Thanking Ottawa for not joining much of the world in hypocrisy, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed Canadian counterpart Stephen Harper to Israel Sunday.
Harper, accompanied by his wife Laureen and a substantial delegation of leaders from the Canadian government, including several senior ministers, arrived in Israel on Sunday night for his first official visit since taking office in 2006.
“This world is often cynical and hypocritical, and you have shown great moral leadership,” Netanyahu said. “When it comes to fighting terrorism, you know that there cannot be any politically correct double talk, but only unequivocal condemnation and united international action.”
Canada under Harper has been seen as one of Israel’s staunchest allies, backing the Jewish state at the United Nations and working to isolate Iran.
“I have to say, Stephen, that you are a great friend of Israel and the Jewish people. I’m not just saying that – I mean it deeply from the bottom of my heart and I speak for all the people of Israel,” Netanyahu said. “When it comes to anti-Semitism, you have stood up unabashedly at the side of Israel and the entire Jewish people, I think at the side of decency and fairness to everyone: Jews and non-Jews alike. And when it comes to Iran’s repeated calls for Israel’s annihilation and its unrelenting development of nuclear weapons – you and Canada have stood unflinchingly on the right side of history.”
The statement by Netanyahu echoed comments to foreign journalists last week in which he lashed out at Europe for hypocrisy in criticizing Israel while letting Palestinian incitement go unchecked.
Harper is scheduled to be in Israel for four days, during which time he will meet with Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres to discuss possibilities for increasing trade and strengthening relations between the two countries. The ongoing Israeli-Palestinian peace process, the Iranian nuclear threat and instability in Syria are also on the agenda.
On Sunday, a press release issued by his office called for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to negotiate with the “Jewish State of Israel,” seemingly backing Jerusalem’s demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state.
“When it comes to peace, you recognize that a genuine peace, a lasting peace, must be based on mutual recognition and sound security arrangements on the ground,” Netanyahu said. “You have shown courage, clarity and conviction. And in standing up for the truth, your voice, Stephen, has been an indispensable one. So the people of Israel and I deeply appreciate your friendship and the friendship of the people of Canada to us.”
Harper said he would respond to Netanyahu’s comments in a speech at the Knesset scheduled for Monday, the first ever such address by a Canadian head of state.
He will also travel to the West Bank on Monday to meet with Abbas.
On Tuesday, he will attend a joint meeting of the Israeli and Canadian governments before accompanying Netanyahu to Yad Vashem, the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement. On his final day in Israel, he plans to tour Christian sites in Israel’s north before attending a ceremony at Tel Aviv University, where he will receive an honorary doctorate.
Harper will embark Wednesday on a three-day visit to Jordan to meet with Hashemite King Abdullah II and Jordanian Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour.
An evangelical Christian and one of Israel’s most unabashedly staunch allies, Harper announced the trip at a Jewish National Fund dinner in December, calling Israel “a light of freedom and democracy in what is otherwise a region of darkness” and pledged that the Jewish state “will always have Canada as a friend.”
Since his election in 2006, the Conservative prime minister has been a full-throated, unapologetic supporter of Israel.
Harper was the first Western leader to cut aid to the Palestinian Authority following Hamas’s seizure that year of power in Gaza, and the first to withdraw from the second UN World Conference Against Racism, known as Durban II, saying the event would “scapegoat the Jewish people.”
In November 2012, Canada opposed Palestine’s elevation to the status of nonmember state in a UN General Assembly vote, one of only nine countries to do so.
Canada has sided openly with Israel in every one of its military operations since 2006. Earlier this month Harper appointed Vivian Bercovici, a Toronto lawyer and an outspoken Israel supporter, as Canada’s ambassador to Israel.
JTA contributed to this report.