Trudeau offended Israel with call for 'maximum restraint,' says Israeli president

Israeli President Isaac Herzog said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau offended his country earlier this month when he asked Israel to exercise “maximum restraint” in military operations in Gaza.

Isaac Herzog says his country cares about civilians in Gaza but is fighting an 'empire of evil'

Issac Herzog, a white male wearing a suit, speaks from a podium.
Israel's President Isaac Herzog told CBC's The National that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau offended Israel with his criticism of Israel's actions in Gaza. (AP/Heinz-Peter Bader)

Israeli President Isaac Herzog said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau offended his country earlier this month when he asked Israel to exercise "maximum restraint" in military operations in Gaza.

"We were offended by the comments of Prime Minister Trudeau because I spoke myself with Prime Minister Trudeau just a week before [he] spoke to me about enabling the exit of Canadian civilians, who are in Gaza, and Israel has done its best and made it a priority," Herzog told CBC's The National on Sunday.

The Israeli president said Israel "truly" cares about civilians in Gaza and warns them of imminent attacks through leaflets, text messages and other methods to give them time to flee.

"We tell them please move out of your premises, because out of your premises missiles were launched against us, terror operations came out of your premises, from your houses, from your shops, from your mosques," he said. 

Herzog said Hamas's Oct. 7 attack — which saw roughly 1,200 Israelis die and hundreds of civilians taken hostage — was the work of an "empire of evil" that has ambitions beyond his country.

Palestinian officials say the aerial bombardment of Gaza has killed 14,000 people since Israel launched its offensive against Hamas, which is listed as a terrorist organization by the Canadian government.

Trudeau has stopped short of explicitly calling for a ceasefire and has instead pushed for temporary pauses to the fighting to allow humanitarian aid into Gaza.

WATCH: Israel's president defends attacks on Hamas's 'empire of evil'

Israel’s president defends attacks on Gaza as protecting world from Hamas's 'empire of evil'

5 months ago
Duration 9:55
Israeli President Isaac Herzog tells The National’s Ian Hanomansing that his country has done what it can to prevent civilian deaths, but says the unprecedented attacks on Gaza have been necessary to protect humanity from what he says are the evils of Hamas.

Earlier this month, while making an announcement about electric vehicle batteries in Maple Ridge, B.C., Trudeau warned Israel that the rising number of civilian deaths in Gaza is raising concern.

"I have been clear that 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," Trudeau said.

"I urge the government of Israel to exercise maximum restraint. The world is watching, on TV, on social media.

"We're hearing the testimonies of doctors, family members, survivors, kids who've lost their parents. The world is witnessing this — the killing of women and children, of babies. This has to stop."

A swift Israeli backlash

Trudeau also condemned Hamas in his remarks, saying that the militant group "needs to stop using Palestinians as human shields" and calling on Hamas to release its hostages.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hit back swiftly. In a social media post that tagged Trudeau, Netanyahu said Israel isn't the one "deliberately targeting civilians, but [it is] Hamas that beheaded, burned and massacred civilians in the worst horrors perpetrated on Jews since the Holocaust.

"While Israel is doing everything to keep civilians out of harm's way, Hamas is doing everything to keep them in harm's way."

Nethanyahu said Israel has been providing Palestinian civilians in Gaza with humanitarian corridors and safe zones. He accused Hamas of stopping civilians from leaving at gunpoint.

"It is Hamas, not Israel, that should be held accountable for committing a double war crime — targeting civilians while hiding behind civilians. The forces of civilization must back Israel in defeating Hamas barbarism," he said.

WATCH: Trudeau urges Israel to 'exercise maximum restraint' in war against Hamas   

Trudeau's words were also criticized by Michael Levitt, a former Liberal MP who now serves as the president and CEO of the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre, a Jewish rights group.

Levitt said Trudeau's "reckless accusations against Israel are deeply concerning."

"His words, which belie the facts on the ground in the war between a fellow democracy and a genocidal terror group, may have been meant to deliver a message overseas but that's not the only place they landed," he said in a social media post.

"The scathing remarks also landed here at home, where Jews like me, reeling from weeks of surging antisemitism, got the message loud and clear."

Levitt said Trudeau's comments have "the potential to further fan the flames of Jew-hatred that we are facing."


Peter Zimonjic

Senior writer

Peter Zimonjic is a senior writer for CBC News. He has worked as a reporter and columnist in London, England, for the Daily Mail, Sunday Times and Daily Telegraph and in Canada for Sun Media and the Ottawa Citizen. He is the author of Into The Darkness: An Account of 7/7, published by Random House.