President Shimon Peres was right to laud Canada as a “moral role model” for the nations of the world. Commenting on Ottawa’s Friday decision to cut diplomatic relations with Iran, Peres said, “Canada has proven once again that morals come before pragmatism, (and that) policy must reflect principles and values… I thank Canada for taking a stance based on the highest morals and hope that other nations will see Canada as a moral role model. The diplomatic isolation of Iran is an important step for the security and stability of the entire world.”
The Canadian decision was not surprising for those who have followed the brave new path in global affairs carved out by Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Foreign Minister John Baird. Under their leadership, Canada has become arguably the most pro-Israel country in the world. They have led a conceptual revolution in how Canadians think about the world, and that includes a deep understanding of and appreciation for Israel’s security dilemmas.
From being the first world leader to cut off funds to the Palestinian Authority in 2006 when it was taken over by Hamas, to speaking out against growing global anti-Semitism, Harper has embraced Israel as no Canadian leader did before him. He blamed Hezbollah for the war and civilian deaths in Lebanon during the summer war of 2006, and rejected widespread calls for an immediate ceasefire. He led the boycott of the Durban II conference. He blocked a G-8 statement that would have called for a return to Israel’s 1967 borders, despite pressure from U.S. President BarackObama and the Europeans.
Harper, Baird and colleagues also have consistently stood up for Israel, often as a lone voice, in the G-20, the U.N. Human Rights Council, the International Atomic Energy Agency, and the U.N. General Assembly. Over the three years that it sat on the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, Canada stood alone in defense of Israel – eight times casting the only “no” vote against unfair condemnations of Israel. Last fall, Canada changed its votes in favor of Israel on seven resolutions at the U.N., and signed new agreements for military, defense and intelligence cooperation with Israel.
Defence Minister Peter MacKay told then Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi, during a 2011 visit to the Middle East, that “a threat to Israel is a threat to Canada.” McKay’s cabinet colleague Peter Kent stated that “an attack on Israel would be considered an attack on Canada.”
Speaking to the Herzliya Conference earlier this year, John Baird said plainly that “Israel has no greater friend in the world than Canada. You have no better friend in the world than Canada, no stronger ally who will stand up for you. We won’t stand behind you; we will stand shoulder to shoulder with Israel. Canada will not remain silent while the Jewish state is attacked for defending its territory or people.”
Ottawa stands with Israel, he said, because it was a Canadian tradition “to stand for what is principled and just, regardless of whether it is popular, convenient or expedient,” and because Israel embodies values that Canada holds dear and respects. “Israel is a beacon of light in a region that craves freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law.”
Baird told the Israeli press in February that “My grandfather went to war in 1942 – the big struggle of his generation was fascism and then communism. The great struggle of my generation, of our generation, is terrorism. Too often Israel is on the front line of that struggle, and it is tremendously important that we take a principled stand and support our friend and ally.”
Harper and Baird also have explicitly adopted Natan Sharansky’s 3-D rubric for definition of the “new anti-Semitism.” They have slammed the “constant barrage of rhetorical demonization, double standards and delegitimization” of Israel. Baird: “Harnessing disparate anti-Semitic, anti-American and anti-Western ideologies, it targets the Jewish people by targeting the Jewish homeland, Israel, as the source of injustice and conflict in the world, and uses, perversely, the language of human rights to do so. We must be relentless in exposing this new anti-Semitism for what it is.”
After Canada lost its bid for a seat on the U.N. Security Council, Harper suggested that the country’s stalwart defense of Israel was a contributing factor. For the prime minister, however, it was a small price to pay. Admitting that there is a diplomatic price to be paid for such moral probity, Harper said that he remains undeterred.
“The easy thing to do,” he told the Inter-Parliamentary Coalition for Combating Anti-Semitism in Ottawa in 2010, “is simply to just get along and go along with this anti-Israeli rhetoric, to pretend it is just being even-handed, and to excuse oneself with the label of ‘honest broker’. [But] Canada will take a stand [in support of Israel], whatever the cost. Not just because it is the right thing to do, but because history shows us, and the ideology of the anti-Israeli mob tells us all too well, that those who threaten the existence of the Jewish people are, in the longer term, a threat to all of us.”
“As long as I am prime minister, whether it is at the U.N. or the Francophonie or anywhere else, Canada will take a stand, whatever the cost.”
Harper speaks often about the lessons of the Holocaust and refers to Israel in almost prophetic terms. “Remembering the Holocaust is not merely an act of historical recognition, but an undertaking,” Harper has said. “The same threats exist today… Memory requires a solemn responsibility to fight those threats.” He adds,“The persistence of the Jewish homeland is a sign of hope and a symbol of our faith in humanity’s future, in the power of good over evil.”
Israelis feel very much isolated in today’s world community, which often appears to be increasingly hypocritical, cynical and indifferent to Israel’s existential dilemmas. This is a world in which the president of Iran vows to erase Israel, tells the world that the Holocaust never happened, and is building a nuclear weapon. Yet Mahmoud Ahmadinejad receives applause when he speaks from the U.N. rostrum, gets unashamedly invited to speak at Columbia University, and basks in the glow of 120 world leaders including the U.N. Secretary General at a Non-Aligned conference in Tehran.
Canada’s bold words and actions give us Israelis hope that there are indeed many decent people, some of them in positions of power, who will not bow to demonization or to the Orwellian twisting of history and language that often pertains to Israel these days. And they will stand in defense of Israel.
The writer is director of the Israel office of the Center for Israel and Jewish Affairs, the central advocacy agency of the Canadian Jewish community.