Harper’s principled stand on Israel


Though many will dismiss the prime minister's recent remarks as mere political grandstanding, they should look deeper.

It would be easy to scoff, in a worldly wise way, at Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s recent speech in Montreal. Harper, in town to receive the first-ever King David Award from the Jewish Community Council of Montreal, spoke of the deep friendship between Canada and Israel, of the unique challenges Israel faces as the sole democracy in the Middle East and of his government’s unwavering support for the Jewish state.

“Our government recognizes that Israel is a friend. A nation of democracy and constancy in a region of repression and instability,” said Harper. “Canada will continue to stand by Israel through fire and water.”

And yet, to the cynics, “Harper’s just courting the Jewish vote!” “It’s all strategy!” “We’re just talking tough because we lost out on that UN Security Council seat!”

Yes, it’s easy to be cynical — too easy. There are any number of issues on which the prime minister deserves criticism, and many more on which his motives might be doubted. His support for Israel, however, is not one of them. It is honest, it is principled, and it is right.

No one would suggest that Israel is above criticism. We share the concerns expressed by others that some Israeli policies and practices — particularly expanding West Bank settlements — have been unhelpful to the cause of peace in the Middle East. But we are also mindful that no other Western democracy, as Israel assuredly is, has had to live as it has since its founding: surrounded by hostile neighbours, on the front lines of a perpetual war.

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Most Westerners, especially North Americans, have long enjoyed the ability to fight our wars on someone else’s real estate. With our civilian populations relatively immune from attack and the ugliness of war kept pleasantly out of view, we have enjoyed all the luxuries that a life of seemingly costless freedom has to offer. We forget how hard and painful defending a free society can be.

Members of our armed forces, our veterans and their families know this truth. For too many of them, it is seared into their flesh and bones. But the rest of us, those who live comfortably removed from the daily threat of attack, might not appreciate what an achievement it is for Israel to have maintained its democratic ideals as well as it has while living under siege all these many years.

Indeed, it is difficult to imagine any society doing a better job of balancing the competing demands of maintaining civil rights at home, protecting innocent civilian life in enemy territory during war — and, of course, protecting its own citizens from attack. The defence of the nation is the first responsibility of any government, as it is the first right of any people. Why would we deny the people of Israel the same right? And yet there are those who, while mouthing the principle in the abstract, take issue whenever it is exercised. Israel, it seems, has a right to defend itself, so long as it does not use its army.

For Israel’s supporters, the points above are familiar, even clichéd. They’ve been said before. In time, we’re sure we’ll have cause to say them again.

But it is rare to hear a political leader set aside the soothing bromides of diplomacy — on the one hand this but on the other hand that — and say so clearly, without equivocation, what should not need to be said, and yet most desperately does: Israel is a tiny country doing its best to make a future for itself in a part of world where too many of its neighbours want it destroyed. As Harper said: “Israel is the frontline of free and democratic nations, and any who turn their back on Israel, or turn a blind eye to the nature of Israel’s enemies, do so in the long run at their own peril.”

Though many will dismiss the prime minister’s recent remarks as mere political grandstanding, they should look deeper. We often say we’d like our leaders to speak from their hearts instead of reading off talking points. Last week, Harper did exactly that.

May 30, 2015 | Comments »

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