(Times of Israel) The election of Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau as prime minister represents the first change in Canadian government since Stephen Harper and his Conservatives assumed power in 2006.
What is unlikely to change, however, is Ottawa’s robust support for Israel — a policy cemented under Harper, whose forceful backing of the Jewish state earned him a reputation as one of world’s most pro-Israel political leaders.
When it comes to core Jewish issues, Trudeau has said all the right things since assuming the Liberal leadership in 2013. He continued to do so throughout the 78-day election campaign, which ended Monday with his center-left party’s crushing defeat of the Conservatives.
Though some are lamenting the loss of such a reliable defender of Israel, Trudeau has, like his predecessor, stressed that Canada will remain a strong friend of Israel. In a statement earlier this year, he praised the two countries’ “enduring bond of friendship, rooted in our shared commitment to peace and democracy.” And during the Israel-Gaza conflict last summer, he called Hamas “a terrorist organization” and upheld Israel’s right to defend itself. He has also criticized efforts by the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement to pressure Israel.
But there is likely to be a significant shift in tone away from the often strident and polemical style of Harper’s Conservatives. Harper’s harsh rhetoric toward Hezbollah, his condemnation of Hamas during the Israel-Gaza conflict last year and his consistently tough stance on Iran — it led to the severing of diplomatic relations in 2012 — endeared him to many in Canada’s 300,000-member Jewish community. Trudeau, at the very least, promises a softer strategy.
“Under the Harper government, what we were hearing was a regurgitation of Likud policies and a support for a hard-right Likud government,” said Bernie Farber, a former CEO of the Canadian Jewish Congress and a failed Liberal candidate in the 2011 Ontario provincial election. “What we’re going to see is a more balanced, a more thoughtful, approach toward [Israel].”
In a foreign policy debate last month, Trudeau accused Harper of using Israel as a “domestic political football,” insisting that “all three of us” — Thomas Mulcair of the New Democratic Party was the third candidate in the race — “support Israel and any Canadian government will.”
“I think we’ve been very clear that many things are going to change in this new government, but Canada’s support for Israel is not going to be one of them,” said Michael Levitt, a Liberal parliamentarian and founding member of the Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee.
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