The Globe and Mail
Fri 09 May 2008
Section: National News
Byline: Brian Laghi And Sarah Hoida
Dateline: OTTAWA, MONTREAL
OTTAWA, MONTREAL — Prime Minister Stephen Harper used the 60th anniversary of Israel’s founding yesterday to defend it against regimes who hate the Jewish people and their state. In some of his firmest language yet, the Prime Minister said Canada’s support for Israel is unshakeable as Israel continues to face intimidation from other nations.
"Unfortunately, Israel at 60 remains a country under threat – threatened by those groups and regimes who deny to this day its right to exist," Mr. Harper said in a prepared text to be delivered at a Toronto celebration marking the anniversary.
"And why? Make no mistake, look beyond the thinly veiled rationalizations: Because they hate Israel, just as they hate the Jewish people.
"Our government believes that those who threaten Israel also threaten Canada. " Mr. Harper is scheduled to visit Israel next month. He said in his speech that, although he has long wanted to visit the country, his recent trip to Auschwitz persuaded him that now was the time to go. The Harper government has been a strong supporter of Israel and is seen to have stepped up Canadian backing since it took over from the Liberals in 2006.
Politicians of different stripes reacted yesterday to comments made to The Globe this week by Israeli ambassador Alan Baker suggesting Canada’s growing Muslim population will make it less friendly toward Israel. Two federal politicians attending celebrations for Israel’s 60th anniversary in Montreal hailed Canada’s diversity. "Canadians strive to build a country where Muslim people, Arab people and Jewish people show the rest of the world that we are able to build peace and friendship between us and we welcome everyone who has this goodwill," Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion said.
Mr. Dion said Mr. Baker’s comments were inappropriate and, to highlight positive relations between Jews and Arabs in Canada, asked, "Who worked hardest for Maher Arar and today for Omar Khadr? It was [MP] Irwin Cotler."
Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day also responded, saying that Canada is proud of its heritage. "We are a multicultural nation; we are proud of the fact that we are made up and built from people from all countries, including the Jewish people."
Though Canada is in the minority of countries supporting Israel at the UN, Mr. Baker talked about a possible Middle East policy shift and used France as an example where Muslims have an influence on the foreign policy of their adopted country.
Mr. Baker also pointed to demonstrations against Israeli officials in recent years as evidence of a change in the population’s feelings toward Israel.
In 2004, former Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak was prevented from speaking at Concordia University in Montreal, because of protests outside the school.
"What I’m seeing is that it’s developing into a standard practice, to the extent that I would say that it’s violating the norms of academic behaviour in institutions. They’re trying to prevent somebody from speaking. Now that violates Canadian values," Mr. Baker said.
In a press release yesterday, the Canadian Arab Federation urged the Canadian government to rebuke Mr. Baker for his comments, saying that the ambassador has a history of attacking people who are critical of Israel’s human- rights record.
"Our government should remind Mr. Baker of Canada’s values that do not tolerate or practise discrimination against its citizens because of their religious affiliation or ethnicity as is the case with Israel."