(photo credit: AP)
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has pledged his country's "steadfast support, encouragement and friendship" to Israel in a speech to B'nai Brith Canada.
"Israel, as a fellow democracy that prefers peace, as true democracies always do, can count on Canada's steadfast friendship, support and encouragement," the Conservative party leader said last week in Ottawa.
Canada's foreign policy under the conservative party government would be guided by values of "freedom, democracy, human rights, the rule of law, and the uncompromising opposition to terrorism," he said. This philosophical stance compelled Canada to stand behind Israel, as "this government cannot and will not be neutral." Israel's enemies were not motivated by irredentist territorial claims, but sought "the destruction of Israel and the destruction of the Jewish people," he said.
"Those who seek to destroy the Jews will, for the same reason, ultimately seek to destroy us all," the prime minister said, explaining "why we defended Israel's right to vigorous and effective self-defense against Hizbullah."
Harper told the dinner that in his October 7 telephone conversation with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, he came away convinced that Israel sought a "genuine peace" for the region. Canada backed a two-state solution with a viable Palestinian state, he said.
He lauded prime minister Olmert and former prime minister Ariel Sharon, saying their "leadership and vision and commitment" and willingness "to make painful compromises for peace" had been an inspiration to him. It was "what we have come to expect from the great state of Israel," he added.
Wednesday's speech comes one week after Michael Ignatieff, the favored contender for the top spot as leader of the opposition Liberal Party, accused Israel of war crimes.
In an October 8 appearance on Radio Canada's French language program "Tout le monde en parle," ("Everyone's Talking About It") Ignatieff said he was "a professor of human rights, and I am also a professor of the laws of war, and what happened in [Kafr] Kana was a war crime."
Ignatieff's characterization of the July 28 bombing of the south Lebanese town that killed 28 people drew a rebuke from Harper and censure from Canadian Jewish leaders. Frank Dimant, B'nai Brith Canada's executive vice president, called on the Liberal Party to repudiate Ignatieff's "accusations vis vis Israel and to ensure that anti-Israel rhetoric does not become part and parcel of the [party's] leadership campaign."
On October 13, Ignatieff defended his remarks, saying: "Nobody in their right mind supposes that the only war crimes are those committed by the IDF," but stated similar charges had been leveled against Israel by Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and B'Tselem.
The Canada-Israel Committee (CIC) had since invited him to visit Israel, he said, "to sit down with leaders of armed services and senior political figures and some of my old personal friends and talk through some of these issues."
"I'm going to Israel precisely because those reports are contested by the state of Israel, and because I want to be a responsible commentator, I owe it to myself and my constituents and the Jewish community to go to Israel and learn first-hand their own view on the situation," he told an audience at the University of Toronto.
However on October 17, the CIC cancelled the trip, citing the "highly-charged political environment" surrounding Ignatieff's comments. "We're going to wait until this round of politics dies down," CIC chairman Marc Gold said.