We made our way by cab to the airport from the final event of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s triumphant visit to Israel. The main road, the Ayalon, was closed. Our driver, who had given us a flat rate was obviously rattled.
I mentioned the road closure was probably to allow Harper and his entourage unimpeded escort to the airport.
The driver was skeptical. He thought there must have been an accident. A few minutes in, he contacted central control, and they confirmed it was a road closure for the Canadian convoy.
He turned to us and said that, for a friend like the Canadian prime minister, nothing is a problem. We, of course, gave him much more than the quoted price, but the important take-away was how much of an impact the visit by Harper and his delegation made on ordinary Israelis. I always gauge impact by what the people on the street are saying and feeling, and taxi drivers are the best source.
We know how momentous the prime minister’s speech to the Knesset was. Already it is being hailed as one of the greatest Canadian speeches in recorded history. We do not yet know what impact it will have on the flow of history, but we know the speech, indeed the entire visit, was a much-needed uplift and energizer for a tiny country besieged by a strange concoction of annihilation threats and unrelenting reprimand.
To hear Harper put this all in context, both from an historical perspective, and from a balance perspective, and to reach the logical, inescapable conclusion that Israel today is once again facing the dangers inherent in the onslaught of unbridled anti-Semitism, was to hear the unadulterated, unvarnished truth.
And to hear the prime minister’s uncompromising affirmation of Israel as a shining democracy in a region where there is no other democracy, and to further hear those ringing words, “Through fire and water, Canada will stand with you,” was enough to give Israelis the a much-needed boost to their collective sense of worth.
Make no mistake. Harper was clear about favouring a two-state solution, a position Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly endorsed. And he backed this up with a significant financial contribution to the Palestinian Authority. But Harper would have nothing to do with Israel bashing.
This was NOT a political speech. This was a speech emanating from Harper’s acute sense of history, his deep connection to the legacy of Israel and the Jewish people, and his unyielding resolve to fight the forces of hate and evil at every turn. It was the speech of an articulate, eloquent, resolute world statesman, a speech that solidified Canada as a moral superpower.
As if to accentuate this was vintage Harper, it should be noted the honorary doctorate he received from Tel Aviv University was actually bestowed in 2008! This was the first opportunity the prime minister had to pick up the degree. For years before, and six years following, the prime minister has been clear and unyielding. His is a determined, principled, stance that has only escalated over the years. His effusion toward Israel has been nothing short of incredible, as was the memorable Knesset speech. We who were there stood as proud Canadians in a sea of appreciative Israelis.
May the voice that brought us so much pride, bring sense, and courage, to an unsteady, often timid world.