visit along with a delegation of cabinet ministers, MPs, and others as well as some Canadian business and religious leaders. He will also be visiting the West Bank and Jordan. Among other stops, Prime Minister Harper will become the first Canadian Prime Minister to address the Israeli parliament - the Knesset. This is, of course, something that President Obama refused to do, for fear of officially recognizing the fact that Jerusalem is Israel's capital.
Prime Minister Harper will also be receiving an Honourary degree from Tel-Aviv University. It is unclear whether his itinerary will include a trip to the Canada Centre - Israel's Olympic-sized ice rink in Metullah, although given the PM's interest in ice hockey, this would seem to be an appropriate stop. I'm sure that Israel's national ice hockey team would be happy to entertain the Prime Minister as they prepare for the upcoming IIHF Division II Tournament.
Prime Minister Harper's government has been a great friend of the State of Israel. It has been willing to take a principled approach towards issues of terrorism, Israeli security and fairness of treatment towards Israel by the international community, even when these issues have been unpopular. Under Harper's leadership, the Canadian government has stood by Israel's right to defend itself in the face of relentless, unprovoked rocket attacks from Hezbollah in 2006 and Gaza in 2009. The Canadian government has also refused to go along with pro forma anti-Israel resolutions put forward annually at the U.N. and other one-time U.N. resolutions that unfairly attack Israel. For example, Canada stood alone in January 2009, opposing a U.N. Human
Rights Council motion to denounce Israel, exclusively, over the military
operations in Gaza in response to the rocket attacks that Israel faced
from Hamas. The U.S. is not a member of this distinguished council,
which seems to define its success by the number of anti-Israel resolutions it can put forward at any given time, despite any other worldwide conflicts that might be occurring.
Some have argued that Canada's support of Israel means that Canada abandoned a long-standing position as an "honest-broker." But what does this really mean? Israel is the only country in the Middle East with values that are remotely similar to Canadian values. It has a vibrant and free press. Equality for all citizens. Freedom of religion for all citizens. The rule of law. Contrast that with Israel's neighbouring countries and territories - Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Gaza...the list goes on and on. How could Canada approach all countries in similar fashion in these circumstances?
Canada can and should support and assist the Palestinians in their negotiations with Israel with the intention of building a democratic, peaceful, secure country and coming to a peaceful resolution with Israel. That is the stated Canadian objective. I have confidence that this Canadian Prime Minister and his government would be very supportive of Palestinians with those goals and would be prepared to provide economic and other assistance to bolster a mutually acceptable peace deal with Israel. Maybe we could even wind up with an ice hockey arena in Ramallah to go along with the one that is in Metullah. This Canadian government would also have credibility with the Israeli government in helping to work towards a comprehensive peace deal.
But in dealing with regimes that are not supportive of these types of goals, and that advocate violence and terrorism, such as Hezbollah or Hamas, it would make little sense for Canada to simply be an "honest broker" between Israel and those entities.
Much credit goes to Minister Jason Kenney, Canada's Minister of Employment and Social Development. Minister Kenney has been a staunch opponent of terrorism, worldwide. He has supported Holocaust education and awareness and has opposed antisemitism and other forms of racism wherever they might exist. Even at conferences where antisemitism is in vogue, Minister Kenney has been prepared to call a spade a spade and demand that antisemitism be treated no differently from other forms of racism. While this is anathema in so many other countries throughout the world, it is a principled approach that contrasts dramatically with the U.N's Orwellian attacks on Israel. .
This is not all intended to mean that the Canadian government should support every one of Prime Minister Netanyahu's policies or that Canada must refrain from criticizing the Israeli government. But any criticism of Israel, should be, as Prime Minister Harper recognizes, contextual. Contrast this approach with the outrageous comments of then Canadian Liberal candidate Michael Ignatieff, who called Israel's actions in Lebanon (in response to a barrage of rocket attacks) a "war crime." (He later apologized).
With the credibility that Canada now has in Israel, it may well be able to assist Israel and the Palestinians in the current negotiations that have been taking place under the guidance of John Kerry. Ministers in the current Israeli government including powerful Minister of Finance Yair Lapid and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman have been publicly supportive of trying to reach a comprehensive deal. While there are certainly Ministers in the Israeli government including Minister Ayalon and Minister Bennett who are opposed to the current negotiations, there seems to be some basis for optimism.
It is unfortunate that support for Israel has been characterized as a "right-left" issue in Canadian politics and in other places in the world. In the U.S., many socially progressive Democratic politicians have been strongly supportive of Israel for the types of reasons that Prime Minister Harper and Minster Kenney have put forward. They have recognized that if there were democratic, free governments, like Israel across the Middle East, there is little doubt that those countries would be at peace with Israel. While the Israeli record is far from perfect, Israel's policies in some social areas are completely unrivaled across the Middle East and throughout much of the world; its vibrant, free press; its treatment of minorities including religious minorities, gays, and others and its open court system which consistently adheres to the principles of the rule of law.
With these types of values, it makes sense that democratic countries like Canada and the U.S. would side with Israel in its current conflicts, just as it makes sense that Canada and the U.S. have sided with democratic European countries like Britain and France when they have faced threats from non-democratic, hostile forces. Few people would say that Canada should have simply played the role of "honest broker" in some of the international conflicts in which Canada has been involved over the course of its history.
I wish the Prime Minister and his delegation the best of success in their travels and I trust that they will have an eye-opening, rewarding and welcoming experience and who knows, maybe they will even assist with some breakthrough negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians to bring about an end to a seemingly intractable conflict.