UN votes deepen Canada’s pro-Israel shift under Harper

:: The Globe and Mail

Canada has shifted its position on Middle East votes at the United Nations, taking a firmly pro-Israel stand on almost every question ranging from settlements to Palestinian refugees.

The changes place Canada in a small club of Israel’s most staunch allies at the UN. On several resolutions Thursday, Ottawa voted as part of a tiny minority of seven countries, alongside Israel itself, the United States, and four small South Pacific island nations closely allied to Washington – Palau, Micronesia, the Marshall Islands and Nauru.

That fits with the pro-Israel policies adopted by Stephen Harper’s Conservative government, but they change Canada’s historical stand. On Thursday, Canada voted against a resolution blasting Israel for allowing settlements in East Jerusalem and the Golan; it had voted for similar resolutions in previous years.

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird described the voting shift as a kind of objection to “the sheer number of United Nations resolutions critical solely of Israel.”

“As a package, the resolutions are unbalanced, lack references to terrorist activities carried out by Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and others against Israel and are, thus, ultimately unhelpful to the cause of a lasting, negotiated peace,” he said in the statement. “Rockets rain down on Israeli schools without condemnation in these resolutions.”

The nine votes, in a committee of the United Nations General Assembly, are among dozens of votes on Middle East held every year at the UN.

Before Thursday, Canada had gradually shifted its position on such votes starting with the government of former prime minister Paul Martin, who complained that the UN spent to much time on resolutions criticizing Israel. Mr. Harper has taken that shift further.

In the latest votes, Canada moved to a position of standing with Israel on every vote except two that were opposed only by Israel. Canada, and 10 other countries, abstained on those resolutions.

It is likely re-open a debate between those who argue Canada is now taking sides in the Middle East, and dropping previous objections to Israeli actions like allowing the building of settlements, and those, like the Harper government, who say it is standing up to “demonization” of Israel.

A major Jewish-Canadian organization, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, immediately hailed the voting shifts.

“Canada’s principled stand in opposing a number of unbalanced resolutions that portray Israel as the root cause of the conflict represents an example that should be followed by all countries committed to peace in the region,” the organization’s chief executive officer, Shimon Fogel, said in a statement.