Printer Friendly

A "middle power" in action: Canada and the partition of Palestine.


CANADA PLAYED A KEY ROLE in the drafting of the United Nation's Partition Plan for Palestine in 1947. Supreme Court of Canada Justice, Ivan C. Rand, was a central figure in drafting the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP) Majority Report which proposed partition, and in bringing the Committee to its final decision. Lester B. Pearson, then a senior Canadian diplomat and later the Under-Secretary of State for External Affairs, became the chairman of the UN sub-committee responsible for drawing up a detailed plan of partition. He played a pivotal role in securing a compromise in support of partition at the UN General Assembly in November 1947. Some historians have credited Pearson's efforts with securing the positive vote in favour of partition at the UN (Bercuson 1985). In fact, "Zionists so appreciated Pearson's and Rand's role that they called the Under-Secretary of State the 'Balfour of Canada' and they established the Ivan C. Rand Chair of Law at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem" (Hillmer 1981, 166).

Was Canada's support for the Partition Plan compatible with our own system of bi-national federalism? And was it compatible with our domestic as well as foreign policy objectives? On what grounds did Canada not support the one-state or bi-national state solution (federalism)? What factors contributed to Canada's position on partition? These are some of the questions that I will address in this paper as a way of trying to understand Canada's motivation on an issue that continues to be the source of much strife and conflict in the Middle East and internationally.

Canada's support for the Partition of Palestine in 1947 and the subsequent recognition of the State of Israel in 1948, is considered by many (in government as well as in academia) to have been made after much deliberation and with the best of intentions grounded in legal and practical considerations. will argue in this paper, however, that Canada's position on this issue was influenced by factors that go beyond the legality and the practicality of the matter. Close examinations of the facts reveal the legality and the practicality of the decision to partition Palestine are tenuous at best. I will investigate a number of internal, external and personal factors that made Canada opt for partition instead of federalism, and hence conclude that supporting partition and extending recognition to the Jewish state was inconsistent with Canada's own history of bi-national federalism, its professed goal of humanitarianism and the fostering of better relations between people and nations. I will further argue that Canada used its stature as a "middle power" not necessarily to secure a lasting solution to the Palestine question but to further the interests of the Western alliance in the face of perceived Soviet encroachment in the region and internationally.

The paper is divided into three sections: section one discusses Canada's place in the post-war period. Section two provides a brief outline of the history of Palestine and Canada's role. Section three investigates the internal, external and personal factors that shaped Canada's position on the Palestine problem in general and the Partition Resolution in particular.


After WWII Canada tried hard to assert and enhance the economic, military and, some would argue, the political position it occupied during the war period. Canadian politicians, diplomats and other bureaucrats coined the term of Middle Power status and worked to assert Canada's position as the ultimate middle power. Hence, the Middle Power concept has become closely associated with the position that Canada occupied in the international system after WWII. After the war, Canada found itself in a position of considerable strength stemming from its position as an important war time ally to the allied powers. Canada had the third largest navy and the fourth largest air force after the war. Over one million Canadians served in the Allied forces. More importantly, Canada supported the allied war effort (and reconstruction) from agricultural and industrial resources that like the US, were not directly affected by the war itself (Bercuson 1985, 32).

At a conceptual level, Middle Power is a concept that is based on the practice of middle power internationalism by certain states (Chapnick 1999). As J. L. Granatstein argued, after WWII, "Canada exercised a power disproportionate to her pre-war status" (Granatstein 1973, 2). The first enunciation of the Middle Power concept came with the "functionalism statement" of Mackenzie King in 1943 when he declared that "in areas where Canada and other middle-sized powers had the capability to play the part of a major power, they should be so treated" (Granatstein 1973, 2). Middle Power status is also associated with the tendency of certain countries to pursue multilateral solutions to international problems and disputes. Multilateral solutions, however, needed certain institutional frameworks and Canada had that much needed mechanism to enhance its middle power status and some would argue to "balance the incredible might and power of the post-war United States" in the United Nations (Bercuson 1985, 110) as well as to check Soviet influence on the diplomatic front.

It was in the above post-war context that Canada started to take an interest and to assert an active role at the international level, primarily through putting the emphasis on building such multilateral internationalist organizations such as the United Nations. Canada's role in the emerging post-war international system was conditioned as much by the emerging cold war rivalry (US-USSR) as it was by an Anglo-American discord on Palestine and other issues as well as the rising power of the US. According to the historian Robert Spenser, Canada's oldest tradition in external relations was one of using "what influence she possessed to secure her interests from Great Britain and the United States [...]" (Spenser 1959, 9). However, in the new world of the East-West conflict, "Canadian policies had to conform to those pursued by the United States" (Spenser 1959, 11). In other words, as important as the concept of Middle Power status is for our analysis, we must also recognize that in the context of the period under discussion, Canada was gaining more independence from the British Empire but becoming more tied down to the rising power of the United States.

Canada's public post-war foreign policy objectives were numerous but chief among them were: (1) To maintain the North Atlantic relationship between Britain and the US; (2) To contain increasing Soviet influence in Europe and the Third World; (3) To build international organizations such as the UN through which Canada's status as a Middle Power may be recognized and enhanced; (4) And to maintain and build post-war peace on the basis of humanitarian internationalism.


Plans to divide the Middle East region (as spoils of war) between major European powers were being designed even before World War I had been won. The Sykes-Picot Agreement between France and Britain, signed in 1916, divided the area into zones of influence which became officially part of the mandate granted to these powers by the League of Nations in 1922. According to this division, Britain was "granted" Iraq and Palestine and France was given Syria and Lebanon. Upon being made public, the Sykes-Picot Agreement and the Balfour Declaration (discussed below) infuriated the Arabs as they saw them to be in contradiction with the Hussein-McMahon Correspondence (1915-1916) in which Britain promised the Sherif Hussein of Mecca, Arab independence and statehood in return for Arab support for Britain's war effort against the Ottoman and German armies in the region.

Before 1918 Palestine was a province within the Ottoman Empire and after 1918, it officially entered into Britain's sphere of influence through the form of Mandate. Britain made a commitment contained in a declaration from its Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Arthur Balfour to Lord Rothchild, head of the British Zionist Organization in which "His Majesty's Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a National Home for the Jewish people...."

Throughout the period of the Mandate, Britain endeavored to facilitate the attainment of the objective of establishing a Jewish national home in Palestine while at the same time trying to maintain good relations with the Arabs. Faced with this contradiction and its inability to reach an agreement that both Arabs and Jews would accept and to deal with the rising Jewish and Arab revolts against British rule, the UK decided in 1947 to hand the matter over to the United Nations for resolution.

In April 1947, the United Nations set up a Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP) in order to deal with the question of Palestine through the investigation and the drawing up of recommendations for consideration by the UN. UNSCOP consisted of 11 "neutral" member states (1) including Canada which named Supreme Court of Canada Justice Ivan C. Rand as its representative.

After some deliberation, it became clear that UNSCOP itself was bitterly divided and could not achieve a consensus. As a result, the majority (seven countries) (2) recommended partition of Palestine and the minority (three countries) (3) recommended a bi-national state with proportional representation and guaranteed positions for both groups in the various arms of the government. This was not the first time that the Partition of Palestine had been proposed. In 1937 the Peel Commission recommended the Partition of Palestine and it was not followed up since both Arabs and Jews rejected it. This time around however, the Arabs represented by the Arab Higher Committee again rejected Partition (4) but the Jews represented by the Jewish Agency for Palestine (5) agreed to it only "if it would make possible the immediate re-establishment of the Jewish state" (NAC, Rand Papers--my emphasis).

UNSCOP recommended partition to an Ad Hoc Committee (made up of 55 countries) and the latter voted (25 in favour, 13 against with 17 abstaining) to present the partition resolution to the General Assembly (GA) for debate and approval. On November 29, 1947, the GA approved Partition Resolution 181 by a vote of 33 for, 13 against and 10 abstentions. (6) One would have expected that voting on this issue at this time would be strictly influenced by cold war rivalry, but the fact that the Soviet Union ended up supporting partition, meant that the vote had a different dynamic. Only Yugoslavia abstained and the rest of the Socialist countries voted for partition. On 15 May 1948, the day that the British mandate over Palestine was to expire, the Jewish Agency announced the establishment of the State of Israel. The United States recognized the new state within hours of the declaration and the USSR recognized Israel the next day. Canada extended de facto recognition to Israel on 24 December 1948, seven months after Israel's establishment. (7)

As expected, the Palestinian Arabs and all the neighboring Arab states rejected partition and upon the creation of Israel, Egyptian, Jordanian, Iraqi, Syrian and Lebanese forces moved into the mainly Arab parts of the country and engaged the newly created Israeli army in battle at the end of which, Israel was able to occupy the greater part of the country--more territory than Israel was allotted in Resolution 181 (partition resolution).

It has often been claimed that Canada's support for the Partition of Palestine into a Jewish state and an Arab state was based on two elements: (1) Pragmatic considerations centered on the notion that no other option was viable or practicable under the circumstances; (2) It was based on legal considerations centered on the legality of the Balfour Declaration and the Mandate in promising the Jews "a Jewish national home in Palestine."

Canadian diplomats argued throughout the deliberations into the Palestine problem that there is a need to arrive at a practicable solution and the Partition Plan offered the only workable one. According to the head of the Canadian delegation, Justice Minister J. L. Ilsley, "Canada might have favoured a federal state if both the Arabs and the Jews had not flatly refused it" (Kay 1978, 133). According to Bercuson, Ilsley was more receptive to the notion of a federation and pointed out that UNSCOP's minority plan had "certain elements of attractiveness to Canadians because Canada was a federal country" (Bercuson 1985, 130). Commentators in Canada also raised the issue of federation as an alternative to partition as the Ottawa Citizen observed on 21 August 1946 that "the Canadian way of self-government with autonomous provinces should be worth considering for Palestine" (Kay 1978, 108).

Pearson spoke of the same dilemma but in the context of the great powers when he wrote in his memoirs that "the Canadian government did not support partition without a great deal of heart-searching and careful consideration; and only after we were convinced that there was no possibility of an agreement between Britain, the USA, and the USSR which might make possible any other solution" (Munro & Inglis 1973, 214).

Right before the final vote on 29 November, Mr. Ilsley stated that Canada is indeed going to vote for the partition plan but only "with heavy hearts and many misgivings," as "the least objectionable" (Spenser 1959, 147). These declarations however, do not seem to be consistent with Canada's active support for and lobbying in favour of partition at all levels of the process. From the drafting of the majority report to the final vote, Canada played a pivotal role in mediating the dispute between the US and Great Britain as well as in bringing about a compromise between the US and the USSR on the question of the date of the termination of the British Mandate--actions that constitute active support for partition rather than passive "reluctance."

As for the evidence that Canada would have preferred a bi-racial/bi- national state, primary as well as the secondary sources only point to general statements such as the one outlined above but fail to elaborate on what concrete steps Canada (through its representatives) might have taken in investigating the possibility of such an outcome. In fact the evidence from the records of the UN itself, on the eve of the vote on 29 November reveals that the countries who supported partition voted down attempts by other members of the UN to delay the vote on partition in favour of expending further efforts to try to reach an agreement that may be acceptable for Arabs and Jews or to seek an advisory legal opinion from the International Court of Justice under Article 96 of the Charter of the UN (NAC, Rand Papers). For his part, Spenser questions Mr. Ilsley's assertion that "to vote for partition was better than taking no action at all [for] it is difficult to imagine that its defeat could have produced more floundering than occurred in the months after November 29" (Spenser 1959, 147). For Spenser, "reaching an agreement for agreement's sake ... was both a betrayal of the role of a middle power and in defiance of the repeated declarations on the need for keeping UN action within the realm of the practicable" (Spenser 1959, 148).

Pearson was more dismissive of solutions that did not involve partition when he declared that "the unitary state proposal meant nothing--a recommendation 'out of the blue and into the blue'" (Kay 1978, 134). The main reason for this assessment is that it was not "practicable."

But how practicable was the recommendation contained in the Majority Report to form an economic union (integration or cooperation) between the partitioned states? This was one of the most inconsistent assumptions and weaknesses in the Majority Report because it entailed a great deal of cooperation between Arabs and Jews that UNSCOP and the promoters of partition found to be gravely lacking. In fact, the UN approved the Partition Resolution on the premise that a unitary or a federal state was not a practicable solution because of this deep seated animosity and hatred between Arabs and Jews which made cooperation impossible and that was evident in their rejection of it. How then could one accept the assumption that economic union (which was also critical for the viability of partition) was achievable under such circumstances. Either the promoters of partition (Canada included) knew all along that partition was bound to fail (as impracticable as the unitary state solution) or as Pearson wrote a year after partition, "it is clear that some assumptions had to be accepted or no recommendation could have been made and this would simply have meant that nature would have been allowed to take its course" (Hillmer 1981, 162).

Once again no concrete attempts (as far as I can see) were made by Canada to use its domestic example of building a relatively successful and prosperous bi-national federation as a model among many solutions to the Palestine problem.

As previously mentioned, partition of Palestine was bitterly opposed by the Palestinian Arabs as well as the neighbouring Arab states, and despite this vehement opposition "and irrespective of Arab declarations that any attempt to violate the integrity of Palestine would be challenged, the plan was considered a realistic solution" (Ismael 1984, 11). Furthermore, after the obvious failure of the Partition Plan, and instead of advocating for a return to the option of a federal, bi-national state, Canada (Pearson) declared that an Arab recognition "that Israel had come to stay" was the only way that a solution could be found (Spenser 1959, 150).

Years later, Pearson recorded in his memoirs that "[p]artition was certainly no ideal solution but it seemed, certainly to me, the best that could possibly be achieved ... Provision was made for a Jewish state in Palestine, a 'national home,' something which I felt was a sine qua non of any settlement" (Munro & Inglis 1973, 214). One may get the impression from such statements that Canada was more interested in seeing the establishment of a Jewish state than seeing the success of the two-state solution (partition) or of emulating its own model of federalism.

As for the argument that partition fulfilled pre-established legal requirements to create a Jewish National Home in Palestine, "Rand believed that an Arab state in all of Palestine would be a 'betrayal of the Jewish people and a violation of international agreements'" (Bercuson 1985, 96). The international agreements that Rand was referring to were the Balfour Declaration of 1917 and the Mandate granted in 1922, which the Zionists used effectively to facilitate the creation of a "national home for the Jews in Palestine."

What is striking about a great deal of material on the subject is how secondary the creation and the viability of an Arab Palestinian state was in the deliberations of the various committees as well as in the historical accounts of the period, starting with the Balfour Declaration. [Zionism's transformative project, resembled the colonialist project of Britain with its appeal to the superiority of its "interest, cause, or mission" (Said 1980, 15). The Arab Palestinian natives become "not worth considering and therefore nonexistent ..." (Said 1980, 15).]

Edward Said questioned the legality of the Balfour Declaration which he acknowledged "has long formed the judicial basis of Zionist claims for Palestine [...]" (Said 1980, 15). For Said, "the declaration was made (a) by a European power, Co) about a non-European territory, (c) in a fiat disregard of both the presence and the wishes of the native majority resident in that territory, and (d) it took the form of a promise about this same territory to another foreign group, so that this foreign group might, quite literally, make this territory a national home for the Jewish people" (Said 1980, 15-16).

Similar arguments were made at the time of partition by the Arab Higher Committee, and despite how compelling such arguments may have been, Canada maintained its support for the legality of the Balfour Declaration and the British Mandate that enshrined it and gave it life.


In his book, Canada and Palestine: The Politics of Non-Commitment, Zachariah Kay investigates the impact of various factors on determining attitudes and policies effecting national and international issues and puts them in the context of the Palestine crisis and the creation of the state of Israel in 1948. The three main factors for Kay are: (1) The leadership factor (the Prime Minister); (2) The government factor (cabinet and the bureaucracy); and (3) societal factors (Kay 1978, 31). For Kay, "the primary factor affecting Canadian attitudes and policies towards the establishment of the Jewish state was leadership [in the office of the PM]." The government factor was secondary "while societal factors were virtually negligible in their effect on the decision-making process" (Kay 1978, 170).

Those who claim that Canada's policy on the question of Palestine (partition and recognition of Israel) was due only to pragmatic and legal considerations, are over-simplifying and legitimizing Canada's position. The complexity of the issue necessitates that we delve deeper than realpolitik explanations to come to grips with Canada's role in the Palestine problem. There were external, internal, and personal factors with which to understand Canada's position and the motivation behind it. In certain respects

these considerations rehabilitate certain factors that were considered secondary or "negligible" by authors such as Kay (1978), Bercuson (1985), Hillmer (1981) and Tauber (2002).


Anglo-American Discord and the Cold War

Senator Heath Macquame attributes the major motivation for the prominent role that Canadians played in the Palestine problem as the "amelioration of tensions among larger powers, the United states and Britain and later the United States and the Soviet Union" (Macquarrie in Ismael 1984, 62). Canada's relationship with Britain was a major factor attributed by Senator Macquarrie for our delay in granting recognition to the new state of Israel, and in fact recognition was not extended until PM Mackenzie King, an ardent pro- British and UN skeptic, was out of the way.

Ameliorating tensions between the US and Britain was different in objective from that of ameliorating tensions between the US and the USSR. At this period in time, both were perhaps in some ways connected to the cold war however, while the former aimed at strengthening the western alliance, the latter's goal was to minimize and curtail the rising Soviet influence.

Lester B. Pearson believed that rejecting partition would have resulted in violence and bloodshed, "placing even greater strain on Anglo-American relations and [more ominously] an increased danger of exploitation of the situation by the USSR" (Munro & Inglis 1973, 214).

Pearson's preoccupation with blocking Soviet influence in the region was an important element in his thinking during the Palestine crisis and after. Pearson considered Israel "an outpost, if you will of the West in the Middle East," which was increasingly dependent on Western help while the Arabs looked to Moscow for military and diplomatic support (Munro & Inglis 1973, 219).

The Holocaust and Western Guilt

The Nazi atrocities in Europe during WWII had a profound effect on the thinking of Canadian officials, including Lester B. Pearson, which Hillmer considered to be the most important reason for "the subsequent UN recommendation that a Jewish state be created in Palestine" (Hillmer 1981, 21).

The Holocaust had an impact on the public as well as on the policies of political parties in Canada and around the world. This unspeakable atrocity against the European Jews convinced many who were reticent before of the need to establish a Jewish homeland / refuge in Palestine, as per the Balfour Declaration.

Eliezer Tauber argues that individual Canadian foreign service officials at the UN pursued a line of action in support of partition "not out of considerations of realpolitik, but out of humanitarian concerns. It was the impact of the Holocaust and the plight of the Jewish refugees that convinced them that the establishment of a Jewish state was "a sine qua non for any settlement" (Tauber 2002, 117).

Historians such as David Bercuson give the example of the Canadian Commonwealth Federation (CCF) to explain the impact that the Holocaust had on the changing attitudes towards the establishment of a Jewish national home in Palestine. He writes that prior to WWII, CCF leaders such as Woodsworth were very weary of supporting Zionism as they considered it a form of narrow and "ultra-nationalism" that could only give rise to counter-nationalism and instability in the region. After WWII however, things changed dramatically, in part due to having a new and more sympathetic leader take the helm from Woodsworth, and in the effort to gain electoral support from the Jewish community who were being wooed not only by the Liberals but also by the Communists. WWII and the Holocaust "dramatically altered the dimensions of the Palestine question and linked it with the fate of the Holocaust survivors" (Bercuson 1984, 21). The impact on public opinion in Canada as well as on the positions of the various political parties (with the exception the Social Credit Party) was notable. In the case of the CCF, it became "more vigorous in its support for Zionism than any other major party in Canada" (Bercuson 1984, 19).

With the exception of the Social Credit Party, the Holocaust (which can also be attributed in part to the changing Soviet position regarding Zionism and partition) meant that there was near unanimous partisan support in Canada for the aspirations of the Jews and Zionism.


Zionist Lobby in Canada and Abroad

The relative impact of the Zionist lobby to influence Canadian foreign policy on the Palestine question (and later the larger Arab-Israeli Conflict) was perhaps much more effective during the 1940s and 1950s in large part because of the fact that the Arab-Canadian community was fewer in numbers and, for the most part, divided along sectarian and religious lines and less well organized. In her MA thesis, Anne Trowel Hillmer quoted a Canadian government official from 1944 as saying that the Liberal government was "habitually in receipt of telegrams from Zionist organizations in Canada, the United States and elsewhere [...] a pro-Arab missive 'was something of a novelty'" (Hillmer 1981, 10). Perhaps the only counter-balancing opinion heard by the government was that of Elizabeth MacCallum, a long time foreign service officer at External Affairs and the only expert on the Middle East (Hillmer 1981, 19).

Although Kay (1978) and Bercuson (1985) discount/underestimate the impact of the Zionist lobby on Canada's foreign policy during the period in question, both include a much more detailed analysis of the intricate working of the various Zionist organizations, their international connections and lobby efforts than writers (Ismael 1984) who overemphasize the role of the Zionist lobby in Canadian policy towards the Palestine crisis and the Partition Plan. As an example, the conclusions of Kay and Bercuson did not entirely correspond with the fact that while the King government did not vehemently raise the issues brought to its attention by the Zionist lobby with Britain, Canada was and continued to be publicly supportive of the goals and aspirations of the Zionist movement. The impact of the Zionist lobby must also be measured in relation to public opinion, which Kay argued was changing in favour of Zionism.

Bercuson traces the beginning of Zionist lobbying in Canada to the year 1919 when representatives from the Federation of Canadian Zionists and the Canadian Jewish Congress pressed the government to plead with the British government and PM Lloyd George to "include that area east of the Jordan River and north to the Litani River in what is now Lebanon" in the Palestine Mandate (Bercuson 1985, 17). Zionist Lobbying continued throughout the period of the British mandate and escalated in 1939 in reaction to the imposition by Britain of the White Paper policy restricting Jewish immigration to Palestine.

Another form of Zionist lobbying was directed at the members of UNSCOP and this was all the more important as there were not any similar exposure to the Arab view since the Arab Higher Committee imposed a boycott on dealings or cooperating with the UN committee. According to Bercuson, "[T]he time Rand, and other committee members, spent with Horowitz, Eban, and men like Hull [dispatched by the Jewish Agency to lobby the committee] was important in moulding their thinking about the Palestine question because pro-Zionist positions were presented in an intimate atmosphere and at an informal and personal level" (Bercuson 1985, 86).

Hillmer relies on quotes from interviews with George Ignatieff and Elizabeth MacCallum about the Zionist influence on the Canadian government and in particular on Pearson and the Canadian delegation at the UN, and concludes that "Jewish and Zionist pressure was felt, and doubtless acted upon, in Ottawa and New York" (Hillmer 1981, 175).


Judeo-Christian Values and Beliefs

Tareq Ismael has argued that "the Christian religion and a certain orientation to the Holy Land; World War II and western civilization's guilt over an age-old anti-Semitism ...; the consequent sympathetic view of Zionism; ethnocentric European view of Asian and African people's--all these lead Canada to a position compatible with the basic premises of the Israeli argument" (Ismael 1984, 28). The two most prominent Canadians involved in the UN discussion on Palestine held views that conveyed a certain religious and ethnocentric undertones that in the final analysis shaped their views of the issue. In the words of Justice Ivan Rand himself "because Israel placed such importance on the value of individual freedom, the new state was proving a "beacon light" in an otherwise darkened section of humanity. Israel was also an anchorage in the Middle East for ethical values and civilizing influence of the West" (NAC, Rand Papers--my emphasis).

In a speech celebrating the 4th Anniversary of Israel's 'Independence' Day in Winnipeg, Justice Ivan Rand declared with clear religious undertones that "I always regard the creation of the state of Israel as the world's act of restitution after eighteen centuries of Jewish wondering" (NAC, Rand Papers).

In yet another speech delivered the year after Israel was created, Justice Rand said:
 ... the day you commemorate is of historical
 significance for two reasons: one relates to the Jewish
 people ... The other relates to civilized mankind, it represents
 the first significant collective act of international justice to an
 oppressed people ..." and in describing the conditions of the
 land of Palestine he declared: "But to these people [Jewish
 immigrants] with galvanizing energies released, it is a land
 already beginning to blossom like a rose. These men and
 women are draining and cleansing and transforming poisonous
 swamps into fertile fields ... They are terracing and reclaiming
 the stony hills, they have multiplied the abundance of the
 coastal plain where the Philistines once lived[...]" (NAC,
 Rand Papers).

In his book The Question of Palestine, Edward Said links the Zionist project with the tradition of western colonialism that is dehumanizing of indigenous populations. Said argues that "Zionism and Israel were associated with Liberalism, with freedom and democracy, with knowledge and light, with what "we" understand and fight for. By contrast, Zionism's enemies were simply a twentieth-century version of the alien spirit of Oriental despotism, sensuality, ignorance, and similar forms of backwardness" (Said 1980, 29).

Rand's speeches upon returning home from his duties as a member of UNSCOP were short on legal justifications of partition and the establishment of the state of Israel and long on the superiority and the benevolence of the Jewish immigrants in comparison to the indigenous Palestinians. In a speech at a rally in 1949 Rand declared that Zionist leadership "faces the task also of showing the way to the rehabilitation of the life of the Middle East. The mass of humanity of that region today is sunk in squalor and degradation; no other people on earth can bring to it the intelligence, energy and effective work that the Jews can[...]" (NAC, Rand papers).

Many Canadians became convinced that the Jews, having suffered one of the worst crimes at the hands of the Nazis in several other European countries, and discrimination even in Canada, were entitled to an independent state of their own. The idea that it should be in the biblical homeland of the Jews appealed to many Canadians of Christian persuasions, most notably Pearson, who had been influenced by the Bible to believe that the Jews belonged in the "Holy Land" of Palestine.

In 1949 Pearson wrote that Canada was well positioned to play a role in finding a solution to the Palestine problem and "of all the people ... we were best able to be objective" (NAC, Pearson Papers).

In his memoirs however, Pearson did not seem to be very "objective" when he wrote that, "I must admit that I became emotionally involved in a very special way because we were dealing with the Holy Land--the land of my Sunday School lessons. At one stage in my life I knew far more about the geography of Palestine than I did about the geography of Canada. I think that in the back of my mind I felt I was concerning myself with something close to my early life and religious background" (Munro & Inglis 1973, 213).

Many Christian faiths in Canada fostered a sentimental interest in the holy land that was certainly not sympathetic to the majority Arab-Muslim inhabitants of the land. This was evident in the lobby efforts undertaken by non-Jewish promoters of the Zionist cause such as Henry Janes who led the short-lived Christian Council for Palestine and Herbert Mowat, a former Anglican minister who led the Canadian Palestine Committee (Bercuson 1984, 24-25).

While David Bercuson had a point when he wrote that, "[C]anada was far more concerned about the impact of the Palestine question on British-American relations than it was about the fate of Jews or Arabs" (Bercuson 1985, ix), he was dismissive from the outset of views and analysis that revealed the pro-Zionist sympathies of some of the Canadian key players in the Palestine question.

Bercuson's view is certainly not shared by Eliezer Tauber who considered that Canada's role in the adoption of the 1947 Palestine Partition resolution "was a matter of personal policy making by a small group of Canadian foreign service officials determined to promote the idea [partition], which seemed to them morally right" (Tauber 2002, x). Tauber argues, "Pearson and his colleagues pursued this policy of their own accord, and not as representatives of an official Canadian foreign policy" (Tauber 2002, 117).


Canada's motivation in support of the Partition of Palestine into separate Jewish and Arab states was conditioned by the various and at times contradictory factors outlined above. Canada's position in the world after WWII and its increasing attention to international issues within the context of the functionalism of middle power status (whether real or perceived) led Canada not only to get involved in the Palestine question (somewhat reluctantly at first) but also to play a prominent role in the formulation and the passing of the partition resolution at the UN.

Most mainstream writers and historians stress that Canada "sought pragmatic and realistic solutions" (Hillmer 1981; Bercuson 1985; Kay 1978) based on legality (Balfour Declaration) and practicality (Partition) to solve the Palestine problem. While these may be important factors to consider, a combination of external (Anglo-American discord and the cold war, the Holocaust), internal (Zionist lobby and the near unanimous partisan support for Zionist aims) and personal factors (religious beliefs and a Eurocentric view of the world) are also important elements in understanding Canada's position and the motivation behind it.

Stressing one or more of the factors discussed above may be linked to ones ideological position on the question of Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict in general. One has to contend, however, with the fact that the practical, pragmatic and legal explanations are tenuous and unconvincing. If history is any proof, the practicality argument behind Canada's support for partition proved to be disastrous, especially to the Palestinians.

As pointed out in the text, Canada's position was also heavily influenced by factors such as the western alliance against Soviet influence, the Zionist lobby in Canada and abroad, the impact of the Holocaust on policy makers in the West, and the religious and Eurocentric views of prominent members of Canada's delegation to the United Nations and the political elite in general. On a certain level, Canada's support for partition instead of federalism based on democratic participation and representation of Arabs and Jews is inconsistent with its own model of a bi-national federation. On another level, however, support for partition and the creation of Israel as the bulwark of the West in the Middle East is compatible and consistent with Canada's post-war foreign policy objectives.


Bercuson, David J. 1985. Canada and the Birth of Israel: A Study in Canadian Foreign Policy. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Bickerton, Ian J., and Carla L. Klausner. 1991. A Concise History of the Arab-Israeli Conflict. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall.

Canada, The Standing Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs. 1985. Report on Canada's Relations with the Countries of the Middle East and North Africa. Ottawa.

Canada-Israel Committee. 1979. Canada-Israel Friendship: The First Thirty Years. Toronto.

Eban, Abba. 1977. Abba Eban: An Autobiography. New York: Random House.

Elath, Eliahu. (Translation from Hebrew by Michael Ben-Yitzhak). 1976. Zionism at the UN. A Diary of the First Days. Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society of America.

Granatstein, J. L. (ed.). 1969. Canadian Foreign Policy Since 1945: Middle Power or Satellite? Toronto: The Copp Clark Publishing Company.

Hadawi, Sami. 1979. Bitter Harvest: Palestine between 1914-1979. New York: The Caravan Books.

Hillmer, Anne Trowel. 1981. Canadian Policy on the Partition of Palestine, 1947. Ottawa: Carleton University (unpublished thesis).

Holmes, John W. 1982. The Shaping of Peace: Canada and the Search for World Order 1943-1957, Volume 2. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Ismael, Tareq Y. 1974. The Middle East in World Politics: A Study in Contemporary International Relations. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press.

--. 1984. Canadian Arab Relations: Policy and Perspectives. Ottawa: Jerusalem International Publishing House.

Kay, Zachariah. 1978. Canada and Palestine: The Politics of Non-Commitment. Jerusalem: Israel Universities Press.

--. 1996. The Diplomacy of Prudence: Canada and Israel, 1948-1958. Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queen's University Press.

Krammer, Arnold. 1974. The Forgotten Friendship: Israel and the Soviet Bloc, 1947-53. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.

Mackay, R. A. (ed.). 1970. Canadian Foreign Policy 1945-1954: Selected Speeches and Documents. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart.

Macquarrie, Heath. 1982. Canada and the Palestinians, 1947-1982. Ottawa: The League of Arab States Information Office.

Miller, Ronnie. 1991. From Lebanon to the Intifada: The Jewish Lobby and Canadian Middle East Policy. Lanham: University Press of America.

Munro, John A. and Alex Inglis (eds.). 1973. Mike: The Memoirs of The Right Honourable Lester B. Pearson, Volume 2, 1948-1957. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

National Archives of Canada (NAC). Ivan C. Rand Papers--MG30E77 Vol. 2.

National Archives of Canada (NAC). Lester B. Pearson Papers--MG26N9, Vol. 2.

Said, Edward W. 1979. The Question of Palestine. New York: Vintage Books.

Spencer, Robert A. 1959. Canada in World Affairs From UN to NATO, 1946-1949. Toronto: Oxford University Press.

Tauber, Eliezer. 2002. Personal Policy Making: Canada's Role in the Adoption of the Palestine Partition Plan. Westport: Greenwood Press.


(1.) The members of UNSCOP were: Australia, Iran, India, Yugoslavia, Sweden, the Netherlands, Czechoslovakia, Guatemala, Peru, Uruguay, and Canada.

(2.) The seven countries were: Canada, Czechoslovakia, Guatemala, the Netherlands, Peru, Sweden and Uruguay.

(3.) The three countries were: India, Iran and Yugoslavia.

(4.) In his presentation before UNSCOP on 30 September 1947, Mr. Jamal Husseini representing the Arab Higher Committee declared that "the Zionists claimed the establishment of a Jewish National Home by virtue of the Balfour Declaration. But Great Britain had had no right to dispose of Palestine which she had occupied in the name of the Allies as a liberator and not a conqueror. The Balfour Declaration was in contradiction with the Covenant of the League of Nations and was an immoral, unjust and illegal promise" (NAC, Rand Papers).

(5.) Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver presented the report of the Jewish Agency for Palestine to UNSCOP on 2 October, 1947 which quoted the former PM of Britain Lloyd George as stating that the Balfour Declaration "implied that the whole of Palestine, including Transjordan, should ultimately become a Jewish state." He added that the Jews are being asked to sacrifice a great deal by excepting partition but "... if it would allow an immediate influx of immigrants, which would be possible only in a Jewish state, then the Jewish Agency was prepared to recommend the acceptance of the Partition Resolution to the supreme organs of the movement subject to further discussion of constitutional and territorial provisions" (NAC, Rand Papers--my emphasis).

(6.) The UN General Assembly Resolution 181: In favour: 33--Australia, Belgium, Bolivia, Brazil, Byelorussian S.S.R., Canada, Costa Rica, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, France, Guatemala, Haiti, Iceland, Liberia, Luxemburg, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Norway, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Sweden, Ukrainian S.S.R., Union of South Africa, U.S.A., U.S.S.R., Uruguay, Venezuela. Against: 13--Afghanistan, Cuba, Egypt, Greece, India, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey, Yemen. Abstained: 10--Argentina, Chile, China, Colombia, E1 Salvador, Ethiopia, Honduras, Mexico, United Kingdom, Yugoslavia (

(7.) Zachariah Kay (1978) attributes Canada's long delay in recognizing the state of Israel to the presence of Mackenzie King in the PM's seat. King's hesitation, according to Kay was related to his strong support for the British position and distrust of the UN but upon his departure in the fall of 1948, the door became open to St. Laurent's governments which also included this pragmatist, internationalist UN supporter Lester B. Pearson.

Hassan Husseini is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Political Science at Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada.
COPYRIGHT 2008 Association of Arab-American University Graduates
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2008 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Husseini, Hassan
Publication:Arab Studies Quarterly (ASQ)
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Jun 22, 2008
Previous Article:The US-market-oriented qualifying industrial zones: economic realities and scope of benefits (1996-2006).
Next Article:The serpent's egg.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2019 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters