Jewish Ideas Daily has been succeeded and re-launched as Mosaic. Read more...

O Canada

In striking contrast to the treatment Jerusalem has been getting from its fair-weather European allies and a fickle Obama administration, there stands, of all countries, Canada. Why "of all countries"? Because none of this was preordained.

Relevant Links
The Jewish Vote  Paul C. Merkley, Jewish Political Studies Review. Re-examining their place on the political spectrum, Canadian Jews appear to be moving rightward.
The New Anti-Semitism  Stephen Harper, Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee. Harnessing anti-Semitic, anti-Western, and anti-American motifs, today’s haters of Jews pervert the language of human rights in order to target the Jewish state. (With video)
Israel's Best, Least Known Friend  Ron Friedman, Jerusalem Post. Why are Stephen Harper’s pro-Israel sentiments echoed by many Canadians? Because the two countries share similar values.

Until lately, Canada's relations with Israel have essentially followed the trajectory of those with Western Europe—that is, starting out warm and turning increasingly frosty. Since 2006, that has changed under the leadership of Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his Conservative party. In the most recent elections on May 2, to the delight of Israelis, Harper won another resounding victory, giving him a clear majority in parliament.

A brief review of the history puts today's situation in perspective. In 1947, Lester Pearson, an internationalist liberal then serving as Canada's foreign minister, supported the UN partition plan for Palestine, for which the Zionists were grateful. In 1956, during the Sinai campaign that saw France and Britain allied with Israel, Canada sought to placate both London and a fuming Eisenhower administration.  Afterward, Ottawa adhered to a pro-Israel stance through the 1967 Six-Day war, wobbling only after the 1973 Yom Kippur war when Pierre Trudeau was in power. Tellingly, the 1973 Arab oil embargo, combined with PLO airliner hijackings and terrorist outrages including the 1974 massacre of 21 Israeli schoolchildren in Ma'alot, swayed both Europe and Canada against Israel.

In 1975, under pressure from the Jewish community, Trudeau postponed a UN conference slated to take place in Canada with Yasir Arafat's participation. But thereafter any such inhibitions disappeared, along with any interest in opposing the Arab economic boycott of Israel. Soon the Canadian government, press, and intellectual elite were embracing the Arab line that negated Jewish rights in Judea and Samaria. Again like Europe, Canada pronounced the obstacle to peace to be not unremitting Arab rejectionism but Jewish settlements.

By the mid-1980s, under Joe Clark and Brian Mulroney, Canada had formalized its pro-Arab course. Clark called for a Palestinian "homeland" long before Arafat even pretended to recognize Israel's right to exist, and during the 1991 Gulf war pressed Washington to exploit the situation by forcing Israeli concessions to Palestinian demands. At the start of the first intifada (1987-1993), ignoring rampant Palestinian-on-Palestinian bloodletting, let alone the more than 400 Israeli Jewish victims of Palestinian brutality, Clark leveled his criticisms primarily at Jerusalem. Even the Canadian labor movement turned against the Jewish state.

Only in the wake of the September 11, 2001 Islamist terror attacks and Arafat's unleashing of the second intifada did Canada begin, under Paul Martin (2003-2006), to slow its anti-Israel drift. With Harper's election in 2006, the drift was not only halted but reversed. The new Canadian government became the first to cut ties with the Palestinian Authority after Hamas won the 2006 parliamentary elections in the West Bank and Gaza. In July 2006, Harper courageously stood with Israel against Hizballah in the second Lebanon war. In 2009, Ottawa led the way in opposing a repeat performance of the notoriously anti-Semitic Durban conference of 2001, as well as other Arab efforts to use the UN Human Rights Council as a battering ram against Israel.

What explains this exceptionalism? Canadian analysts agree that Harper's attitude toward the Jewish state is a matter of personal conviction—a conviction shared, moreover, by other party leaders like Stockwell Day and Jason Kenney. They see Israel for what it is: an island of democracy and a bastion of Western values in a perilously unstable region.

It is fortunate that the reconstituted Conservative party led by Harper came into existence only in 2003, and is thus free of its predecessor's anti-Israel baggage. It also helps that Canada is the fifth largest energy producer in the world. Though the country continues to import petroleum, its relative energy independence lessens the tendency toward Europe's moral and diplomatic myopia.

Which is not to say that Harper's principled stance is politically risk-free. Of the main national newspapers that delve into global affairs, the National Post is editorially the most sympathetic to Israel (though it also relies for its coverage on occasionally tendentious wire services). The Globe & Mail, which endorsed Harper, is somewhat less supportive, and its Israel bureau chief, Patrick Martin, has been a strident critic. Popular opinion, too, is far from completely on board with Harper. A recent BBC poll found as many as 52 percent of Canadians holding unfavorable views of Israel. In Quebec, historically less friendly to Jews and Israel, there has been even greater dissatisfaction with the government's stance.

But in Harper's core constituency, which includes Christian supporters of Israel, his willingness to go against the grain is valued. Moreover, Jews in key electoral districts in Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver have increasingly abandoned Liberal for Conservative candidates. In the May 2 election, even Irwin Cotler, a famously pro-Israel Liberal MP from a heavily Jewish district, barely held on to his seat against a pro-Israel Conservative opponent. In general, and unlike their coreligionists to the south, Canada's 350,000 Jews see themselves as living not in a melting pot but in a sometimes tense multicultural mosaic, and are far less prone to anchor their "Jewish identity" in criticism of Israeli policies.

Exactly fifty years ago, in May 1961, David Ben-Gurion became the first prime minister of Israel to make an official visit to Canada. For their refreshingly sincere and unqualified friendship today, Stephen Harper and the Canadian electorate deserve the gratitude not only of Israelis but also of the Jewish state's supporters, Jews and non-Jews, everywhere. 

Tags: , , , , , , , ,


Zelig on May 16, 2011 at 9:47 am (Reply)
Earlier Conservative governments weren't above pandering to the Jewish community when necessary. A key promise in Joe Clark's election platform of 1980 was a promise to move the Canadian embassy to Jerusalem. The very first thing he did after taking office was announce he had to study the ramifications of the move and that was the last anyone ever heard of it.
DLS on May 16, 2011 at 10:50 am (Reply)
You may not like the Obama Administration, but the fact it agrees with the current Israeli government sometimes and disagrees sometimes hardly makes it fickle. It means that the President is more sophisticated than the "Israel right or wrong" crowd at AIPAC.
SW on May 16, 2011 at 2:50 pm (Reply)
I am amused by the "more sophisticated" argument about Obama in the context of an article about Canada. I am sadly amused by the portrayal of some Jews as arguing "Israel right or wrong." The confluence of these two statements suggests that DLS posts not so much to response to "O Canada," but to politics for the US administration, whose "peace envoy" has just resigned. "Right or wrong?" And what about the newest third intifada is "right?" What part of AIPAC's support of Israel is "wrong?" Complaint without specifics is accusaorial. Is Israel always right? No, but in the context of an Arab world in flames, violently attacking not only Israel but its own citizens, including the Copts in Egypt, Israel is a beacon of hope while the Arab world is proving itself a murderous morass of corruption and seething anger - against Israel, because anger against itself would prove its underpinnings, socialist as well as Islamist, to be so completely wrong as to make Israel brilliant and free by comparison alone. Ergo, DLS worries about an American president proving his "sophistication." How about Libya? How sophisticated is that? How about troops remaining in Iraq? An escalation of the Afghanistan war? All sophistication? Nothing "fickle?" How political.
eli on May 16, 2011 at 4:07 pm (Reply)
The postage stamp at the following url pretty much sums it up.
Archie1954 on May 16, 2011 at 6:58 pm (Reply)
I voted for the Conservative party but it was in spite of its support for Israel, not because of it. Canada has a reputation as a peacekeeper, mediator and honest broker which is the foreign policy that made our country a friend of everyone and an enemy of none. There is no reason to change that, no reason at all. Prime minister Harper is a right wing Christian whose religion is remaking the country's foreign policy. This must be stopped, religion has no place in foreign policy except as a basis for a general foundation, but certainly not for real day to day political positions. Canada lost its bid for a position on the Security Council because of its uncritical support of Israel. Believe me I will be lobbying to bring common sense and fairness back into Canada's foreign policy.
Samuel on May 17, 2011 at 7:50 am (Reply)
Unfortunately, it is Stephen Harper's Government that has refused to take the Iranian threat against Israel seriously - as he protects his interests in the Alberta Oil Patch.

The Liberal Party, led by the likes o Cotler and former MP Ken Dryden argued repeatedly in Canada's Parliament for Harper to place the Iranian Revolutionary Giuard on Canada's Terror Watch List, but Harper refused. The Opposition Liberals also called for Special Economic Sanctions which Harper only brought in after years of Liberal harangiung

Harper also funds the militant anti_israel group "Palestine House" to the tune of $4,000,000

Harper's voting record at the UN pales in comparisson to Obama's in terms of support for Israel.

All is not rosy in Canada. Harper talks the talk, but fails to walk the walk too often.

Policies of the Conservatives and Liberals are indistinguishable on Israel. What Harper has done successfuly is to make Israel a wedge issue and to ensure that there are political winners and losers in the Canadian Parliament on the subject of Israel instead of encouraging strong bi-partisan support.

This is not to be denied and is to be lamented.
Jordan on May 17, 2011 at 10:00 am (Reply)
Interesting that you mention Stockwell Day, former leader of the Reform Party (fore-runner of the Conservative Party of Canada), who just retired and no longer sits in Parliament. I think it was obvious to everyone that his support of Israel was firmly rooted in his fundamentalist Christianity, which was well-publicised (Day is a Young-Earth Creationist and his views did more to keep the Liberal Party in power than anything they themselves did).

It is important to keep in mind that there are only 350-400,000 Jews in Canada, that they are concentrated in only a dozen ridings. Jews are outnumbered about 10-to-1 by evangelical Protestants who are spread across the country. Many of the leaders of pro-Israel advocacy groups in Canada are evangelical Christians, and this group wields enormous influence within the Conservative Party (which only elected Jewish MPs for the first time on May 2nd and which has far fewer Jews in its senior ranks than the Liberals).

Comments are closed for this article.

Like us on Facebook! Follow us on Twitter! Pin us on Pintrest!

Jewish Review of Books

Inheriting Abraham