Stephen Harper in Israel, politics and flawed principle

Stephen Harper addresses Israeli Knesset
Stephen Harper addresses Israeli Knesset

Stephen Harper has returned from a feel-good trip to Israel on which he was accompanied by an entourage of 208 people, largely at government expense — cabinet ministers, MPs, Senators, rabbis, officials from Jewish groups,  evangelical Christians, business people and various others. There has been much speculation about whether this was a trip based on politics or principle. The answer is both – politics as usual and deeply flawed principle.

The political dimension was caught perfectly in comments by Toronto area MP Mark Adler, who was desperate to push through security so that he could have a photo opportunity with Harper at Old Jerusalem’s Western Wall. Adler was heard on tape begging a Harper aid to let him get close to the prime minister. “This, it’s the re-election,” said Adler whose constituency contains a significant number of Jewish voters. “This is the million-dollar shot.” Eventually his wish was granted.

The Harper coalition

The Harper entourage was the largest such travelling road show that anyone can remember. The group nicely reflects core elements of the coalition that Harper has built with the intention of placing him in power and keeping him there. Key to the religious wing of that coalition is a collection of socially conservative evangelicals, Jews and conservative Catholics. Progressive Jews and Catholics and mainline Protestants were not represented on the junket.  It is well worth noting that groups such as Independent Jewish Voices were vocal in their criticism of the way in which the trip was organized and  executed.

Political level

At the political level, Harper was accompanied by six cabinet ministers including John Baird and Jason Kenney both hawkish supporters of the Israeli government. Among the MPs on the junket was B.C.’s James Lunney, past chairman of the Canada-Israel Interparliamentary Group. Lunney has travelled to Israel frequently and in an OP Ed in the Jerusalem Post in October 2013, he called for re-examining the two-state solution which has long been the cornerstone of peace negotiations in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. Lunney described this policy process as akin to “trying to hammer a square peg into a round hole” – even though a two-state solution is official Canadian government policy. In a classic blame-the-victim moment, Lunney wrote that Israel lives with its neighbours in peace and he challenged the Palestinian authority to do the same.

Stockwell Day and his wife Valorie were also in Harper’s entourage. Day, another ardent supporter of Israel, was a guest speaker at a Canada Celebrates Israel event held during the 2011 federal election campaign. He was quoted at that time by the Canadian Jewish News as saying that Israel, as a Jewish state has “an aboriginal right to exist.” Most of us in Canada believe that Israel does indeed have a right to exist but it is ironic that the Canadian Alliance, which Day once led, contained MPs who did not believe that Canadian aboriginals have such rights in their homeland.

Jewish groups

The Israel trip also included 21 rabbis. It is difficult to imagine any Canadian prime minister taking along that number of Catholic bishops and priests on a visit to Rome to see the pope.

Frank Dimant, the CEO of B’nai Brith Canada, was listed on the tour. Under Dimant’s leadership B’nai Brith has developed close and supportive ties to Conservatives and the Christian right. Also present were officials from the Council for Israel and Jewish Advocacy (CIJA). That organization has replaced the 90-year-old Canadian Jewish Congress (CJC), which was dissolved amid bitter recriminations in 2011. The CJC was liberal and non-partisan while CIJA, as its name implies, is essentially a single-issue organization created to support Israel, and has close ties to the Conservatives.

Julius Suraski, the events coordinator for the Jewish Defence League (JDL) of Canada, was listed as being in the prime minister’s accompanying party as well. The JDL was created in the U.S. in 1968 with the self-described purpose of protecting Jews from anti-Semitism. The American group was classified as “a right-wing terrorist group” by the FBI in 2001 and the JDL’s sister movements in Israel were both outlawed as terrorist organizations posing a threat to state security.

Evangelical representation

There was also broad representation from the evangelical Christian community, including the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, and the Christian Missionary and Alliance Church, of which Harper is a member. Also present were representatives of Crossroads Christian Communications, a media and international development organization, The Fellowship of Evangelical Baptist Churches in Canada, and The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada.  Finally, there was the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem — Canada, which is not really an embassy at all but a conservative Christian group whose main reason for being is to provide support for Israel.

A lone Catholic cleric

Father Raymond De Souza, a Roman Catholic priest, was also on the plane. He is a frequent guest at Conservative-sponsored events on Parliament Hill and elsewhere, and is a regular columnist for the National Post. De Souza has used his column to describe his friendship and social connections to Jason Kenney and John Baird, and he frequently eulogizes the Conservatives. It appears that De Souza was the lone Catholic cleric on the trip. Was he representing the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, or was his bishop perhaps allowing him to freelance?

Eulogizing Israel

Harper used every opportunity on his trip to eulogize Israel and to speak darkly about some of its Arab neighbours. Israel, he said, is a close friend, a beacon for democracy, a Jewish homeland for people who had been long persecuted. “Through fire and water, Canada will stand with you,” he said. He also resurrected the canard that those who criticize Israeli government policies are anti-Semitic.

There are many impressive things about Israel but Harper is completely ignoring recent history. As he knows, and his entourage would as well, the state of Israel was created by intimidation,  force, and at times through terrorism perpetrated by Jewish paramilitary groups such as Irgun. The Palestinians had nothing to do with the Holocaust perpetrated in Europe but it was they who were forcibly displaced when the state of Israel came into being in 1948. The well-known British writer William Dalrymple says that when Israel was created, 700,000 Palestinians (Muslim and Christian) were driven from their homes and fields. The number of their descendants has grown into millions over the decades, many of them living in refugee camps in neighbouring countries such as Lebanon, Jordan and Syria.

Following the 1967 war, Israel occupied territories that it has never restored and the United Nations and most of the world community considers that occupation to be illegal. The Israeli government has brazenly pursued a policy of encouraging the building of Jewish settlements on that illegally occupied land, dispossessing the existing occupants. While in Israel, Harper repeatedly refused to voice any criticism of a settlement policy that, on paper, Canada opposes.

Christian Zionism

Dow Marmur, rabbi emeritus at a Toronto synagogue, wrote in the Toronto Star during the trip that, “Stephen Harper is proof that you don’t have to be Jewish to be a Zionist.” Marmur continued, “[Harper’s] Zionism seems to be rooted in his Christian faith.” The rabbi said that Christian Zionists “believe that Jesus’ second coming is contingent upon the Jews returning to their homeland.” In other words, Christian Zionists believe the imposition of a Jewish state in Palestine in 1948 fulfils a biblical prophecy.

I have always believed that Harper’s policy regarding Israel was driven by domestic Canadian politics but it appears that for him this is also a matter of deep, but mistaken principle. Our prime minister is a Christian Zionist.



13 thoughts on “Stephen Harper in Israel, politics and flawed principle

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  1. I agree with everything you say, Dennis, but want only to emphasize a remark you made. I have long been convinced that most people’s willingness to override the right of Palestinians to their homeland are a direct parallel to why so many Canadians still think that the Aboriginal peoples here have no right to their homeland: they weren’t “using” the land the way we do. Arthur Meighen used that explanation in the House of Commons in 1918 to defend his government’s stripping thousands of acres of land from prairie Bands in violation of treaties. It still lurks in the minds of many in our industrialized culture.


    1. There’s something to that, but the ironic part is the Palestinians (and some of the First Nations here) actually were using the land the way we do. They had farms and orchards all over. Many the Israelis simply took over. In other places, the irony is thick–far from “Making the desert bloom”, they bulldozed farms, citrus orchards, olive groves into desert, or razed them and planted forests, attempting to erase all traces of the previous inhabitants as they celebrate their new parks.

      BC and prairie First Nations didn’t generally farm, but I believe in Quebec groups like the Iroquois confederacy and the Huron, and doubtless others, did farm. So we got no excuse there. Not that it’s a reasonable basis for dispossession in the first place.


  2. Thanks for keeping an eye on this Dennis. I couldn’t help but think of Marci McDonald’s book “The Armageddon Factor” as I watched Harper’s road show. I recommend her book to anyone concerned about the influence of the religious right on Canadian politics.


    1. Ailsa, Obama’s religious beliefs are leading the US to abyss, would you care? Do you remember any liberal leaders, who would appeal to the religious Christians or Jews? Anti-Semitism is so transparent under the veil of “Palestinian rights”, there is no need to pretend.


      1. Thanks for your comments Evgenia. Unfortunately, you were quick to brandish the label of anti-Semitism, which is frequently used (by our Prime Minister among others) to shut down any conversation about the actions of the Israeli government. It appears you are sceptical about Palestinians having rights. I would invite you to read the following Op Ed published Kathy Bergen in the Waterloo Record on January 24. She lived in Ramallah for years and speaks knowledgeably about what the Palestinians have to put up with in their daily lives. Her words have an honest and knowledgeable ring to them:


  3. I am extremely troubled these days that we seem to have forgotten Harper’s religious leanings. This is almost completely absent in any analysis of where he is taking the country. His personal faith is dictating the direction of Canada, and it’s very very dangerous. I think we need much more in depth articles about this fact of Canada, from people who cannot be silenced out of fear of reprisal. This is from 2012, but is essential reading if we want to understand what’s happening in our country.

    “Understanding Harper’s Evangelical Mission”


  4. Thank you Dennis for your response about Harper’s visit to Israel. I listened and watched Harper’s presentation to the Knesset. I didn’t want to believe that any Canadian, especially the Prime-Minister, whose party [in the last election] received the support of fewer than 40% of Canadian voters, would suggest that all Canadians give unquestioned support to Benjamin Netanyahu and his government! There was not one word from Harper that would indicate that Palestinian citizens should have any rights to their own land. Obviously it was okay for the Israel’s military to bomb, shell and invade Gaza for 22 days in 2009, destroying homes, schools, hospitals, and killing and maiming more than 1000 men, women and children! Obviously, Prime-Minister Harper approves the use of bombs and bullets [“a measured response”] to discourage Palestinians from objecting to the takeover of Palestinian lands by ever expanding Israeli settlements!


  5. I am grateful for all the comments. Ailsa, I read the book. Gov’t is taking Canadians toward Christian fundamentalism, think that’s the word. There is now, I dont know if I have this right, a Canada Christian University and other Christian educational institutions.

    About the land issue. I am a First Nations, age, 70 +, activist, working for justice for First Nations, one issue of mine.

    Ancestral traditionalists and people believed that the land was not theirs, it is now even, a gift from Creator, which we have to take care of, a gift to enjoy and live off of it and they did for centuries. The first Europeans who came to Canada, not Canada then, wanted what was in the ground, riches. They started their takeover of it thru fur trading. Those furs were meticulously worked into the finest. They schemed to cheat them by giving them liquor, for certain, there was no mix, hence the term, firewater, it was to them. And too, no social drinking. It is one of the reasons for rampant alcoholism even to this day.

    That was the start of what all has happened to take over the lands we had enjoyed up to that time. Even to this day, fed and prov govts are still doing all they can so that we will be left with no land that we can benefit from. The treaties were supposedly done because fed govt did not want to slaughter in the tens of thousands like the American govt did, costing them untold costs.

    With the Treaties, we were to share the resources, but the ink was still wet when McDonald started the process of taking as much away from my ancestors as they could. I read he was a sot? The residential schools were a part of that, to take from our culture and languages. In the educational system, they are trying to teach them now. It would have been so much better not to have taken it away from us.

    So much to say. I will leave a last comment, the govt was to go only the depth of a plow to take anything from the ground.

    Harper did state he would get rid of the Treaties when he arrived on the political scene. He is still at it, hence, the Idle No More MOvement and that was started because of Bill C45 a part of which meant the Treaties were threatened.


  6. You are warping many facts. Israeli land has been won fair and square and for any other country that is not illegal. The Palestinians, a group not indigenous to the land but mainly displaced from other neighbouring Arab countries who rejected them, were given the choice to remain and those who smartly made that decision enjoy the ONLY democratic society in the Middle East with equal rights to any other Jewish Israeli citizen (or Christian or Druze for that matter). Have u been to Israel? You would laugh when u realize how extraordinarily silly it is when people refer to Israel as Apartheid. These Arabs who were never driven out could’ve remained in a Middle Eastern utopia. But those that are behind a wall now? Why? Common on….think. That’s right! No choice. They refuse all peace terms. As for Independent Jewish Voices, they are left of left and not worth noting at all. Mainstream Jews refer to them as a fringe movement. As for Adler, after a brutally emotional day at Yad Vashem the guy wants a pic with Harper at the Wall. Man. Who wouldn’t want that shot? I wouldn’t want an MP who wouldn’t go for it.


    1. Thanks Tamara for your comment but I believe it is factually inaccurate on a number of scores. It is not correct to say that the Palestinians were not indigenous to Palestine, or that they were offered a chance to stay in their homes and communities but rejected that offer. Why on earth would they do that? Most were expelled under the threat of violence or were the victims of actual violence. I, too, have heard and read about the claims you mention but I believe they are fabrications that allow people who did the expelling to justify their past actions and current practices. You describe those involved in Independent Jewish Voices as marginal. Actually, what they are saying is often quite similar to what I read from by Jewish writers in publications such as the New York Review of Books or progressive publications from within Israel itself.


  7. Thanks for this Dennis. What is really unnerving is the presence of groups like the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem (Canada’s rep). They have a branch in Canada that has charitable status that raises money for bomb shelters in Israel (among other things) and the larger organization actively promotes the immigration of Jews into the settlements in the West Bank. I’ve written about ICEJ here:


    1. Dale, thanks for your article. I found it informative and it contains information that goes beyond some of what I had known. I hope that other readers of my blog will look at it. I am also providing a link here to an excellent Op Ed written published Kathy Bergen in the Waterloo Record on January 24. She lived in Ramallah for years and speaks knowledgeably about what the Palestinians have to put up with in their daily lives. This is something that Prime Minister Harper carefully avoided mentioning in his speeches and statements while in Israel.


  8. He and none of the other 204 people who escorted him on HIS trip to Israel even mentioned PALESTINE once to my knowledge. I wonder why?


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