Stephen Harper has transformed Canada’s Mideast policy
by Lorrie Goldstein
Back in 2006, Frank Dimant, executive vice-president of B’nai Brith, caused a considerable stir when he described Canada’s then-new prime minister, Stephen Harper, as the answer to the Jewish community’s prayers.
Controversial because not all Jews are Conservative supporters. Indeed, historically, the default party for most Canadian Jews has been the Liberals. In addition, Harper, both in 2006 and to an even greater extent today, is a more ardent supporter of Israel than many Canadian Jews.
Or, more accurately, Harper is more comfortable with the hardline policies of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, on everything from confronting a nuclear Iran to maintaining Israeli settlements in the Occupied Territories.
But even with those qualifiers, Dimant’s remarks in praise of Harper at a B’nai Brith dinner in Toronto almost six years ago — where Harper was treated by the audience like a rock star — ring even truer today .
To many Canadian Jews, Harper is widely admired as the most unequivocally pro-Israel prime minister Canada has ever had, abandoning what his political, media and diplomatic critics describe as Canada’s historically more “nuanced” position in the Mideast as “an honest broker,” working primarily through the United Nations.
On Wednesday, which was Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar, the Harper government again bolstered its standing among many Canadian Jews, when Canada’s delegation to the UN walked out of a speech at the General Assembly by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who described Israelis as “uncivilized Zionists.”
That’s just the latest in a long line of moves by the Harper government praised by mainstream Canadian Jewish organizations, as well as the Israeli government, which today appears to consider Canada its strongest international ally and closest friend.
Early in his first term as PM, for example, Harper became the first international leader to cut off aid to the Palestinian Authority after Hamas was elected to power.
Harper supported Israel’s controversial military campaign in its 2006 war with Hezbollah in Lebanon, despite heavy civilian casualties and widespread international criticism of Israel.
Under Harper, Canada boycotted the UN’s 2009 Durban II anti-racism conference because of its history of anti-Semitism and Israel-bashing, and, more recently, cut off diplomatic ties with Iran, Israel’s primary antagonist in the Mideast.
In New York this week to pick up a “world statesman” of the year award from the Appeal of Conscience Foundation, Harper will meet with Netanyahu, unlike U.S. President Barack Obama who declined a face-to-face meeting with the Israeli prime minister. Despite opposition criticism in Canada, Harper won’t address the fall assembly of the United Nations, which in 2010 denied Canada a seat on the UN Security Council.
Instead, Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, who has described Canada as Israel’s staunchest ally in the world, will address the UN in Harper’s place.
Critics of Harper have attributed his unrelenting support of Israel to his desire to draw Jewish voters away from the Liberals, to the power of the “Israel lobby,” to the fact many Conservatives are “Christian Zionists” who, based on biblical prophecy, believe Israel will play a key role in the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.
By contrast, many Canadian Jews see Harper as a principled leader in an increasingly unprincipled world.
And, indeed, the answer to their prayers.