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True North

Since the 2006 election of the conservative politician Stephen Harper as prime minister, Canada has become arguably the most pro-Israel country in the world

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Benjamin Netanyahu and Stephen Harper on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario, on May 31, 2010, the day Israeli commandos stormed the Mari Mava. (Geoff Robbins/AFP/Getty Images)

One night in August 2006, Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer was speaking at a fundraiser for the United Jewish Appeal’s Israel Emergency Campaign in a Toronto hotel. Before an audience of 2,500, Krauthammer extolled the virtues of those leaders who were supporting Israel in the conflict then under way with Hezbollah in Lebanon. He singled out for praise Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who was showing great leadership in openly siding with Israel, he said. At the mere mention of Harper, who was not in attendance, Krauthammer’s audience suddenly burst into furious applause, as though its collective gratitude for the prime minister had finally been articulated for the first time.

As prime minister, Harper has transformed Canadian foreign policy toward Israel and the Middle East. Abandoning Canada’s longstanding posture of even-handedness in the Arab-Israeli conflict, the country has become arguably the most pro-Israel country in the world. From being the first world leader to cut off funds to the Palestinian Authority in 2006 when it was taken over by Hamas, to speaking out against growing global anti-Semitism, Harper has embraced Israel as has no Canadian leader before him. “It is hard to find a country friendlier to Israel than Canada these days,” gushed Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, in 2010. “No other country in the world has demonstrated such a full understanding of us.”

While Harper’s pro-Israel bona fides are not in doubt, his motivations have been less clear. In political terms, Harper may not stand to gain much by adopting such a passionately pro-Israel stance. In a country of nearly 34 million, Canadian Jews number only 315,000—and that figure is declining. In fact, Jews were the only ethnic group in Canada to show a decline nationally according to the 2006 census, a trend that shows no sign of reversing. In contrast, the number of Canadian Muslims is expected to nearly triple in the next 20 years, from about 940,000 in 2010 to nearly 2.7 million in 2030, according to the Pew Research Center. There are also nearly 500,000 Canadian Arabs, a somewhat overlapping group. Clearly, if there is an emerging demographic to be captured for partisan purposes, Jews are not it.

Of course, sheer numbers are only one measure of a minority’s clout. “Canada’s Israel lobby is every bit as powerful as America’s,” says John Mearsheimer, co-author of the controversial book The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, even though Canada’s national elections are publicly funded, making financial contributions far less important in the Canadian political system than in the United States. Brent Sasley, a political scientist at the University of Texas at Arlington who studies Canadian ethnic demographics, agrees that Canadian Jews have been more successful lobbyists than their Arab and Muslim counterparts but argues that historical factors above all are responsible. “Put simply, Jews have had a much longer history of acclimatization into the Canadian economic, social, and political environment,” Sasley has written.

But Harper seems to be acting out of personal conviction. According to Gerry Nicholls, who worked with Harper at the National Citizens Coalition, a conservative economic organization, from 1997 to 2001, the future prime minister was praising Israel in those days, too. “Though our group didn’t really deal with foreign policy, he was always very clear that he believed Canada should be a loyal, true ally of Israel,” says Nicholls. “There was no political calculation then, no votes to be had.”

For all Harper’s undeniable success in making himself attractive to a broad coalition of voters in Canada, he also emerged from a very distinct social and political milieu that might be more familiar to Americans than to many Canadians. Though born in Toronto, Harper moved soon after high school to work in the oil industry in the western province of Alberta. He received his bachelor and master’s degree in economics at the University of Calgary there, and he represented the local riding, or county subdivision, in parliament. Though most Americans think of Canada as a European-style social democracy, Harper’s Alberta in many ways shares a political and economic climate in tune with pro-business U.S. states. Buoyed by oil reserves, the province follows behind only Texas and Delaware in measures of economic liberalization in North America, according to one study. Alberta also boasts Canada’s strongest support for loose gun laws, opposition to same-sex marriage, and support for the death penalty. In 1997, Harper called Canada “a Northern European welfare state in the worst sense of the term.” In 2003, Alberta’s right-wing Premier Ralph Klein sent a letter to President George W. Bush expressing support for the Iraq War. Harper and another prominent conservative Albertan, Stockwell Day, wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal in 2003 calling Canada’s position to opt out of the war a mistake, a position that was highly unpopular in other parts of the country.

Harper’s strong feelings for Israel can be seen as consistent with his distinctly conservative background and worldview. He believes Israel is a bulwark of democracy and Western civilization warring against terrorists in a region governed by brutal autocrats. The prime minister said at an Ottawa conference on anti-Semitism in 2010 that he supports Israel “not just because it is 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 longer term a threat to all of us.” Harper’s support for the current leadership of the Jewish state is perfectly in line with his other beliefs, then, that share similarities with the Republican Party’s agenda in the United States. Shrewd politician that he is, however, Harper is fully aware that many of Canada’s liberal laws—on health care and abortion, for instance—are untouchable for any party aspiring to majority status. On Israel, by contrast, the prime minister has been able to transform Canadian policy with very little opposition.

Harper began steering Canada in a pro-Israel direction soon after taking office in early 2006. During that summer’s skirmish between Israel and Hezbollah, the prime minister defended Israel’s right to defend itself, blamed Hezbollah for the war and civilian deaths in Lebanon, and rejected widespread calls for an immediate ceasefire. In 2008, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations presented Harper with its inaugural International Leadership Award for boycotting the Durban II Conference, a U.N. conference against racism, and for consistently siding with Israel at the United Nations. Harper said in 2008 that global anti-Semitism was rising and that “anti-Israeli sentiment, [is] really just a thinly disguised veil for good old-fashioned anti-Semitism, which I think is completely unacceptable.” Most recently, in May, Harper maneuvered to keep a G8 statement from specifically calling for talks based on a return to Israel’s 1967 borders, plus land swaps negotiated with Palestinians, an idea pressed by President Barack Obama. Haaretz reported that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had called Harper to veto inclusion of the language, though Harper’s office denied the claim. In early 2010, Harper’s Junior Foreign Affairs Minister Peter Kent declared that any attack on Israel would be assumed to be an attack on Canada, a statement Kent clarified as reflecting the prime minister’s personal feelings.

The changes in Canadian foreign policy have not gone unnoticed by Israel or its critics. Al Jazeera aired a documentary last year titled The Other Special Relationship on the Canada-Israel alliance. After Canada recently lost a bid for a seat on the United Nations Security Council, Harper suggested it was because of the country’s stalwart defense of Israel.

For the prime minister, however, it was a small price to pay. “Whether it is at the United Nations or any other international forum, the easy thing to do is simply to just get along and go along with this anti-Israeli rhetoric,” Harper said. “As long as I am prime minister, whether it is at the U.N. or the Francophonie or anywhere else, Canada will take a stand whatever the cost.”

Jordan Michael Smith, a Canadian writer living in Washington, has written for the Forward, Jewcy, the New York Times, the Boston Globe, and Newsweek.

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Bill Pearlman says:

Quoting Mearsheimer is the best alternative I suppose since they hung Julius Streicher at Nuremberg.

CAMERON says:

ITS NOT PANDERING TO JEWS

CANADA HAS A HUGE EVANGELICAL POPULATION

COME ON JMS DO YOUR RESEARCH BEFORE WRITING THIS STUFF

CAMERON says:

GOOD POINT BP RE QUOTING MEARSHEIMER

WHO IS THIS JMS CLOWN??

Hershl says:

So when is the US going to finally cut off funding to the Hamas terrorist government of Palestine?

We must all do tshuvah for putting Obama in the White House.

philip mann says:

In all of Chretien`s years as prime Minister-and he was there during the intifada- he never came out fully condemning Hezbolla. Harper did ,and does.

“After Canada recently lost a bid for a seat on the United Nations Security Council, Harper suggested it was because of the country’s stalwart defense of Israel.”

Utter Bullshit. He’s trying to cover up his own incompetence. Who won the seat Canada was going for? Germany, which votes just as reliably pro-Israel.

Caroline says:

Kat- this is 100% true.

people voted for lybia for head of the United Nations Security Council instead of Canada.
Lybia???? human rights????? Gadaffi???

give us all a break…

and since they voted off lybia, they choose another famous human rights keeper: Leabanon.

Very proud of our Prime Minister……

Genesis 12:3… “I will bless those who bless you (Israel), and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”

Canada continues to be blessed because Harper continues to strictly follow this basic commandment.

May Canada, Israel and Harper continue to be blessed.

Dave4321 says:

Maybe the government, but the amount of Israel hate at canadian universities is astounding.

Rocky says:

Dave4321 has hit the nail on the head. York University has become a very hostile place for Jewish students even though it is the most convenient university to get to for those who live in the northern suburban areas of Toronto, the home of most of Canada’s Jews. Jewish students who can’t make into University of Toronto, with its very high academic standards, are forced to go to out of town universities at considerable expense to their families. Prior to the mid-1960′s, there were very few Muslims in Canada. The change in immigration policy in the late 1960′s caused an explosion in third world immigration, including many Muslims from Pakistan and other parts of the Muslim world.

Yes, Harper has been very pro-Israel, but he has done nothing to curb the high pace of Muslim immigration into Canada. One reads more stories of synagogue defacings in the Toronto area nowadays, typically with Islamic tags. Do a Google search “Toronto synagogue defaced”.

Isaac says:

The Federal Liberal Party of Canada used to have the support of the Jewish “Lobby”. Because of its stance, they decided to distance themselves about 5 years ago and they found a natural friend in a Canadian version of a Tea Party candidate: Mr. Harper.
Mr. Harper is one shrewd politician. I am not suggesting that his evangelical Christian beliefs about Jews have some part to play in his politics. Nor am I suggesting that is friendship is calculated to help him organize and win elections. What politicians work that way?
Mr. Harper is presently trying to push a bill through the House of Commons. It allows the government to spy on people’s internet use. Mr. Harper has done so many undemocratic things that one would think one was living in Syria. He runs the show and nobody else. Not elected officials but only Mr. Harper. I wanted to make that comments as a way of reinforcing the type of politician that Canada has. Indeed, this is not a typical Canadian.

jake says:

Whatever…
bad title and poorly written article…..

Your support for Liberal Michael Ignatieff (which you have written about) and your support for and use John Mearsheimer means poor research and clearly an agenda driven article that I can’t take seriously Jordan.

What you didn’t explicitly mention (but hinted to) was that Harper has stated himself back in 2010 that “there are, after all, a lot more votes, a lot more, in being anti-Israeli than in taking a stand”.

Harper is a pretty religious guy

There are serious MORAL convictions that he stands by.

He takes a zero tolerance towards crime and has spoken about the changes to the world due to the threat of terrorism.

He is a breath of sanity compared to most world leaders these days.

Your constant obsession with the US (and now it looks like Canadian) gov’t being at the mercy of some type of overarching lobby group is unoriginal, boring, and looney (ha ha – get it!)

Canada is great country and has a great leader. Any support to Israel and the jewish people in a world full of hate is welcome.

Andrew Spencer says:

I am very proud that our Prime Minister has stood unequivocally behind our Israeli friends.

James philadelphia says:

A breath of fresh air. Excellent article. What else is there to say Stephen Harper you are a friend of justice freedom honesty. God bless you God be with you. This article has brought enormous joy to me.

Okay, I am no Prophet, but is it a coincidence that the country that is the most pro- Israel right now also is enjoying one of the strongest economies in history, adn the countries taht are decidedly anti-Israel at hte moment are suffering under economic malaise. This is what the Evangelicals believe as the Torah states that Hashem will bless the nations that love Israel and the Jews. Coincidence?

Nancy says:

Accuracy? better proofreading? There can’t be “more than 500,000 million” Arabs in a country of about 33 million total. Perhaps you mean 500 thousand Arabs.

Potvin says:

I totally agree with our Prime Minister’s stance in favour of Israel, but when is he going to staunch Muslim immigration? We don’t need their mindset in Canada.

Lynne T says:

Jay:

Canada’s relatively stable economy is the result of hard choices made a decade ago to pay down debt, tighter regulation of financial institutions and financial institutions that take a conservative approach to risk management and not divine reward.

As for the claim that Canada failed to be appointed to the UN Security Council because of the Harper government’s support of Israel, I believe this originated with Canada’s former delegate, Paul Heimbecker and was probably picked up the usual hostile-to-Israel gang, coming as it did not long before the last federal election.

Lynne T says:

NOTE: paragraph 2 of my post at 1:32 was not directed at Jay, but a general comment on the article.

Exurban says:

Yes, it`s true that Canada did not get voted onto the UN Security Council; the two seats up for election went to Germany and Portugal. Muslims didn`t like Canada`s support of Israel, and Africans didn`t like the recent reductions in foreign aid. As a Canadian citizen and taxpayer, I couldn`t be happier. Now we`ll be much less likely to be dragged into UN quagmires, and we`ll see less tax money going straight to the Swiss bank accounts of African dictators. As Jewish Americans used to say, what`s not to like?

Moe Loubani says:

So much hate here for Muslims, what’s wrong with you guys? When did Muslims attack Canada again?

Israel is in itself a terrorist state. They practice apartheid not seen since South Africa and their racism goes beyond that that was seen during the times of slavery in the United States. They build roads that one race can use but another race is forbidden from using. Their most prominent leaders issue verdicts forbidding interracial marriage. They refuse to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and illegally house hundreds of nuclear weapons – and their military leaders have repeatedly said that if Israel is ever in danger that they would use the nuclear weapons to take out the whole world (I know it sounds like I’m reaching but read up on the Samson Option).

Why are we supporting these Israeli terrorists? I would much rather be friends with Iran, a country that has no nuclear weapons, doesn’t feel the need to assassinate scientists in other countries and doesn’t murder hundreds of children a year. What are we doing Canada? Since when did we support tyranny and turn our backs on the defenseless?

It’s very good post.

tk_in_TO says:

not sure what your personal connection is to either Israel or South Africa. I was born in S.A. and lived there for 2 decades before leaving to live in Israel, and believe me, there is no similarity between the two countries when it comes to apartheid.  You are just a fool for swallowing the hate mongering propaganda of Jew haters.

tk_in_TO says:

bad manners to use capital letters.

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True North

Since the 2006 election of the conservative politician Stephen Harper as prime minister, Canada has become arguably the most pro-Israel country in the world

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