Israel has just lost its best political friend in the world.
Is Canada’s new prime minister savvy enough to maintain a strong relationship with the Jewish state? Or will Justin Trudeau’s “sunny ways” mean a return to the days when Canada tried so hard to be everyone’s best friend that we failed to take a stand against evil?
Stephen Harper had his flaws as a leader and as a prime minister. But he got it right when it came to Israel.
He didn’t agree with every Israeli policy. But, faced with a democratic state fighting for its very existence, surrounded by nations and terror organizations dedicated to wipe it off the map, he was clear about what Canada had to do.
We had to stand with Israel, loudly and proudly.
“Canada supports Israel because it is right to do so,” he told the Israeli Knesset in January 2014. “This is a very Canadian trait, to do something for no reason other than it is right, even when no immediate reward for, or threat to, ourselves is evident.”
Harper recognized that staying neutral, making nice with terror regimes or relying on the deeply flawed United Nations (UN) to resolve the Israel-Palestinian crisis never worked. Period.
More important, Canada’s old role as an “honest broker” in international relations often meant treating nations known to abuse human rights with respect and legitimacy they didn’t deserve.
Harper knew that refusing to take a stand against terror and the promotion of genocide was tantamount to supporting these behaviours. As American theologian Harvey Cox said, “Not to decide is to decide.”
Early signs indicate that Trudeau embraces a return to the classic Liberal approach to Israel and terrorism: Pledge support for Israel, condemn anti-Semitism and terrorism on paper, but don’t do anything that will rock the international boat or anger the UN.
Among Trudeau’s first actions within 24 hours of his overwhelming election victory was informing U.S. President Barack Obama that Canada will pull out of the U.S.-led bombing campaign against ISIS.
Trudeau wants Canada to move back to its traditional role as an active player in multilateral institutions, including the UN.
Now, those of us of a certain age, at least those who were raised as non-Jews, have a sense of nostalgia for rhe UN we grew up with, or at least the ideals of the UN of old.
But the UN today is not just an ineffectual organization. It is a corrupt body that spends more time, energy and paperwork attacking Israel than it does resolving conflicts. Until the Harper regime, Canada’s traditional role at the UN was to abstain in votes against Israel, rather than take a principled stand.
The UN Human Rights Council, comprising some of the most oppressive regimes in the world, is little more than a joke – albeit one whose punchline invariably involves censuring Israel.
It has a High Commission for Refugees to protect refugees and resolve refugee issues throughout the world – except in the Palestinian territories.
The Palestinians have their very own UN body, the United Nationals Reliefs and Works Agency (UNRWA).
The world should be helping Palestinians, whose own leaders line their pockets with foreign aid, pay exorbitant salaries to terrorists in Israeli prisons, and eschew peace education in favour of terror promotion.
But maintaining and funding an agency that grants refugee status to every descendant of Palestinians displaced in the 1948 War of Independence – a war started by Israel’s Arab neighbours – is not helping anyone.
It defines Palestinians as victims for life, and encourages the impossible dream that, one day, they will return to the homes they abandoned – at the behest of Arab leaders – in Tel Aviv, Haifa, Tiberias and other Israeli cities that will never be under Palestinian rule in any future peace deal.
Trudeau is smart, eloquent and charismatic. He has inspired Canadian voters in a way that has not been seen in decades. His policies on the environment and social reform, among others, are progressive and welcome.
But he can’t go back to classic Liberal ways when it comes to Israel.
If he really wants Canadian values reflected on the world stage, Trudeau should use his remarkable charm and communications skills to promote change at organizations like the UN.
And those same qualities could be used to inspire other world leaders to support Israel with actions, not abstentions.
Why? Because doing the right thing is as “sunny” – and Canadian – as it gets.
For more commentary on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau:
From the Editor by Michael Regenstreif – Canada’s strong friendship with Israel will endure under Trudeau
Ideas and Impressions by Jason Moscovitz – Justin Trudeau was the ‘Wayne Gretzky’ of the election campaign
Guest column by Rabbi Michael Goldstein – Building ties between Canadian Jewry and the new prime minister