UPDATED: Baird at the UN: minority rights and the “Jewish state”


In his speech to the United Nations General Assembly yesterday, Foreign Minister John Baird declared Canada’s unbending support for the rights of religious and other minority groups wherever they live.

Baird cited the plights of, among others, the Bahá’í in Iran, Christians in China, Buddhists and Muslims in Burma, gays and lesbians in Uganda. Standing up for minorities abroad who are not accorded full and equal rights—or, worse, are persecuted and oppressed—by the majority groups in their countries is also a preoccupation of Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney.

In light of this principled concern being put at the centre of Canadian foreign policy, it would be interesting to hear Baird or Kenney on the matter of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s insistence that the Palestinians recognize his country as a “Jewish state” as a precondition to any negotiations toward a peace deal.

Palestinian-Arab citizens make up 20 per cent of Israel’s population. How would declaring Israel a Jewish state affect their status in their own country? And would such a declaration negate the claims of Palestinian refugees and their descendants driven out of what would become Israel in the 1948 war? Nobody is really sure.

These are such vexing questions that Netanyahu’s hard line on the Jewish state matter has been singled out as a major stumbling block to renewing bargaining between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

From Canada’s narrow perspective—given Baird’s avowal of at the UN of minority rights as a centerpiece of the Conservative government’s foreign policy—this issue should be particularly troubling. The foreign minister of course reasserted Canada’s unswerving support for Israel in his speech, but how that stance fits with his parallel emphasis on minority rights isn’t obvious.

Does the Canadian government hold that Netanyahu’s demand for recognition of Israel as a Jewish state poses no problem for the country’s sizeable non-Jewish, largely Palestinian minority? If that’s the case, it would be helpful to hear Baird, or Kenney, or even Prime Minister Stephen Harper, outline a detailed position on how they assess this key element of the Israeli-Palestinian impasse.


Interesting debate in the comments below. I thought I’d address a few points and provide what I think are some interesting links.

On the point that Israel respects human rights far better than its regional neighbours, there should be no argument. However, the Canadian government’s oft-repeated position that Israel deserves support precisely because it is a fully fledged democracy. As such, it surely must be held to a high standard.

A clear indication of the institutional strength behind minority political rights in Israel came in the form of an Israeli Supreme Court decision in 2009 to overturn a decision by the country’s Central Elections Committee to ban the two main Arab political parties, Ra’am-Ta’al and Balad, from running in that year’s national elections.

Still, the fact that the high court had to rule at all on this basic question of democratic rights was unsettling. Fareed Zakaria has written about the underlying problem: “Aside from their military exemption, [Arab Israelis] have the same legal rights and obligations as all other Israeli citizens. But they face discrimination in many aspects of life, including immigration, land ownership, education and employment.”

Earlier this year, Human Rights Watch waded in on new laws that seem to discriminate against non-Jewish Israelis. Even more problematic is the question of how Israel would treat Palestinians who are not Israeli citizens in the areas it is likely to retain control of in the West Bank and East Jerusalem under just about any conceivable long-term peace accord—or the continued absence of one.

And here’s an intriguing point: many Palestinians, it has been reported, would prefer to remain citizens of Israel rather than of any new Palestinian state. This is especially true of those in hotly disputed East Jerusalem. That’s a tribute to Israel, of course, but also a massive challenge.










UPDATED: Baird at the UN: minority rights and the “Jewish state”

  1. Geddes  Other than your feverish imagination, what exactly makes you worry about future Israeli conduct but not Palestinian actions?  

    Frontpage ~ Confronting Anti-Israel Jihad on Campus:

    “Israel is in fact the only country that is not an apartheid state. Most of the Arab countries of the Middle East exclude Palestinians, which is why the Palestinian refugee camps are still filled 63 years after the 1948 war. There were 800,000 Jewish refugees from Arab states as a result of that war, but they have all been re-settled in Israel.

    The head of the Palestine Authority has said no Jews will be allowed to live in the Palestinian West Bank. But there are more than a million Muslim Arabs who are citizens of Israel with more rights than the Arabs of any Arab state.

     Israel is the only place in the Middle East where an Arab who is gay can live without fear, and the only place where he can march in a Gay Pride parade. There are 57 Muslim countries but not one in which gays can hold gay pride parade. 

    Calling Israel an apartheid state when the reality is as starkly opposite as this can have only one purpose: to inflame the ignorant and the fanatic and incite them to destroy the Jewish State.”

  2. Wall St Journal ~ Grand Mufti of Berlin:

    One widespread myth about the Mideast conflict is that the Arabs are paying the price for Germany’s sins. The notion that the Palestinians are the “second victims” of the Holocaust contains two falsehoods: It suggests that without Auschwitz, there would be no justification for Israel, ignoring 3,000 years of Jewish history in the land. It also suggests Arab innocence in German crimes, ignoring especially the fascist past of Palestinian leader Haj Amin al Husseini, who was not only Grand Mufti of Jerusalem but also Waffen SS recruiter and Nazi propagandist in Berlin.

    The mufti orchestrated the 1920/1921 anti-Jewish riots in Palestine and the 1929 Arab pogroms that destroyed the ancient Jewish community of Hebron. An early admirer of Hitler, Husseini received Nazi funding—as did Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood—for his 1936-1939 Palestinian revolt, during which his thugs killed hundreds of British soldiers, Jews and also Arabs who rejected his Islamo-Nazi agenda. After participating in a failed fascist coup in Iraq, he fled to Berlin in 1941 as Hitler’s personal guest. In the service of the Third Reich, the mufti recruited thousands of Muslims to the Waffen SS.

    John Adams ~ I will insist the Hebrews have [contributed] more to civilize men than any other nation. If I was an atheist and believed in blind eternal fate, I should still believe that fate had ordained the Jews to be the most essential instrument for civilizing the nations … They are the most glorious nation that ever inhabited this Earth. The Romans and their empire were but a bubble in comparison to the Jews. They have given religion to three-quarters of the globe and have influenced the affairs of mankind more and more happily than any other nation, ancient or modern

    •  Why is it when Hasbara like you bring up the Grand Mufti and the Nazis you ALWAYS fail to mention that in 1940 Lehi proposed intervening in World War II on the side of Nazi Germany and that Lehi and the Stern Gang offered to work with Nazi Germany against the British through their cells worldwide?

  3. They are almost past the stage of a 2-state solution, and if that doesn’t work and it all becomes ‘greater Israel’ then do we allow the Israelis to refuse to allow everyone to vote?

    What exactly is Kenney prepared to support?

    • What very well may happen is that rather than an Eratz Israel, it will be a one-state solution for the entire region of Palestine and what is now Israel will only be part of that future state which will have an Arab and Muslim majority.

      I would suspect that some in Israel feel that the pressure for that sort of solution will never go away even after peace negotions and some sort of a settlement so they would rather live in the uneasy but known tension that exists now.

      • Probably….but that’s not going to last. At some point there will be a resolution, and Israelis will like that even less.

  4. John, you used the phrase:

    “And would such a declaration negate the claims of Palestinian refugees and their descendants driven out of what would become Israel in the 1948 war?”

    That is the crux of the matter.  For Palestinians and Arabs that is the “Nakba,” the day of catastrophe.

    The competeting narative is that the Palestinians left as they were urged to do by the neighbouring Arab states who assumed that they would crush Israel and “roll it into the sea” and they would then be free to return.

    I’m not saying which is right and I certainly don’t know what happened but it is those two competing naratives over the events in 1948 that drive the sticking point of the “right of return.”

  5. We never seem to have a problem supporting Muslim countries that want to be recognized as officially Muslim.  In fact, we’ve supported said aspirations with our military and the full force of our diplomatic corps.  Somehow, however, people seem to object to a majority Jewish state wanting to be officially Jewish. 

    I think it’s worthwhile always keeping in mind that Muslims have far greater freedom to practice their religion in accordance with their conscience in Israel than they do in any of the Muslim nations that surround Israel.  I’m much less worried about the religious freedom of Muslims in Israel than I am about the religious freedom of Muslims in any of the countries that border on Israel.  Of course, we should always be concerned that minority populations, and heck, majority populations are treated fairly by countries around the world.  That said, when I look at the Middle East it seems to me that every single country in the region is more oppressive than Israel, and affords the people living there with less freedom than people in Israel enjoy, including Muslims.  My instinct is to worry about bringing the freedom of Muslims in Saudi Arabia, Syria and Egypt up to the level of freedom enjoyed by Muslims in Israel before worrying about improving on the freedoms already enjoyed by Muslims in Israel.

  6. do we allow the Israelis to refuse to allow everyone to vote?

    Who’s even suggested that Israel might not allow all Israeli citizens to vote!?!?!?  I think you’ll find that Muslims are given much more freedom to vote in Israel than Muslims in Saudi Arabia and Syria are.  Also, let’s not forget that the two state solution was forced on Israel’s enemies, not on Israel.  If the Six Day War had gone the way Israel’s neighbours had hoped it would there STILL wouldn’t be a Palestinian state today, there’d just be no Israel, and slightly larger versions of Egypt, Jordan and Syria with slightly larger Palestinian minorities. The “two-state solution” is the FALLBACK position of Israel’s enemies, their repeated attempts to destroy Israel having failed. If Israel’s neighbours had succeeded in driving Israel in to the sea, the Palestinians never would have gotten their own state. The only reason the option of an Israeli state existing next to a Palestinian state is on the table today is that Israel’s neighbours weren’t able to destroy the Israeli state.

    • It’s been discussed many times. 

      If Arabs outnumber the Israelis…Israelis no longer own their state.

  7. Israel doesn’t recognize the property rights of Palestinians so what difference does it make if they observe religious or political rights? You can’t eat or drink with those.

  8. Geez, Geddes doesn’t like Israel because they’re not perfect, they “discriminate”against Arabs, whatever that is supposed to mean. Since Arabs have equal rights, we need to invite the mythical discrimination, the invisible discrimination that must somehow lurk underneath the egalitarian society, because after all, there’s gotta be something wrong with them, even if it’s invisible.  Meanwhile,  Jews are driven out of all surrounding Arab countries, often by violence. 

    Also, he employs the usual canard that we can oppose them because they’re democratic (ie we can use a irrational excuse to make irrational judgements). We can oppose them because they usually do the right thing. How convenient. That’s eerily similar to the 1930s tactic of hating Jews because they were often financially successful.

    That’s anti-semitism right there. Perhaps it’s unconscious or unintentional, but I do believe that’s it’s anti-semitic to hold two different groups to a different standard, with the reasoning that we should hold the two to a different standard for arbitrary reasons.

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