Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird was a smash hit a few weeks ago on the radio program of conservative US commentator Mark Levin, when he took his customary aggressive stand against Hamas and the Palestinians. The Harper/Baird position plays very well in the USA. Ironically, it seems to serve both the Obama administration and his right wing opponents.
Canada’s position is more pro-Israel than any other western country, including the USA. What explains this?
I have little doubt that Harper, and perhaps Baird, too, really believe that Israel is an outpost of democracy in a benighted part of the world.
But the personal beliefs of any prime minister are not enough to explain policies. After all, Harper had to overcome his personal aversion to “communist” China because Canadian politics, and in particular business interests, demanded it. So why does our political establishment (including the Liberals and NDP) allow Harper to take such extreme positions on the Israel/Palestine question, particularly since almost all of his foreign policy advisors are unhappy with it.
Some people argue that it’s because of the “Israel lobby”, with its money and its ability to swing Jewish voters behind the Conservatives. That is no doubt part of the story. The Israel lobby, headed by the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) is well organized and well financed. But there are only about 350,000 Jews in Canada, or just over 1% of the Canadian population. Even if Zionist Jews have influence well beyond their numbers, that is certainly a long way from explaining Canadian policy.
Another element often cited is the rise of Evangelical Christianity. In her book “The Armageddon Factor” Canadian author Marci MacDonald, outlines the significant rise in the influence of Christian Zionists on Parliament Hill. According to Evangelical sources, there are as many as 4 million Evangelical Christians in Canada, or about 12% of the population. Is this enough? Perhaps….
But one factor that often gets overlooked is how well the Harper/Baird position on Israel/Palestine plays in the USA.
In elaborating foreign policy, every Canadian government must keep a close eye on the USA. That doesn’t mean we have to do exactly what the USA wants, (sometimes we don’t – e.g. Cuba and our refusal to join the war on Iraq) but we have to pay pretty close attention to it. Straying too far from what the USA wants can have severe consequences (e.g. the Bomarc missile crisis and the fall of the Diefenbaker government).
However, it would appear that today, an extremely pro-Israel Canadian position suits both the Obama administration and his Republican critics, for different reasons.
It suits Obama because it allows him to appear as a comparative moderate. When Palestine applied for “observer state” status at the UN, for example, the USA and Canada were 2 of only 7 countries that voted against the motion. However, it was John Baird who hustled down to New York to make a fiery denunciation of the Palestinian application for UN membership. This allowed Obama’s foreign secretary to keep safely in the background, while voting against all the same.
At the same time, however, the Baird/Harper position is also extremely popular with the Republican Party, and particular its right wing. At the end of July, Baird was greeted as a hero by Mark Levin, host of the conservative program “The Right Scoop”, who used Baird’s extreme pro-Israel statements as a way to bash Obama for being weak.
The Harper/Baird position on Israel/Palestine puts Canada at odds with most other western countries. But a combination of internal and external forces means that Prime Minister Harper seems to be able to pursue his own version of justice without much opposition.
However, divergences between the USA and Israel are starting to widen. How long will it be before Canada will come under increasing pressure to fall closer to the western consensus?
And who would that pressure come from? Is there anything Canadians could do to put pressure on Baird/Harper?
Of course there is… and Marianna, you are doing it. I know its frustrating and it may seem like we aren’t having any effect. But the current debates inside the NDP and the Liberal party reflect some of the work you are doing. Baird and harper won’t be there for ever..
Interesting insights Peter However, I think with Harper in particular, support for Israel is more personal than that. Harper and and most of his close cabinet associates, are true conservatives. They have clear divisions between what is right and what is wrong, desirable and undesirable. They lack flexibility, unless it would destabilise their power. Its power and unquestioned power, that they are interested in. Harper, in particular, is a conservative Christian. I don’t think in his case it is so much Christian Zionism that motivates him but, rather anti-Islamism. Islam is seen as the great enemy of Christianity. It also the great enemy of Judaism also Conservative Christians also are much more comfortable with the militaristic section of the Hebrew Scriptures and they see modern Israel as continuing that tradition with God’s blessing, because Israel has been so successful in establishing itself in an alien region. True conservatives believe in the necessity of having strong security and defenses and being prepared to demonstrate one’s might to deter actual or potential agressors. This is what they consider Israel does to protect its eurocentric, culture in the midst of hostile neighbors. Israel is the ideal of a heroic country. It also provides Canada and other western countries with its advanced security orientated strategies and technical systems which it has developed in Palestinian control. Where did senior police go prior to the infamous G8 and G20 Toronto conferences?
My thoughts her are additions to what you suggest,not replacements. Your suggestion are the benefits in practical politics.Mine are more concerned with deeper personal motivations.
Two comments about your reference to evangelical Christians. First, they usually inflate their numbers. The mainstream churches used to do that, but they now take perverse pleasure in documenting their decline, and declaring that this is hopeful [ 🙂 ].
Second, not all evangelical Christians are fundamentalists, and, similarly, not all ECs are Christian Zionists. My hunch is that no more than 50% are CZs; and of these, probably only 10-20% are explicit, or hard-core (Jesus is coming soon and the Jews who don’t accept him as Messiah will be fried). The rest are implicit or sentimental CZs, with a warm feeling from reading the Hebrew Bible which they apply to the contemporary state of Israel, believing it to be the successor of the biblical nation of the same name, which politically, religiously and geographically it is not.
With respect to your comments about the Jewish vote and the Zionist lobby, John Judis, in his recent book Genesis: Truman, American Jews and the Origins of the Arab/Israeli Conflict provides extensive documentation of the outsize influence of the Israel lobby and its funding contributions to the Democratic party during Truman’s tenure. That influence, not the least of which was in the form of money as well as concentrated votes in New York and some other eastern states resulted in Truman abandoning his opposition to the creation of a Jewish state.
Norman Finkelstein has reminded us that the Israel lobby and the constituency it purports to represent is the wealthest, most priviledged and most influential minority group in America and I think that fact, though not often stated for the usual fear of being accused of anti-Semitism, should not be overlooked.
My personal view is that this lobby getting the best politicians money can buy, especially in the Conservative and Liberal parties, and while that is not the whole storey, it can’t help but think it is a very large piece in pulling party establishment support for pro-Israel positioning.
Last comment: I think you make a very important point about how the Harper position is playing in the US and I again refer to John Judis, this time citing David Frum, George W.’s former speech writer. Apparently when Bush was trying to decide what position to take on the I/P conflict, he asked Karl Rove “what do our folks think about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict?” to which Rove, thinking Bush was referring to his evangelical supporters replied: “they think it’s part of your war on terror.”
I am sure that this is in line with Harper’s thinking especially now as he considers how to position Canada’s involvement in the upcoming war with ISIS. I suspect we will hear more rhetoric about Israel being the sole bulwark in the middle east against the flood of Islamic extremism and that line could gain support beyond the “evangelicals”.
Canadians usually do not like to admit that Canada cannot afford its own foreign policy. Even the refusal to join the war on Iraq had its price: Canadian troops in Afghanistan. Washington and Ottawa have never cared for the Palestinian population because Palestinians have no oil or money to offer. So it is up to us, the Canadian population, to stop the complicity in Israel’s crimes through BDS.
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