Quite a strong statement of support for the state of Israel by Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper in a speech to the Israeli Parliament today. Harper is on a 3.5 day visit to the country as head of what the Toronto Sun described as a “monster” delegation that includes a bunch of businessmen, some prominent Jewish-Canadians, 21 rabbis and some Christian fundamentalists.
There’s over 200 people in the delegation, and a good chunk of the tab is being picked up by Canadian taxpayers. Despite the large presence of Muslims and Arabs in the contested region (and their growing presence in Canada), no members of those communities were included in the delegation. Harper did meet with the leader of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas though, where he pledged $66 million in aid to the Palestinian people. Press reports describe the rapport between the two men as “lacking warmth”, and Harper rebuffed questions about the ongoing expansion of Jewish settlements on the West Bank.
When it comes to the Middle East, Canada has traditionally played the role of an honest broker trying to calm inflamed tensions. When Lester Pearson won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1957 it was for work he did in defusing the Suez Canal crisis in Egypt. Canadian peacekeepers have been active in the Middle East for decades as well.
I don’t have the time or energy to go into all the nuances of Israel and its relationship with the rest of the Middle East — suffice to say, it’s an extraordinarily complicated situation that has roots nourished by thousands of years of history, religion, economics, geo-politics and more. Only fanatic ideologues see things in black-and-white.
Sadly, Harper seems to be just such a person. Besides vowing loyalty to Israel in his speech, in which he was heckled by two Israeli legislators who eventually walked out, Harper pretty much equated any criticism of Israel and its policies with being anti-Semitic.
When Joe Clark was prime minister in 1979, I remember the Progressive Conservatives drawing flack for proposing to move the Canadian embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. What Harper did today goes far beyond that and doesn’t serve the long term interests of peace and prosperity in the region. And it doesn’t serve Canada’s long-term (or even short-term) interests either.
The presence of the evangelical Christians in the delegation was interesting because some evangelicals have some pretty weird (and apocalyptic) ideas about Israel tied to Biblical prophecy. Harper’s an evangelical Christian himself, so how much of the fealty he expressed to Israel today is attributable to that is an open question.
Regardless, speaking as a Canadian, it’s creepy what he did.