Canada’s Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs released a predictable statement Monday night following Justin Trudeau’s thumping of Prime Minister Stephen Harper in that country’s federal elections.
“We congratulate Prime Minister-elect Justin Trudeau and the Liberal Party on their election victory,” the statement read. “We are grateful for the positions Mr. Trudeau and his party have taken on a number of issues, including: support for hate crimes legislation; sanctions against Iran; a range of social justice challenges; and a close Canada- Israel relationship – to name only a few.”
To Harper, CIJA had this to say: “We take this opportunity to thank Prime Minister Stephen Harper for the deep and sustained support he has provided to Canada’s Jewish community and Israel over the past nine years. Under his leadership, Canada has distinguished itself as a close ally of Israel and a leader in the global fight against antisemitism.”
Talk about understatement.
Harper wasn’t a “close ally,” Harper was the best friend Israel had among the leaders of the world. As problematic as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s relationship has been over the years with US President Barack Obama, it was that good with Harper.
“You are a great friend of Israel and the Jewish people,” Netanyahu said to Harper when the Canadian premier came to visit in January 2014. “I am not just saying that, I mean it deeply from the bottom of my heart, and I am speaking for all of the people of Israel.”
And that friendship was manifest in many ways. First of all, in the speeches and statements Harper made. Harper, channeling his inner George Bush, often spoke in terms of moral clarity – good and bad. He recognized that there was good and evil in the world, and that Israel is on the side of the good. He did not waffle.
Or, as Netanyahu put it in his remarks to Harper during his visit, “The world is often cynical and hypocritical, and you have shown great moral leadership when it comes to fighting terrorism. You know that there cannot be any politically correct double-talk but only unequivocal condemnation and united international actions.”
With Harper there were never any nagging questions about the “kishke factor,” about whether he had any soft, warm, special place in his heart for the Jewish state. He did.
At a press conference in Jerusalem during his visit, Harper said that one lesson Canadians have learned was “that when someone is a minority, a particularly small minority in the world, one goes out of one’s way to embrace them, not to single them out for criticism.”
At that press conference, Harper – whose government was critical of Israel’s settlement policy – refused to take the bait and bash Israel when asked by a journalist about the settlements.
Canada’s view on the settlement issue was “publicly available,” he said. Then he added: “let me emphasize that I am not here to single out Israel.”
He said he found it interesting that when he visited the Palestinian Authority, “no one asked me there to single out the Palestinian Authority for any criticism in terms of governance or human rights or anything else.”
“I’m asked to single out Israel,” he said of the settlements question. “When I’m in Israel I’m asked to single out Israel, when I’m in the Palestinian Authority I’m asked to single out Israel, and half the other places around the world you ask me to single out Israel.”
He would not do it, he declared.
Canada’s support under Harper, however, was not only rhetorical. Under his leadership there was an extremely close bilateral relationship with a constant flow of ministers flying between Ottawa and Jerusalem, signing agreements, cooperating closely.
This strong, unstinting support for Israel did not come free of cost. For instance, in 2010, Canada – which always placed importance and significance on being on the UN Security Council – lost in its effort to gain a coveted temporary seat on that body, something attributed in part to the country’s strong support for Israel.
But this did not move Harper. When it came to Israel, one senior diplomatic official in Jerusalem once explained, Harper had blinders on – he will do what he thinks is morally right, regardless of what others might say around the world, or in Canada.
There are many reasons why Harper was roundly defeated in Monday’s elections, one of which being that after nine years many Canadians suffered from “Harper fatigue.”
His strong, vocal, unapologetic support for Israel, however, was not one of those reasons.
In fact, at a foreign policy debate in late September between Harper, Trudeau and Thomas Mulcair of the New Democratic Party, the question of Israel and the Palestinians hardly came up.
When it did, Trudeau said his disagreement with Harper was that the premier made support for Israel a “domestic political football,” adding that “all three of us support Israel, and any Canadian government will.”
Which few seriously doubt. What is unlikely, however, is that anyone in the near future in Ottawa will outdo Harper regarding the passion, consistency, sincerity and intensity of that support.