Sunday night, before an adoring crowd of thousands you might mistake for a pop concert, a segment of Canada's Jewish community is honouring Prime Minister Stephen Harper at the annual Jewish National Fund's Negev Dinner. JNF CEO Josh Cooper says the Prime Minister was an obvious choice because of his "outstanding support of the State of Israel". The Negev Dinner's website pays further tribute, claiming Prime Minister Harper has "restored Canada's strong voice on the world stage" and at that at the UN he defends the "freedom and dignity of all people".
These claims, however, are mistaken. Prime Minister Harper should not be honoured for these false achievements.
Stephen Harper is not an outstanding supporter of the State of Israel. He is a blind supporter of the closed-minded government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. If Stephen Harper was a true supporter of Israel, he would leverage his friendship to impress upon the Israeli government its current untenable position vis-à-vis the Palestinians, and the need to bring about its swift end by reinforcing two simple, incontrovertible facts. First, a military occupation of another people is an anathema to Western, human-rights defending states. Second, the numbers don't lie: Israel will become an apartheid state if it seeks to retain both its Jewish character and the West Bank. What will Canada's position be then?
Another falsehood: Stephen Harper has not restored Canada's strong voice on the world stage. Grandstanding and chest-thumping aimed at domestic constituencies like those honouring him at the Negev Dinner are only taken seriously at home. Former Conservative Prime Minister and long-time, very-able Minister of Foreign Affairs Joe Clark calls the country's foreign policy tone "almost adolescent". If Prime Minister Harper has restored Canada's voice, it's been at the expense of our influence.
Also incorrect is the claim that Stephen Harper defends the freedom and dignity of all people. Israel's occupation of the West Bank is an institutionalized system of oppression that every day denies the freedom and dignity of millions of Palestinians. When Canada votes against Palestinian aspirations at the UN, or threatens them when they seek to join international institutions like the International Criminal Court, we come across as vindictive.
Here at home, Stephen Harper's commitment to dignity is also undermined by his actions. The recently formed JRAN -- Jewish Refugee Action Network, has questioned how a community of immigrants and refugees can honour a man whose government has made it more difficult for those needing Canada's protection to receive it. Will any of the Negev Dinner speakers ask the Prime Minister why he feels it acceptable to limit health care for refugee applicants? Or make it more difficult for persecuted refugees to find safe haven here?
So why is Prime Minister Harper being honoured? The Negev Dinner honour is an endorsement of this prime minister's, as the Globe and Mail put it, "dirty wedge politics" when it comes to Israel and courting Canada's Jewish vote. Prime Minister Harper is being honoured because he has found a vocal segment of Canada's Jewish community, created a deep, long-lasting, and harmful wedge between it and the remainder of the Jewish community, and tells it what it wants to hear.
This is an honour built upon cynicism. When Canada sends our top diplomat to the UN General Assembly to speak against a people's bid for statehood, a non-violent response to a military occupation, it is not something to celebrate; it is something to lament. But that will be celebrated at the Negev Dinner.
It is also an honour driven by divisiveness and incorrect assumptions of a monopolization of morality. The Prime Minister's coterie revels in self-righteousness. Jews who don't agree, like me, are anti-Israel, anti-Zionists, or anti-Semites. Sensible people, including our last ambassador to Iran, who question this country's unnecessarily hostile position towards Iran are naïve appeasers, throwing Israel under the bus. Under Stephen Harper, the term "pro-Israel" has become so misappropriated, forget those of us in Canada, many within Israel would not pass the government's litmus test.
These are precarious times for Israel and the global Jewish community. Israeli identity is in flux, the changing face of the Middle East, a bold and more confident Iran, and resurgences of anti-Semitism all pose serious challenges.
Challenges of this magnitude require thoughtful solutions, implemented collaboratively across borders with actors of different stripes. To speak only in absolutes is to live in a fantasy world. Compromise is not a dirty word.
The challenges Israel and the Jewish community face require us to build bridges, not walls. They require us to recognize our mistrust and scepticism, and work cautiously but steadfastly to overcome it. Most of all, they require that we place our faith in leaders who, in recognizing the need to overcome these challenges, push us outward instead of pulling us inward.
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