Canada joins in some one-sided Is­rael bash­ing

National Post (Latest Edition) - - ISSUES & IDEAS - Vi Be vian rcovici

More than two years on, we are be­gin­ning to dis­cern what the Trudeau gov­ern­ment be­lieves should be its for­eign pol­icy. It seems to have ev­ery­thing to do with op­por­tunism and lit­tle, if any­thing, to do with prin­ci­ple or a se­ri­ous world vi­sion.

Which brings us to the pe­cu­liar man­ner in which this gov­ern­ment has been ag­gres­sively crit­i­cal of a re­cent Is­raeli pol­icy re­gard­ing that coun­try’s treat­ment of asy­lum seek­ers who have en­tered the coun­try il­le­gally since 2005. Ap­prox­i­mately 37,000 in­di­vid­u­als from Eritrea and Su­dan have fled ex­treme hard­ship in their home coun­tries and sur- vived treach­er­ous jour­neys across the Si­nai desert to reach rel­a­tive safety in Is­rael.

Vir­tu­ally all of these asy­lum seek­ers do not qual­ify as refugees un­der Is­raeli law and are ac­cepted as tem­po­rary res­i­dents, re­quired to re­new their visas ev­ery two to three months. Af­ter April 1, there will be no fur­ther visa re­newals per­mit­ted and the in­di­vid­u­als ei­ther face de­por­ta­tion to a third coun­try or in­def­i­nite in­car­cer­a­tion.

The de­por­ta­tions are to un­spec­i­fied third coun­tries ru­moured to be Uganda and Rwanda. Each in­di­vid­ual — only sin­gle men will be de­ported — will re­ceive a one- way air­plane ticket and ap­prox­i­mately US$ 4,000. Fam­i­lies and all chil­dren will be ex­empted from this mea­sure, which has been de­cried by some NGOs and many Is­raeli cit­i­zens as be­ing un­just.

En­ter the gov­ern­ment of Canada. Speak­ing on be­half of the min­is­ter of for­eign af­fairs, Chrys­tia Free­land, her spokesper­son, Adam Austen, com­mented rather boldly: “Canada does not sup­port poli­cies of mass de­por­ta­tions of asy­lum seek­ers. The rights of asy­lum seek­ers and refugees are laid out in the Geneva Con­ven­tion on the Sta­tus of Refugees, of which Is­rael is a sig­na­tory.”

The clear in­sin­u­a­tion ar­tic­u­lated by Mr. Austen, of course, is that in con­duct­ing these de­por­ta­tions, Is­rael is, in fact, con­tra­ven­ing the Geneva Con­ven­tion.

In re­sponse to a re­quest to ex­plain this po­si­tion, the de­part­ment pro­vided ir­rel­e­vant writ­ten blather about the i mpor­tance of Is­rael en­sur­ing “equal and nondis­crim­i­na­tory in­sti­tu­tional ac­cess to health ser­vices to asy­lum seek­ers and mi­nori­ties.” These are all im­por­tant is­sues, of course, but not re­motely on point.

Speak­ing on back­ground, a se­nior Is­raeli gov­ern­ment of­fi­cial con­firmed its po­si­tion that, legally, its treat­ment of asy­lum seek­ers does not run afoul of the Geneva Con­ven­tion. In fact, the Is­raeli Supreme Court, known for its ac­tivist left- of- cen­tre stance on many is­sues, raised no such con­cerns when it con­sid­ered mat­ters re­lated to con­tem­plated de­por­ta­tions.

Fur­ther­more, prom­i­nent Lib­eral and for­mer Cana­dian min­is­ter of jus­tice and in­ter­na­tional hu­man rights le­gal ex­pert, Ir­win Cotler,


r ecently com­mented on the is­sue and was care­ful to mod­er­ate his crit­i­cism of the Is­raeli pol­icy and process. Pre­sum­ably, given his peer­less stature, he would be the first to call out Is­rael on such a se­ri­ous in­ter­na­tional le­gal is­sue.

His main con­cern, how­ever, seems to be that Is­rael lacks what he con­sid­ers to be an “ef­fec­tive and com­pre­hen­sive refugee sta­tus de­ter­mi­na­tion process,” and that with­out such a sys­tem in place, even the most wellinten­tioned pol­icy- mak­ers may act “ar­bi­trar­ily.” While a sig­nif­i­cant con­cern, it falls far short of a breach of an in­ter­na­tional con­ven­tion.

Within Is­rael, this is­sue is highly di­vi­sive. A na­tion founded by the dis­pos­sessed, most of whom ei­ther sur­vived the Holo­caust or were forcibly ex­pelled from their coun­tries of ori­gin in North Africa and the Mid­dle East, the Is­raeli pop­u­lace is acutely sen­si­tive to the plight of refugees.

A few weeks ago, 20,000 Is­raelis took to the streets of Tel Aviv to ex­press their anger with the gov­ern­ment. In Jan­uary, pi­lots with Is­rael’s premier air­line — among the elite of Is­raeli so­ci­ety, with many hav­ing served in the sto­ried Is­raeli Air Force — re­fused to fly de­por­tees on their air­craft.

Op­po­nents of de­por­ta­tion re­mind us that asy­lum seek­ers are not pro­vided with ba­sic so­cial ser­vices and are marginal­ized eco­nom­i­cally, lead­ing to des­per­a­tion. They are out­raged that the gov­ern­ment of Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu has re­sorted to stig­ma­tiz­ing the asy­lum seek­ers with highly prej­u­di­cial lan­guage, like “il­le­gal in­fil­tra­tors.”

These are all signs of a ro­bust democ­racy and ev­i­dence of the se­ri­ous dis­cord this pol­icy has caused in Is­rael. They are, how­ever, eth­i­cal, not le­gal, is­sues. As cold-hearted as it may seem, the dis­tinc­tion is im­por­tant to main­tain. In Fe­bru­ary, a spe­cial ap­peal court in Is­rael held that asy­lum seek­ers evad­ing the mil­i­tary draft in Eritrea ( that is re­port­edly akin to in­def­i­nite servi­tude) may well qual­ify for pro­tected sta­tus in Is­rael, sug­gest­ing that this saga is a work in progress.

In De­cem­ber, 2015, when the King­dom of Jor­dan de­ported 800 Eritrean asy­lum seek­ers on the ba­sis that they were in the coun­try for “med­i­cal treat­ment,” Canada was silent. Women and chil­dren were among the de­por­tees, many of whom were re­port­edly nabbed in the street with­out no­tice. There were no court hear­ings or ap­peals in Jor­dan nor were there mass civil protests. And there were no harsh com­ments from Canada.

If there is a prin­ci­ple un­der­ly­ing this rather dis­so­nant Cana­dian for­eign pol­icy ap­proach to the same is­sue in two neigh­bour­ing coun­tries, Is­rael and Jor­dan, it is any­thing but ap­par­ent. And Min­is­ter Free­land’s of­fice re­fuses to ex­plain.


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