Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s recent call on Israel to exercise “maximum restraint” in its war against Hamas – while warning that “the world is watching” – has provoked a backlash from Israel’s Prime Minister and Jewish leaders in Canada who accused him of fuelling antisemitism
In response to the comments, Benjamin Netanyahu tagged Mr. Trudeau on X saying the “forces of civilization must back Israel in defeating Hamas barbarism.”
He added: “It is Hamas not Israel that should be held accountable for committing a double war crime – targeting civilians while hiding behind civilians.”
Mr. Netanyahu said on Tuesday that while Israel is not deliberately targeting civilians, Hamas has beheaded, burned and massacred civilians in the worst horrors perpetrated on Jews since the Holocaust.
Yair Lapid, Israel’s opposition leader, was also critical of Mr. Trudeau’s remarks.
“If Canada ever found itself under a sustained and brutal attack like the one we face now, you would find Israel by your side. We expect the same support,” he posted on X.
During a news conference in the Vancouver region on Tuesday, Mr. Trudeau said the human tragedy unfolding in Gaza is heart-wrenching, especially the suffering in and around Gaza’s largest medical centre, the al-Shifa hospital.
“I have been clear the price of justice cannot be the continued suffering of all Palestinian civilians. Even wars have rules. All innocent life is equal in worth, Israeli and Palestinian,” Mr. Trudeau said.
“I urge the government of Israel to exercise maximum restraint. The world is watching on TV, on social media,” he added. “We’re hearing the testimony of doctors, family members, survivors, kids who have lost their parents. The world is witnessing this, the killing of women and children, of babies. This has to stop.”
A day later, Mr. Trudeau did not publicly comment on the criticism of his remarks as he was travelling to the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation summit in San Francisco.
The al-Shifa hospital was the focus of a raid by Israeli forces Wednesday amid accusations by Israel that Hamas is operating from tunnels beneath the complex, a claim denied by hospital officials and Hamas, the Islamist militant group that is the de facto government of the Gaza Strip.
Israel declared war against Hamas after its militants killed about 1,200 people in Israel on Oct. 7, and took about 240 people hostage. The Palestinian Ministry of Health in Gaza say weeks of retaliatory air strikes on the besieged territory have now killed more than 11,200 people.
Mr. Trudeau noted that Canada has been calling for a sustained humanitarian pause and unimpeded access to humanitarian aid for Palestinian civilians.
He criticized Hamas, which has been designated a terrorist group by Canada, the United States and other countries. “Hamas needs to stop using Palestinians as human shields. They need to release all hostages immediately and unconditionally,” he said.
Shimon Fogel, president and CEO of the Toronto-based Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, warned that Mr. Trudeau’s comments about the need for maximum restraint by Israel could fuel antisemitism in Canada.
“Rhetoric like PM Justin Trudeau’s today enables Hamas to continue to cynically and criminally use the Palestinian civilian population as human shields to advance its genocidal goal. And, while surely not his intent, such assertions also fuel antisemitism at home here in Canada,” he said.
Former Liberal MP Michael Levitt, who resigned his seat in 2020 to become president and CEO of the Canadian Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre for Holocaust Studies, also took issue with Mr. Trudeau’s remarks, saying they could further fan the flames of antisemitism.
“On the same day our American allies released intelligence confirming Hamas’ use of Al-Shifa hospital as a military command and control centre, the Prime Minister’s reckless accusations against Israel are deeply disconcerting,” he wrote on X.
Michael Mostyn, CEO of B’nai Brith Canada, said there is a “stark uptick in antisemitic hate crimes across the country.”
“As Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau has a duty to de-escalate the violent threats facing Canadian Jewry and must not allow his government to become a primary source of inflammatory disinformation,” he said. “His recent remarks failed in that regard.”
Former Conservative senator Linda Frum said the Prime Minister’s message “comes at a high cost to the safety of Jewish Canadians.”
Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre’s office did not respond on Wednesday to requests for comment.
Muslim leaders gave a cautious welcome to Mr. Trudeau’s remarks but urged him to call for a ceasefire.
Uthman Quick, communications director for the National Council of Canadian Muslims, said “while Canada must do more, this was an important statement by the Prime Minister.”
“Canada must stand for justice and call for a ceasefire,” he said.
Mahmuda Khan, executive director of Muslim relief charity Human Concern International, also called for a ceasefire to allow Canadian charities to deliver aid safely to Gaza.
“The Prime Minister’s overdue call for maximum restraint falls short of what Canadians expect, and comes as Palestinians pay a heavy price,” she said.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said during a news conference in Toronto on Wednesday that Mr. Netanyahu has been criticized “soundly” by the people of Israel for running an extremist government.
“My concern about Prime Minister Trudeau is that he has not yet taken the position of a ceasefire and a release of hostages. That combined position is one that we need to take as a nation,” he added.