Canadian Premier Stephen Harper’s visit has been nearly eight years in the making. But even before Harper stepped foot in Israel yesterday, the Jewish state figured prominently in his foreign policy considerations. He has, over the years, distinguished himself as an unabashedly outspoken supporter of Israel.
Just months after being voted into office, Harper defended Israel’s military incursion into Lebanon, arguing the attack – a response to a cross-border shooting and kidnapping of IDF soldiers – was a “measured” response. Unprovoked since Israel’s unilateral pullout from Southern Lebanon, Hezbollah nevertheless continued to stockpile tens of thousands of missiles and rockets which were unleashed on Israel.
Harper understood the importance of reestablishing Israel’s deterrence.
Harper became the first Western leader to cut aid to the Palestinian Authority after Hamas – a terrorist organization that vows to destroy Israel, condones suicide bombings and incorporated the Protocols of the Elders of Zion in its official charter – won the 2006 Palestinian elections and violently ousted Fatah rule in the Gaza Strip.
Harper was also the first to withdraw from the second UN World Conference Against Racism, known as Durban II, after it deteriorated into nothing more than an Israel-bashing forum.
In 2009, Canada cast the lone vote at a UN human rights council, voicing his opposition to a motion condemning an Israeli military offensive in Gaza. The result of the UN council vote was a misguided investigation known as the Goldstone Report, which has become synonymous for the international community’s tendency to pass biased judgment on Israel’s attempts to defend itself against terrorism.
In 2011 Harper used his influence at a G8 summit to ensure that the group’s communiqué omitted reference to Israel’s pre-1967 borders as a starting point for peace talks.
At the end of 2012, Harper opposed Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s successful bid in a 138-9 General Assembly vote to bestow upon Palestine “nonmember” status.
Though Canada has always been a friend of Israel, under Harper’s rule there has been a significant strengthening in support for the Jewish state which some have called the most dramatic shift in the history of postwar Canadian foreign policy.
Pundits have attempted to tie Harper’s staunchly pro-Israel stand to his strong Christian faith. However, if that were the case we would expect Harper to take a conservative position on issues such as abortion and homosexuality. But he has done next to nothing on these issues and has actually prevented other lawmakers from doing anything as well.
Nor can Harper said to be gaining significantly at home from his outspoken support for the Jewish state. True, more than half of about 375,000 Canadian Jewish voters voted for Harper’s Tories in the 2011 elections, a historic departure from their traditional base in the Liberal Party. Still, those familiar with Canadian politics estimate that Harper probably lost more votes than he gained for his views on Israel.
Rather, Harper’s position on Israel seems to be the result of sound reason and personal conviction combined with the courage to speak his mind. Harper has rightly called Israel a “light of freedom and democracy in what is otherwise a region of darkness.” He has recognized the values shared by Canada and Israel with emphasis on freedom of expression and democracy.
And as Canadian Jewish Senator Linda Frum noted in an interview with The Star, a Canadian daily, Harper’s father spoke to his children of anti-Semitism, “of how wrong it was, and ingrained in them the need to be respectful of other religions and other cultures.”
It is refreshing to see a head of state guiding his country’s foreign policies vis-à-vis Israel not necessarily by what is politically expedient at home and not necessarily in lockstep with the international community’s preconceptions, but in line with what is right.
Welcome to Israel, Prime Minister Harper!