By Ian Williams (MEI)
In January, Canada stopped contributing to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). It is the latest in a series of decisions that have seen Ottawa ‘out-Israeling’ Washington. It had previously stopped funding KAIROS (Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiatives), an NGO that had been supporting human rights groups in Israel and the Occupied Territories. In each case, the government of Stephen Harper seemed to be responding to, or rather pandering to, rabidly pro-Israeli Jewish groups in Canada. Israel itself has certainly never encouraged an end to the funding of UNRWA, an institution that for decades has, in effect, been paying some of the bills for the occupation.
Although camouflaged internationally by a similar drift in British and Australian policy, Ottawa has moved far from its own earlier positions, and possibly farther than either London or Canberra. Indeed, the Obama administration’s muted criticisms of Israeli policy sound relatively ferocious compared with Canada’s gestures towards the administration of Binyamin Netanyahu.
Once upon a time, Canada was a paragon of international virtue: supportive of the UN and happily putting distance between itself and its southern neighbour on the Middle East. Then came Stephen Harper. Ottawa did not join the Iraq war, but that was more a function of strong Canadian public opinion and Harper’s parlous electoral position than any considered choice.