For nearly a decade, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have led Canada and Israel.
During that time, their relationship, largely, has been a warm one. Israeli diplomats have compared it to an old married couple — the two nations get along, but have the occasional disagreement.
Canada has long reiterated its staunch support for Israel, but recent years have seen the occasional rebuke from Canadian officials, and, in recent days, the relationship has become even more tense.
On Tuesday, Trudeau urged Israel to exercise “maximum restraint” in its war against Hamas. This prompted an outraged response from Netanyahu on social media. “It is not Israel that is deliberately targeting civilians but Hamas that beheaded, burned and massacred civilians in the worst horrors perpetrated on Jews since the Holocaust,” Netanyahu wrote on X.
Here’s a brief history of the evolving relationship between Trudeau and Netanyahu.
2009: Benjamin Netanyahu, chairman of the conservative Likud party, is re-elected Israeli prime minister. It’s a post he will hold until 2021, and then he will return as prime minister in late 2022.
Oct. 19, 2015: Justin Trudeau is elected prime minister of Canada. On Oct. 23, Trudeau and Netanyahu hold what is described as a “warm call.” At the time, Trudeau’s election marks a potential departure from Stephen Harper’s full-throated support of Israel’s hawkish prime minister, but Netanyahu invites Trudeau to visit Israel. “Mr. Trudeau has been very consistent from the very beginning of his campaign, in expressing his support for Israel,” says Rafael Barak, Israel’s ambassador to Canada.
November 2015: Trudeau attends the Paris climate change conference. There, he has his first meeting with Netanyahu, who again invites him to Israel.
January 2016: Both Netanyahu and Trudeau attend the World Economic Forum event in Davos, Switzerland. Netanyahu says he and Trudeau have a “very, very good relationship.” Trudeau had, in 2015, announced Canada’s CF-18 fighter jets would pull out of the international coalition fighting against ISIL, and Netanyahu says that’s a decision Canada is entitled to make.
September 2016: Trudeau travels to Israel for the state funeral of Shimon Peres, the eighth prime minister of Israel. He also meets with Netanyahu at the latter’s home following the funeral. Canada is praised for the size and quality of its delegation to Israel, according to The Canadian Press.
December 2017: On Dec. 6, U.S. president Donald Trump’s administration says that it will formally recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Trudeau and Chrystia Freeland, then foreign affairs minister, say Canada’s embassy will remain in Tel Aviv. Both Freeland and Trudeau also reiterate Canada’s support for a two-state solution.
On Dec. 21, the United Nations General Assembly holds a vote condemning the Trump administration’s stance on Jerusalem; Canada abstains from the vote. The following month, Trudeau characterizes Trump’s move as a political game and says Canada will remain above it and not favour votes that condemn Israel.
January 2018: Trudeau and Netanyahu get together for a private chat at the World Economic Forum event in Davos, Switzerland. While Canadian media are not notified in time to attend the meeting, reporters are told they spoke about the peace process and Iran’s role in the region.
May 2018: Former prime minister Stephen Harper speaks out against the Iran nuclear deal, which Canada supports. In this, Harper has sided with Netanyahu and Trump. Trudeau reiterates Canada’s support for the Obama-era deal, and says Harper has every right to his own opinion.
July 2018: Plans emerge for Israel to help evacuate Syrian White Helmets to safety from President Bashar al-Assad’s regime. Trudeau promises to resettle White Helmet volunteers and families in Canada.
November 2018: Trudeau apologizes for Canada’s rejection of 800 Jews aboard the MS St. Louis ocean liner in 1939; around 250 would return to Europe to die during the Holocaust. In the same month, Freeland embarks upon her first trip to the Middle East. “Canada’s commitment to Israel’s security is unwavering and ironclad,” Freeland says.
April 2019: Israeli President Reuven Rivlin holds a two-day visit to Canada. Israel’s envoy says the two countries are close. At the time, Trump had said Israel has sovereignty over the Golan Heights, a strip of land between Israel and Syria. Canada’s position is that the Golan Heights are an Israeli-occupied territory. “We’re like a married couple in many respects. There are some issues where we disagree,” Barkan, the Israeli envoy, says.
November 2019: Canada, at the UN, backs a resolution from North Korea, Egypt, Nicaragua, Zimbabwe and Palestine (which is not recognized as a state by many countries, including Canada, but is an observer state at the UN) that supports the “right of the Palestinian people to self-determination.” Canada says, “In keeping with Canada’s longstanding position, it is important at this time to reiterate our commitment to a two-state solution and the equal rights and self-determination of all peoples.” An Israeli diplomat, speaking anonymously to the Times of Israel, says, “We are very disappointed by Canada’s vote.”
May 2020: Israel is in something of a domestic political crisis as Netanyahu and Benny Gantz work towards a political coalition, which would collapse before the end of the year. Netanyahu wishes to proceed with an annexation of lands in the West Bank that are governed by the Palestinian Authority. Trudeau speaks with both men, and Canadian officials tell CBC News that Canada would be unlikely to accept the annexation.
June 2020 : Trudeau says he is concerned about Israel’s potential annexation. “We deplore such actions, which are going to delay any prospect of lasting peace in the Middle East. So, we should be working while respecting the concept of dialogue. And we are very concerned,” he says.
May 2021: Trudeau calls for a ceasefire as fighting between Palestinians and Israel escalates. The fighting was sparked by clashes at Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque, one of the three holiest sites in Islam. The mosque is located on the Temple Mount, where the ancient Jewish temples once stood, and it is one of the most sacred sites to Jews. Netanyahu vows to continue fighting.
June 2021: Netanyahu is out of power. Trudeau says Canada will continue to deepen its ties with Israel.
December 2022: Netanyahu is back in power.
April 2023: Israeli police storm the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem’s Old City, prompting another round of fighting. Trudeau criticizes the “inflamed rhetoric” coming from the Israeli government. “We need to see the Israeli government shifting in its approach, and Canada is saying that as a dear and close and steadfast friend to Israel, we are deeply concerned around the direction that the Israeli government has been taking,” Trudeau tells reporters.
July 2023: Trudeau says a visit to Canada by Netanyahu is “not on the table.” Trudeau also raises concerns about attempted judicial reforms in Israel that have led to major protests over a proposal that would limit the power of the courts over legislators.
October 2023: Trudeau condemns a surprise terrorist attack by Hamas that left about 1,400 people, largely civilians, dead in Israel. “We stand with Israel and fully support its right to defend itself,” Trudeau says.
Nov. 14, 2023: Trudeau urges Israel to show “maximum restraint” to spare the lives of Palestinian civilians in its war on Hamas. “The human tragedy that is unfolding in Gaza is heart-wrenching, especially the suffering we see in and around the Al Shifa Hospital,” the prime minister says at a Vancouver event. “I have been clear that the price of justice cannot be the continued suffering of all Palestinian civilians. Even wars have rules.”
More than 10,000 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli airstrikes, according to the Hamas-run health ministry in the Gaza Strip. While these figures cannot be independently verified, U.S. intelligence services reportedly have growing confidence that the estimates are roughly accurate.
In response, Netanyahu slams Trudeau, saying Israel is not deliberately targeting civilians and that Hamas massacred civilians and is putting Gazans in danger. “It is Hamas not Israel that should be held accountable for committing a double war crime — targeting civilians while hiding behind civilians,” Netanyahu says in a post to X. “The forces of civilization must back Israel in defeating Hamas barbarism.”
With additional reporting by National Post wires
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