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Last week, Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly announced that Canada was sanctioning 11 Hamas leaders for their participation in the Oct. 7 attack on Israel – a redundant and pointless gesture, since Hamas is considered a terrorist entity by the Canadian government. The ministry’s own news release acknowledged the superfluous nature of the announcement, noting that members of terrorist organizations are inadmissible to Canada and that their property is subject to forfeiture.

It was a little bit of security theatre by the Canadian government, part of its continuing effort to demonstrate that it cares deeply about Israelis/Gazans/Jews/Muslims/whoever’s turn it is next, even if it was announced four months after the Hamas attack. Indeed, one would think that the time for such wholly symbolic gestures was on Oct. 8, not months later.

But the timing was certainly deliberate, considering that on this file, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau won’t so much as shake hands with an imam without running to a synagogue to corner a rabbi to do the same. Days before Ms. Joly’s announcement, Mr. Trudeau told reporters his government was considering sanctions on “extremist settlers” in the West Bank. Ms. Joly followed up by saying Canada would in fact levy those sanctions, while also teasing that sanctions would be coming against Hamas.

This has been the Trudeau government’s modus operandi since the Hamas attack and launch of the war in Gaza: shamelessly play both sides, never take a clear position and hope Canadians won’t realize what they’re doing. (Canadians have realized, of course, but it appears this government is content to keep oscillating back and forth anyway.)

On Nov. 14, Mr. Trudeau urged Israel to exercise “maximum restraint” in Gaza. Two days later, his office published a readout of his call with Israeli minister Benny Gantz, in which the Prime Minister “expressed his unequivocal condemnation of Hamas’s terrorist attacks, including the atrocious use of Palestinian civilians as human shields.” The next day, Mr. Trudeau told reporters that Israel’s actions in Gaza were making the prospect of a two-state solution more difficult.

On Dec. 12, Canada voted in favour of a UN resolution calling for a humanitarian ceasefire, which notably did not include a call for Hamas to surrender. Ms. Joly issued that call as an addendum while speaking to reporters, perhaps on the off-chance that Hamas operatives would tune into Canada’s evening news broadcasts. Or maybe she had a different audience in mind.

When it came to offering an opinion on South Africa’s charge of genocide against Israel at the International Court of Justice, Canada’s government published the equivalent of a first-year international-diplomacy term paper. It included the United Nations’ definition of “genocide,” made a point of condemning both antisemitism and Islamophobia, and took no position as to whether Canada believes Israel is deliberately trying to exterminate the population of Gaza.

Canada has a moral obligation to support South Africa’s genocide case against Israel

Other G7 countries have issued actual statements pointing out the absurdity of the charge. French Foreign Minister Stéphane Séjourné said “the notion of genocide cannot be exploited for political ends.” The German government said in a statement that it “decisively and expressly rejects the accusation.” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken called the charge “meritless.”

But Canada said it would wait to see the ICJ’s ruling – the same excuse it dredges up to avoid commenting on more mundane domestic issues.

The charitable interpretation of this government’s approach is that it is trying to convey nuance and moderation on an issue about which Canada’s diaspora communities are experiencing deep pain. But there is a difference between a moderate position and no position. That is what you end up with when you cravenly and incoherently try to appeal to both sides – that is, when you sanction Hamas members months after the initial attack on Israel just after announcing sanctions on Israeli settlers; or when you demand an Israeli ceasefire without the condition of Hamas surrendering, but then demand that Hamas surrenders; or when you shrug your shoulders at the question of genocide because maybe you just learned the term last semester.

Leaders of other countries have taken principled positions on aspects of this war despite the risk of domestic political consequences. Perhaps those leaders understand that some things are more important than polling data and electoral prospects – a concept largely foreign to this particular government.

Indeed, Mr. Trudeau has demonstrated a truly repugnant level of moral cowardice in abdicating his responsibility to show leadership, and in shamelessly playing both sides. The irony is that in the process, he appears to have alienated everyone.

Serious governments recognize that political games are inappropriate when Jewish schools are being shot at and Muslims are being assaulted in the streets. This is not a serious government.

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