Canada might very well be Israel’s best friend in the world. Many signs have been pointing in that direction for a while now.
Canada might very well be Israel’s best friend in the world. Many signs have been pointing in that direction for a while now. The decision by the Harper government to close its embassy in Tehran and to expel the Iranian diplomats in Canada has been interpreted by many in Israel as a sign of deep friendship.
It is certainly true that Israel and Canada are good friends and allies.
Yet, while Iran’s threats toward Israel, its anti-Semitism and its Holocaust denial certainly played a role in Canada’s decision, this decision was not just about Israel.
A range of factors led to this dramatic move, not the least of which is Iran’s assistance to the Assad regime in Syria in its current merciless and murderous campaign. Combined with Tehran’s dismal human rights record, treatment of imprisoned Canadian citizens in Iran, and support for terrorism around the globe, ties were severed against a stark backdrop of rogue state behavior. The regime’s failure to observe the Vienna Convention – and its guarantee of protection for diplomatic personnel – is quite likely the straw that broke the camel’s back.
That being said, the deepening of the Israel-Canada relationship is remarkable.
From Israel’s point of view, Canada’s support can only be welcome.
While certainly not a superpower like the US, or even a great power like France, Germany or Britain, Canada is a G8 country, an energy superpower, and a leading member of many international bodies (including the Francophonie, the Commonwealth and APEC among others).
These connections proved decisive, for example, when Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper blocked a resolution at the Francophonie that aimed to single out Israel for blame following the 2006 war in Lebanon.
Indeed, it is no exaggeration to say that Canada’s moral clarity on these issues is particularly meaningful given the increased – and mostly unfair – criticism the Jewish state endures in so many international bodies.
Having discussed the Middle East extensively with Canadian MPs from all parties, it’s evident that what lies beneath is not simply shared interests, but shared values. That is, while Canada and Israel enjoy strong economic cooperation, technological ties, and (lately) energy development collaboration, the Canada-Israel relationship transcends these material points. Rather, it is rooted in a mutual embrace of the values that define the very best in Western society: democracy, universal rights, equality of men and women, education, and a commitment to social progress.
In other words, it’s not just about open markets. It’s about open minds – and that is at the core of our two countries’ successes.
Under Prime Minister Harper’s leadership, the Conservative government has shown time and time again its genuine friendship for Israel, particularly among cabinet ministers like Foreign Minister John Baird and Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney. This is to say nothing of a caucus – most of whose members have no Jews in their ridings – that has demonstrated a collective sense of understanding and empathy for Israel.
But things never happen in a vacuum. Harper was also able to strengthen the Canada-Israel relationship because support for Israel transcends party lines.
The Official Opposition, the New Democratic Party (social-democrat) has elected a leader, Thomas Mulcair, who has been viciously attacked by a combination of anti-Zionists, far-leftists and extremist Arab groups for his support for Israel. The fact that he still won despite this organized assault is an important marker in Canadian politics. Mulcair is a seasoned politician and is the farthest thing from naïve. He knows that in order to win, he has to take his party toward the center and, in Canada, the center supports Israel.
The Liberal Party’s interim leader, Bob Rae, is known in Canada and in Israel as a friend of the Jewish state. It is unknown who will be elected leader in April 2013 (although former prime minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau’s son, Justin, is a very clear favorite). But every serious name considered to take the reins of the Liberal Party has visited Israel and seen first-hand the challenges facing the Jewish state in a dangerous and changing Middle East.
While nothing in this world is eternal, Canada’s support and friendship for Israel is likely to last for the foreseeable future. This is all the more important given that, by any estimate, 5773 may prove a tense year for Israel. The Arab Spring or Winter (or whatever reductionist analogy is being used to describe a truly tumultuous and worrisome era) and its consequences continue to shake the region. Islamists are advancing, particularly in Egypt where they have formed a government, and harness anti-Western fury across the region to further their own agenda.
Throughout the tempest, Israelis should know that the people of Canada are behind them.
The writer is general counsel and senior government adviser at the Center for Israel and Jewish Affairs.