Liberal MPs remain split on genocide case as UN orders Israel to protect Palestinians

By Dylan Robertson in Ottawa

Liberal MPs are split on how Canada should respond as the International Court of Justice proceeds with considering a genocide case against Israel.

South Africa brought the case at the beginning of the month and asked the court to impose a ceasefire. 

On Friday, the overwhelming majority of judges instead ordered six provisional measures to limit casualties in the Gaza Strip and ensure the preservation of evidence should the court find Israel is committing genocide against Palestinians. 

The court ruled against Israel’s request to throw out the case altogether.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau did not comment Friday morning when reporters asked for his response as he entered a caucus meeting on Parliament Hill.

MP Rob Oliphant, a parliamentary secretary to Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly, said had not read the whole ruling yet but Canada would consider the findings.

“We’re a country of the rule of law,” he said.

Liberal MP Salma Zahid also said she would read Friday’s ruling, and called on her government to convene other countries to help respond to the humanitarian plight of Palestinians.

“Canada believes in international law and whatever the decision of the ICJ is, we should accept that,” Zahid said.

Her colleague Anthony Housefather argued the top court of the United Nations is using a low bar in deciding whether there’s a possible case of genocide.

“My position has been that Israel is not committing genocide, that it’s baseless and it’s insulting, and I don’t think the case was helpful to bring,” he said.

The death toll from the Israel-Hamas war in the Gaza Strip has surpassed 26,000, according to the Health Ministry in Hamas-ruled Gaza. It said Friday that 26,083 people have been killed and more than 64,400 wounded since Oct. 7. 

That’s the day militants from the territory launched a surprise attack in southern Israel, killing around 1,200 people and taking about 250 hostages. 

The international court case has split the Liberal caucus and Trudeau has refused calls from Jewish and Muslim groups in Canada to stake out a clear position, as other world leaders have. 

The prime minister has said Canada supports the court and doesn’t necessarily agree with the premise of South Africa’s case, but hasn’t said whether he rejects the application nor whether Canada will abide by whatever ruling the court makes.

Israel’s foreign ministry said in a statement that it remains committed to abiding by international law “independent of any ICJ proceedings,” but it did not confirm whether it would enforce any of the orders issued by the court. 

The case “constitutes a shameful exploitation of the Genocide Convention that is not only wholly unfounded in fact and law, but morally repugnant,” read the statement, which Israel’s embassy In Ottawa circulated to media.

B’nai Brith Canada, a Jewish advocacy group, argued the judgment “will only intensify the anti-Israel demonstrations routinely occurring across the country. That is why this is a nightmare scenario for Canadian Jews, as past protests have led to increased incitement against the Jewish community.”

A group that advocates for Palestinians, Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East, argued Canada should publicly support Friday’s ruling, demand Israel comply with its orders and implement an arms embargo.

Earlier this week, international organizations like Save The Children also called for an arms embargo, citing the high death toll in the Gaza Strip.

Meanwhile, the U.S. State Department announced Friday it has suspended aid to the UN agency tasked with supporting Palestinians, due to allegations that some staff at the body known as UNRWA participated in the brutal Hamas attack on Israel last October.

International Development Minister Ahmed Hussen’s office did not immediately respond when asked whether Canada will follow suit.

Banner image: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 26, 2024.

— With files from The Associated Press and Mia Rabson.