An Independence Day gift from Canada

This Independence Day, there is at least one country that Israel can show gratitude to for making pro-Israel positions both respectable and electable.

Stephen Harper 311 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Stephen Harper 311
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The people of Canada gave Israel a lovely Independence Day gift last week when they resoundingly reelected Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
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The vote, of course, had nothing to do with Israel: Harper’s Conservative Party won its first absolute parliamentary majority of his three terms in office mainly due to his economic stewardship, under which Canada suffered far less from the global economic crisis than most other Western countries. Nevertheless, it is good news for Israel, for two reasons.
The first is that Harper is currently one of Israel’s best friendsworldwide. Under his leadership, Canada has repeatedly cast the solevote against anti-Israel resolutions in the UN Human Rights Council -as in a 2009 vote condemning Israel’s operation in Gaza, or a 2007 voteplacing Israel’s “human rights violations” permanently on the council’sagenda (European countries, by contrast, abstained on the former andsupported the latter).
Harper made Canada the first country, preceding even Israel itself, toconference on racism in 2009on the grounds that it was set to be an anti-Israel hate fest. And hehas worked to end Canadian government funding for anti-Israelorganizations: Last year, for instance, his severalCanadian groups involved in anti-Israel activity; he also slashedCanada’s contribution to UNRWA, the UN organization founded to preventthe resettlement of Palestinian refugees so that the ongoing refugeecrisis could continue to feed anti-Israel sentiment.
But perhaps even more important than Harper’s specific actions is the degree to which he has changed attitudes toward Israel within his country.
Before he took office, Canada’s policy on Israel was identical to Europe’s - meaning lots of lip service about being “a friend of Israel” while in practice opposing it in every international forum and lavishly funding its enemies. Shortly after the outbreak of the second intifada in September 2000, for instance, Canada voted for a UN Security Council resolution that condemned Israel for the violence, without a word of blame for the Palestinians.
Moreover, Canada has been a hotbed of anti-Israel boycott/divestment/sanctions activity. In 2006, for instance, the Ontario chapter of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) voted to boycott Israel until it accepts a Palestinian “right of return” - or in other words, agrees to commit suicide.
Thus one would, at least, have expected Harper’s pro-Israel stance to remain strictly confined to his own party. But in fact, while both main opposition parties continue to advocate markedly less pro-Israel policies than Harper does, change has begun seeping into their ranks as well.
This became glaringly evident last year, when the provincial legislature of Ontario - Canada’s largest province - Israel Apartheid Week because it “serves to incite hatred against Israel, a democratic state that respects the rule of law and human rights, and … diminishes the suffering of those who were victims of a true apartheid regime in South Africa.” The resolution, naturally, was introduced by a member of Harper’s Conservative Party. But the legislature was dominated at the time by the opposition Liberal Party, which had 71 seats compared to the Conservatives’ 24. Thus it could not have passed at all, much less unanimously, had pro-Israel sentiment not spread beyond Harper’s party.
Nor can the vote be dismissed as a matter of electoral necessity, as pro-Israel votes are for, say, New York politicians: Not only is Ontario’s Muslim population roughly double its Jewish population, but powerful vote-getting machines like the local CUPE chapter - Ontario’s largest labor union - were firmly in the anti-Israel camp.
And that is precisely the point: In the few short years since he entered the Prime Minister’s Office in 2006, Harper has managed to make being pro-Israel politically respectable in Canada - so respectable that politicians on both sides of the political fence are willing to take pro-Israel positions even when powerful interest groups oppose them. That message of respectability was underscored by Harper’s resounding victory this week. Just seven months ago, Canada’s chattering classes were up in arms over the “humiliating rejection” of the country’s bid for a UN Security Council seat, which was attributed in part to the fact that Harper’s pro-Israel policy cost him the support of Muslim countries. But that did not stop voters from reelecting him with an even bigger majority last week.
In world where anti-Israel positions are increasingly de rigueur for aspiring politicians, it is no mean feat to have succeeded in making pro-Israel positions both respectable and electable. So thank you, Stephen Harper. And best of luck to you and your country in your new term.
The writer is a journalist and commentator.