John Baird, the Canadian foreign minister who announced his retirement from politics this week, was more than a very good friend to the State of Israel.
Baird was proof positive that you can do moral diplomacy in a cynical world. He showed that you can be solidly pro-Israel and simultaneously gain a respected role on the international stage and maintain excellent ties with the Arab world.
No country has been as trailblazing in support of Israel in recent years as Canada has been. Baird and his boss, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, have spoken out and acted to defend Israel, without apologies or hesitations. They have never felt the need to be politically correct and to “balance” their statements with (im)moral ambiguities about the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Canada was the first country in the world to cut ties and aid to the Gaza government when Hamas took power in 2006; the first country in the world to withdraw its support from the infamous anti-Israel UN conferences known as Durban II and III; the first country in the world to robustly defend Israel in the fours wars that it has been forced to fight in recent years against Hezbollah and Hamas; and a leading voice in defense of Israel at the G-8, G-20, UN Human Rights Council and International Atomic Energy Agency.
Over three years that it sat on the UNHRC in Geneva, Canada stood alone in defense of Israel – eight times casting the only “no” vote against unfair condemnations of Israel.
Canada would not, Baird said, “go along, just to get along” with politically correct, but morally perverse, de rigueur condemnations of Israel.
Baird personally cast Canada’s vote against UN recognition of Palestinian statehood, with Canada being one of only nine countries that voted against the proposal.
Baird: “We took a principled stand. We believe that statehood is a product of peace with Israel, and the Palestinian Authority is trying to go around Israel to the UN to get what they couldn’t get at the negotiating table.”
Canada has led the world in expressing deep skepticism of the interim agreements between the P5+1 and Iran, and in insisting that the scope of the talks must be broadened to include Iran’s sponsorship of terrorism and its systemic violation of human rights.
It is hard to underestimate the importance of the moral stances that Harper and Baird have taken in recent years. They have emerged as voices of critique, courage and principle in a world that is in danger of losing its conscience about Jews and Israel.
In a recent interview with The Jerusalem Post, Baird said that the Harper government does not support Israel because this would win it votes – he pointed out there are more Muslims and Arabs than Jews in Canada – but rather “because it is the right thing to do. I think when you do the right thing, in the end you will meet with success.”
Baird: “In our view, liberal democracies and international terrorist groups are not equal. They do not deserve equal treatment.
True friends are measured by whether they are there for you when you need them most; when that support is steadfast, even when it’s not popular or expedient.
“Just as communism and fascism were the great struggles of previous generations, terrorism is the great struggle of ours. And far too often the Jewish state is on the front line in our struggle, and its people are the victims of terror. Canada will not accept or stay silent when the Jewish state is attacked for defending its territory and its citizens,” he said.
The upright Canadian stance paves the way toward two important conclusions.
First of all, Canada’s leadership suggests that the cynical, often amoral calculations that characterize so much of modern diplomacy – especially when it comes to Israel – need not reign supreme forever. World leaders need not bow to demonization or to the Orwellian twisting of language and history that increasingly pertains to Israel.
On the contrary, Baird’s record demonstrates that in the long run, moral stances are possible and can become the basis for pragmatic diplomacy.
Second, Baird has demonstrated that you can be solidly pro-Israel and simultaneously gain a respected role on the international stage and maintain excellent ties with the Arab world.
Never before has Canada held a more prominent role on the international stage, on issues ranging from Ukraine to Iran, and from supporting human rights to fighting terrorism. Furthermore, it is demonstrable that Canada’s role and stature in the Middle East has been enhanced, not hampered, by the Harper government’s close ties with Israel.
Baird recently told Canada’s Policy magazine that “I’ve established a lot of good friendships, including with the foreign ministers Jordan, Egypt, UAE and Bahrain.
We have good relations with Saudi Arabia and very good relations with Kuwait. We’ve appointed a representative for the first time to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and had a first formal meeting with the Gulf Cooperation Council, and we’ve been active in Libya and Tunisia. We have excellent relations in the Arab world.”
“Some people may take issue with one or two of our stands on Israel, but I think the Arab and Muslim world respects that Canada takes a clear position,” Baird asserted.
Canada also has maintained a supportive relationship of the Palestinian Authority, providing more than $300 million in aid for justice and other government reforms over the past five years. The PA was happy to take money from Harper and Baird, and no Arab country has refused to do business with Canada because of Canada’s staunch support for Israel.
In short, John Baird set a principled, pro-Israel precedent for the world. Perhaps his moral clarity will yet prove universally contagious.www.davidmweinberg.com