Michael Harris’ recent piece (“Canada will be on the sidelines in search for Middle East peace”) brings to mind the adage that everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not to their own facts. Mr. Harris’ piece is so replete with factual distortions, and even outright errors, that it is difficult to know where to begin. Mr. Harris has every right to criticize particular Israeli or Canadian policy choices, but in doing so, he cannot manipulate facts and ignore inconvenient truths while maintaining credibility. Indeed, his assertion that the Government of Canada’s “policy on the Middle East is uninformed and crassly political” appears to be little more than pure projection.
Mr. Harris’ column is a lengthy tirade that accuses Canadian foreign policy of being essentially ignorant. “In Ottawa’s one-sided world,” he fumes, “there is no UN Resolution 232…” Mr. Harris is of course quite correct. UN Resolution 232 has absolutely no bearing on the Middle East (it is a 1966 resolution concerning Southern Rhodesia) and as such is utterly irrelevant. I assume Mr. Harris must mean UN Resolution 242, which is clearly defined on the Department of Foreign Affairs website “as a basis for peace negotiations as well as mutual recognition”.
Under Resolution 242, Israel’s neighbours (the Palestinians and nearby Arab states) are to provide Israel with peace and security guarantees in exchange for Israel’s withdrawal from territories captured in the (self-defensive) Six Day War. The brilliance of Resolution 242 is that it inextricably ties Israel’s interests (for peace) with those of its Arab neighbours (for an Israeli withdrawal). It is a binding prescription for each side to offer the other what they most require. You would learn none of this from Mr. Harris’ piece, which implies that 242 is applicable to Israel alone.
The column stretches the bounds of reality to the point of presenting fiction as fact. “(In Ottawa’s world, there is)…no Janine refugee camp atrocity”, Mr. Harris writes. He’s correct on this point, because in the real world (let alone “Ottawa’s world”) there never was an “atrocity” in Jenin. Independent organizations, including the UN and Amnesty International, confirmed years ago that what was initially hyped as a “massacre” in 2002 was a complete fabrication. It defies description – and demands explanation – how Mr. Harris could recycle such a libelous charge and lend credence to the outright lie that Israeli troops indiscriminately murdered civilians, long after the facts were established.
But what’s most telling about Mr. Harris’ column is what’s missing. His tour of recent history – minus inconvenient facts and context – most shockingly excludes two offers of statehood made by Israel to the Palestinians in 2000-01 and 2008 respectively. Both proposals included full Palestinian statehood and shared sovereignty in Jerusalem based on the 1967 lines (with mutually agreed land swaps).
The Palestinian leadership refused both proposals without counter-offer, twice derailing peace and sabotaging Palestinian statehood. Today, every last Palestinian refugee could have been resettled in a Palestinian state, just as 800,000 Jews who were driven out of Arab lands after 1948 have since been resettled in Israel.
But facts won’t get in the way of Mr. Harris’ established conclusion. “The rich potential of Canadian diplomacy,” he argues, “has been dumped in favor of a one-sided, fact-shifting, personal statement of undying support, no matter what, for Israel’s right-wing government.” Such an assessment is hard to reconcile with the $300 million Canada has dedicated to improving the situation of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza and helping to build the vital infrastructure necessary for Palestinian statehood. In particular, Canada has played a key role in establishing an independent justice system that can ensure the rule of law for Palestinians, the cornerstone of any liberal democracy. Moreover, former U.S. Security Coordinator for the Palestinian Authority, General Keith Dayton, has asserted that the Canadian-led program – Operation Proteus – represents the single most successful international initiative to advance Palestinian civic capacity. These are facts that Mr. Harris, who is quick to accuse others of “fact-shifting”, simply cannot ignore.
But it appears that facts are beside the point. “The prime minister,” he writes, “and his cabinet, including John Baird, advance the notion that criticism of the Israeli government is the new anti-semitism, an absurdity with the handy benefit of killing all debate about this vitally important issue.” We entirely agree that it is absurd to characterize criticism of Israeli policies as inherently anti-semitic. But we challenge Mr. Harris to provide a single statement from the Prime Minister or his cabinet making such an assertion. Indeed, Israel’s supporters regularly criticize particular policies of the Israeli government, just as Canadians openly criticize the policies of our own government. What Minister Baird actually denounced was not criticism but the “constant barrage of rhetorical demonization, double standards and delegitimization” directed at the Jewish state. Reasonable people recognize that such vilification has nothing to do with policy criticism, but effectively rejects the right of the Jewish people to self-determination in their ancestral homeland.
Ironically, on the same day Harris’ screed alleges that it’s “guaranteed that Canada will be on the sidelines” when it comes to the Middle East, the Globe and Mail reported that Canada is now being viewed by Palestinian leaders as having an increased role to play in the peace process. As Majdi al-Khaldi, an adviser to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, revealed to the Globe: “We told the two ministers (Baird and Flaherty), the Foreign Minister and your Finance Minister, that you as Canada are friends of Israel, and are eligible to play even a better role as friends of Israel.” What’s more, the latest Environics poll published in the Globe and Mail shows strong support for the government’s Middle East policy, with Canadians (by a 2-to-1 margin) reporting that it “strikes the right balance.”
There are numerous other factual errors in Mr. Harris’ piece that I could spend time correcting. As mentioned above, it’s bad enough to read that he has mangled UNSC 242 as “232″ and misspelled the city of Jenin as “Janine”. Such inexcusable sloppiness alone should signal to the reader that Mr. Harris is asking not to be taken seriously.
But what’s equally worrisome, and worth dispelling, is the underlying premise of his column. Contrary to what Mr. Harris implies, both sides will have to make painful compromises if we are to see peace take root – and there must be a recognition that this conflict is not a zero-sum game. Both Palestinians and Israelis hold legitimate aspirations for their children. On the Palestinian side, this means the creation of an independent Palestinian state. On the Israeli side, this means the right to exist in security within recognized, defensible borders.
I see these two goals as fundamentally compatible. But there are those who apparently see Israeli and Palestinian aspirations as mutually exclusive, and choose to condemn and assign responsibility to one party alone – as Mr. Harris has so viciously done. Such a worldview could only be characterized as either sadly ignorant or intellectually dishonest.
Shimon Fogel is the CEO of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs.