Justin Trudeau and Joe Biden are maintaining an alliance in favour of apartheid against the Palestinian people at the hands of a far-right, authoritarian Israeli regime. They and their governments have steadfastly stuck by the idea that an extremist government that receives billions of dollars in annual aid from the United States—and continues to attack innocent children and even international media—is a victim in this ‘conflict.’ This shouldn’t be surprising, because disregard for Palestinian life is a near pan-partisan consensus among both the Canadian and American ruling parties. But what’s different this time is that massive public support has swung in favour of the Palestinian people and their cry for justice, and it is exposing the deep limitations of supposedly progressive leaders.
During the early stages of Israel’s latest assault, both the Trudeau and Biden administrations stuck to the narrative that renewed hostilities were predominately the fault of Palestinians, even if they rhetorically nodded to the need for ‘both sides’ to do better. But over the weekend, as Israel blew up the offices of the Associated Press and Al Jazeera in Gaza City, Trudeau and Biden leaned into language asserting Israel’s right to defend itself, even as they wrung their hands about press freedom. On May 14, Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau focused his speech in Parliament on the “indiscriminate barrage of rockets from Hamas,” and Israel’s “right, and in fact duty, to defend itself,” when we all know the only group that can stop this conflict is Israel itself.
Similarly, Biden followed up comments from last week with a tweet saying that he spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and “reaffirmed his strong support for Israel’s right to defend itself against rocket attacks from Hamas and other terrorist groups in Gaza, and condemned these indiscriminate attacks against Israel.” Most telling of all was Netanyahu himself tweeting out that that Canada and the US under the Biden-Trudeau governments were steadfast allies of his murderous regime.
— PM of Israel (@IsraeliPM) May 15, 2021
Thank you for resolutely standing with and supporting our right to self defense against terrorist attacks.
But the tides are shifting: Both these men—ostensibly elected because they signalled a departure from the cruelty of the Harper and Trump eras—have had their own cruelties exposed, and people like never before are responding critically. From the political class in both countries comes a newfound willingness to stand up for Palestinians. I’ve already covered Jagmeet Singh and the NDP’s historic response to Israeli aggression last week in Canadian Dimension, but we’ve seen prominent voices on the American left do much the same.
This has especially been the case from Bernie Sanders and members of “The Squad.” Sanders himself denounced the right-wing racist regime dominating Israel in a New York Times op-ed, and argued the US should no longer prop-up and legitimize Netanyahu’s regime. For her part, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez not only condemned Biden’s failure to stand up for the free press in Palestine, but sent shockwaves in the discourse by stating the simple reality that “Apartheid states aren’t democracies.” The importance of this remark cannot be overstated, because it helps to tear down one of the justifications for supporting Israel: that it is a bastion of liberal democracy in the region. But as AOC notes, Israel cannot be seen as even a flawed democracy given that millions of Palestinians are denied basic rights and dignity.
Just as powerfully, Ilhan Omar slammed the Biden regime for blocking a United Nations ceasefire by being the only country on the Security Council to oppose such an action, and referred to Netanyahu—correctly—as a “far-right ethnonationalist” bent on destroying Palestinian lives and communities. Succinctly, Omar made it clear that her own government was “disgusting and immoral” to stand with Israel at this moment.
Finally, and perhaps most poignantly, Palestinian-American congresswoman Rashida Tlaib rose in the House of Representatives to make it clear how her community has suffered, how the fight for racial justice in the US cannot be disconnected from the Palestinian struggle for justice, and how, simply by being there, “I am a reminder to colleagues that Palestinians do indeed exist.”
Despite the crushing despair knowing that death is raining down once again on the people of Gaza, Rep. Rashida Tlaib should give us all hope. She is exactly where she was meant to be, saying exactly what must be said: Palestinian rights are human rights pic.twitter.com/NGHyGH5vFM— francesca fiorentini (@franifio) May 14, 2021
But more surprising than progressive politicians standing up for Palestinians, we are now seeing glimmers of this attitudinal change in the mainstream media. Certainly, most coverage continues to toe the line for Israel, or uses the rhetoric of ‘clashes’ and ‘complex conflicts,’ but on MSNBC—the bastion of the Democratic Party establishment—there was a rare moment of absolute clarity, where Canadian journalist Ali Velshi openly called Israel an apartheid state, linked it to the history of South Africa, and assessed the situation bluntly: “Palestinians are at best third-class citizens in the nation of their birth. The idea that it’s even remotely controversial to call what Israel has imposed on Palestinians a form of apartheid is laughable.”
MSNBC’s @AliVelshi: “Palestinians are at best third-class citizens in the nation of their birth. The idea that it’s even remotely controversial to call what Israel has imposed on Palestinians a form of apartheid is laughable.” pic.twitter.com/hyx3QVGVfU— Ibrahim (@Ibrahimpols) May 15, 2021
Here in Canada, there hasn’t been such a direct remark from any high-profile journalists, but we have seen a groundswell of solidarity from thousands of media workers demanding fair coverage of this massacre. In An Open Letter to Canadian Newsrooms on Covering Israel-Palestine, published May 14, journalists from across the country denounced the ‘both-sides’ cowardice of mainstream coverage and demanded that Canadian media centre the experiences, voices, and struggle of the Palestinian people.
Even celebrities are weighing in on the situation in a manner that feels different. What’s vital here is that many of the loudest and most passionate voices in favour of Palestinian justice—Zayn Malik, Bella and Gigi Hadid, Dua Lipa, and so many others—is that they all have tens of millions of young fans and admirers who will be introduced to this struggle for the first time. While there have always been high-profile allies of the Palestinian people, youth-led social media is taking a stand here in a way that gives me a great deal of hope and optimism.
But most important of all are the regular people protesting. Over the weekend in cities all over North America, hundreds of thousands protested for Palestinian justice and against Israeli aggression—as well as against Western leaders and media organizations whose equivocation amounts to complicity in the violence. It is telling that more than a couple of the protests took place outside CBC-Radio Canada outlets, underscoring the message being sent to the media. In Toronto alone, 5,000 people came out on short notice to show solidarity, including voices from the Jewish community openly declaring this the most pressing human rights issue of our generation.
I am under no illusion that justice for Palestine is imminent. If public opinion was king, change would have already begun. But it’s undeniable that the current scope and intensity of criticism towards Israel is unprecedented, and lobby groups designed to silence these critiques are failing to control the narrative as they so often have. Will this shift allies of apartheid like Trudeau and Biden? Almost certainly not. But the world is watching, and this moment will be remembered in future generations as a watershed.
The question is—now more than ever—which side are you on: Justice, or genocide?
Christo Aivalis is political writer and commentator with a PhD in History. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, Globe and Mail, Maclean’s, and Passage. He can be found daily on YouTube and at his new podcast Left Turn, Canada.