It was, of course, nice to have a close friend and supporter like Stephen Harper visit Israel this week. But why was the Canadian prime minister’s visit so important? What is it about Harper that is so uplifting and inspiring, and that brought people out onto the streets of Jerusalem to salute him? Why did the things he said – such as “through fire and water, Canada will stand by Israel,” and “I refuse to single out Israel for criticism on the international stage” – resonate so powerfully in the Israeli and Jewish mind? Why are Jewish communities and pro-Israel circles everywhere still talking about the Harper visit, and will be for years to come? The answer is that Harper’s words and deeds serve to validate the legitimacy of Israel’s struggle in our own minds, and serve as a challenge to the world regarding its complicity in the assault on Israel.
To recap: In his momentous speech to the Knesset this week, Harper articulated a moral worldview and an approach of principle that calls out the hypocrisies, and shames the injustices, of what passes today as “politically correct” policy regarding Israel. He savaged the campaign to boycott and isolate Israel.
“In the world of diplomacy,” Harper said, “with one, solitary, Jewish state and scores of others, it is all too easy ‘to go along to get along’ and single out Israel.
But such ‘going along to get along’ is not a ‘balanced’ approach, nor a ‘sophisticated’ one; it is, quite simply, weak and wrong.
Unfortunately, ladies and gentlemen, we live in a world where that kind of moral relativism runs rampant. And in the garden of such moral relativism, the seeds of much more sinister notions can be easily planted.
“As once Jewish businesses were boycotted, some civil-society leaders today call for a boycott of Israel. On some campuses, intellectualized arguments against Israeli policies thinly mask the underlying realities, such as the shunning of Israeli academics and the harassment of Jewish students.
Most disgracefully of all, some openly call Israel an apartheid state.
“Think about that. Think about the twisted logic and outright malice behind that: A state, based on freedom, democracy and the rule of law, that was founded so Jews can flourish, as Jews, and seek shelter from the shadow of the worst racist experiment in history, that is condemned, and that condemnation is masked in the language of anti-racism. It is nothing short of sickening.
“In much of the Western world, the old hatred, crude anti-Semitism, has been translated into more sophisticated language for use in polite society. People who would never say they hate and blame the Jews for their own failings or the problems of the world, instead declare their hatred of Israel and blame the only Jewish state for the problems of the Middle East,” he said.
And in this ugly environment, Harper emphatically concluded, “support today for the Jewish State of Israel is more than a moral imperative. It is also of strategic importance, also a matter of our own long-term interests.”
This extraordinary speech acts on our consciousness on two levels.
First, it is incredibly important validation for Israelis, Jews and supporters of Israel everywhere.
After all, even the most profoundly committed person with a long view of Jewish history and deep conviction in the justice of Israel, can sometimes only wonder: Might we be wrong? Israel is battered daily with vituperation and bombarded with venom by its enemies and by fellow travelers in the West. It is only natural to feel hunted, besieged and outcast. It is only natural to become riddled with a degree of self-doubt.
Comes Prime Minister Harper and says to Israelis and Jews: Fret not. You may not be perfect, but the problem isn’t you. It’s the nasty way others are judging you.
Comes Harper and affirms: Israel doesn’t merit the vicious and violent criticism it is being treated to. The anti-Israel narrative is not supported by the facts on the ground; and this narrative is just another iteration of the age-old hatred from which Jews have suffered for two millennia.
Comes Harper and declares: I am here to reinforce you.
And indeed, Canada’s friendship is enormously reinforcing and comforting.
Second, Stephen Harper’s bold words challenge the world to be intellectually honest about Israel. Harper is confronting politicians and diplomats with the question: Are you actively or passively complicit in the crime of slandering and isolating Israel? Here is just one brilliant example of the moral probity that Harper is holding up to the world. He was asked in press conferences this week to comment on (i.e., criticize) Israeli settlements. Harper shot back with this sharp and insightful response: “Why is it that everywhere I go I am asked to single out Israel for criticism? 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. I find it interesting [Harper means ‘outrageous’ and ‘wrong’] that when I 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.”
In standing up tall for truth this way, Harper gives Israel hope that there are many decent people, including people in positions of power, who will not bow to demonization or to the Orwellian twisting of language and history that habitually pertains to the Jewish state these days. He gives us hope that the tide against Israel can be turned around.
Who knows? Perhaps Harper’s courageous leadership will prove compelling and universally contagious.