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Zach Paikin

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Time for More Sober Talk on Israel

Posted: 02/03/2013 8:32 am

If you're in Ontario, it's one Liberal leadership race down and one to go. With the provincial race now behind us, let's take a peek at the federal contest.

A recent interview that federal Liberal leadership candidate Martha Hall Findlay conducted with the National Post caught my eye for its rather striking title. Why the Post chose to make the headline of a "wide-ranging interview" something to do with a minute element of of Canadian non-domestic policy is beyond me.

What is more important, however, is discussing the content of Hall Findlay's comments as they appear excerpted in the interview summary. Reflecting on these comments will provide us, hopefully, with the ability to discuss Levantine politics in a more sober fashion in the future. (Disclosure: I am supporting Marc Garneau in this leadership race. My opinions here and elsewhere are mine and do not necessarily reflect the view of any leadership campaign.)

First off, Stephen Harper does not provide Israel with "absolute, blind, unilateral support [...] at all costs." What Stephen Harper does do is turn what should be a foreign policy issue into a domestic electoral wedge in order to earn the support of Jewish voters through careful and extensive messaging.

Not even two weeks before Hall Findlay's interview with the Post, Harper's foreign minister John Baird was joining the global chorus of criticism of Israel's decision to plan new settlement construction in the wake of the Palestinian Authority's recent United Nations bid to earn recognition of statehood.

The position of the Harper government is that Israeli settlements in the West Bank are illegal. The Obama administration won't go that far -- they'll only call them illegitimate. If we zero in on settlements as Hall Findlay does, then clearly the Obama administration -- reviled in conservative Jewish circles for not being pro-Israel enough -- appears to be more supportive of the Jewish state than Harper. I could go on.

Second, it's time to put an end to the use of the following phrases and terms: "anti-Israel," "pro-Israel," and "to support Israel." Israel is a state. No one ever accuses a head of government of being too "pro-France" or "anti-Spain." Using simplistic adjectives to describe a prime minister isn't conducive to an intelligent conversation about international relations.

So let's go back to basics. The three fundamental tenets of the international relations paradigm known as realism explain quite accurately how the global -- or any regional -- system works.

First, the primary actor in the global system is the state. Second, the primary (and possibly exclusive) function that states perform on the global stage is pursue their interests (raison d'├ętat, as Cardinal Richelieu put it). Finally, international stability is achieved and military conflict is limited when there is a balance of power between states.

In the Levant today, there has been a balance of power between states since 1973. The designation of Israel by the United States under Richard Nixon as the regional hegemon have prevented inter-state war from erupting in the Levant ever since.

Israel's sheer strength made a peace treaty all the more attractive to Egypt, which in turn transformed the slowly-evolving disengagement line between Israel and Syria into the quietest frontier in the region. Without its ally Egypt, tiny Syria wasn't about to start a war with the Jewish state.

So when Western politicians talk about keeping Israel strong and secure, what they're talking about is preventing inter-state war in the Levant (inter-state war being far more destructive than other forms of war) and consequently not allowing another Arab oil embargo with significant global ramifications to take place as it did in 1973. (If you're interested, more on that here.)

That doesn't mean that Ottawa's relationship with Jerusalem isn't and shouldn't be more complex than that. What it does mean is that there's a reason why Israel is a Western ally and that public pronouncements by Western leaders usually reflect that partnership.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict -- from a Canadian perspective in a multipolar world -- should be treated by politicians and the media according to its stature as a minute element of Canadian foreign policy. When compared with trade policy with Asia, the Americas and Europe or with Canadian sovereignty in the Arctic, it becomes clear that this conflict is not in the top tier of Canadian foreign policy priorities.

What Canada needs from its public policy, economic, political and media elite is an adult conversation about Canada's global outlook from a strategic perspective. A little dose of realism -- both in the paradigmatic and in the psychological sense -- would come in handy.

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  • 2012 -- Barack Obama

    U.S. President Barack Obama waves to supporters following his victory speech on election night in Chicago, Illinois on November 6, 2012. (JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)

  • 2008 -- Barack Obama

    Nov. 4, 2008: U.S. president-elect Barack Obama waves at his supporters during his election night victory rally at Grant Park in Chicago. (JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)

  • 2004 -- George W. Bush

    In this Nov. 3, 2004 file photo, President George W. Bush and first lady Laura Bush salute and wave during an election victory rally at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center in Washington. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak, File)

  • 2000 -- George W. Bush

    U.S. Republican presidential candidate and Texas Governor George W. Bush casts his vote in Austin, Texas on November 7, 2000. (PAUL RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)

  • 1996 -- Bill Clinton

    President Bill Clinton, wife Hillary and daughter Chelsea wave to supporters in front of the Old State House during an election night celebration in Little Rock, Ark. on Tuesday, Nov. 5, 1996. (AP Photo/David Longstreath)

  • 1992 -- Bill Clinton

    Bill Clinton and Al Gore celebrate in Little Rock, Arkansas after winning in a landslide election on November 3, 1992. (AP Photo)

  • 1988 -- George H. W. Bush

    President-elect George Bush and his family celebrate his victory on November 8,1988 at the Brown Convention Center in Houston. (WALT FRERCK/AFP/Getty Images) <em><strong>CORRECTION:</strong> An earlier version of this slide was titled "George W. Bush." It has been fixed.</em>

  • 1984 -- Ronald Reagan

    President Ronald Reagan gives a thumbs-up to supporters at the Century Plaza Hotel in Los Angeles as he celebrates his re-election, Nov. 6, 1984, with first lady Nancy Reagan at his side. (AP Photo/File)

  • 1980 -- Ronald Reagan

    President-elect Ronald Reagan and wife Nancy wave to well-wishers on Tuesday, Nov. 4, 1980 at Century Plaza Hotel in Los Angeles after his election victory. (AP Photo)

  • 1976 -- Jimmy Carter

    Democratic presidential candidate Jimmy Carter embraces his wife Rosalynn after receiving the final news of his victory in the national general election on November 2, 1976. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

  • 1972 -- Richard Nixon

    U.S. President Richard M. Nixon meets at Camp David, Maryland, on November 13, 1972 to discuss the Vietnam situation with Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger (L) and Maj. Gen. Alexander M. Haig Jr.(R), Deputy Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs. (Photo by AFP PHOTO/NATIONAL ARCHIVE/Getty Images)

  • 1968 -- Richard Nixon

    President-elect Richard M. Nixon and his wife, Pat, were a picture of joy at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York, Nov. 6, 1968, as he thanked campaign workers. At left are David Eisenhower, Julie Nixon's fiance, Julie and her sister Tricia at center. (AP Photo)

  • 1964 -- Lyndon Johnson

    President Lyndon Johnson proves he's a pretty good cowhand as he puts his horse, Lady B, through the paces of rounding up a Hereford yearling on his LBJ Ranch near Stonewall, Texas, on November 4, 1964. (AP Photo/Bill Hudson)

  • 1960 -- John F. Kennedy

    Caroline Kennedy peeps over the shoulder of her father, Senator John F. Kennedy, as he gave her a piggy-back ride November 9, 1960 at the Kennedy residence in Hyannis Port, Mass. It was the first chance president-elect Kennedy had to relax with his daughter in weeks. (AP Photo)

  • 1956 -- Dwight D. Eisenhower

    President Dwight D. Eisenhower and Vice President Richard Nixon salute cheering workers and Republicans at GOP election headquarters in Washington, November 7, 1956, after Adlai Stevenson conceded. (AP Photo)

  • 1952 -- Dwight D. Eisenhower

    President-elect Dwight Eisenhower and first lady-elect Mamie Eisenhower wave to the cheering, singing crowd in the Grand Ballroom of the Hotel Commodore in New York City on Nov. 5, 1952 after Gov. Adlai Stevenson conceded defeat. (AP Photo/Matty Zimmerman)

  • 1948 -- Harry S. Truman

    U.S. President Harry S. Truman holds up an Election Day edition of the Chicago Daily Tribune, which, based on early results, mistakenly announced "Dewey Defeats Truman" on November 4, 1948. The president told well-wishers at St. Louis' Union Station, "That is one for the books!" (AP Photo/Byron Rollins)

  • 1944 -- Franklin D. Roosevelt

    President Franklin Roosevelt greets a young admirer as he sits outside his home in Hyde Park, N.Y., on election night, November 7, 1944. Behind him stands his daughter, Mrs. Anna Roosevelt Boettinger and the first lady, Eleanor Roosevelt. (AP Photo)

  • 1940 -- Franklin D. Roosevelt

    American President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1882 - 1945) speaking to a crowd of 25,000 at Madison Square Garden in New York on Nov. 8, 1940, before his sweeping re-election for a third term. (Photo by Fox Photos/Getty Images)

  • 1936 -- Franklin D. Roosevelt

    The Republican Governor of Kansas and presidential candidate, Alfred Landon (1887 - 1987) greeting the American President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1882 - 1945) (seated) prior to the presidential elections. Future United States President Harry S. Truman can been seen in the background. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)

  • 1932 -- Franklin D. Roosevelt

    Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt of New York at his Hyde Park, N.Y. home November 6, 1932, seen at the conclusion of the arduous months of campaigning following his presidential nomination in Chicago. (AP Photo)

  • 1928 -- Herbert Hoover

    President-elect Herbert Hoover is seated at a table with wife, Lou, and joined by other family members on Nov. 9, 1928. Standing from left: Allan Hoover; son; Margaret Hoover, with husband, Herbert Hoover, Jr.,at right. Peggy Ann Hoover, daughter of Herbert Hoover Jr., sits with her grandmother. (AP Photo)

  • 1924 -- Calvin Coolidge

    U.S. President Calvin Coolidge and first lady Grace Coolidge are shown with their dog at the White House portico in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 5, 1924. (AP Photo)

  • 1920 -- Warren Harding

    Senator Warren Harding, with wife Florence and his father George, shown on Aug. 27, 1920. (AP Photo)

  • 1916 -- Woodrow Wilson

    Surrounded by crowds, President Woodrow Wilson throws out the first ball at a baseball game in Washington in this 1916 photo. (AP Photo)

  • 1912 -- Woodrow Wilson

    Woodrow Wilson (1856 - 1924), the future American president, casts his vote while Governor of New Jersey, on Nov. 14, 1912. (Photo by Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)

 

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