UPDATED: Canada on defensive at UN, arms export double standards, new targets for Trump wrecking ball and more


Our June 5 blog post highlighted the positive impact of an Open Letter from former diplomats and ministers calling on Canada to speak out against the Israeli plan for the unilateral annexation of the West Bank contrary to the most fundamental tenets of international law. Now we can report the Open Letter appears to be a hot topic for ambassadors at UN headquarters in New York, in these final days before the 17 June vote for the 2021-22 non-permanent Security Council seats.

Peter Larson, head of the Ottawa Forum on Israeli/Palestine (OFIP) and the writer behind the weekly newsletter Canada Talks Israel Palestine, comments:

In what appears to be a last minute attempt to save Canada’s bid for a UN Security Council seat, Marc-Andre Blanchard, Canada’s Ambassador to the UN has sent a letter to (all?) other UN Ambassadors defending Canada’s position with respect to Israel/Palestine…. In his letter, Blanchard responds to a “letter from a group of Canadians” criticizing Canada’s position.

 Ambassador Blanchard expresses Canada’s concern thatthe letter contains significant inaccuracies and mischaracterizes Canada’s longstanding policy positions”, yet he fails to point out what these errors might be.

In fairness, Blanchard may not be referring to our letter — from 58 former Canadian diplomats — since there are at least three others also in play:

Needless to say, the failure to identify the authors of the letter to which he objects suggests the Ambassador was perhaps trying to cover all bases in his response.

Ambassador Blanchard goes on to outline official Canadian policy with respect to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory, including:

Canada views any unilateral annexation of parts of the West Bank as contrary to international law. Canada has expressed deep concern and disagreement with the proposed policy of annexation and raised the issue publicly. Canada will continue to oppose any unilateral action by either party.

In accordance with international law, Canada does not recognize permanent Israeli control over the Golan Heights. Canada considers the status of Jerusalem can only be resolved as part of a final peace agreement, and does not recognize Israel’s unilateral annexation of East Jerusalem.

While this is gratifying to read, and fully accords with Canada’s stated policy, that is not where the problem lies. As Peter Larson’s blog outlines in painful detail, the problem is our real policy (the one we apply on a daily basis), which is to continue to carry on “business as normal” with Israel, including:

  • minimizing any criticism of Israeli human rights abuses in the Occupied Territories,
  • conducting bilateral ministerial delegations,
  • maintaining a free trade agreement,
  • defending Israel against prosecution for crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court,
  • averting our eyes in the face of new illegal settlement construction on Palestinian land,
  • ignoring human rights violations against Palestinian citizens of Israel,
  • remaining silent on the issue of child prisoners held by Israel, and
  • refusing to condemn Israel’s repeated savage attacks against Gaza.

For the full article by Peter Larson, see: Canada’s ambassador to UN throws “Hail Mary” pass to save UNSC bid. Will he score a touchdown? (Peter Larson, canadatalksisraelpalestine.ca, June 2020). For the full text of Ambassador Bouchard’s letter to UN Ambassadors, click here.

A Canadian press (CP) article identifies the “group of Canadians” referenced by Ambassador Blanchard as the pro-Palestinian group, the Just Peace Advocates. According to the article:

The group includes 100 organizations and dozens of prominent individuals, including American philosopher Noam Chomsky, Pink Floyd co-founder Roger Waters and Canadian musician Bruce Cockburn.

The CP article states that UN Ambassadors have also received thousands of letters from youth activists and climate scientists, including Greta Thunberg, the latter decrying both Canada and its Security Council election competitor, Norway, for continued “oil and gas exploration at a time when fossil fuels are heating up the earth and speeding climate change.”

For the full article, see: Canada rebuts UN Security Council critics, as Champagne to NYC for final push (Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press, in nationalnewswatch.com, 12 June 2020).

Israeli lobby group in Canada, B’nai Brith, denounces anti-annexation Open Letter

The Open Letter, having led to a public condemnation of Israeli annexation plans by Prime Minister Trudeau (as we reported in an update to our 5 June blog post), in turn has occasioned a scurrilous attack by the powerful Israeli lobby in Canada, B’nai Brith, labelling the letter “hypocritical, biased and prejudiced against Israel”. Mr. Mostyn, Executive Director of B’nai Brith, then presented the central Israeli falsehood:

The status of the territories in question is a subject of major debate in international law, and Israel’s claims are no less legitimate than anyone else’s…. [emphasis added]

In fact, there is no such “debate” in international law. To cite one of a legion of international legal opinions on the matter, from Michael Lynk, Professor of Law at Western University and UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territories:

The Palestinian territory is occupied by Israel. This is one of the most well-accepted legal facts in the modern world. A territory that comes under the control of another country through war is considered to be occupied, whether the conflict was a defensive war or a war of aggression. The United Nations Security Council has repeatedly reaffirmed this, most recently in December 2016 (UNSC Resolution 2334).

For the full article, see: B’nai Brith attacks 50 former Canadian diplomats as “hypocritical, prejudiced and biased” against Israel (Peter Larson, canadatalksisraelpalestine.ca, June 2020).

See also the article by former Canadian Ambassador Ferry de Kerckhove entitled The international community must not remain silent on Israeli annexation of the West Bank (peacediplomacy.org, 11 June 2020):

This plan is no longer a settlement policy, long deemed illegal by the international community. Instead, it is simply a massive territorial takeover based on a plan, which neither has international legitimacy nor legality, based on the countless, albeit ineffective United Nations resolutions on the Middle East Peace Process.

Whither Canada?

As a concrete and tangible gesture of Canadian bona fides before the historic UN Security Council election, we call on the Government of Canada to immediately nullify all sections of the Canada-Israel Free Trade Agreement that do not accord with international law.

REMINDER: virtual panel discussion: Canada’s Bid for the UN Security Council (Webinar)

To hear how the Israel/Palestine issue might impact Canada’s UN Security Council bid, tune in for a great virtual discussion featuring RI President Peggy Mason and Royal Military College Professor Adam Chapnick on Monday, 15 June at 6 – 7:15 pm EST.


A story in Monday’s Globe and Mail (paywalled) highlights continued hypocrisy and double standards in Canada’s arms export policy with tight restrictions on NATO ally, Turkey, and a green light for Saudi-destined weapons.

Astoundingly, Canada justifies its actions with respect to Turkey as “matching” what Canadian allies are doing, while completely ignoring the brakes that most of those same allies have put on their arms trade with Saudi Arabia. Belgium, for example, even bans the export of gun turrets to Canada because they are then incorporated into Canadian-made LAV’s destined for Saudi Arabia.

Political scientist Bessma Momami tells the Globe and Mail that the different export controls for Turkey and Saudi Arabia “look like a double standard to her”. In the University of Waterloo professor’s view:

They’re trying to curry favour with the Saudis by keeping as much of those bilateral economic ties open and flourishing as much as possible.

RI President Peggy Mason is also quoted as questioning whether Canada applies a consistent international standard when considering individual arms export requests:

It’s hard not to look at it as if they determine what [trade] outcome they want and then they reverse-engineer [an export permit] decision to accord with that.

For the full Globe and Mail article, click: Canada accused of double standards by restricting arms exports to Turks but not Saudis (Steven Chase, globeandmail.com, 15 June 2020).


White House Executive Order even targets the families of ICC officials

The Trump administration has launched an economic and legal offensive on the International Criminal Court in response to the court’s decision to open an investigation into war crimes in Afghanistan carried out by all sides, including the US.

According to an 11 June article in the UK Guardian, the US says it will not just sanction ICC officials involved in the investigation of alleged war crimes by the US and its allies, but will also impose visa restrictions on the families of those officials. Additionally, the administration declared that it was launching a “counter-investigation into the ICC, for alleged corruption”.

The ICC was set up in 2002 as a permanent court to prosecute individuals for war crimes and crimes against humanity, previously only undertaken by ad hoc tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. Over 120 countries, including Washington’s closest allies in Europe, are party to the Rome statute, the founding document of the ICC. One important point to always note is that the ICC is not meant to replace national courts, but to step in as a “last resort” when those bodies are unwilling or unable to bring alleged perpetrators to justice.

Peggy Mason, RI President and part of the Canadian NGO coalition led by the World Federalist Movement – Canada (WFM-C) in support of the ICC, was blunt in her assessment of the latest American actions against the international legal body:

Let’s be clear, there is no basis in fact for these anti-ICC allegations. This ratcheting up of the Trump administration’s campaign of threats and harassment, in addition to being another weapon of mass distraction, is intended to prevent American officials and military officers from being held legally accountable for documented war crimes and crimes against humanity in Afghanistan.

The Dutch Foreign Minister — the ICC is located in The Hague, Netherlands along with the International Court of Justice (ICJ) — was quick to respond, tweeting:

Very disturbed by the United States’ measures against the @IntlCrimCourt. We call on the US not to sanction ICC staff. The Netherlands fully supports the ICC and will continue to do so. The ICC is crucial in the fight against impunity and in upholding international rule of law.

StefBlok @ministerBlok 11 June 2020 at 2:59 pm

In a statement issued on 11 June by WFM-Canada, Executive Director Fergus Watt states:

The ICC is an important international judicial organization that should not be bullied or threatened in this way. Canada needs to speak out in strong opposition to the threats posed by the U.S. Executive Order.

 Whither Canada?

Staying silent in the face of this outrage to international law would really be the final nail in the coffin of Canada’s Security Council bid. We call on Foreign Minister Champagne to forthrightly defend the International Criminal Court, its independence and its personnel.


Writing in Inside Arabia – Voice of the Arab People, University of San Diego Professor Stephen Zunes observes:

Economic recovery from decades of autocratic misrule is critical for Sudan’s civilian-led transitional government to establish legitimacy and survive ongoing threats from reactionary forces. The United States, however, is maintaining its punitive sanctions, effectively punishing the country for the sins of the dictatorship the Sudanese people overthrew last year.

For the full article, click here.


Canadian former World Bank oil economist and author John Foster has written a powerful recap of the ongoing American effort to undo the “Bolivarian revolution” and remake Venezuela in its heartless neoliberal image, just as the rest of the world is increasingly calling for an end to the ever- deepening social and economic inequalities within and between countries. See: Venezuela shows courage in challenging US power. (canadiandimension.com, 12 June 2020).

Foster concludes with a direct challenge to the government of Canada:

Conveniently, Canadian oil sands have benefited from the sanctions, as US refiners substituted Alberta bitumen for Venezuelan heavy crude. The severe sanctions go beyond economic competition—they represent economic warfare and a method of “collective punishment” against Venezuelans. Sanctions also impede the required political process needed within Venezuela itself.

Is this the policy Canadians want our government to pursue? Iran and Venezuela have shown courage in challenging US hegemony against all the odds. Where is Canada’s courage?


The latest analysis by the International Crisis Group paints a dismal picture for reformers who championed the Iran nuclear deal as a means of securing relief from unilateral US sanctions. Citing the “ever-growing probability” that Iranian conservatives will capture the presidency next year and with it, “the last pragmatist-held power centre”, they underscore the importance of a change of policy in Washington:

the 2020 election means that should a diplomatic window open between Tehran and Washington, either in the coming months or after the next U.S. administration takes office in January 2021, it ought to be seized, lest the Iranian political system’s resolve against compromise harden. [emphasis added]

POSTSCRIPT: Superb Yemen virtual dialogue in the time of war and pandemic

For those interested in the latest developments in Yemen as that country struggles with the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, even before the relentless onslaught of Covid-19, see a superb virtual discussion: Yemen: Weaponizing the Pandemic (ispionline.it).

As the conflict enters its sixth year, Yemen braces itself for the spread of coronavirus to the region. In a country already plagued by chronic food and health insecurity, the pandemic adds another layer of suffering for the civilian population, while its politicization risks further undermining the fragile peace process. How does the coronavirus crisis interact with the other dimensions of the conflict? Can the pandemic alter the strategic calculus of the Saudi-UAE led coalition?

Click on the video below for this excellent one-hour discussion featuring Moderator Eleonora Ardemagni, Associate Research Fellow, Middle East and North Africa Centre, ISPI, Italy and speakers April Longley Alley, Deputy Program Director, Middle East and North Africa, International Crisis Group and Ahmed Nagi, Non-resident Scholar, Carnegie Middle East Center, Lebanon.

Photo credit: unrwa.org (Israeli housing demolitions)

Tags: Canada-Israel Free Trade Agreement, Canada's UN Ambassador Marc-Andre Blanchard, Canada's UN Security Council bid, Canadian anti-annexation letter, Canadian military exports to Turkey and Saudi Arabia, Greta Thunberg letter on Canada's Security Council bid, illegal Israeli annexation plan for West Bank, illegal unilateral U.S. sanctions on Venezuela, International Criminal Court (ICC), ispionline.it, John Foster, Just Peace Advocates, Peter Larson, Professor Stephen Zunes, Sudan, U.S Executive Order against ICC, U.S. unilateral sanctions on Iran, United Nations Special Rapporteur Michael Lynk, World Federalist Movement-Canada, Yemen