Prime Minister Harper and Canada’s official policy on Israel: Are they compatible?

The upcoming visit to Israel by Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper heralds a significant step in the ongoing strengthening relationship between Canada and Israel.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper 370 (photo credit: Reuters)
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper 370
(photo credit: Reuters)
The upcoming visit to Israel by Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper heralds a significant step in the ongoing strengthening relationship between Canada and Israel. Since coming to power some six years ago, Harper and his Conservative government have made a 180-degree change in Canada’s relationship with Israel, from the cool and neutral relationship of the former Canadian Liberal government, of “sitting on the fence” and supporting anti-Israel UN resolutions, to an open, unabashed, consistent and principled support of Israel, whether in international and regional organizations or in oft-repeated public statements.
In fact, Harper recently (December 3, 2013) termed Israel a “light of freedom and democracy in what is otherwise a region of darkness.” He vowed that Canada would always be Israel’s friend. In an earlier statement (at a conference on combating anti-Semitism, November 8, 2010) he stressed “When Israel, the only country in the world whose very existence is under attack, is consistently and conspicuously singled out for condemnation, I believe we are morally obligated to take a stand. Demonization, double standards, delegitimization, the 3 D’s – it is a responsibility to stand up to them.”
Harper’s warm and supportive attitude toward Israel is a welcome ray of sunlight in a world that is increasingly hostile to Israel – as evidenced in the increasingly lukewarm relationship with the US administration, and a relationship bordering on outright hostility with many of the EU countries and the EU leadership itself, complete with a boycott of Israeli companies. In fact, in many respects, Canada has indeed become Israel’s best friend.
However, Canada’s official policy regarding Israel and its status in the territories, as set out in the official website of the Canadian Department for Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT), is a far cry from the warm and supportive statements by its prime minister and foreign minister.
Despite the ostensible warm and supportive relationship evinced in verbal statements by Canada’s leaders, the DFAIT website reflects and echoes the standard and clichéd anti-Israel UN General Assembly resolutions, as well as the viewpoints of European countries regarding what they see as the rejection of any concept of Israeli control over the territories and the unlawfulness of Israel’s settlements – subjects that are under active negotiation.
A number of chiefly Canadian lawyers identifying with the Legal Forum for Israel recently presented a letter to Canada’s Foreign Minister John Baird, suggesting that Canada amend its official website determinations regarding Israel and the territories, and bring its official policy in line with the expressions of support for Israel and its positions so consistently voiced by Canadian leaders.
The lawyers suggested that the official Canadian policy statement appearing on the DFAIT website – rather than entering into and even prejudging issues that are under active negotiation between the Palestinian and Israeli teams, including the very status of the territories and the legality and continued existence of Israel’s settlements – be drafted in a forward-looking mode.
In this way, the policy statement would express Canada’s support for the peace process in general terms, in the hope it will lead to a just, lasting and comprehensive peace settlement, but without entering into the negotiating issues.
No substantive response has yet been forthcoming from the Canadian Foreign Ministry to this proposal.
It is anticipated that Prime Minister Harper and his delegation, during their visit to Israel on January 19-20 – in addition to receiving a deservedly warm and friendly welcome – will face similar questions from senior Israeli government representatives as well as the media on this issue.
The writer served as Israel’s ambassador to Canada between 2004-2008, including from the start of Prime Minister Harper’s administration. He is the former legal adviser to Israel’s foreign minister and is presently head of the International Action Division of the Legal Forum for Israel, and director of the Institute for Contemporary Affairs at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.