John Baird talks through his hat on Israel

Canada’s foreign affairs minister was talking through his hat recently in Israel. John Baird was on a state visit and repeated at every opportunity that, “Israel has no greater friend in the world than Canada.” Then he would recount his story about how, as a young Parliamentary assistant working in the office of the Conservative foreign affairs minister in the 1990s, he could not stay quiet during the daily briefings about Israel. “I took a pad of paper and drew a white hat on one side and a black hat on the other. Under the white hat, I wrote ‘Israel’ and under the black, ‘Hezbollah.’” This recreated story, like much of what Minister Baird says, smacks of theatre but lacks the ring of authenticity.  But obviously he believes it will play well back at home, where he hopes that the Harper government will be able to rewrite the traditional playbook on Canada’s role as an honest broker in Middle East diplomacy.

Baird and ultra-orthodox rabbi

John Baird, Foreign Affairs Minister

Baird was accompanied everywhere in Israel by an Ottawa-based ultra-orthodox rabbi. Many Israelis are uncomfortable with that group but Minister Baird described the rabbi at every stop as his “teacher.” Baird refused, when asked by journalists, to make any criticism of Israel’s deliberate building of settlements in Palestine lands under its military occupation. These settlements are widely considered to be illegal under international law. In contrast, when Baird met with Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, he lectured him about the folly of his going to the Untied Nations last year in a bid to have Palestinians recognized as a state. Baird told Abbas that Palestinians should get back to the table, without preconditions, to negotiate a two-state arrangement with Israel.

Jeffrey Simpson a Globe and Mail columnist described Baird’s uncouth diplomacy with Abbas in these words: “The Harper government insists that it favours a two-state solution, but everyone knows it will do or say nothing to nudge Israel in that direction, or to chastise Israel for doing next to nothing to move in that direction.”

Lone Ranger rides again

White hats and black hats. Democrats and terrorists. It is a deliberately simplistic argument that insults adult intelligence. It takes one back to the Lone Ranger and good guy-bad guy cowboy movies of the 1950s. This approach consciously avoids both current reality and history. As for the current reality, here is a quote from Gideon Levy, a journalist for the Israel newspaper Haaretz. He spoke in Ottawa in September 2010 and said: “I was brought up as a typical Israeli but in the late 1980s I started to travel to a place a half hour from my home, a trip that most Israelis never make. I started to go into the occupied territories, our own dark backyard … Israel holds 3.5 million Palestinians against their will in conditions that you cannot imagine and there is no way Israel will move without pressure or a push from the outside.”

What of history?

And what of history, much of it recent? The noted British writer William Dalrymple says that when the state of Israel was created in 1948, an estimated 700,000 Palestinians (Muslim and Christian) were driven from their homes and land, often with little or no notice. Most of these displaced people fled to other Middle Eastern countries, where their situation has often remained precarious. During the pre-emptive Six-Day War in 1967, Israel captured East Jerusalem and the West Bank from Jordan, an event that created even more refugees. These territories were placed under a military occupation that persists to this day, and which is considered by the United Nations to be illegal. As of January 2010, the United Nations cites 1.4 million registered refugees in camps and another 3.4 registered refugees not in camps. The Oslo Accords in 1993 set out a process and timetable for peace negotiations and Palestinian self-government, but such negotiations are rendered impossible by the relentless development of Israeli settlements on occupied land.

Baird and his government never acknowledge the inconvenient truth that it was the creation of the state of Israel in 1948 and the subsequent displacement of existing inhabitants from their land and homes that led to the region’s enduring troubles. The Conservatives prefer to deal with all violence in the region as if it had sprung, mysteriously, from the foreheads of Arabs who are terrorists.

Obama and land swaps

President Barack Obama said in a speech in 2011 that the pre-1967 borders of Israel should form the basis of new peace negotiations. He said, as well, that Israel and the Palestinians would have to swap land to take into account the many West Bank settlements created by the Israelis since 1967. The Israeli government was not amused. In May 2011, Canada stood alone in opposition to a G8 communique that would have endorsed the U.S. pre-1967 proposal. Baird and his government wear Canada’s diplomatic isolation in that matter as a badge of pride, just as they do Canada’s defeat by Portugal for a seat on the UN Security Council in 2010.

Partisan ploys

These ploys are wrong-headed and they also serve to isolate Canada diplomatically – but Baird and Prime Minister Harper are gambling that they will work to the Conservatives’ advantage in domestic politics. They believe that their ardently pro-Israel stand will finish the job of stripping the Liberals of their traditional support from Jewish voters. Many evangelical Christians, also an important part of the Conservative base, believe that in the Bible God gave the land of Israel to the Jews. Some of these Christians are also dispensationalists who believe that the creation of the state of Israel is a precursor to events leading up to the second coming of Christ.

At its best religious faith can inform politics; at its worst it can distort them. This is a case of the latter. But Baird is clear that he is not a religious person. For him, the white-hats, black-hats ploy is all about partisan advantage.




13 thoughts on “John Baird talks through his hat on Israel

  1. Thanks for this post Dennis. I think you’ve got it in your second last paragraph: “They believe that their ardently pro-Israel stand will finish the job of stripping the Liberals of their traditional support from Jewish voters. Many evangelical Christians, also an important part of the Conservative base, believe that in the Bible God gave the land of Israel to the Jews. Some of these Christians are also dispensationalists who believe that the creation of the state of Israel is a precursor to events leading up to the second coming of Christ.” There is not much sense of current, or historical, justice in the Conservative approach to Palestine.


  2. Theatre, lacking authenticity. Partisan advantage.This is descriptive of the Conservative approach to most interests. I appreciate your post, Dennis. Canadians deserve more honest governing and honesty in the way we are presented to the world. Is there a troupe waiting in the wings to take the place of this warped,dishonest government?


  3. Well presented, Dennis. I am concerned about the overall shift in policy where we now support allies whether they are “right or wrong.” Past Canadian governments certainly played favorites behind the scenes, but publicly they did not say their support was unconditional, as this government is saying. Taking the latter position seriously erodes Canada’s longstanding, if overstated, international reputation as an honest broker.

    For my part, I believe most Canadians would not choose to support any nation, “right or wrong,” as was demonstrated by Prime Minister Chretien’s very popular decision not to join the US in what we an now say was an illegal war on Iraq. I think it is very dangerous for us to ally, “right or wrong,” with Israel, especially as the sabre-rattling with Iran grows louder–with Mr. Baird among the loudest alarmists.

    The most disturbing aspect of this approach to foreign policy (with spillover into domestic policy as well) is the Harper regime’s appeal to simplistic moralizing. Harper and his key ministers, Baird, Toews, and others, reject what they call the evil of “moral relativism,” in favour of universal absolute moral values which they believe they hold and which they believe can be applied universally. To them, our relationship with Israel is a good example–either our support of Israel is right or wrong and since “we” (they) know it is right, there is no need to equivocate. This is the same absolutist stance they bring to the long gun registry, the long form census and to their disastrous omnibus crime bill. It appears we are supposed trust them because they know what is right and what is wrong. Sadly, and dangerously for us all, they do not have a lock on moral rectitude. The hats, as more mature politicians eventually come to learn, are all gray, including our own. The real and complex work is in sorting out the shades of gray and developing policies that best accommodate the inevitable ambiguities that complex decisions involve.


  4. what is the name of the Rabbi you talked about?? I can`t believe how ignorant Baird can be, shameful, what a goof !!


    1. Hi Bill: His name is Rabbi Chaim Mendelsohn. He is the Canadian-based public affairs director of Chabad, which is an ultra-Orthodox Hassidic movement. If you use the link that I provded near the top of my piece, where John Baird talks aobut Canada being such a good friend to Israel, you can read more about Mendelsohn’s accompanying Baird in Israel.


  5. Absolutely correct Dennis! Under Harper and Baird, it appears that Canada will become a puppet state of the Israeli government, as the U.S.A. is now.
    These extremists are willing to ‘defriend’ the large majority of Canadians, in order to ‘befriend’ the Goverment of Israel.


  6. Baird’s conduct in Israel should come as no surprise to any body. He simply displayed the ignorance people have come to expect from the Harper government.

    We ought not to forget that Prime Minister Harper was an enthusiastic supporter of the illegal invasion of Iraq and spoke in favor of Canada joining that criminal enterprise.

    Here at home, the Harper government wears it’s so-called Christianity on its sleeve, but actions speak much louder than words. A government anxious to spend billions on figher jets whilem more than 20% of the nation’s children live in poverty simply doesn’t share Jesus’ love of children. A government that exalts profit before life by cutting corporate taxes while people struggle with poverty has long since abandoned the gospel. And a government that would rather spend money on new prisons than health care, despite the fact crime in going down, shows it’s so-called Christianity is simply a flag of convenience.

    These days, Harper and crew are cozying up to China despite the fact that China is one of the worst human rights offenders in the world. At present, China has a Canadian citzen in prison under sentence of death whose only ‘crime’ is advocating freedom of religion for people in China. Such trials in China are kangeroo courts, but for Harper tht matters not a whit. The Harper govenment has done nothing to protest China’s intention to judically murder this Canadian because it wants its own ’30 pieces of silver’ from the Chinese. Thus, for the Conservatives, making a few extra bucks through trade takes precedence over the life of an innocent man.

    So, the fact that John Baird spoke ignorantly and with no regard for truth in Isreal should come as no surprise. He has simpy followed the lead of his colleages at home in chosing to walk in the darkness rather than the light.

    Jesus never spoke a word in favor of war or in praise of wealth. Indeed, he decred wealth that was not used to alleviate suffering. The gospel of Matthew warns about ravenous wolves who come amoung people of peace and goodwill disguised as sheep. The Harper govenment has an unblemished record of perverting the justice due to the poor, exalting greed, making war, and, ironically, crying “Lord, lord!”

    But, they can’t answer the question Jesus puts to all self-declared Christians: “Why do you call me Lord, Lord, and not do what I tell you?” Perhaps the answer is simply that, for many, Christianity is a flag of convenience to obscure the fact that their love of money (which is the root of all evil) is the driving force in their lives.


  7. Dennis, Thanks for your eloquent and brilliant denunciation of Baird’s traitorous behavior in putting unconditional support for Israel above human rights and the interests of Canadians. Many Canadian Jews support your views–we believe that Canada should hold Israel accountable for its crimes and violations of international law. As a proud member of Independent Jewish Voices, I strongly support the Palestinian civil society call to world countries to impose trade sanctions on Israel to pressure it to comply with international law. Instead, Baird and Harper are INCREASING Canada’s trade and military ties with Israel.


  8. Thank you. Dennis for showing up Baird and Harper’s government for their warmongering support of “Bibi” Netanyahu’s far right-wing policies regarding Gaza, the West Bank and Palastine. John Parry’s comments were right on target. Now if I were a violent man. I would just love to plaster John Baird’s face with a meringue pie — but then only if it was a poor quality pie! On a more serious note, members of the Netanyahu family have openly stated that their plan is to make life so miserable for the Arabs on the lands that Israel covets, that those citizens would just give up, and move out. The 2009 murderous attack by the Israeli military on Gaza tells us that there are no moral limits to their endeavors to expand their “settlements”. The Harper supporters called that invasion “a measured response.” Now Israel and its supporters [including Canada] are doing their worst to make the rest of the world believe that Iran is trying to build one nuclear bomb on our planet, where there already exists thousands of nuclear bombs, including some in Israel.


  9. What disturbs me as much as anything is the strange belief that a loving God would support a group (Israelis in this case) that would shove people into crude refugee camps, allow them to be bombed with phosphorous and etc. etc. Many people use their religious beliefs to rationalize their actions. In this struggle also, people who call themselves Christians support the Israelis unconditionally when their fellow Christians as well as Muslims are and have been driven without mercy from their homes and land that their ancestors have owned for thousands of years. In my Sunday school and church days, I heard that we were supposed to love and treat our neighbours as we would be loved and treated. It also seems to me that Jewish, Christian, and Muslim beliefs come from much of the same origins. And yet those same religions are distorted by many of those who grovel and talk of God’s love in their places of worship and fit their strange desires and beliefs around ideas that they suck out of their thumbs.


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