In the first all party leaders debate held last week, Stephen Harper, Thomas Mulcair and Justin Trudeau staked out different positions on the thorny issue of Israel/Palestine. It was a matter of seconds at the very end of the end of the debate, so you might not have caught it. But it was significant. See more
in the closing minutes of the first all-party televised debate, Prime Minister Harper raised the issue of Israel, and his strong defense of it. His arguments were not new and there were no surprises in what he said. But the brief rejoinders by Thomas Mulcair and Justin Trudeau (who were given only a few seconds each to respond) reveal significant differences in their respective approaches.
Rt. Hon. Stephen Harper: There is a movement at the United Nations to isolate and denigrate the state of Israel. This government has taken a very clear position. We will not support that. It is wrong. This is the only country in the world whose existence is under threat. It is a friend and ally. (…) The best friend and ally this country has is in a very dangerous region, and we will never go along with that anti-Israel position.
Hon. Thomas Mulcair: I’ll take no lessons from anyone on defending the right of Israel to defend itself. But we also take a very balanced approach. We want a safe state for Palestinians, and a safe state for Israelis. That’s a balanced approach. That’s the type of approach Canada has always taken on the world stage —that’s the approach that we would take.
Paul Wells: Justin Trudeau?
Justin Trudeau: All parties are in agreement on this. We’ve been talking about international relations. We have the worst relationship with the United States that we’ve had in a long time. That’s what we need to fix as well.
Two things jump out from this brief exchange.
First, Thomas Mulcair seemed quite prepared to call Mr. Harper on his “Israel right or wrong” stance. In saying he wants a “safe state for Palestinans and a safe state for Israelis”, Mulcair is indicating that he is concerned about the human rights of everyone in the region… not just Israelis. This will not gain him any support from the Israel lobby, but he seems to be prepared to face down any attempt to claim that he is “anti-Semitic”. He is continuing to signal that he wants to cautiously demarcate himself from Mr. Harper on the issue of human rights for Palestinians.
Second, it seems clear that Trudeau WANTS TO AVOID criticizing Harper on this issue. Trudeau appeared to paper over any differences that might exist between him and Mr. Harper by claiming “all parties are in agreement on this.” He then attempted to change the subject to the issue of our relations with the USA. One can only speculate whether he did this because he really does agree with Harper that Israel’s security is more important than any other considerations, or whether its because in a tight race, he is unwilling to risk the wrath of the Israel lobby.
The campaign has barely begun, and positions may evolve. But differences are emerging.
NOTE: Unfortunately, Elizabeth May did not get an opportunity to comment on this issue in the debate.