Harpers Road Trip
You've surely seen the headlines about Stephen Harper's trip to Israel. You no doubt read how he was greeted by adoring throngs like a rock star or even, dare I say, a Kardashian, and received the kind of treatment usually only afforded to royalty. Stories abounded how he charmed his Israeli hosts with his speech to the Knesset, the first of any Canadian leader to address that august body. It should be pointed out that the pro-Palestinian members of their assembly heckled Harper and walked out during his address. Otherwise, Harper’s speech was greeted with thunderous applause and great ovation.
Apparently, the love-in didn’t end with the oratory, either. Our buttoned-down, rigid PM is reported to have broken into song to entertain the folks at the big high mucky muck reception, afterwards, as well. As Harper watchers know so well, tinkling the ivories and warbling old Beatle songs is the only outward appearance of our man, Stephen’s warm, personable side, not counting his hockey book.
So what does this all mean for the average Canadian? The answer has more facets than any of the diamonds Lucy in the Sky had.
There is no doubt that Canada, under Harper's watch, has been arguably, the most vocally strident ally Israel has had in the past number of years; ever since Obama was elected, essentially. It is no secret that the U.S. president does not see eye to eye with his Israeli counterpart, Benjamin Netanyahu. More like eye for an eye. The bad blood between the two leaders was openly evident when Netanyahu broke from the tradition of past Israeli heads of state, who appeared neutral during U.S. presidential elections. Netanyahu openly endorsed Mitt Romney, making it official. America and Israel were on the outs. In Facebook parlance, their relationship status is “it’s complicated”.
Not so Canada. Steve and Benji are BFF's and Israel can, seemingly, do no wrong. Harper has even refused to find fault with the Israel habit of putting settlements on disputed lands. Although Harper has been staunch in his support of practically anything Israel wishes to do, he, thankfully, has not yet publicly endorsed Netanyahu's call for a preemptive strike on Iran's nuclear facilities. Apparently that’s a bit much for even Stephen.
This resolute backing of Israel has obviously worked at endearing our nation, and especially our leader, to the people of Israel. However, this steadfast, blinkered support has taken Canada out of the running, in terms of being able to have any meaningful role as a non-aligned soft power. This is the stance we formerly had when Canada was known as a nation of peacekeepers. How do we as Canadian citizens feel about this substantial shift?
Sure, it's great we now have Israel thinking were pretty nice folks but this position does come with automatic enemies; especially Iran. For some analysts, taking this stand vis-a-vis unconditional support for Israel, only serves to make our country the target of ire from a nation that is the power behind a great deal of international terrorism. Is our friendship with Israel worth the increased risk liability that comes as a result of it? Could we look at ourselves in the mirror if we let a bully nation like Iran tell us who we can be friends with?
Canada's best and most successful foreign policy is not to have one, which pretty much sums up our history. We helped in the World Wars, as, of course, we should have, but managed to stay out of most regional frays, other than our questionably effective mission to Afghanistan. Any warring we have been a part of, was never part of an expansionist policy. We have enough land, thanks. We don't need to take anybody else's. We are never aggressors.
Besides engendering the ire of anti-Israel factions, Harper's focus on that country has other effects. For example, the attention he and the people that do his bidding have already directed at Israel, could have been better spent elsewhere if economic benefit was the goal. If the PM had applied himself as ardently to courting India, as he had Israel, it would have likely been more beneficial trade-wise for Canadian businessmen. India has a population of a billion consumers. They're as democratic and progressive as Israel and are a Commonwealth nation to boot.
There have been very few stories written explaining why Harper has made Israel his personal pet project throughout his prime ministerial career. According to a report in the National Post, written by John Ivison, being pro-Israel is a stance Harper was bequeathed from his father. Apparently, Joseph, Stephen's dear old accountant dad was a big fan of Israel, having been an enthusiastic history buff. Joseph had, through his research, concluded the Jewish people could never be safe from another Holocaust without the security provided by a Jewish homeland.. As noble as Joseph Harper's views were towards Israel, though, it does not seem to be a very compelling reason to dedicate as much attention and resources to that country as we do. Just because a Jewish homeland was important in theory to Harper’s father, doesn't mean it should be important to Canada. However, as seasoned social observer, Mel Brooks said, "It's good to be the king."
It is hard to say at this time if there will be any lasting effect of Harper’s adoration of Israel beyond cheap electioneering footage of looking pious by the Wailing Wall. He didn’t say anything really new or do anything unexpected or particularly bold. It’s not like he took Rona Ambrose to the Wailing Wall with him. If we get targeted by Iranian operatives working in Canada, we may have to ask ourselves if our largely symbolic and verbal defense of Israel is still worth it. The answer isn’t necessarily ‘no’ but isn’t likely to be an unqualified ‘yes’.
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