|Canada can forge new respect out of passport scandal
October 12, 1997
For a brief, shining moment in the post-war era, Canada stood proudly in the first rank of the world’s diplomatic nations. Thanks to it’s war-time role, Canada emerged from World War II with prestige and influence among the European allies and the United States. When Canada spoke, countries listened, even the U.S.
From 1947 to 1949 Canada, with Great Britain, was one of the two architects of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and was instrumental in securing American support for the alliance. Canada at this time also boasted some of the world’s best diplomats—Hume Wrong, Escott Reid, Norman Robertson and Lester Pearson.
Wartime reputations have long legs, and Canada’s have carried it for half a century. Now those legs are tired and Canada finds itself limping towards the close of the second millennium as a second-rate power. Part of the reason is evolutionary—with the Cold War over, “honest broker” middle powers like Canada aren’t needed to attenuate Great Power conflicts.
Mainly, though, Canada has squandered its reputation though pacifism and laziness. Canada’s military policy, especially over the last 20 years, has consisted largely of freeloading off the Americans and Europeans. Diplomatically, Canada has become an opportunistic moral gadfly that involves itself in other countries’ problems and champions safe moral causes.
Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy’s success in concluding an international treaty to ban landmines (aided in no small part by the death of the Princess of Wales) was important, but it won't do much to stop Canada's slide into the B-Division of countries.
This unfortunate habit developed after Lester Pearson helped establish a United Nations force to end the 1956-1957 Suez Crisis. This one-time temporary expedient, which ultimately failed, was mythologized out of all proportion, and “peacekeeping” became a Canadian fixation.
If Canada hopes to recapture some of its lost respect, it must pursue diplomacy with the same discrimination and sobriety it did 50 years ago. That means making difficult, but necessary, decisions and taking risks in the name of leadership.
Israel has given Canada a golden opportunity. By its use of forged Canadian passports to conduct a bungled assassination attempt, Benjamin Netanyahu’s government not only flouted international law but declared its disrespect for Canada. For what it’s worth, Foreign Minister David Levy apologized for this misconduct and promised Israel would never again forge our passports.
(The fact that the passports were proven to be forgeries debunks the scurrilous blather of Norman Spector—former Canadian ambassador to Israel, now full-time Likud propagandist—who suggested Canada might have been in on it.)
But Axworthy should go further than recalling our ambassador and hoping for the status quo ante. He has the opportunity to do what no other country has yet dared to do—encourage the international community to impose comprehensive economic sanctions on Israel until it lives up to its pledge to withdraw from all occupied lands, including East Jerusalem.
Israeli expansionism and continued occupation of Arab lands is the primary obstacle to a Middle East peace. Even the U.S. is furious at Netanyahu for ignoring requests to stop Jewish colonization. However, the U.S. won’t do more than issue pleas and hide behind a moribund “peace process” because of the financial and political clout wielded by the powerful Zionist lobby, the American Israel Political Action Committee.
(More than 76 percent of American Jewry is concentrated in 16 cities of six states—California, Florida, Illinois, New York, Pennsylvania and Texas—that control 181 electoral votes—it takes 267 to elect a president.) Without concerted economic and moral pressure to compel Israel to respect its own signed agreements (especially UN Resolution 242), no foundation for peace exists.
If Axworthy needs encouragement, he can look to another player in the Suez Crisis for inspiration—U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower.
After Israel, Britain and France invaded Egypt in October 1956, Eisenhower declared them the aggressors and demanded they withdraw completely from occupied Egyptian territory. In February 1957, a fed up Eisenhower sought firm UN action: As he wrote in Waging Peace—The White House Years: “In considering various possible courses of action, I rejected, from the outset, any more United Nations resolutions designed merely to condemn Israel’s conduct.…To prevent an outbreak of hostilities, I preferred a resolution which would call on all UN members to suspend not only governmental but private assistance to Israel. Such a move would be no hollow gesture.” (Italics in original.) Unfortunately, Eisenhower faced too much domestic political opposition.
For Axworthy to embrace Eisenhower’s call for sanctions on public and private assistance to Israel would be generally consistent with past Canadian policy. Canada was perhaps the most vocal advocate of sanctions against South Africa because of apartheid, and Israel is no better.
Doubtless, Zionists inside and outside Canada would condemn it, and the Liberal Party might lose votes and campaign contributions, but the benefits in respect and prestige that would accrue to Canada would outweigh any losses.
So long as Israel thinks it can flout international law with impunity, there is no incentive for it to negotiate honourably with the Palestinians. Maybe principled leadership from Canada would inspire other countries to follow Eisenhower’s example—maybe even the U.S. In fiscal year 1997, the U.S. government alone gave Israel $3.675 billion in military and economic aid and $2 billion in loan guarantees, to say nothing of the countless tax-free millions from private citizens. That’s a lot of leverage waiting to be used.