Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper received a very warm welcome in the Knesset Monday.
The first speech in the Knesset by a Canadian prime minister was peppered with standing ovations, the enthusiastic likes of which may not have been seen since Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu addressed the US Congress in 2011.
Statements like “through fire and water, Canada will stand with you” were met with rousing rounds of applause, and though clapping is against Knesset protocol, even Speaker Yuli Edelstein joined in.
The Canadian premier said he believes “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.
“Let me repeat that: Canada supports Israel because it is right to do so,” he emphasized. “It is... a Canadian tradition to stand for what is principled and just, regardless of whether it is convenient or popular.”
“The friendship between [Israel and Canada] 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,” Harper said in French and English.
Some of those shared values are “freedom, democracy and rule of law,” in which Israel “has long anchored itself,” he said.
“These are not mere notions,” he added. “They are the things that, over time and against all odds, have proven to be the only ground in which human rights, political stability and economic prosperity may flourish.”
Palestinians also deserve these things, Harper said, expressing support for “a viable, democratic Palestinian state, committed to living peacefully alongside the Jewish state of Israel,” though, “sadly, we have yet to reach that point.”
“I believe that a Palestinian state will come, and one thing that will make it come is when the regimes that bankroll terrorism realize that the path to peace is accommodation, not violence,” Harper stated.
Despite the nearly wall-towall support for Harper’s words as expressed by the many standing ovations, the “robustness of Israeli democracy,” as Netanyahu called it, was demonstrated several times with Arab MKs interrupting the Canadian minister as he spoke about anti-Semitism in some criticisms of Israel.
“We have witnessed in recent years the mutation of the old disease of anti-Semitism and the emergence of a new strain.... People who would never say they hate and blame the Jews for their own failings or the problems of the world, instead declare their hatred of Israel and blame the only Jewish state for the problems of the Middle East. As once Jewish businesses were boycotted, some civil-society leaders today call for a boycott of Israel,” Harper stated.
“Don’t mislead; we want to boycott settlements,” MK Ahmed Tibi (UAL-Ta’al) interrupted in English.
“Most disgracefully of all, some openly call Israel an apartheid state,” Harper continued, as MK Taleb Abu Arar (UAL-Ta’al) shouted: “It is.”
“Think about the twisted logic and outright malice behind that: a state, based on freedom, democracy and the rule of law, that was founded so Jews can flourish, as Jews, and seek shelter from the shadow of the worst racist experiment in history, [a state] that is condemned – and that condemnation is masked in the language of anti-racism. It is nothing short of sickening. But this is the face of the new anti-Semitism,” Harper went on.
Tibi pointed at the coalition’s side of the plenum, shouting “That’s where the Likud sits; you should be there,” and then he and Abu Arar demonstratively walked out as the audience cheered Harper for his comments against anti-Semitism.
“What else can we call criticism that selectively condemns only the Jewish state and effectively denies its right to defend itself while systematically ignoring – or excusing – the violence and oppression all around it?” the Canadian prime minister asked. “What else can we call it when Israel is routinely 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?” Edelstein, who spoke before Harper, commented to him after his speech: “You’re not a guest, you’re family, because there were interruptions, which is unusual for foreign guests.”
Earlier, Netanyahu gave a speech in support of Harper, breaking protocol to give large swaths of it in English.
“You are a true friend in Israel,” he said. “The people in Israel thank you for your steadfast support.”
Netanyahu commended Harper for his “courage to stand for the truth and courage to say it” when faced with people “who try to deny the connection between [the Jewish people] and our land. You know the facts of our past well.”
Describing the necessity of security arrangements in the event of a peace agreement, Netanyahu quipped: “If I’m not mistaken, Yonge Street [in Toronto] is longer than the State of Israel, so we have no margin of error.”
“There are thousands of miles between the large Canada and the small – larger than life but physically small – Israel, but our nations are close.
It’s deep in our hearts,” Netanyahu stated. “We will always see Canada as a close friend.”
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Labor) dedicated much of his speech to the Toynbee- Herzog debate at McGill University in 1961, in which his uncle, then-ambassador to Canada Yaakov Herzog, debated notoriously anti-Semitic British historian Arnold Toynbee.
“Since you’re part of the family, I won’t hide our disagreements,” Herzog said. “I believe we need to separate ourselves from the Palestinians while protecting Israeli security.
We need a Palestinian state near an Israeli one, based on 1967 lines with land swaps while annexing settlement blocs... We have to try everything for peace and back the great effort US Secretary of State John Kerry is investing and give him a chance,” Herzog stated.
“Enough is enough,” he added in English, and in a reference to Canadian-Jewish singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen called to “let the dove free.”
Herzog also did not miss the chance to take a dig at Netanyahu and his breach of protocol, pointing out that “the official languages here are Hebrew and Arabic, not English.”