David M. WeinbergThe writer is director of public affairs at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies.
The First to Defend Israel
Harper said: “Why does Israel remain under threat? Make no mistake; look beyond the thinly-veiled rationalizations. [Israel’s enemies] hate Israel, just as they hate the Jewish people.
Canada was the first country in the world to immediately suspend direct aid to the Palestinian Authority when Hamas was elected in 2006, because of that terrorist organizations’ refusal to recognize Israel, renounce violence, and accept previous peace agreements. Prime Minister Harper said: “If institutions committed to terrorism are playing a role in the Palestinian state…that is an indication to me that the road to [Palestinian] democracy has not been traveled very far. Democracy and the continued advocacy of terrorism are fundamentally incompatible objectives.”
Canada’s position was quickly adopted by the US and the EU.
Canada was the first country in the world to withdraw its support from the second UN World Conference Against Racism, known as Durban II. Noting the anti-Semitic and anti-Israel hate-fest into which the original Durban conference degenerated, the Canadian government led the boycott of the 2009 meeting, and was one of only 15 countries to boycott the Durban III summit in 2011.
Again, other Western allies followed Canada’s lead.
Canada was the first country in the world to defend Israel’s operation against Hezbollah, early during the 2006 Second Lebanon War. Harper said that “responsibility for the escalating violence in the Middle East rests entirely with those who have kidnapped Israeli soldiers. Israel has the right to defend itself.” When many countries urged restraint on Israel, Harper said “the onus to end this escalation is on the other side.” When other countries accused Israel of overreacting and using disproportionate force, Harper called Israel’s response “measured.”
After the war, Harper opposed a one-sided statement at the Francophonie summit that sought to deplore the war and recognize the victims of Lebanon, insisting that the resolution recognize losses on both sides. Canada’s steadfast position ultimately won the support of the other Francophonie members for a balanced resolution.
During Operation Cast Lead in 2009 and Operation Pillar of Defense in 2012, Canada likewise stood by Israel against Hamas aggression from Gaza. Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird described Israel’s right to self-defense in the context of the broader conflict between terrorism and democracy: “Far too often, the Jewish people find themselves on the front lines in the struggle against terrorism, the great struggle of our generation…Canada condemns the terrorist group Hamas and stands with Israel as it deals with regional threats to peace and security.”
At the important G-8 summit in 2011, Prime Minister Harper single-handedly blocked an American draft that specified Israel’s pre-1967 borders as the starting point for peace talks, because this ignored other issues such as recognition of Israel as a Jewish state and demilitarization of a Palestinian state. In the end, G-8 leaders conceded the merit of Harper’s position, and issued a balanced statement urging Israel and the Palestinians to resume negotiations (with no mention of the 1967 lines).
Canada also has consistently stood up for Israel, often as a lone voice, in the G-20, the UN Human Rights Council (UNCHR), International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and the UN General Assembly (UNGA). Over the three years that it sat on the UNCHR in Geneva, Canada stood alone in defense of Israel – eight times casting the only “no” vote against unfair condemnations of Israel. Also in Geneva, Canada played a critical role in getting Israel membership in the Western European and Others Group (WEOG), a status that Israel has sought for years.
In November 2012, Foreign Minister Baird personally cast Canada’s vote against UNGA recognition of Palestinian statehood. Canada was among only nine countries that voted against this resolution, making the case that it undermined direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.
Prime Minister Harper’s government has taken a lead role at the IAEA in Vienna and other international forums in opposing the Iranian drive for nuclear weapons, and in backing sanctions against Iran. In 2012, Canada closed its embassy in Tehran and expelled all Iranian diplomats from Ottawa. It also outlawed Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps Qods Force under Canada’s Anti-Terrorism Act. Canada expanded its sanctions in 2013 by announcing a prohibition on all imports and exports from Iran, and by banning a series of Iranian individuals and entities.
Canadian resoluteness in opposing Iran has drawn in other Western countries. Many joined the walk-out boycotts that Canada annually led of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s speeches at the UN. Almost all Western nations have supported the tough UNGA resolution on Iran’s horrendous human rights record that Canada sponsors every year.
Canada also expressed deep skepticism of the November interim agreement in Geneva between the P5+1 and Iran. At the time, Baird said that “Canadian sanctions will remain tough, and in full force. We will evaluate today’s deal not just on the merits of its words, but more importantly on its verifiable implementation and unfettered access of all Iranian nuclear facilities.”
It should be noted that in adopting these far-reaching positions, Harper has expanded upon the pro-Israel foundations of previous Canadian governments, particularly that of former Prime Minister Paul Martin. Moreover, Harper’s strong support of Israel has moved the needle in Canadian politics, with Harper’s forward positions being echoed by other Canadian political leaders.
Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau, for example, told Canadian Jews last November that “standing up for Israel is not just standing up for Israel, it’s standing up for the very values and ideals that define Canada: values of openness, respect, compassion, that seek for justice and search for peace.” And former Liberal Party interim leader Bob Rae wrote that “those Arabs and Palestinians who deny the legitimacy of Israel as the Jewish homeland have to be seen as opponents of a real peace process.”
Moral Basis of Canadian Policy
There are deep moral underpinnings to Prime Minister Harper’s worldview.
First, the Holocaust weighs heavily on the prime minister’s mind and colors his view of world affairs. “Remembering the Holocaust is not merely an act of historical recognition, but an undertaking,” he said in 2006. “The same threats exist today…Memory requires a solemn responsibility to fight those threats…And unfortunately, Israel remains a country under threat – threatened by those groups and regimes who deny to this day its right to exist.”
Second, Harper clearly understands the nature and dangers of modern anti-Semitism. His government has explicitly adopted Natan Sharansky’s 3-D rubric, and slammed the “constant barrage of rhetorical demonization, double standards, and delegitimization of Israel.” In fact, the government has signed and endorsed the “Ottawa Protocol on Combating Anti-Semitism” (developed at a 2010 meeting of the Inter-Parliamentary Coalition for Combating Anti-Semitism), which is the only global working definition and concrete plan for combating anti-Semitism, especially state-sanctioned anti-Semitism.
In explaining his government’s tough stance against anti-Semitism, Harper said: “Why does Israel remain under threat? Make no mistake; look beyond the thinly-veiled rationalizations. [Israel’s enemies] hate Israel, just as they hate the Jewish people. Our government believes that those who threaten Israel also threaten Canada, because, as the last world war showed, hate-fuelled bigotry against some is ultimately a threat to us all, and must be resisted wherever it may lurk.”
Third, Harper’s government clearly sees Israel as Canada’s democratic ally. In January 2012, Baird said that “Israel embodies values that Canada holds dear and respects. Israel is a beacon of light in a region that craves freedom, democracy, human rights, and the rule of law.”
Fourth, Harper takes a meta-historic view of Israel’s resurgence as a modern nation-state. Speaking on Israel’s 60th anniversary, he mused poetically about Zionism: “From shattered Europe and other countries near and far, the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob made their way home. Their pilgrimage was the culmination of a two-thousand-year-old dream; it is a tribute to the unquenchable human aspiration for freedom, and a testament to the indomitable spirit of the Jewish people.”
Harper has gone even further, stating that the “persistence of the Jewish homeland is a sign of hope and a symbol of our faith in humanity’s future, in the power of good over evil.”
There is a diplomatic price to be paid for such principled defense of Israel. Yet Harper is undeterred.
“The easy thing to do,” he told the 2010 inter-parliamentary conference, “is simply to just get along and go along with this anti-Israeli rhetoric, to pretend it is just being even-handed, and to excuse oneself with the label of ‘honest broker’. [But] Canada will take a stand [in support of Israel], whatever the cost. Not just because it is the right thing to do, but because history shows us, and the ideology of the anti-Israeli mob tells us all too well, that those who threaten the existence of the Jewish people are, in the longer term, a threat to all of us.”
No country in the world is as generous as Canada in its trailblazing support of Israel, without apologies or hesitations. Canada speaks out and acts to defend Israel, consistently before any other country in the world, without feeling the need to be “politically-correct” and to “balance” its statements with (im)moral ambiguities about the Arab-Israeli conflict. Prime Minister Harper acts out of deep moral commitment to the Jewish People and a meta-historic view of Israel’s resurgence as a modern nation-state.
Prime Minister Harper and his team undoubtedly will be warmly welcomed in Jerusalem next week as valuable allies and trusted friends.
David M. Weinberg, director of public affairs at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, is also the Israel office director of Canada’s Center for Israel and Jewish Affairs, and a columnist for The Jerusalem Post and Israel Hayom.
A BESA Center Perspectives Paper, published through the generosity of the Greg Rosshandler Family