In a rare move for a provincial leader, B.C. Premier Christy Clark has taken a pointed position on the war in Gaza, calling for a ceasefire in the conflict that has cost more than 1,000 lives while also upholding Israel’s “right” to defend itself from terrorist attacks.
“While the world watches in agony, we recognize the need for a ceasefire that leads to long-term security and peace in the region. Israel has the right to defend itself and its citizens against terrorist attacks,” Ms. Clark wrote in a letter posted on Sunday to the website of the Ottawa-based Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs.
The letter was also read to more than 1,000 members of the Jewish community and supporters gathered on Sunday in Vancouver for a forum on the Gaza conflict.
Ms. Clark, who was re-elected with a majority mandate last May, writes that the conflict in Israel and Gaza is of “great concern” to anyone who supports democracy and human rights.
“At this difficult time, let us remember the values we share with Israel: a vibrant, culturally rich democratic nation committed to maintaining the rights of its citizens, regardless of gender or religion. Israel is an example not only to the region, but the world. Support for Israel abroad makes a difference.”
“As the world continues to hope for a peace that satisfies both Israelis and Palestinians, I’m proud that British Columbia can be counted as a friend of Israel.”
Ms. Clark’s letter was posted online as a ceasefire continues to appear elusive after more than three weeks of fighting between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.
Palestinians say the conflict has already killed at least 1,050 Palestinians, while Israel says 52 of its soldiers and three civilians have died.
The chairman of the Canada Palestine Association was unimpressed with Ms. Clark’s decision to wade into the debate.
Hanna Kawas called the contents of the letter “outrageous” and said he believes Ms. Clark’s decision was based on winning votes from the Jewish community.
“She would do better if she would solve the teacher’s strike rather than [using] our taxpayers’ money in dealing with international issues,” said Mr. Kawas, whose Vancouver-based organization was formed in 1980 and represents about 5,000 people in B.C. and many thousands more across the country.
“We have enough people who don’t know what they’re talking about in Ottawa, so we don’t need more people who really don’t know what they’re talking about in B.C.,” he said.
A spokesperson for the NDP’s John Horgan said the party leader does not have a position on the war in the Middle East.
Ms. Clark, who was in the Kelowna region on Monday, appears distinct among Canada’s premiers and territorial leaders for weighing in on the war, although one other premier said on Monday he echoes the view of the federal Conservative government in support of Israel.
“Foreign policy is not in the constitutional purview of the provinces but the Government of Saskatchewan strongly supports the federal government’s position on the conflict and backs Israel’s right to defend itself against terrorism,” Brad Wall said in a statement issued in response to a Globe and Mail query on his views.
Darren Mackoff, Pacific region director of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, said Ms. Clark’s position was consistent with her ongoing views. He also noted Ms. Clark travelled to Israel before she was Premier.
Mr. Mackoff said the Premiers’ Office heard in advance about the gathering and offered last Friday to send greetings: the letter that was posted to the web site. He said her support is appropriate.
“It’s more than a foreign policy matter. It’s a domestic matter. It goes to the core values of who we are as a society and what we stand for. She has been unequivocal in what we stand for as a province and the values that drive us,” he said.
He noted that B.C. has trade and other links with Israel.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Monday that the conflict in Gaza could be long given the need for a solution that demilitarizes the Palestinian territory controlled by Hamas and its militant allies.
With a report from The Canadian Press
Photos: Ben Nelms for The Globe and Mail (left), Adel Hana/The Associate Press (right)