Like US President Barack Obama’s keynote address during his visit here in March, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s speech to the Knesset on Monday paid tribute to Israel’s values of freedom and democracy.
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Like French President Francois Hollande, who addressed the Knesset in November, Harper also hailed Israel’s spirit and resilience.
What distinguished Harper’s comments was that the “honey” of his praise was not then tempered by the “vinegar” of his criticism.
In Obama and Hollande’s addresses, the listener knew that all the favorable comments made about Israel in the first parts of their speeches would be followed by some less favorable ones toward the end: criticism of Jerusalem’s policies in the West Bank and the settlements.
Those lines of criticism were not uttered by Harper.
He did not feel the need to balance his praise with criticism.
His was not a “yes, but” speech; his was a “yes, yes” speech.
True, he stressed that not all criticism of Israeli government policy is anti-Semitic, and said that no state was beyond legitimate questioning or criticism, but he refrained from cataloging that criticism. That was neither his purpose nor his aim. There are legions of others willing to do that.
Over the last week, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu – who sat and nodded his head in agreement through many parts of Harper’s words – has taken aim at what he views as the world’s hypocrisy regarding Israel; specifically, at the Europeans for slamming Israel’s settlement policies while giving the Palestinian Authority both a pass when it comes to incitement against Israel and a sense that no matter what they do, they will not be held accountable.
In a line that could have been lifted from a Netanyahu speech, Harper said the world is one where “moral relativism runs rampant. And in the garden of such moral relativism, the seeds of much more sinister notions can be easily planted.”
In contrast to the hypocrisy Netanyahu bemoans, along comes Canada’s Harper and shows a very different way.
What a shame, Netanyahu had to be thinking to himself while listening to Harper’s words, delivered without pathos and in a very matter-offact and even dry Canadian manner, that there are not more leaders out there like him.
Harper’s words echoed themes Netanyahu often touches upon in his speeches: that Israel’s relations with the West are rooted in history and values; that the ties are mutually beneficial, with Israel not only on the receiving end of the stick, but also giving expertise and standing up as a line of defense for Western values; that Israel is unfairly singled out for condemnation and criticism that is nothing but the most recent mutation of anti-Semitism; that Israel is not the source of instability in the Middle East; that if Israel acts to defend itself, it suffers widespread condemnation, yet if it refrains from doing so, it will lead to the country’s destruction.
No wonder that two Arab MKs walked out during Harper’s speech, precisely when he rejected a narrative they are pushing around the world: that Israel is an apartheid state.
No wonder, also, that most of the rest of the House stood up at the end and gave him a rousing ovation. It’s not every day that Israel, increasingly feeling isolated and alone, hears such words of praise and friendship.