The Canada Israel Committee and Canada's Middle East Policy

By Lyon, Peyton | Journal of Canadian Studies, Winter 1992 | Go to article overview

The Canada Israel Committee and Canada's Middle East Policy


Lyon, Peyton, Journal of Canadian Studies


Many observers consider that a pro - Israel bias has diminished the effectiveness of Canada's policy in the Arab - Israeli conflict. The reason for the bias, according to a majority of the relevant Canadian diplomats, is the strength and skill of the Canada Israel Committee, the lobby authorized to speak for organized Jewry in Canada. This article compares the CIC with its American counterpart, the AIPAC, and examines the issues that have been contested by the CIC and other political actors. It concludes that the CIC has exerted less influence over Middle East policy than Canada's diplomats, but far more than might be expected from a lobby acting for little more than one percent of the population.

Beaucoup d'observateurs sont de l'avis qu'un parti pris pour l'Israel aurait infirme l'efficacite de la politique au Canada a l'egard du conflit arabe - israelien. La source de ce parti pris, selon la plupart des diplomates canadiens concernes, se trouve dans le pouvoir et l'habilete du Comite Canada - Israel, le groupe de pression designe comme porte - parole par la communaute juive du Canada. Cet article compare le CCI avec son homologue americain AIPAC et analyse les arguments mis en question par le CCI et d'autres participants politiques. Ce qui en ressort, c'est que le CCI a exerce moins d'influence que le corps diplomatique canadien sur la politique vis - a - vis du Moyen - Orient, mais que l'influence de celui - la a depasse de loin celle d'un groupe de pression qui ne represente qu'un pour cent de la population.

Canada once mattered a great deal in the Arab - Israeli conflict, but not now. Its economic and diplomatic presence in the area has grown, and its highly respected peace - keepers remain active. In late 1991 Canada joined the multinational conference dealing with peace in the area, assuming the chair of its working force on refugee problems.(f.1) Canada's diplomatic role, however, has been modest compared to most Western powers,(f.2) or its own during the creation of Israel, when Supreme Court Justice Ivan Rand was the dominant member of UNSCOP, the United Nations Commission that recommended the partition of Palestine, and Lester Pearson was the key figure in passing the relevant resolution in the General Assembly.(f.3) Even better known is the role in the containment of the Suez Crisis in 1956 that brought Pearson the Nobel Prize and initiated Canada'speace - keeping vocation. It was not military or economic muscle that made us effective at that time. Rather, it was our contacts, reputation, initiative, commitment and diplomatic finesse -- all qualities we still possess, or could recover.

Both the decided tilt towards Israel in Canada's foreign policy and its reluctance to talk with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), the obvious voice of the Palestinian people, has limited Canada's influence in the Arab world and gained little in Israel.(f.4) We have long ceased trying to promote peace by exploiting our exceptionally close contacts in Washington, the one capital that could impose a settlement.(f.5) The contrast between Canada's current lack of diplomatic exertion in the Arab - Israeli conflict and its leadership in other areas, such as South Africa and Yugoslavia, is striking.

How is one to account for the low priority assigned by Ottawa to the Middle East? One former minister of external affairs has explained that it is because Canada lacks the resources to be active everywhere.(f.6) True, but that begs the question why we decided to take the other particular issues more seriously. Canada had been involved in the creation of the Middle East conflict, one that has long been at, or close to, the top of the international agenda.(f.7) With the end of the Cold War, the election in 1992 of a pragmatic government in Israel, and the US - led peace conference, the dispute may seem to have become less likely to trigger a global conflagration.(f.8) However, the introduction of nuclear and chemical weapons, and the maverick behaviour of several governments in the area, suggest the compelling need for a peace settlement. …

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