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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau takes part in an interview in Ottawa on Dec. 11. Canada moved Tuesday to call for a “sustained ceasefire” in Gaza.Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

U.S. President Joe Biden may or may not have had Canada in mind when he warned this week that Israel is losing international support amid the soaring civilian death toll its army has wrought in Gaza.

Canadian foreign policy rarely catches Washington’s attention unless it involves some bilateral irritant that has upset one faction or another in Congress. But Canada’s move to join Australia and New Zealand in calling Tuesday for a “sustained ceasefire” in Gaza was likely noteworthy enough to be included in Mr. Biden’s daily intelligence briefing. Washington would surely have had advance notice of Canada’s evolving position; it may even have encouraged it.

Mr. Biden needs all the help he can get as he seeks to apply pressure on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to ease up on what he called the “indiscriminate bombing” of Gaza. The U.S. President has been exasperated by Mr. Netanyahu’s stubborn refusal to accept Washington’s conditions for continued U.S. military aid, which include agreeing to put the Palestinian Authority in charge of Gaza once Israel’s war against Hamas ends. He has bemoaned Mr. Netanyahu’s kowtowing to the Israeli extreme-right as he seeks to cling to power at all costs.

In that respect, Canada’s declaration with its Aussie and Kiwi allies helps Mr. Biden in his bid to turn up the heat on Mr. Netanyahu. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government has its own reasons for abandoning its previous refusal to call for a ceasefire, with domestic politics at the top of the list as pro-Palestinian Liberals and rights advocates express their frustration. A move by well-heeled Muslim supporters to withhold future donations to the party no doubt also played a role.

Mr. Biden’s comments should not, however, be seen as a sign the United States is wavering in its support of Israel’s goal of eliminating Hamas. Rather, the U.S. President is more concerned about losing the battle for public opinion within his own country, a development that would make it more difficult to justify sending more U.S. military aid to Israel during a presidential election year. Progressive Democrats are already mad at him. He cannot afford to lose their support in 2024.

“We’ll continue to provide military assistance to Israel until they get rid of Hamas, but we have to be careful – they have to be careful,” Mr. Biden said at a White House Hanukkah event on Monday. “The whole world’s public opinion can shift overnight. We can’t let that happen.”

Josh Paul: Washington’s support of the war in Gaza damages its claim to moral leadership

Canada’s move, also on Tuesday, to back a United Nations resolution calling for an “immediate humanitarian ceasefire” might be seen as a natural follow-up to its declaration with Australia and New Zealand. It nevertheless marked a sharp break with the recent past and a repudiation of Mr. Trudeau’s previous vow to never join those who seek to single out Israel at the UN.

The UN General Assembly is hostile ground for Israel. Its enemies consistently use that forum to demonize it. Anti-Israel resolutions are routinely written in self-righteous and self-serving language, and tabled in bad faith by countries that hate the Jewish state. That is why Canada has typically backed the United States in siding with Israel at the UN, where it has few other friends.

“This idea of using votes in the United Nations to isolate or condemn Israel … is not productive in international relations,” Mr. Trudeau said in 2018. Canada did back a 2019 UN resolution on Palestinian self-determination. But even then, Mr. Trudeau insisted Canada’s position had not changed: “We will continue to stand strongly against the singling out of Israel at the UN. Canada remains a steadfast supporter of Israel and will always defend Israel’s right to live in security.”

That stand likely contributed to Canada’s failure to win a seat on the UN Security Council in 2020. But to Mr. Trudeau’s credit, it was the right position for Canada.

The U.S. was one of only nine countries (excluding Israel) to oppose Tuesday’s UN resolution calling for a ceasefire in Gaza, and the only major power to do so. Canada joined 152 other countries in supporting the resolution. Other Israeli allies, including Germany, Britain and Italy, abstained.

“Canada’s Jewish community will not forget that, in the face of unprecedented antisemitism, only further emboldened by Hamas’s Oct. 7 massacre, the Canadian government chose to ignore not just Israel’s right to defend itself, but Israel’s obligation to defend itself,” the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs said in a bitter rebuke. “Canada’s decision to support the resolution will undoubtedly lead to further hate being directed towards Jews here in Canada.”

That is a very real danger. Regardless of the domestic political and geopolitical calculations that led the Trudeau government to vote against Israel this time at the UN, it should not make a habit of it.

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