When you go there, the first thing you notice about Israel is how strikingly different it is from Canada’s Jewish leadership, and Canada’s governing Conservatives.
Israel is, of course, quite beautiful. But Israel is also multicultural and diverse. It is progressive and modern. And it is far, far more secular than you’ve been led to think.
“Progressive and modern” – and “secular” – are not the sorts of things one associates with the worldview of Stephen Harper, or many within the huge entourage travelling with the Canadian Prime Minister this week to Israel. Nor would anyone ever associate many of them with multiculturalism or diversity (one man revealed to be with Harper by Sun Media has ties to Britain’s racist English Defence League).
They are monochrome, they are sectarian, and they resolutely conservative. (And Conservative.)
Israel, when you see it up-close, isn’t like that at all. But that doesn’t deter Harper or his retinue of lobbyists and hardliners: they favour an approach that has isolated Israel (and Canada) globally, and which has reduced Canada’s Jewish leadership to a Conservative Party echo chamber. To them, you’re either in favour of Israeli settlements – which are illegal, and which Harper has refused to denounce while in Israel – or you’re the enemy. There is no in-between, for them.
We Irish are familiar with the species. Conservative evangelical Christians, and Canada’s Jewish leadership, are engaged in what is called “trying to out-Irish the Irish.” They’re hardcore. They’re hardliners. And they could not be more unlike most Israelis, who seek peace – not war – with surrounding Arab nations. (Who Harper, last month, actually called “a region of darkness.”)
Jewish leaders in the United States are wholly unlike Canada’s. There, the Jewish vote skews Democratic. For decades, U.S. Jews have been at the forefront of the civil rights movement, the feminist movement, and efforts to maintain a dichotomy between church and state. Unlike recent Canadian Jewish leaders, they have shrewdly maintained cordial relationships with all sides of the political establishment. So that, whoever is in power, they will always have someone to call.
Not in Canada. Here, progressive Jewish leaders – like the Canadian Jewish Congress’ Bernie Farber, or B’nai Brith’s Karen Mock, or Parliamentary giants like Irwin Cotler – have been shunned and reviled for favouring moderation and accommodation. Here, those who have traditionally regarded themselves as Zionists – like, for example, this writer – have been driven out for the temerity to oppose Israel junkets being offered to Muslim-hating white supremacists.
What has all of this ideological cleansing gotten Canada, and those in Canada who support the Jewish state? Not much. It cost Canada a seat on the U.N. Security Council, and has greatly reduced our voice internationally. It has left Canada’s Jewish leaders aligned with cartoonish Christian zealots who want to convert Jews in the end-times. Most ominously, it has reduced the number of friends Israel has within the Liberal and New Democratic parties, both of whom periodically win power.
A fair question to ask in conclusion: if Harper and his massive entourage are so pro-Israel, why are they so unlike so many Israelis?
Simple: Stephen Harper, and those with him, actually aren’t pro-Israel. They are pro-Likud Party. They, like Likud, are conservative, bellicose, and insular.
Likud isn’t Israel. Israel – multicultural, diverse, progressive, modern and secular Israel – is much more than that. And the sooner Harper and his factionalists accept that, the better off Canada will be.