December 2010, Pages 30-31

United Nations Report

Canada Loses Bid for Security Council Seat Due to Recent Unqualified Support of Israel

By Ian Williams

"My country right or wrong" has always been a very dubiously patriotic phrase. True patriots try to correct their country when it is wrong. In Canada, as in the U.S., there is a vociferous and powerful group that believes in an even more dubious proposition: "Someone else's country right or wrong."

For those who worry about impunity, it is some small comfort that there is indeed a price to pay for defending lawlessness. In elections for the rotating two-year seats on the U.N. Security Council, Portugal defeated Canada by 113 votes to 78. This should serve as a wake-up call for the Canadian electorate, since feedback from U.N. diplomats confirms that Canada's defeat was in large part due to Ottawa's recent unqualified support for Israeli policies and actions. Sadly, the defeat is unlikely to alter the pro-Israel course set by Stephen Harper and his Conservative government in Ottawa.

Since the U.N.'s foundation Canada, along with a few other countries like Sweden, has been the very model of a modern U.N. member, and had been almost automatically elected to any position in the organization, based on its demonstrably principled international positions.

In times past, Ottawa had defied its giant neighbor to the south to establish relations with China, and later maintained trade, travel and diplomatic links with Cuba. Pre-Harper Canada supported such important pillars of international law as the international tribunals in Yugoslavia and Rwanda and the International Criminal Court, and pioneered the articulation of the Responsibility to Protect, which established principles for genuine humanitarian intervention that avoided acting as a cover for aggression. It led such important campaigns as the ban on land mines.

Then Harper and the new breed of Canadian conservatives began by emulating Bush at almost every level, and in some ways went further. Canada showed hostility to Russia and China—more, it would seem, out of old habits than any deep concern for human rights, since Ottawa developed an American-style expediency on that subject. Its troops in Afghanistan handed prisoners over to the CIA and its officials did nothing at all about Canadian citizens kidnapped in New York and sent for torture in the Middle East or held in Guantanamo.

The Canadian government has continued to act as if Israel can do no wrong.

Even now, with Bush gone—and at a time when, if one were to believe the conservative squawks here and in Israel, the Obama administration is being pro-Muslim, anti-Semitic and vicious toward Israel—the Canadian government has continued to act as if Israel can do no wrong. Nor are we talking about the spineless abstentions and hemming and hawing from Britain and other European states, which dislike Israeli behavior but always find an invertebrate excuse to abstain on any votes criticizing it.

No, Canada recently has opposed unabashedly any scrutiny whatsoever for Israeli actions, as when it voted against whether the U.N. Human Rights Council should even consider Operation Cast Lead. While Canada's official Middle East policy as expressed on its Foreign Ministry Web site has not changed, executive decisions have profoundly changed its application. The government has withdrawn contributions to UNRWA, which feeds and educates Palestinian refugees, and de-funded grants to NGOs that investigate Israeli human rights abuses. And whatever one thinks of the principle, what government with any sense of diplomatic realities signs a trade agreement with Israel days before asking for nonaligned, Arab and Muslim votes to win a Security Council seat?

In the spirit of blaming the weather forecaster for rain, Harper's government blamed the defeat on opposition leader Michael Ignatieff, who already had suggested that overall government foreign policy would cost the seat. He later discounted the Middle East issue's significance in the loss. However, faced with a reactionary, vicious, neocon-inclined Canadian Israel lobby, there is little opposition even from the Canadian opposition to the proposition that Israel is always right.

It is true that there were more issues than the Middle East involved. The Harper government, in power since February 2006, had reversed 60 years of Canadian practice. The country that almost invented peacekeeping stopped contributing blue helmets. The inherent isolationism of many conservatives was also reflected in the retrenchment of foreign missions and foreign aid, particularly in Africa.

Indeed, some Canadian diplomats suggest quietly that Harper and Co. scarcely noticed until the last moment that the long-standing Security Council candidacy was coming up, and did little or nothing to prepare for it—and even then seemed insouciant of how conservative policies have tarnished the country's once golden reputation.

Portuguese diplomats, incidentally, cultivate the developing countries quite assiduously, but on the quiet they also pull strings in Washington based on an incident they wisely do not advertise elsewhere. At a time when most NATO countries refused overflights for American resupply planes to Israel in 1973, Lisbon made the Azores available as a staging post. However, while Lisbon maintains cordial relations with Israel, it has not abandoned the core principles of international law on the issue.

The election is interesting on a general level, since many of the countries proposed for additional permanent seats on the Council will now all be there as elected members. India and South Africa were elected unopposed this year, to join already sitting Brazil and Nigeria among putative permanent members. Germany, another would-be permanent, won a contested election.

Ironically, Ottawa's defeat vindicates a long-standing Canadian proposition: that no additional permanent Security Council seats should be created, but that more elected ones be added, with the option for renewable terms. It certainly makes more sense than doubling the injustice of the existing five permanent seats and, in fact, has been adopted and propounded as an interim solution by the British and French—although their support is tainted by a hint of expedient procrastination to postpone any questioning of their own permanent status.

Canada's proposal was genuinely intended for the good of the organization. Maybe Ottawa's defeat this time will send a message to other aspirant powers about the need to listen to others.

Indeed, it might well send a message to the cause of Canada's downfall, the country that Harper loves so well if not so wisely. Israel announced in 2005 that it intended to seek a Security Council seat under the Western European and Others Group (WEOG) in 2018. It is true that other states (e.g., India with Kashmir, Morocco with Western Sahara, and Indonesia with East Timor) have won temporary seats on the Council unaffected by defiance of its resolutions.

But Israel is even less likely to have success than Canada. WEOG is one of the few groups that has contested elections, in which the entire U.N. membership votes. If one considers the votes in the General Assembly as a running opinion poll, prospects do not look good for the self-proclaimed Jewish State. And they look even worse since Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman's speech at the General Assembly expressing his hopes for an Arab-free Israel.

Long-time Israeli envoy Abba Eban could once count on applause and votes in the General Assembly, although even he by the end was complaining that, "If Algeria introduced a resolution declaring that the earth was flat and that Israel had flattened it, it would pass by a vote of 164 to 13 with 26 abstentions."

Dependencies and Abstentions

Since then, on crucial issues those 13 votes have evaporated, leaving the U.S., Israel and a couple of pocket handkerchief U.S. semi-dependencies in the Pacific as the only supportive votes, although the number of abstentions has grown as the European Union sits on the fence. Those EU abstentions are more a concession to U.S. pressure than a ringing endorsement of Israeli stances. Caught for some years between Blair and the Eastern "New Europe," the EU did what it does naturally—it abstained. But if so many of them preferred, as they obviously did, insider Portugal to outsider Canada, that does not bode well for Israel's chances.

Several American Jewish organizations regularly bombard their mailing lists with fund-raising letters alleging United Nations discrimination against Israel, and bemoaning in particular that it cannot be elected to the Security Council—but the underlying message is always, "send donations to keep our organization going."

There is a process of convergence as well. Five years ago, in announcing Israel's pending bid for a Security Council Seat, Ambassador Dan Gillerman also became the first Israeli vice president of the General Assembly. Israel began to take part in the work of the organization in a regular way, instead of merely using it as an arena on the Middle East issue. Increasingly, Israelis are getting jobs at the United Nations.

So what does the U.N. offer Israel? In the end, Israel has no accepted title to territories whether occupied or disputed until the United Nation says so. Indonesia, even though it had cross-cutting implicit support from the non-aligned, Islamic and Western states for its occupation of East Timor, never secured legal title, and that led to independence. Nor does Morocco, with similar support, have international recognition for its occupation of Western Sahara, even if that does not necessarily entail recognition for the Polisario.

The recent tourism meeting in Jerusalem of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which admitted Israel as a member in May, raised the issues. None of the OECD delegations would go to East Jerusalem, despite Israeli annexation and bluster about the indivisible capital. In fact, under international law Israel does not even own West Jerusalem, since the whole city was designated an internationally administered zone under the original 1947 partition resolution. It is difficult to resist the conclusion that Israel somehow pulled a fast one on the OECD membership by getting the conference scheduled there anyway. After all, not one country has an embassy in the city precisely because of the unrescinded U.N. decision.

It is interesting that the deal President Barack Obama allegedly offered Binyamin Netanyahu for a settlement pause included a U.S. veto on behalf of Israel. In reality, it should be noted, that implies a threat. Israel has had an automatic veto for three U.S. administrations. The Obama offer implies that the automatic support could stop—which could cause ripples. The president does not need to go to Congress for permission, and it could send a serious signal to Israeli voters about how far their government can take American support for granted. For years Israeli governments have dismissed General Assembly resolutions as non-binding (despite the fact that the partition resolution was passed by the General Assembly). They might have disputed the interpretation of Security Council resolutions, but not their power. It will be interesting to watch.

This reporter, however, would rather invest in pre-used derivatives on sub-prime mortgages than bet on Israel making the Security Council in 2018—unless it first agrees to a peace as outlined by the Quartet, the Arab League, the U.N. and the rest of the world!

Ian Williams is a free-lance journalist based at the United Nations and has a blog at <>.