Israel's Most Reliable Ally
"Through fire and water, Canada will stand with you," were the closing remarks of Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper at the Israeli Knesset on Monday, January 20, 2014. This was the first time a Canadian Prime Minister addressed the Knesset; and, it was Harper's first trip to Israel and the Middle East. His messages throughout his stay were received warmly by the Israeli government and public. There was no outspoken criticism of Israel -- another "first" by a head of state visiting the land.
Harper's friendship with Israel has been a welcome relief at a time when the Jewish State has become increasingly isolated. Israel's diplomatic troubles have come to the forefront, recently:
• Israeli ambassadors were called on the carpet by four European governments that demanded an explanation of current Israeli settlement policy;
• UNESCO cancelled an exhibit portraying 3,500 years of Jewish history in the Holy Land because of Arab protests;
• Western divestments and boycotts of Israeli products beyond the Green Line continue to hamper Israel's ability to engage in free trade;
• Anti-Semitic slurs by Western government leaders and public acts against Jews have become more frequent;
• Questionable foreign policy initiatives by the United States has caused Israeli leaders to mistrust America's intentions. Some Israeli politicians are building a case against U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's framework peace plan before its expected release.
While Israel has looked for sustainable partnerships, Harper has been the most consistent leader to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He's not afraid to say what he thinks. He has given courageous public statements on behalf of Israel. He's understood Israel's demand to be recognized as the sovereign state of the Jewish People.
In his Knesset speech, Harper asserted, "It is right to support Israel, because after generations of persecution, the Jewish People deserve their own homeland and deserve to live safely and peacefully in that homeland."
Harper sees Israel as a light of freedom and democracy in a dark region. "Canada supports Israel fundamentally because it is right to do so... Support today for the Jewish State of Israel is more than a moral imperative. It is also a matter of strategic importance; also a matter of our own, long-term interests."
According to Harper, Canadians stand for what they believe is the right thing to do. Otherwise, as he pointed out, "the retreat of our values and our interests in the world will begin."
Harper explained that in the West, old hatred of Jews has been translated into sophisticated language in society. People don't say they hate the Jews or blame them openly. But, they do declare their hatred of Israel and they blame the Jewish State.
Harper expanded on this definition of the new anti-Semitism. "It targets the Jewish People by targeting Israel and attempts to make the old bigotry acceptable to a new generation." Harper said this is done by selectively condemning Israel and denying its right to exist.
Meanwhile, Canada has continued to demonstrate its defense of Israel in diplomatic forums. Harper withdrew his diplomats when the Durban II conference in 2009 deteriorated into Israel-bashing. He also stood for Israel at the UN: "What else can we call it when Israel is routinely singled out, targeted at the United Nations; and, when Israel remains the only country to be the subject of a permanent agenda item at the regular sessions of its Human Rights Council?"
During Harper's visit, his warm ties with Netanyahu were exhibited. The pomp and circumstance at the Israeli Prime Minister's office, welcoming Harper and his wife Laureen to Jerusalem, was as celebratory as the airport welcome for U.S. President Barack Obama in March 2013. A large delegation of 250 people accompanied Harper, including members of Canada's Jewish community, parliamentary and government officials, and business leaders.
At the Knesset, Harper confirmed, "This friendship between us is rooted in history, nourished by shared values, and it is intentionally reinforced at the highest levels of commerce and government as an outward expression of strongly held inner convictions."
In the future, Harper not only wants to expand economic ties with Israel, but military ties as well. He referred to Israel's help in defending his country: "During Canada's mission to Afghanistan, the use of Israeli-built reconnaissance equipment saved the lives of many Canadian soldiers."
Harper has maintained Israel's right to defend itself by supporting IDF incursions into Lebanon in 2006, and into Gaza several times. He understands Israel's need to establish and maintain a level of deterrence that keeps its enemies at bay.
Harper was the first Western leader to cut aid to the Palestinians in Gaza when Hamas took over in 2006. He has financially supported the Palestinians in the West Bank (Judea and Samaria), announcing a new pledge of $66 million when meeting with President Mahmoud Abbas on this trip.
While he supports the Palestinian quest for an independent state, Harper thinks this should be done through peaceful relations with Israel and direct negotiations. In 2012, he stood with Israel against the Palestinian bid for non-member status at the UN General Assembly. The Palestinians are expected to continue their goal for international recognition if current peace talks fail.
Harper spelled out his foreign policy, stating the three ways Canada would continue to stand by Israel:
"First, Canada finds it deplorable that some in the international community still question the legitimacy of the existence of the State of Israel. Our view that Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state is absolute and non-negotiable."
"Second, Canada believes that Israel should be able to exercise its full rights as a UN member-state and to enjoy the full measure of its sovereignty. For this reason, Canada has spoken on numerous occasions in support of Israel's engagement and equal treatment in multilateral fora. And in this regard, I should mention that we welcome Israel's induction this month into the western, democratic group of states at the United Nations."
"Third, we refuse to single out Israel for criticism on the international stage."
Harper said condemnation of Israel is not balanced or sophisticated. "It is just, quite simply, weak and wrong."
Displaying compassion for the 65 years Israel has struggled through wars, bombings, and slander, Harper acknowledged that Israelis have never known a day of true peace. "We Canadians understand that Israelis live with this impossible calculus: If you act to defend yourselves, you will suffer widespread condemnation over and over again. But should you fail to act, you alone will suffer the consequence of your inaction and that consequence will be final. It will be your destruction."
In that warning to Israel, it's obvious that Harper gets it. In the standing ovations he received from his delegation at the Israeli Knesset, it's obvious that Canada gets it. Harper surpasses other leaders of the Free World because of his faith and convictions; identifying with the suffering of the Jewish People. It should be great encouragement to Israelis, knowing they do not have to stand alone, as long as Canada continues to be their closest and most reliable diplomatic ally.