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Barbara Kay: Ottawa’s support of Israel deserves more than just words

A woman holds up the rainbow flag during the annual Gay Pride parade in Tel Aviv.

There are 192 member states in the United Nations. In the worst of them, girls and women are raped and trafficked as a matter of course. In many others, women have fewer legal, educational and employment rights than men.

Nevertheless the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) concluded its annual meeting in New York with a condemnation of one country, and one country only. That would be Israel, a tiny democratic island in the Middle East, surrounded by an ocean of unconstitutional monarchies, outright tyrannies and other non-democratic, failing regimes mired in civil war, divided by religious rivalries and tribal animosities, and united only by one enduring pathology: hatred of Jews.

The CSW accused Israel of violating the rights of Palestinian women, ignoring the fact Israel is the sole country in the region in which women enjoy full equal rights with men, including full control over their sexuality and reproductive interests. It is also the only state in which it is illegal to discriminate on the basis of gender. Tel Aviv’s annual pride parade is such a popular event the Ministry of Tourism is spending $3.7 million to attract more LGBT tourists to Israel. In other countries in the region, gays are openly condemned and abused.  

The UN boasts a history of bias on Israel that has become so well-known it is often taken for granted.

The UN’s fixation on Israel is abetted by an array of non-governmental organizations that sit idly by as it undergoes ritual demonization. At the UN’s New York headquarters, 8,100 NGO representatives gathered from all corners of the globe to view the spectacle of Israel being pilloried as a violator of basic rights. As journalist Anne Bayefsky reported: “On the ground, Palestinian women are murdered and subjugated for the sake of male honour, Saudi women can’t drive, Iranian women are stoned to death for so-called ‘adultery,’ Egyptian women have their genitals mutilated and Sudanese women give birth in prison with their legs shackled for being a Christian.” But all this suffering is insufficient to compete with Israel’s occupation of Palestine as an affront to international standards of human rights.

 On the same day as the CSW condemned Israel for the plight of Palestinian women, the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) concluded its month-long session in Geneva by passing five resolutions condemning Israel. There was one resolution apiece on Syria, North Korea and Iran. No other country was criticized, including Russia, Saudi Arabia, Sudan or China, all of which have long and well-documented abuse records.

The UN boasts a history of bias on Israel that has become so well-known it is often taken for granted. At UN headquarters, Israel’s permanent mission was told to remove three panels from an exhibition on Zionism that was due to open today because they were deemed “inappropriate.” The panels described Israel as the “centre and focus of Jewish life and religion for more than three millennia”, identified Israel Arabs as its largest minority and described Zionism as the “liberation movement of the Jewish people.”

Canada’s Liberal government has pledged to maintain the unwavering support for Israel practiced by the previous Conservative government, while reserving the right to criticize “unhelpful” steps such as contentious settlements in the West Bank. Canada voted against anti-Israel resolutions in November; the Liberals supported a Conservative motion condemning the movement to boycott, divest and sanction Israel; and Foreign Minister Stephane Dion urged the UNHCR to review the appointment of controversial Western University law professor Michael Lynk as its Special Rapporteur on human rights in Palestine, noting “this candidate was not put forward by Canada and does not represent the views of this government."

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has criticized “the demonization, the de-legitimization or the double standard that’s often applied to Israel.” Yet his government continues to herald its desire to forge closer ties with the UN, revive co-operation with its many agencies and is actively seeking one of the rotating temporary seats on the Security Council. It suggests the Liberals are happy to adopt the UN’s preference for words over action, and its practice of turning a blind eye to the abject hypocrisy of many of its members rather than disturb the waters of polite diplomacy.

Being a friend of Israel involves more than occasionally voting against yet another biased resolution, or mouthing displeasure at another blatant show of bigotry. Ottawa would earn far more respect if it spoke out loudly and fervently against the open attacks and blatant hypocrisy that are a commonplace of UN activities when it comes to Israel. It is the UN that needs to clean up its act, and Canada would serve a useful purpose by saying so.

National Post