Canada supports Israel for strategic reasons but also because it is the correct thing to do, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Monday, delivering an overwhelmingly pro-Israel speech to the Knesset.
“After generations of persecution, the Jewish people deserve their own homeland, and deserve to live safely and peacefully in that homeland,” Harper said early in his address. “Canada supports Israel because it is right to do so.”
The speech by Harper, in Israel on his first trip to the Jewish state as the Canadian prime minister, avoided any criticism of Israel or settlements, and only briefly mentioned Canada’s desire for a Palestinian state alongside Israel. Warmly applauded by almost all MKs, he was heckled, when slamming critics of Israel, by two Arab MKs who then walked out of the chamber.
Harper closely toed the official Israeli government line, recognizing Israel as a Jewish state, slamming the international community for singling out the country for criticism, and calling on Palestinians to abandon terrorism.
“A Palestinian state will come, and one thing that will make it come is when the regimes that bankroll terrorism realize that the path to peace is accommodation, not violence,” he said.
Since his election in 2006, the Conservative prime minister, Canada’s first evangelical prime minister in 50 years, has been full-throated, unapologetic and seemingly indifferent to consequences in his support of Israel.
“It is a Canadian tradition to stand for what is principled and just, regardless of whether it is convenient or popular,” he said to the Israeli parliament.
But “support today for the Jewish state of Israel is more than a moral imperative. It is also of strategic importance, also a matter of our own long-term interests,” he elaborated, praising Israel’s record on human rights and economic freedom. “Israel is the only country in the Middle East which has long anchored itself in the ideals of freedom, democracy and the rule of law. These are not mere notions. They are the things that, over time and against all odds, have proven to be the only ground in which human rights, political stability, and economic prosperity, may flourish. These values are not proprietary; they do not belong to one nation or one people. Nor are they a finite resource; on the contrary, the wider they are spread, the stronger they grow.”
“Likewise, when they are threatened anywhere, they are threatened everywhere,” Harper continued. And “what today threatens the societies that embrace such values and the progress they nurture? Those who scorn modernity, who loathe the liberty of others, and who hold the differences of peoples and cultures in contempt. Those who often begin by hating the Jews, but, history shows us, end up hating anyone who is not them. Those forces which have threatened the State of Israel every single day of its existence, and which, today, as 9-11 graphically showed us, threaten us all… And so, either we stand up for our values and our interests, here, in Israel, stand up for the existence of a free, democratic and distinctively Jewish state, or the retreat of our values and our interests in the world will begin.”
Harper’s stirringly pro-Israel speech prompted some heckling from Israeli Arab Knesset members, at least two of whom walked out of the chamber midway through his address. The MKs, Ahmad Tibi and Taleb Abu Arar, who had heckled Netanyahu and opposition leader Isaac Herzog when they spoke prior to Harper, got up and left after the Canadian prime minister castigated those who sought to brand Israel as an Apartheid state.
“Most disgracefully of all, some openly call Israel an apartheid state,” Harper said. “Think about that. Think about the twisted logic and outright malice behind that: A state, based on freedom, democracy and the rule of law, that was founded so Jews can flourish, as Jews, and seek shelter from the shadow of the worst racist experiment in history, that is condemned, and that condemnation is masked in the language of anti-racism. It is nothing short of sickening.”
The two Arab MKs shouted that Israeli Arabs faced apartheid, citing the situation of Bedouin in the Negev, and Tibi said Harper “should be sitting there, with the Likud,” and pointed to the government benches in the chamber. The pair then got up and left.
After the walk out, and before Harper resumed his speech, much of the Knesset rose to its feet, led by Netanyahu, and gave him a standing ovation.
Before the Harper speech, in his own address, Netanyahu praised his Canadian counterpart as “having the courage to say the truth.”
Saying the distance between Jerusalem and Ramallah was shorter than Toronto’s Yonge Street, Netanyahu pointed to the fact that Israel had no “margin for error” in demanding security assurances so that Israel does not get a repeat of Gaza.
On Iran, Harper said that his government believes that all diplomatic channels to ensure Iran does not obtain a nuclear weapon should be explored, a divergence from a statement from Netanyahu that the recently implemented nuclear deal would not stop Iran’s nuclear program.
However, Harper said his country’s sanctions would remain fully in place. “And should our hopes not be realized, should the present agreement prove ephemeral, Canada will be a strong voice for renewed sanctions,” he said.
Harper also compared Israel’s enemies with violent Islamist movements, including al-Qaeda. “Those who often begin by hating the Jews… history shows us end up hating anyone who is not them. Those forces, which have threatened the state of Israel every single day of its existence, and which, today, as 9-11 graphically showed us, threaten us all.”
Harper praised military cooperation between the two countries, saying that “the use of Israeli-built reconnaissance equipment saved the lives of many Canadian soldiers.”
Referring to Canada’s Jewish population, Harper said, “They are also immensely proud of what the people of Israel have accomplished here, of your courage in war, of your generosity in peace, and of the bloom that the desert has yielded, under your stewardship.
“Through fire and water,” Harper concluded, “Canada will stand with you.”
Knesset members and the packed crowd in the Knesset galleries — including the large Canadian delegation accompanying Harper in Israel — rose to their feet as the Canadian prime minister concluded, and gave him prolonged applause.