The Harper Government’s Attitude To Israel Goes From Unhinged To Deranged
I’ve always thought that Stephen Harper’s conservatives were frankly unhinged when it came to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Admittedly, it’s a subject that arouses strong passions, and you can’t blame people too much for leaning heavily one way or the other. Some among us instinctively sympathise and even identify with displaced Palestinians confronting a combative nation that far outstrips them in wealth and military power, while others find it equally easy to imagine themselves in the shoes of Israelis trying to defend their embattled democracy from endless denunciations and occasional storms of rockets.
However, I think it’s fair to say that most Canadians can probably see both sides of the story to at least some extent, but the same can hardly be said of Stephen Harper. On his watch, Canada has been perhaps Israel’s most vociferous international cheerleader, always ready to boycott an anti-racism summit or condemn a UN report in order to distance itself from anything that smacks of anti-Zionism. The Canadian NGOs KAIROS and Rights & Democracy both appear to have got themselves on the wrong side of the Harperites by showing excessive sympathy to Palestinians, although it’s only fair to acknowledge that there may be a lot more to the story at least in the case of Rights & Democracy. During the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah, Harper was perfectly clear about where he stood:
“When it comes to dealing with a war between Israel and a terrorist organization, this country and this government cannot and will never be neutral,” said Harper. “Those who seek to destroy the Jews, who seek to destroy Israel, will ultimately seek to destroy us all. It is why Canada’s new government has reacted with speed and spoken with clarity on the recent events in the Middle East.”
This only goes to show that Harper’s brand of “clarity” is sometimes a highly unrealistic way of looking at the world. Referring to Hezbollah as a “terrorist organization” was an oversimplification, but this paled by comparison to the implausibility of insisting that Hezbollah was out to “destroy the Jews” (not merely to seize territory) and even to “destroy us all”. To inflate a conflict over pieces of land that would all fit comfortably inside Nova Scotia into something approaching a global apocalypse is just, well, unhinged. Like I said.
For the most part, though, the Harper government’s seemingly unquestioning support for Israel has been more a matter of words than actions. It certainly hasn’t been too damaging to Canadian interests, and I’ve been inclined to see it as just one more reason to roll my eyes in the general direction of Ottawa – a bit of foolishness to be filed alongside Gary Goodyear’s creationism and Jim Prentice’s solemn insistence that Canada cannot possibly have its own climate change policy.
However, things may have got more serious earlier this month, when Junior Foreign Affairs Minister Peter Kent said something to a publication called Shalom Life that appeared to go well beyond previous Tory statements:
He expressed Canada’s continued friendship and support of Israel. “Prime Minister Harper has made it quite clear for some time now and has regularly stated that an attack on Israel would be considered an attack on Canada,” said Kent and added that Israel is considered an ally of Canada.
I suppose it’s not a huge step from “Those… who seek to destroy Israel, will ultimately seek to destroy us all” to “an attack on Israel would be considered an attack on Canada”, but it’s nevertheless a significant step and one that should never have been taken without a great deal of parliamentary and public discussion. Of course, we already have a formal understanding with other NATO powers that an attack on one is an attack on all. I would be happy to see Canada take the same attitude to Australia and New Zealand, which are practically our sister nations. But Israel? A Middle Eastern country with which Canada has no particularly close historical or cultural ties, and no major shared interests? I sympathise with the Israelis and don’t blame them in the least for trying to hold what they see as their ancestral land, but to link their security to Canada’s seems, once again, unhin… No, it doesn’t. It seems positively deranged.
It bears pointing out that Kent seemed to row back a little from this apparent commitment to defending Israel in a subsequent interview with the Globe and Mail. Nevertheless, someone in Torydom should stand up and say unambiguously that, while Canada regards Israel as a friendly nation, we are not automatically going to leap to their military defence. Considering how much we sometimes fret about the possibility of becoming the 51st state, it would be a shame if we ended up as the 7th mehoz.