Debate: Is Stephen Harper’s rhetorical solidarity with Israel justified?
The following views are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the newspaper editorial staff.
Stephen Harper has long asserted his support for Israel. He recently became the first Canadian Prime Minister to speak before the Israeli Knesset (parliament). Harper’s strong statements of solidarity with Israel and harsh criticism of Israel’s opponents -- many of whom he views as fueling a new anti-semitism -- has made him vulnerable to criticism, with the National Post’s Jonathan Kay arguing that even Zionists should find Harper’s rhetoric concerning.
In this debate Charles Lamy argues that Harper’s position is in line with a defensible Canadian diplomatic tradition, while Jonas Becker argues that the oversimplicity of Harper’s statements stifles a very just debate.
Yes, Harper’s rhetoric is justified
By: Charles Lamy
It seems to be a popular exercise in intellectual pretension to criticize Israel. Reading Prime Minister Harper’s speech to the Israeli Knesset, however, I could hardly find an objectionable word or phrase. The defence of Israel is a proud Canadian tradition, and it remains one of the strongest shared values between prime ministers of both Conservative and Liberal governments since the days of Louis St-Laurent. This bipartisan stance exists because of the common-sense observation that Israel is a necessary beacon in a turmoil stricken region.
Prime Minister Harper stated that the defence of Israel is both a diplomatic and moral necessity. We should examine each in turn.
Diplomatically speaking, we must appreciate the history behind this Canadian policy. Lester Pearson, while serving as chairman of the UN General Assembly’s Special Committee of Palestine, was instrumental in creating the modern state of Israel. As Canada’s greatest diplomatic mind, he stated then what remains true today: “With the whole Arab world in a state of internal unrest and in the grip of mounting anti-Western hysteria, Israel is…the only stable element in the whole Middle East area.”
All diplomatic criticisms of Israel must first be filtered through Pearson’s analysis. We cannot tolerate any position that would weaken Israel relative to its neighbours. Israel, Harper correctly stated, “is the only country in the middle East which has long anchored itself in the ideals of freedom, democracy, and the rule of law.” Further, Harper asserts that the radical Islamists who oppose Israel do so because they lack liberal-democratic values.
These are values that Israel shares with its free brothers in the West. When Israel is threatened, its values are threatened and thus so are Canada’s, as evil does not respect borders. The radical Islamists “who scorn modernity, who loathe the liberty of others, and who hold the differences of peoples and cultures in contempt” indeed continue to, “as 9/11 graphically showed us, threaten us all.”
A clear and rational analysis of foreign policy leaves only one option and that is full and unambiguous support for Israel’s right of self-defence. Anything less is a victory for Hamas, Hezbollah, Al-Qaeda, the Muslim Brotherhood, Iran, Syria, or any other one of Israel’s enemies that the far-left considers to be misunderstood bands of patriots.
Prime Minister Harper also spoke of the moral necessity to defend Israel. This is more controversial in some circles.
Harper summarizes Canada’s position as follows: “Our view on Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state is absolute and non-negotiable.” Further, Harper stated that, “we refuse to single out Israel for criticism on the international stage.” Many have interpreted this statement as a belief that Canada will never criticize Israel, or that doing so is anti-Semitic.
This absurd; Harper had sentences before said, “No state is beyond legitimate questioning or criticism,” and that “criticism of Israeli policy is not in and of itself necessarily anti-Semitic.” Harper was merely adhering to rather uncontroversial doctrine that hypocrisy cannot be a diplomatic tool, as one cannot ceaselessly criticize Israel while “systematically ignoring- or excusing- the violence and oppression” that are ever-present in Israeli life.
Harper’s several statements of condemnation were reserved only for those critics who are spreading a new “mutation of the old disease of anti-Semitism.” Harper correctly identifies moral relativism as window-dressing for this old and dark hatred, one that is plainly visible despite new “sophisticated language for use in polite society.”
Harper further attacks those “intellectualized arguments” that degrade our campuses with the most absurd statement this new anti-Semitism has yet to produce: that Israel is an apartheid state. Such ideas, correctly identified as housed and nurtured on campuses across the country, are rightfully dismissed as “twisted logic and outright malice…masked in the language of anti-racism. It is nothing short of sickening.”
Stephen Harper’s speech to the Israeli Knesset is part of a proud bipartisan commitment to moral and diplomatic truths. Criticisms reserved for Mr. Harper should deal with another part of his agenda, because concerning Israel he is correct. Disagreement with that sentence is cause for self-examination, not partisan attacks.
Illustration/ Christopher King
No, Harper’s rhetoric is unjustified
By: Jonas Becker
In a well-publicized speech at the Knesset, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper heaped unconditional praise upon the Israeli state and Prime Minister Netanyahu, defending Israeli policy against its critics and equating them with anti-Semitism and intolerance.
While there are certainly anti-Semitic elements present among the vocal anti-Zionist community in Canada, they are a distinct minority that holds little legitimacy. Harper appears to be attempting to lump together both elements, claiming that criticism of the Jewish state is “...the face of the new anti-Semitism. It targets the Jewish people by targeting Israel and attempts to make the old bigotry acceptable for a new generation.”
Harper also accused critics of moral relativism and of placing the blame for the turmoil in the Middle East solely on Israel’s shoulders, suggesting that by doing so they might be hiding “…the seeds of much more sinister notions that can be easily planted.”
This is insulting for several reasons.
Firstly, like any state, Israel’s decision making process is first and foremost based in its own best interests. Criticisms of Israel can thus address whether its actions are beneficial or not to individual states, peoples and entities. Claiming that critics of the state of Israel are also critics of its people and culture is a very dangerous move, that effectively labels any dissent against Israeli policy as hate mongering.
Canada enshrined free speech in the 1982 Charter of Rights and Freedoms and, furthermore, the concept has since been refined to disbar any speech that incites hatred towards another individual or group.
A relevant example is the R vs. Keegstra case in 1990, when a public school teacher was charged and found guilty for spreading anti-Semitic material to his students. Any legitimate, anti-Zionist protest that shifted towards anti-Semitism would be swiftly shut down by the Supreme Court.
Unfortunately, it appears that Harper is suggesting that all critiques of Israel are one and the same. While this may be his personal perspective, they are not suitable to voice as the elected leader of the Canadian public.
Secondly, Harper’s thinly veiled metaphor of seeds and sinister notions immediately brings to mind Nazism, pogroms, and the various other woes that have historically befallen the Jewish people.
Drawing these kinds of parallels between legitimate protest and jackbooted soldiers is an underhanded discrediting of Israel’s critics and an overbearing attempt to undermine the legitimacy of a right enshrined by the Charter.
The Holocaust stands as one of the single greatest atrocities in human memory. Using it as a justification and rationale for all Israeli policy, benign or not, unfairly exploits the suffering of Jews who lost their lives to the evil of Nazism.
Finally, Harper expressed a sincere hope that Palestinians would choose to live peacefully beside Israel, and questioned criticism that “…denies [Israel’s] right to defend itself while systematically ignoring- or excusing- the violence and oppressions all around it.”
While he expressed support for a Palestinian state, Harper also indicated that such a future was dependant on the renunciation of violence and unilateral action through Israel, criticizing those who argued for bilateral negotiations.
I question a statement defending and investing treaty power in a state condemned by the UN for illegally occupying Palestinian territory through military force.
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The outraged departure from the Knesset of two members of Ta’al, the Arab Movement for Change, indicates that others may be equally dismayed at Harper’s absolute, morally flawed defence of the Israeli state and his support of unilateral resolutions to a territorial dilemma that has existed for decades.