For the past few years, Canada and its prime minister, Stephen Harper, have been
Israel's most supportive ally on the international stage, leading many to wonder
when the Canadian leader would visit the Jewish state.
Well, he is here now, and on Monday he delivered a speech before the Knesset
that many feel is the example to follow for any national leader claiming
friendship with Israel.
For Harper, "the story of Israel is a great example to the world."
He explained that contrary to what many others have done, Israel's is the story "of a people whose response to suffering has been to move beyond resentment and build a most extraordinary society, a vibrant democracy, a freedom-loving country with an independent and rights-affirming judiciary, an innovative, world-leading 'start-up' nation."
But, more than anything, it is Israel's commitment to life that so impresses
Harper and Canada.
"You have taken the collective memory of death and persecution to build an
optimistic, forward-looking society, one that so values life you will sometimes release a thousand criminals and terrorists to save one of your own," he said.
It is because Israel so embodies the founding principles of his own nation that
Harper pledged that "through fire and water, Canada will stand with you."
The prime minister went on to note that Canada's 350,000 Jews, as well as Harper and his wife themselves, are "immensely proud" of Israel's "courage in war, of your generosity in peace, and of the bloom that the desert has yielded under your stewardship."
Some have questioned why Canada is taking such a blatant pro-Israel position on
the international stage when it stands to gain so little from doing so. Harper's
response to them was that "Canada supports Israel fundamentally because it is
right to do so," pointing out that it is "a very Canadian trait to do something
for no reason other than it is right."
Later in the speech, Harper was indignant that "some in the international
community still question the legitimacy of the existence of the State of Israel," stating adamantly that Canada's view is that "Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state is absolute and non-negotiable."
Harper went on to lecture not only those in attendance, but the world community
at large that those who threaten the West's shared democratic (and
Judeo-Christian) values more often than not "begin by hating the Jews. But, history shows us, [they] end up hating anyone who is not like them."
As such, the West must "either stand up for our values and our interests here in Israel...or the retreat of our values and our interests in the world will begin."
But the battle is becoming more difficult and less clear for those involved.
Moral relativism has given rise to a new breed of anti-Semitism, warned Harper,
and the West must become increasingly vigilant.
"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," noted Harper. "As once Jewish businesses were boycotted, some civil-society leaders today call for a boycott of Israel."
"Most disgracefully of all, some openly call Israel an apartheid state," he
continued. "That is nothing short of sickening. But, this is the face of the new anti-Semitism. It targets the Jewish people by targeting Israel and attempts to make the old bigotry acceptable to a new generation."
Harper agreed that criticism of Israel was and is legitimate, like criticism of
any nation. But, when Israel is selectively condemned and specifically and
repeatedly targeted by the United Nations to the extent that is has become a
permanent agenda item, something is amiss.
Harper also gave a nod to the Palestinians, reiterating that Canada continues to
support the goal of a "viable, democratic Palestinian state, committed to living
peacefully alongside the Jewish State of Israel," but lamenting that "sadly" the
situation is not ripe to birth such a state.
During a meeting with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah on Monday,
Harper announced a new $66 million aid package to the Palestinian Authority.
Canada has provided the Palestinians with over $650 million in aid since the
signing of the "Oslo Accords" in 1993.