White hats, black hats: The Harper government’s policy toward Israel

The Harper Record 2008-15
The Harper Record 2008-15

I have contributed, along with 35 other writers and researchers, to a book called  The Harper Record 2008 – 2015.  It is a project of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. My chapter is called: White Hats, black hats, the Harper government’s policy toward Israel. As you will see I draw the title from a simplistic comment made by former Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird (remember him?) I am providing here the introductory and concluding segments of the chapter.

Pro-Israel rallies 

Stephen Harper was pursuing immigrant voters in Markham, Ontario on day 12 of the federal election campaign in April 2011. That same evening in Ottawa, several hundred people gathered at the Peace Tower Church not far from Parliament Hill to pledge fealty to Israel and praise Harper as that country’s Canadian benefactor. The event, called Canada Celebrates Israel, was one of four held in Canadian cities within a few days. The rallies featured three Israeli politicians who are members of the Israeli Knesset Christian Allies Caucus, as well as prominent Conservatives and a cast of Evangelical Christians from Canada.

Though the Prime Minister wasn’t physically present at these rallies, he made sure organizers knew where his priorities lay. Jim Abbott, a longtime Conservative member of Parliament who had chosen not to run again in 2011, brought greetings from the federal government. Stockwell Day, the recently retired former Treasury Board president, provided a message on videotape (he had attended the Canada Celebrates Israel event in Montreal the previous evening). According to the Canadian Jewish News, Day “earned wide applause when he said Israel, as a Jewish state, has ‘an aboriginal right to exist’ and that the Hebrew scriptures, written as far back as 1,000 years BCE, provide historically accurate evidence of the Jewish presence in what is now Israel.”

In strictly historical terms, the majority of people living in Palestine (west of the Jordan River) in 1948 were Arabs (both Muslims and Christians) and their ancestors had lived there as well. Estimates are that at least 726,000 Palestinians were displaced from the lands within what became the borders of Israel in 1948.

Biblical literalism

Unfortunately, for those who prioritize scripture over facts, none of this is important. In Ottawa, those attending the Canada Celebrates Israel rally were asked to stand and to recite in unison a Canada–Israel declaration projected on a screen in the church. The declaration read in part:

Whereas we the undersigned, friends of Israel, affirm the eternal and steadfast love of God for Israel and the Jewish People as clearly decreed in the Word of God…. We affirm the noble stand that our Prime Minister, the Right Honourable Stephen Harper, has taken in support and solidarity of Israel…. We affirm the Abrahamic Covenant of God with Israel, and His promises, and in the giving of the land to the Jewish People as their everlasting homeland and eternal inheritance: “I will give you this land as an everlasting possession to your descendants after you.” (Genesis 17:8)

Baird’s black and white hats

Most Canadians would agree that the state of Israel has the right to exist peacefully among its neighbours. The Harper government’s foreign policy, on the other hand, has been to act as cheerleaders for the Israeli government, no matter how its actions may disturb that peace, and no matter the hardship they bring to the embattled Palestinians. Harper has pledged to stand by Israel “through fire and water.” His former foreign affairs minister John Baird put it in equally black-and-white terms after a trip to Israel in 2012: “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 policy shift contradicts Canada’s historical position on the complex realities of the Israel-Palestine relationship, with international repercussions for Canada’s standing in the world, and domestic consequences for any organization that publicly disagrees with the government.

. . .

Deliberately simplistic

The white-hats-versus-black-hats campaign waged by the Harper government in its approach to questions of Israel and the Middle East is deliberately simplistic, with domestic and international repercussions. Not only does this kind of language consciously avoid both history and current reality, it has led to important human rights and development organizations being deprived of the public finances they rely on to do good work in areas including the Middle East.

Church groups targetted 

A growing number of church-based and other groups who have dared to criticize government policies regarding Israel, human rights or environmental policy now find themselves the targets of costly and intimidating financial audits by the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA). Vocal right-wing groups with charitable status, on the other hand, such as the Vancouver-based Fraser Institute, appear to have escaped similar scrutiny by the CRA.

The audits are a thinly disguised attack by the government that spreads a chill among organizations that have much to contribute to the debate about Canada’s domestic and foreign policy. The government’s intention is to stifle healthy debate in Canada, and that diminishes an increasingly fragile democracy.

You can download (for free) the entire book or individual chapters from the CCPA website. You can download White hats, black hats chapter by clicking HERE:

I am always interested in receiving your comments. You can find the Comments section below by scrolling farther down on this page.

4 thoughts on “White hats, black hats: The Harper government’s policy toward Israel

Add yours

  1. Great Article. All peoples have a right to their own country. This includes the Palestinians and the Kurds. And no doubt other groups too.
    Of course, “countries” would not be necessary if we all got along. John Lennon’s song Imagine comes to mind.


  2. Where is the separation of Church and State? Is Harper so desperate to hang onto power that he quietly tries to say he supports rhetoric. Or does he believe it? I suspect the latter.


  3. I would add Dennis that the conflict in the area in the 1940s led to an exchange of population, something which for their own reasons, the governments in the area have not wanted to recognize. Around the same number of Jews were expelled from and/or left under difficult conditions from Arab lands. Many went to and remained in what is now Israel.


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