Has Israel Really Lost Her Best Friend?
By Paul Merkley.
It would be fruitless to deny the universal editorial judgment that, with the electoral defeat of Stephen Harper and his Conservatives in Canada, Israel has “lost its best friend.” (e.g., Guardian, October 20.) Equally it is difficult, if not impossible for the time being, to see any “silver lining” for Christian friends of Israel in this new reality.
After we have seen a few months of Mr. Trudeau’s foreign policy in action we will be in position to judge to what extent it will diverge from the policy in effect over the last nine years or so. However, no grown-up person imagines that by then our foreign policy will really have returned to the “sunny ways” that Justin Trudeau says characterized the policies of his father, Pierre Elliot Trudeau.
Terry Glavin, a columnist for the Ottawa Citizen, recalls that Trudeau père was “a bit dodgy on Israel, but not in a dangerous way” – something which, when you think about it, could also be said about his U.S. policy or his Soviet policy. (On this, see Bob Flamondon, The Truth About Trudeau, 2013.)
Searching frantically for hopeful signs, we discover some commentators now claiming that Stephen Harper has given respectability and centrist standing to a generally pro-Israel posture that had previously been viewed (in Glavin’s) words as “an eccentric Canadian Conservative thing.”
Glavin notes that the old Liberal establishment is fairly anti-Israel.” This, in my view, puts the matter far too blandly. Back in the fall of 2010, Prime Minister Harper’s support of Israel at the United Nations led to Canada’s being denied by the General Assembly its claim to the seat for one of the two “Western” places among the rotating seats on the Security Council, Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister of the day, Lawrence Cannon, conceded that this must be “political payback” for Canada’s pro-Israel actions, but Cannon simultaneously asserted that “we will not back down from our principles. Some will say that because of our attachment to those values we lost a seat on the council. If that’s the case, so be it.” Paul Heinbecker, a former Ambasssador of Canada to the United Nations, and a prominent Liberal establishmentarian who found refuge during the Harper decade in a University think-tank, denounced Harper at that time for “selling policies that the international community is not sympathetic to, [among which are] policies that are frankly and strongly in support of the government of Israel. And again, whatever you think of the merits of the policy – they’re no vote-getters [at the UN] where there are 57 votes in the Arab and Islamic community.”
There is no reason to imagine that the “establishment” of which Glavin speaks has evaporated over this decade; but surely the “establishment” will have been refined by some admixture of Harper-appointees active during this last decade. In any case, Glavin believes that Harper has “engineered a shift in the federal political center to a very pro-Israel posture.” Examining close-up the words used by all three Party leaders during their televised foreign policy debate a few weeks ago it is possible to descry a vaguely-expressed consensus on the elements of a basically pro-Israel policy.
On the other hand, Trudeau fils pulled out the stops frequently during this campaign on the refrain that Harper constantly looks for reasons to blame Muslims for all the bad things in Canada and in the world.
All in all, however, Justin Trudeau and Liberal candidates had been taking a line that echoes the main features of the policy of the Chrétien/Martin governments — according to which what the world needs is more “even-handedness” in attitudes towards Israel and “Palestine” and less engagement with Israel’s government. The deep divide between Trudeau’s worldview and Harper’s was disclosed almost immediately as Trudeau, still only Prime Minister Designate, announced his decision to end participation by Canada in the air campaign against ISIS.
However well-intentioned Trudeau may in his heart be towards Israel and Israelis, Israel’s friends in Canada are going to miss the magic effect of Stephen Harper’s upfront pro-Israel declarations. Fully aware that editorialists and journalists generally despised his principled support for Israel, Harper never missed an opportunity to affirm his basic conviction that Canada is obligated to stand up for Israel against its existential enemies –“not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because history shows us – and the ideology of the anti-Israel mob tells us all too well – that those who threaten the existence of the Jewish people are in the long run a threat to all of us.”
If we have lost this realistic understanding, then we will have lost everything.