Trudeau acknowledges Liberal caucus divide over Israel-Hamas war. Says differences are 'a source of strength'

Some Liberal MPs have been calling for a ceasefire while others have decried the idea, saying that Israel has a right to defend itself

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OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Friday that MPs, including from his own caucus, are reflecting “very real fears and concerns” amid the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas, but called on them to remind Canadians that diversity is a “source of strength.”

Speaking in Brampton, Ont., Trudeau was asked to comment about recent reports of division in his caucus over the Israel-Hamas war. A growing number of Liberal MPs have been calling for a ceasefire in the region, upset over the Palestinian casualties that have mounted since the war began. Others in the Liberal caucus have said that Hamas must be defeated and that Israel has a right to defend itself after Hamas’s massive terrorist attack on Oct. 7.

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“Canadians hail from every corner of the world and are proud of being Canadian but also proud of their links to home and right now, Canadians of Muslim, Arab and particularly Palestinian origin, are extremely worried as are Canadians of the Jewish faith, Canadians with ties to Israel,” he said.

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On Friday, the number of Liberals calling for an immediate ceasefire in the region grew substantially, with nearly two dozen of them co-signing a letter alongside NDP and Green MPs in calling for Canada to do just that. The signatories also called on Canada to facilitate the opening of a humanitarian corridor and to “strongly stand up for international law”.

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Trudeau added that people are worried and scared about whether they can send their children to school safely, or whether they will be harassed walking in the streets or shouted at on a university campus, and that “Canadians of all backgrounds who are represented in Parliament are reflecting the very real fears and concerns that everyone has.”

“Our jobs as parliamentarians, is, yes, to speak for our community, speak for our constituents, speak for Canadians and make sure everyone’s fears are being heard and reflected upon and acted on,” he said. “But our job is also… to reassure everyone that this is Canada and, here, our differences must and will remain a source of strength.

“So yes, there are lots of different perspectives. But there are shared fears and concerns amongst all parliamentarians and a commitment every single day to keep everyone safe here in Canada and everywhere around the world.”

On Thursday, a number of Liberal MPs from the Jewish, Muslim and Arab communities shared online the same photograph showing them in a meeting to discuss their differing views on the war.

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“We may not entirely agree on events in the Middle East but we do agree that all communities must and deserve to feel safe in Canada & we will work together to do this,” Montreal MP Anthony Housefather, who is chair of the Canada-Israel Friendship Group, wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

His colleague, Taleeb Noormohamed, an MP from Vancouver, wrote online that “families don’t always agree on everything” but they met “to reaffirm (their) commitment to being there for one another in the most difficult times, just as families do.”

Trudeau has been criticized by Conservatives and Jewish groups this week for refusing to take a clear stance on who is responsible for an explosion at a Gaza hospital on Tuesday night. Initial reports from Hamas blamed an Israeli missile strike and cited a death toll of 500, but Israel denies it attacked the hospital and has provided evidence it said showed the blast was caused by a failed rocket launch from within Gaza and struck the parking lot outside the hospital.

After Trudeau said Tuesday that what happened was illegal according to the “rules around wars,” he told reporters on Thursday that he would take the “necessary time” to look at the evidence before drawing any conclusions.

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On Friday, he was not prepared to say what more proof he needed to come to a final verdict.

“We are working with our allies internationally to make sure that we can determine exactly what happened,” he reiterated.

U.S. President Joe Biden has already said that he was convinced the explosion was caused by “the other team,” meaning Palestinian terrorists, not Israel. U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said earlier this week there should be no “rush to judgment” over who was behind the explosion.

“We don’t treat what comes out of the Kremlin as the gospel truth, we should not do the same with Hamas,” said Sunak.

Canada’s ambassador to the United Nations, Bob Rae, told an Ottawa crowd on Wednesday that Canadians should offer their support to Israel in what he called an existential fight and drew a direct line with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which Canada has condemned unequivocally.

“It is not only a fight for Israel and the Jewish people. It’s a fight for all people to be able to live with security and with recognition of who they are,” said Rae according to the Toronto Star.

Trudeau would not say Friday if Rae’s remarks were in accordance with the federal government’s position. He reiterated that Hamas is a terrorist organization that “launched one of the most horrific terrorist attacks on civilians in history” and that “Israel has the full right to defend itself in accordance with international law” while calling for the return of all hostages immediately.

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Trudeau also would not speculate on what Canada would like to see happen next for the region, saying that those conversations will happen “when the time comes.”

“But Canada remains firm and steadfast in our commitment to a two-state solution. The world and the region needs a peaceful, safe, prosperous, viable Palestinian state alongside a peaceful, prosperous, democratic, safe, Israeli state, Israel,” he said.

“This is something that we have always called for. It is something we will continue to work for every day as we move forward.”

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