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Harper in Israel? Time for Pundits to Whine

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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.

Stephen Harper's Middle East Trip
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