Commentary: Stephen Harper hugs Israel, but avoids issues

Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s visit to Israel and Jordan last month in which he reinforced Canada’s already strong support for the Jewish state got a mixed reaction in major Israeli and Canadian media.

Bernie Farber, former CEO of the now-defunct Canadian Jewish Congress, wrote that Harper’s “giant hug of the Jewish state is welcome and historic,” but added: “I fully believe Harper’s love for Israel is genuine. I also understand why many Canadians believe that my community is simply single-mindedly supportive, enthusiastic, or even rapturous when it comes to our PM and his support of Israel. Others wonder what has happened to the Jewish community that had social justice and human rights as part of its historical agenda.”

In the Jerusalem Post, David M. Weinberg wrote that Harper’s “momentous speech … articulated a worldview and an approach to principle that calls out the hypocrites and shames the injustice of what passes today as ‘politically correct’ policy regarding Israel. He savages the campaign to boycott and isolate Israel.”

In the more left-leaning Ha’aretz, Barak Ravid noted that Harper “completely ignored such issues as the occupation or settlements, expressed only weak support for the establishment of a Palestinian state. … His speech only served Netanyahu’s repression instinct and strengthened his feelings of victimization and isolationism that already exists in him. Harper put Netanyahu back months from the standpoint of his attitude concerning the peace process.”

In the National Post, Conrad Black rated Harper’s speech “in content, if not in delivery” as “one of the greatest ever delivered by a Canadian leader.”

The staunchly Zionist Jonathan Kay in the same newspaper wrote, under the heading “Even some Zionists should find the Tories’ zeal to be disturbingly manic: “I know of no other bilateral nation-to-nation relationship that is characterized by this spirit of effectively unqualified love. There is something odd about it, even if it is motivated by a benign moral impulse.”

Harper’s worldview, Jeffrey Simpson wrote in the Globe & Mail, leaves no room for nuance when applied to the Middle East, “just a dualistic clash between good and evil, progress and darkness, stability and danger.”

The Canadian Jewish News editorialized that “The Canadian prime minister gets it—and that makes you stop and wonder why so many other world leaders don’t. Too many of them continue to insist on calling the Israeli-Palestinian conflict straight down the middle, even as Israel does all the giving and the Palestinians all the taking.”

Andrew Cohen in the Ottawa Citizen reflected on Harper’s missed opportunity, saying he could have “celebrated Israel’s creativity in the arts, its vibrant civil culture and its innovation in science, which has made it ‘a startup nation. … Practically, Harper might have found a way to tell the Israelis that Israel’s settlements are unsustainable. Rather than annexing parts of the West Bank, as some want, Israel will eventually have to leave it, or some of it, through a land swap. Ariel Sharon knew that when he left Gaza. In the meantime, Israel cannot keep building settlements.”

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