Harper’s extreme posture no way to support Israel

Harper’s extreme posture no way to support Israel

Stephen Harper equates criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism.

“Unfortunately, Israel at 60 remains a country under threat – threatened by those groups and regimes who deny to this day its right to exist,” he told a Toronto celebration marking the anniversary.

“And why? Look beyond the thinly veiled rationalizations: Because they hate Israel, just as they hate the Jewish people.”

Many groups and regimes, such as Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran, do deny Israel”s right to exist. But not all others do so solely for the reasons cited by Harper. Some hold back recognition as a negotiating tool in the Palestinian dispute.

The Prime Minister also told radio station CFRB: “My fear is what I see happening in some circles is anti-Israeli sentiment, really just as a thinly disguised veil for good old-fashioned anti-Semitism.” He added that he saw anti-Semitic sentiments during the 2006 Israeli invasion of Lebanon among “some elements in our political system, even some Members of Parliament.”

On Friday, Bob Rae, Liberal foreign affairs critic, asked in the Commons as to which MPs the Prime Minister was referring.

Rae did not get an answer.

One wonders what Harper would make of those Israelis, as well as Jewish Canadians and others, who do strongly support Israel but also question some Israeli policies.

What would he say about the Alliance of Concerned Jewish Canadians? This newly formed umbrella organization of 23 groups, critical of some Israeli policies, obviously does not “hate Israel,” or “hate the Jewish people.”

Harper”s position is designed to silence and delegitimize even the mildest criticism of Israeli policies.

It”s an undemocratic formulation that the Israelis themselves would reject. There”s a sturdy debate in Israel on all aspects of its policies in the Occupied Territories.

In Rae”s words, Harper is saying, “there”s a very close association between being anti-Israel and being anti-Semitic … I don”t think it”s fair to say that everybody who has or expresses concerns about Israeli foreign policy is anti-Semitic.

“If that were true, three-quarters of the population of Israel would be anti-Semitic.”

Harper”s comments came the same day as the Israeli ambassador to Canada, Alan Baker, told the Globe and Mail and later CTV News that growing Muslim communities in France, Britain and Scandinavia have had an impact on the foreign policies of those nations and that he “fears” the same in Canada.

The 2001 census put the number of Muslims at 580,000 and of Jewish Canadians at 330,000.

Baker: “Do you expect from these greater numbers that they will absorb themselves into Canadian society as Canadians or that they”ll try to push Canadians to adopt their own values and principles?”

What values? That they may exercise their democratic right to lobby their own government?

Baker also complained that he or other Israelis speaking on university campuses may face demonstrations or be prevented from speaking, as happened to Ehud Barak in 2004 at Concordia University.

First, that Montreal cancellation was much criticized. Second, Baker did not say when and where he was prevented from speaking.

There”s an ongoing debate in Canada over when freedom of speech crosses the line into hate. The argument gets played out in universities over Israel Apartheid Week. Despite pressure to cancel it, the universities of Toronto, York and Ryerson have opted for academic freedom but McMaster axed the event.

Baker singled out “a Muslim Member of Parliament,” Omar Alghabra, as having been “outspoken in his hostility toward Israel.” Later, he called Alghabra”s views “less than friendly,” without citing any statement by the MP.

“I”ve got nothing against the fact that Muslims are members of the Canadian Parliament. But it worries me that the type of political influence that we”re seeing in Britain, in France, might ultimately reach the Canadian political system.”

Baker seems to want what Harper wants: Pro-Israeli voices should be heard loud and clear, but those who might question this or that policy of Israel should be silenced.

This is not how Canada works.

All groups, regardless of their religion, race or ethnicity, are free to speak, and the government of Canada makes foreign policy decisions in the interest of all Canadians.

Canada is not Israel where Israeli Arabs are second-class citizens.

For all of Baker”s nervousness, our foreign policy has been pro-Israeli dating back to Paul Martin in 2004. Harper has just made it more so.

Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion and Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day have done well to call Baker”s comments inappropriate.

Carl Rosenberg of Vancouver, a regular reader of this column, was so angry with Baker that he emailed me the following:

“Canada”s policy on the Middle East should be debated on its own merits, without resorting to obnoxious statements about the demographics of one or another religious or ethnic community … I wonder what the response would be if an ambassador to Canada from any one of several Arab states were to express concern about the impact of Jewish Canadians on Canada”s Middle East policy?”

We”d tell them to mind their own business and not interfere in Canadian affairs.