcoming elections. Day was seen as a hero, a knight in shining armor to those disillusioned with other political parties.

Shortly after Day made his support for Israel public, however, that support quickly deteriorated.

The decision to support Israel was a serious miscalculation on the part of Day and his advisers, for their attempt to win Canada’s Jewish vote in Canada will cost the party in the long run. Reports estimate the size of the country’s Jewish community at around 400,000 to 450,000. This compares to some 550,000 Muslims and 150,000 Arab Christians, according to Canadian Arab Federation estimates.

Moreover, Day seems not to have considered the fact that Canadian Jews, who have established roots in other political parties, are not likely to abandon these roots and move en masse to support the Alliance. Canadian Muslims, on the other hand, who are eager to join the political process and are growing at a much faster rate than the Jewish community, were beginning to feel welcome and comfortable with the Alliance. Day and his advisers failed to appreciate that the issue of Jerusalem and the plight of the Palestinians would unite both Muslims and the Christian Arab population at the polls.

A number of Muslim community leaders held an hour-long conference call with Day and the Canadian Alliance following his remarks. Day reportedly agreed to consult with Muslims before making future policy decisions affecting Muslims, and to work not only for peace in the Middle East, but for peace with justice.

Not only did Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy and the ruling Liberal Party come under attack for their Security Council vote from Canada’s pro-Israel lobby. They also were on the receiving end of strong criticism by one of their own: Jewish Liberal Member of Parliament (MP) Irwin Cotler, a strong supporter of Israel.

Cotler, a professor of human rights laws and a leading figure in the field of international human rights law, echoed Day when he broke with his own party. “This kind of resolution, which singled out Israel for discriminatory and differential treatment and appeared to exonerate the Palestinians for their violence,” the MP said, “ would tend to encourage those who violently oppose the peace process as well as those who still seek the destruction of Israel.”

Not surprisingly, Day and Cotler were joined in their chorus by the pro-Israel lobby mouthpiece, the National Post. Owned by media barons Conrad Black and Israel Asper, the Post has run article after article criticizing Canadian support of the resolution. An Oct. 13 piece titled, “Is the Jewish love affair with Liberals over?” warned Axworthy to ease up on Israel or risk losing Jewish support. In that day’s editorial titled “Support Israel,” the Post said, “It is not too late for Lloyd Axworthy, the minister of foreign affairs, to rewrite the final chapter of his career before he retires...If the U.N. does not amend its anti-Israel resolution, Canada must rescind its vote.”

Not all Canadian politicians buy the pro-Israel lobby position, however. New Democratic Party foreign critic Svend Robinson issued a statement supporting the government stand and calling on Ottawa to insist on an international inquiry into the situation, as called for in the Security Council resolution as well as by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

Moreover, five Liberal MPs—Mark Assad, Yvon Charbonneau, Sarkis Assadourian, Colleen Beaumier and Joe Fontana—issued a joint statement against Cotler’s condemnation of Canada’s vote. And a sixth MP, Jim Karygiannis, who addressed more than 3,000 pro-Palestinian demonstrators in front of the Israeli consulate in downtown Toronto Oct. 15, said that “Cotler should go and see what is happening before commenting. He should not speak before having all the facts.”

Hundreds Attend Toronto Fund-Raiser for Palestinians

A fund-raising dinner in Toronto on Oct. 22 organized by the Jerusalem Fund for Human Services (JFHS) raised more than $175,000 for relief and development pro jects in Palestine. The standing-room-only event was co-sponsored by the city’s large Muslim groups and held at the International Muslims Organization (IMO). The event attracted close to 1,500 people.

Imam Faisal Abu Jihad warmed up the crowd by reminding the audience that they were gathered for the serious cause of helping their brothers and sisters in Palestine.

One of the evening’s two scheduled keynote speakers, Dr. Jamal Badawi, was unable to attend. The other, Dr. Muneer El-Kasim, a London, Ontario-based dentist and community leader, delivered a powerful message to the highly charged crowd. Saying he was happy to observe the sea of multi-ethnic faces before him, he told the audience that for too long Muslims have thought through the prism of ethnicity. Contrary to what supporters of Israel would have people believe, he said, the issue of Jerusalem is not a regional conflict of concern only to Palestinians, but rather an issue of utmost importance to the entire Muslim world.

Dr. Kasim provided in the way of context a brief historical overview of the situation in Palestine. He told the crowd that Ariel Sharon’s visit was a provocation calculated to elicit a reaction from the masses which Israel could use to justify and unleash its ferocity. However, he reminded the crowd, the Qur’an teaches that men can plot all they want—but God is the best plotter.

Dr. Kasim also attacked biased media coverage of the crisis. “The media hide the name of Al Aqsa,” he charged. “They call it the Temple Mount. But let them know that their attempts will not work, as the place was named by none other than Allah,” he said.

“The defense of Masjid Al Aqsa is not only the responsibility of the Palestinian children,” Dr. Kasim said. “It is also our responsibility. We cannot simply sit in our comfortable chairs here and do nothing.”

Then commenced the evening’s business—raising funds for Palestinians under Israeli attack. The first donation was a check for $10,000 from Canada’s largest Muslim charity, Human Concern International. It was clear that most of the people had come prepared to give, and the donations began to pour in.“People appear to be seriously moved,” said Abdul Latiff, a computer programmer. “These are the same people who give for all our causes—mosques, schools, relief, etc. So considering donor fatigue,” he observed, “the reaction is phenomenal.”

At one point, many in the audience were brought to tears when a man anonymously offered to give up his only mode of transportation, a used car which he had purchased just a week before. The keys were returned to him after someone bid $2,000 for the vehicle and asked that it be returned to him.

The spirit of sacrifice was clearly in the air. Even children got into it. A 13-year-old boy donated his watch, while another walked up to Dr. Kasim and emotionally offered his coat for auction. Someone bid $1,000 on the jacket and gave it back to the 8-year-old boy. Another boy, representing the Islamic Society of North American school in Toronto, presented a check for $5,000 raised by the students in the name of Mohammed al-Durra, the little boy who was shot by Israeli soldiers while his father tried to protect him.

Visiting from Florida, Dr. Zulfiqar Ali Shah, vice president of the Islamic Circle of North America, assisted Dr. Kasim with the fund-raising. Dr. Shah spoke eloquently of how the blood of Palestine’s youth must wake up Muslims, and that Muslims must come together to liberate Jerusalem. He told the crowd of how the Jewish community in one American city shed tears and raised millions of dollars from a few hundred people to help the families of the two Israeli soldiers lynched in Ramallah a few weeks ago. “How is it that the Jewish community feels so much pain for the loss of two soldiers,” he asked, “while we are not moved by the death of hundreds?”

The funds raised at the event will be channeled to Palestine through the JFHS. “The objective of the Jerusalem Fund is to help the needy all over the world,” says its executive director, Abu Bassem. “We have projects in Iraq, Kosovo, Turkey and Lebanon, but our focus is on Palestine.”

Since its official inception in 1991, the charity based in Mississauga, just outside Toronto, has raised an average of $350,000 to $400,000 annually. Abu Basem told Islam Online that the organization’s goal this year is to raise $700,000. Those wishing to contribute may e-mail <[email protected]>, write JFHS, P.O. Box 1628, Station “B”, Mississauga, Ontario, L4Y 4G3, or phone (905) 897-8772.

Faisal Kutty is a Toronto-based lawyer and columnist for iViews.com.