PM Harper has changed the rules of the Israel game

Western leaders are no doubt looking to the leadership displayed by Stephen Harper and his government.

Netanyahu walks with Harper 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Chris Wattie)
Netanyahu walks with Harper 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Chris Wattie)
Israel is the cause of all the ills of the Middle East. Israel occupies Palestinian lands and refuses to make peace. Israel is an apartheid state that treats the indigenous population as inferior.  
We hear such accusations on an unrelenting basis. Israel is the only country in the world that since its inception has fought for recognition of its basic legitimacy as a nation-state in the international community. Sometimes it seems that the whole world is out to destroy our credibility, and ultimately, the existence of the Jewish state.
The truth is that not every country is out to get us. Certainly, the Arab and Muslim nation-states and their international allies are generally the source of this demonization. Sadly, however, most other nations stand idly by, silent and passive to the vitriolic barrage.
After all, why take sides? Most countries have energy and other economic concerns throughout the Middle East and the prudent approach is not to rock the boat by defending Israel in the face of criticism from trading partners. Placating and agreeing with the opinions of most of the countries in the region is a less divisive and confrontational approach. Likewise, there are domestic constituents to consider – not taking sides will ensure that I avoid criticism from my own citizenry who I need to reelect me. 
Last week, the rules of the game, however, changed dramatically. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper stood up in the Israeli parliament and announced, “Canada supports Israel fundamentally because it is right to do so.” At the KKL-JNF dinner the following evening, he reiterated that his sole purpose was to speak the truth. No matter what the cost to his government, internationally or domestically, his integrity demanded that he foment ties with Israel, the only country in the region that is committed to “freedom, democracy, and the rule of law.”
While Israel and Canada have recognized the colossal achievement of the prime minister’s visit in terms of Canada-Israel relations, the international impact going forward is of exceedingly greater significance and consequence. Until now, when Israel’s enemies sought to delegitimize and harass the Jewish state on the international stage, most countries turned a blind eye to the attacks on their democratic ally in the Middle East. Following Harper’s powerful declaration, no longer will any democratic country be able to bury its head in the sand.  
Citizens of democratic societies around the world will now insist that their countries cease equivocating over Israel. If Canada can speak the truth, then my country Australia, the UK, France and Sweden, must be prepared to do what is right. Democratic citizens will demand strong statements from their countries in response to any hint of assault on the legitimacy of the State of Israel. They will implore their leaders to react to Israel-bashing with the same forthrightness and clarity that Canada demonstrates. Henceforth, all western governments’ actions or inactions will be held up to Canada’s standard.  
And in turn, western leaders are no doubt looking to the leadership displayed by Stephen Harper and his government. No doubt, they are acknowledging that their fears of domestic backlash that would be triggered by support for Israel are exaggerated.  While there are voices in the Canadian media and street that have criticized Harper’s position, such opposition has not affected his government’s popularity overall. The Canadian people respect the Harper government for its success domestically and its unambiguous policy abroad. The dozens of business leaders from across Canada that form part of the prime minister’s delegation attest to the strong will of Canadians to foster economic and cultural ties with the State of Israel. And the Canadian people for the most part agree with their prime minister that we should support Israel “for no reason other than it is right.”
We have entered a new era of diplomacy and international legitimacy. Harper’s unvarnished stance is unprecedented in the history of the State of Israel and for thousands of years of Jewish history. The prime minister has raised the bar of acceptable activity or passivity, both within Canada and across the western world. Stephen Harper has shown that it is not an act of benevolence to stick up for Israel. Western democracies have a moral imperative to do so. 
The rules of the game have changed.
Rabbi Daniel Friedman is the chair of the National Holocaust Monument Council of Canada.