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J.J. McCullough

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Harper in Israel? Time for Pundits to Whine

Posted: 01/20/2014 11:09 am

The Prime Minister of Canada unveiled his latest stimulus program this week. He's visiting Israel, and in doing so is helping foster a boom in the production of one of our nation's most treasured goods: whiny editorials about Canadian foreign policy.

There are a lot of nasty tropes floating out there about the cryptic man running our country, and most of them are junk. The idea that he's ushered in a dramatic hike in military spending, for instance. Or massive cuts in scientific research. Or notions he's been pursuing a dogmatic anti-pot crusade, or has presided over a dramatic spike in greenhouse gas emissions, or is a fundamentalist Christian reactionary with a secret plan to destroy gay marriage.

The no less oft-repeated claim that Stephen Harper is the most aggressively pro-Israel leader in the world, however  -- that one's on considerably firmer ground.

Harper backed Israel unequivocally in its last two wars, and was one of only three heads of government in the 53-nation Francophonie to oppose a statement drafted in the aftermath of the first one, the one with Lebanon, that would have bemoaned the suffering of Lebanese civilians.

Shortly after Barack Obama became the first U.S. president to officially endorse the idea of a Palestinian state based on Israel's pre-1967 borders, Harper refused to back this precondition at the G8  --  the only member of the octet to do so. And of course we all remember Canada was one of only nine countries to vote against granting the Palestinian government a symbolic, non-voting seat in the United Nations General Assembly, a victory which Canada then punished by ostentatiously summoning home its diplomatic representatives from the Palestinian territories.

For all this, the Netanyahu administration has described the Canadian government as "better friends with Israel than we are sometimes with ourselves," while the Palestinians have sneered that we're not only "more Israeli than the Israelis" but "more settler than the settlers," too.

But who cares what they think. What about the Canadian newspaper pundits!

Former EU ambassador Jeremy Kinsman offers the traditional Laurentien Consensus take in last week's National Post, which is that Harper's gleeful embrace of Israel is making all the all other countries wonder "what's happened to Canada" and our once-glowing "reputation, even an internationalist brand" of being the world's leading middle-of-the-road goody-goody. A people once "valued as leaders, chairs, drafters, mediators and peacekeepers because we could work with others" --  and certainly not prone to blindly backing one side over another in the world's most divisive and long-running global conflict.

(Just as an aside, while I get the idea that other countries might not like Canada's recent shift towards Israel, I've never understood their confusion about it. They do get that we have periodic elections up here, right?)

Tony Burman, the former CBC boss-cum-Al Jazeera executive, rages even more furiously in the pages of the Toronto Star, declaring Harper a man who has sought to single-handedly "turn decades of Canadian foreign policy on its head" with his unabashed Israel-boosting.

Tony thinks this whole trip is poised to be a big ol' embarrassment that's gonna see our foreign reputation "sink ever lower as a result." Prime Ministers Harper and Netanyahu are like two gross little peas in a pod, he writes, and their summit in the Holy Land will be "an emotional coming together of two fantasy worlds" in which both men remain gleefully indifferent to just how destructive their radically one-sided policies are to the cause of lasting peace in the Middle East. In other words, when World War III breaks out, don't forget to blame Canada!

So if all these bigshot important people say Harper's clearly in the wrong with all this Israel stuff, why's he plowing forth anyway?

Noted armchair psychoanalyst Jeffrey Simpson at the Globe and Mail sees it stemming from Harper's simplistically "Manichean" perspective on global affairs  -- born from a lifetime of disinterest in foreign policy --in which the "forces of good are democracies" while the "forces of darkness and instability are other kinds of political systems," period, end of story. And any Canadian administration that believes the other side is literally evil will obviously be one that "leaves no room for nuance, balance or understanding of complexity," concludes Jeff. Also, Harper's never not being some skeezy politician, and the Tories need some way to "appeal to Jewish voters." (Incidentally, some Jewish voters really hate it when newspaper people say this kind of thing.)

Only the Toronto Star editorial board sees the possibility of a silver lining in this whole torrid status quo, specifically the faint hope that Harper-in-Israel could prove Canada's equivalent of Nixon-in-China.

After all, they write, the fact that the Prime Minister's already unambiguously proven himself to be Israel's best pal in the whole wide world "gives Harper the freedom to speak the truth to Israeli power and Palestinian weakness" in a way a more nuanced world leader, like, say, the late Hugo Chavez, never could.

The question is whether Harper has it in him to criticize his hosts after charming his way into their parlour. John Ivision at the Post thinks it's just as likely Harps will double-down on sucking up, and offer Netanyahu the sweetest diplomatic plum of all  --  a hint that Canada is interested in being the first country to formally recognize the plight of "the estimated 850,000 Jews displaced from states in the Middle East and North Africa" following Israel's war of independence. John says such an unprecedentedly fawning gesture  --  one that dramatically ratchets up the moral equivalency arms race between Israelis and Palestinians  -- could make the Israeli leader positively "delirious."

I suspect he wouldn't be the only one.

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  • Prime Minister Stephen Harper and wife Laureen Harper visit Za'atri Refugee Camp in Jordan on Friday, January 24, 2014. While in the Middle East Harper is visiting Israel, the West Bank, and Jordan. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

  • Prime Minister Stephen Harper, right, inspects an honour guard as he meets with the Prime Minister of Jordan Abdullah Ensour, left, in Amman, Jordan on Thursday, January 23, 2014. While in the Middle East Harper is visiting Israel, the West Bank, and Jordan. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

  • Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper reviews honor guards during his arrival at the royal palace in Amman, Jordan on Thursday, Jan. 23, 2014.(AP Photo/Raad Adayleh)

  • Prime Minister Stephen Harper meets with King Abdullah II at Al Husseinieh Palace in Amman, Jordan on Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2014. While in the Middle East Harper is visiting Israel, the West Bank, and Jordan. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Sean Kilpatrick)

  • Two cranes fly past as Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Laureen Harper take a tour of the future site of the Stephen J. Harper Hula Valley Bird Sanctuary Visitor and Education Centre in Hula valley, Israel on Wednesday, January 22, 2014. While in the Middle East Harper is visiting Israel, the West Bank, and Jordan. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

  • Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Laureen Harper take a tour of the future site of the Stephen J. Harper Hula Valley Bird Sanctuary Visitor and Education Centre in Hula valley, Israel on Wednesday, January 22, 2014. While in the Middle East Harper is visiting Israel, the West Bank, and Jordan. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

  • Prime Minister Stephen Harper receives an honourary doctorate from Tel Aviv University in Tel Aviv, Israel on Wednesday, January 22, 2014. Harper is visiting Israel, the West Bank, and Jordan. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

  • Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Laureen Harper are given a tour of the synagogue by the franciscan monks at Capernaum, Israel on Wednesday, January 22, 2014. While in the Middle East Harper is visiting Israel, the West Bank, and Jordan. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

  • Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Laureen Harper are accompanied by three nuns as they visit the ancient church of the beatitudes in Israel on Wednesday, January 22, 2014. While in the Middle East Harper is visiting Israel, the West Bank, and Jordan. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

  • Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper touches the stones of the Western Wall, the holiest site where Jews can pray in Jerusalem's old city, Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2014. Harper is on an official visit to the region. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)

  • Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his wife Laureen stand next to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin and his wife Sara as they look at pictures of Jewish Holocaust victims at the Hall of Names on Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2014 during their visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial museum in Jerusalem commemorating the six million Jews killed by the Nazis during World War II. (AP Photo/Gali Tibbon, Pool)

  • Prime Minister Stephen Harper looks out towards the city of Jerusalem over the Kidron Valley as he visits Mount of Olives in Jerusalem, Israel, on Sunday, Jan. 19, 2014. While in the Middle East Harper will be visiting Israel, West Bank, and Jordan.

  • Prime Minister Stephen Harper and wife Laureen visit Mount of Olives in Jerusalem, Israel, on Sunday, January 19, 2014. Dome of the Rock in the Old City of Jerusalem is seen in the background. While in the Middle East Harper will be visiting Israel, West Bank, and Jordan.

  • Prime Minister Stephen Harper middle walks along the shore of the Sea of Galilee with Laureen and three franciscan monks as he visits Capernaum, Israel on Wednesday, January 22, 2014. While in the Middle East Harper is visiting Israel, the West Bank, and Jordan. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

  • Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian Authority, take part in a joint press conference at Muqa'ata (Presidential Compound) in the West Bank city of Ramallah on Monday, January 20, 2014. While in the Middle East Harper is visiting Israel, the West Bank, and Jordan. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

  • Prime Minister Stephen Harper takes a moment after placing a wreath at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem, on Tuesday, January 21, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

  • Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, sits with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, during a welcoming ceremony at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem, Sunday, Jan. 19, 2014. Harper is on an official visit to the region.

  • Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, shakes hands with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper during a welcoming ceremony at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem, Sunday, Jan. 19, 2014. Harper is on an official visit to the region.

  • Prime Minister Stephen Harper visits the Church of Nativity during a visit to the West Bank City of Bethlehem on Monday, January 20, 2014. While in the Middle East Harper is visiting Israel, the West Bank, and Jordan. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

  • Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his wife Laureen arrive at Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv, Israel, Sunday, Jan. 19, 2014. Harper is on an official four-day visit to Israel.

  • Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his wife Laureen arrive at Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv, Israel, Sunday, Jan. 19, 2014. Harper is on an official four-day visit to Israel.

  • Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his wife Laureen receive flowers from school children after their arrival at Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv, Israel, Sunday, Jan. 19, 2014. Harper is on an official four-day visit to Israel.

  • Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his wife Laureen are greeted by Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, center left, as they arrive at Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv, Israel, Sunday, Jan. 19, 2014. Harper is on an official four-day visit to Israel.

  • Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper is escorted by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (in the back) as they inspect the honor guards during a welcome ceremony upon the former's arrival in Jerusalem on January 19 2014. Harper is on four days official visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories.

  • Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (2ndR), his Canadian counterpart Stephen Harper (2ndL) and their spouses Sara Netanyahu and Laureen Harper (2ndL) take part in a welcome ceremony in Jerusalem on January 19, 2014. Harper began his first official visit to Israel, with Netanyahu hailing him as a 'great friend' of the Jewish state.

  • Prime Minister Stephen Harper walks with Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian Authority, as he takes part in an official welcoming ceremony at Muqa'ata (Presidential Compound) in the West Bank city of Ramallah on Monday, January 20, 2014. While in the Middle East Harper is visiting Israel, the West Bank, and Jordan. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

  • Prime Minister Stephen Harper arrives to address the Knesset, the Israeli Parliament, on Monday January 20, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

  • Prime Minister Stephen Harper addresses the Knesset on Monday, January 20, 2014. While in the Middle East Harper is visiting Israel, the West Bank, and Jordan. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

  • Canadian Prime Minister Stephen speaks at the Knesset, Israel's Parliament in Jerusalem, Monday, Jan. 20, 2014. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

  • Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu talk following a joint press conference in Jerusalem, Israel on Tuesday, January 21, 2014. While in the Middle East Harper is visiting Israel, the West Bank, and Jordan. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

  • Prime Minister Stephen Harper meets with Israeli President Shimon Peres in Jerusalem, Israel on Tuesday, January 21, 2014. While in the Middle East Harper is visiting Israel, the West Bank, and Jordan. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

  • Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper stands with Western Wall Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz at the Western Wall, the holiest site where Jews can pray in Jerusalem's old city, Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2014. Harper is on an official visit to the region. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)

  • MORE: Where In The World Is Stephen Harper?

  • FRANCE

    Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper stands on top of the Arc de Triomphe Saturday June 15, 2013 in Paris, France . THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

  • SWITZERLAND

    Prime Minister Stephen Harper takes a moment to look at the Alps view from the shore line of Lake Geneva prior to holding a wrap up media conference following his participation at the Francophonie Summit in Montreux Switzerland on Sunday, Oct. 24, 2010. Harper is in Europe from Oct. 21st to Oct. 26th to take part in the Francophonie Summit in Montreux, Switzerland and visit to Kyiv and Lviv Ukraine. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

  • COLOMBIA

    EITAN ABRAMOVICH via Getty Images

  • GREECE

    Prime Minister Stephen Harper and wife Laureen tour the Acropolis in Athens, Greece, on Saturday, May 28, 2011. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

  • CHINA

    A panda reaches for Prime Minister Stephen Harper during a photo at the Chongqing Zoo in Chongqing, China, Saturday February 11, 2012. A pair of giant pandas born and raised in China are about to receive a Canadian welcome worthy of their name.Harper, who personally announced the loan deal during a trip to China last year, will be on hand to greet the new arrivals as they disembark from a highly customized plane trip. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

  • INDONESIA

    Prime Minister Stephen Harper arrives to the Family Photo and Gala Dinner during the APEC summit in Nusa Dua, Bali, Indonesia on Monday, October 7, 2013. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

  • INDIA

    Prime Minister Stephen Harper and wife Laureen are given a tour by Priest Sundar Dixit during a visit to Sri Someshwara Swamy Temple in Bangalore, India on Thursday, November 8, 2012. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

  • CROATIA

    Prime Minister Stephen Harper is given a tour of the Zagreb Cathedral by Reverend Josip Kuhtic in Zagreb, Croatia Saturday May 8, 2010. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

  • SINGAPORE

    Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper speaks with Chinese opera singers as he stops for a quick photo while making his way to the Leaders Dinner at the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-Operation Summit in Singapore Saturday Nov. 14, 2009. Harper is in Singapore to attend the APEC meetings before heading to India for a three day visit. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

  • IRELAND

    Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper stands with Minister of Finance Jim Flaherty (right) and Canada's ambassador to Ireland Loyola Hearn (left) take in the replica tall ship Jeanie Johnston Sunday June 16, 2013 in Dublin, Ireland. The replica ship, built in 2002, was based on the original ship built in Quebec City in 1847.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

  • HAITI

    Prime Minister Stephen Harper waves as he arrives by helicopter on board the Canadian frigit Athabasca stationed just outside the Hiatian capital, Port-au-Prince, Monday, Feb. 15, 2010. With Harper is Brigadier-General Guy Laroche (left) and Canadian Ambassador to Haiti Gilles Rivard. Prime Minister Harper will stay overnight on board the Canadian ship during his 2-day tour of earthquake stricken Haiti. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Chartrand

  • POLAND

    Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper chats with museum director Piotr M.A. Cywinski as he gets a tour of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State museum in Auschwitz, Poland, Saturday, April 5, 2008. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Tom Hanson

  • AFGHANISTAN

    Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper walks from an American Blackhawk helicopter for a tour of a Canadian forward operation base in Ma'Sum Ghar, Kandahar province Afghanistan Wednesday May 23, 2007.(CP PHOTO/Tom Hanson) CANADA

  • VIETNAM

    Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper follows China's President Hu Jintao (centre) and Vietnam's President Nguyen Minh Triet (right) on their way to the official photograph at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Hanoi Vietnam Sunday Nov 19, 2006.(CP PHOTO/Tom Hanson) CANADA

  • MEXICO

    Mexican President Vicente Fox shakes hands with Prime Minister Stephen Harper as United States President George W. Bush looks-on following a tour of the Mayan Pyramid in Chichen Itza Mexico Thursday March 30, 2006. The three leaders are having a North American summit in Cancun Mexico over two days.(CP PHOTO/Tom Hanson)

  • ENGLAND

    Prime Minister Stephen Harper meets with Queen Elizabeth at Buckingham Palace in London on Wednesday, June 6, 2012. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

  • MOROCCO

    Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper reviews the Guard of Honour at the royal palace in Agadir, Morocco Thursday Jan.27, 2011. THE CANADIAN PRESS/POOL/Adrian Wyld

  • UKRAINE

    Prime Minister Stephen Harper walks with Ukraine's President Viktor Yanukovych, left, upon his arrival to the Presidential Administrative Building in Kyiv, Ukraine on Monday, Oct. 25, 2010. Harper says he raised human rights issues in detail with Ukraine's President Yanukovych during talks. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

 

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