“The indiscriminate rocket attacks from Gaza on Israel are terrorist acts, for which there is no justification,” the nation’s leader said this week. “It is evident that Hamas is deliberately using human shields to further terror in the region.” He added, “Failure by the international community to condemn these reprehensible actions would encourage these terrorists to continue their appalling actions,” saying that his nation “calls on its allies and partners to recognize that these terrorist acts are unacceptable and that solidarity with Israel is the best way of stopping the conflict.”
The nation: Canada. The leader: Prime Minister Stephen Harper. The message: refreshingly principled. Other global leaders who call themselves allies of Israel and opponents of terror should take note.
Harper, who is serving his third term in office, is that rare leader who doesn’t condition his support for Israel on the vagaries of public opinion, doesn’t singularly lecture the Jewish state about proportional responses, and doesn’t opt for moral relativism between terrorist attack and Israeli response. He has maintained his principles since taking office, and his government has reflected them from the start. He cut funds for the Palestinians after Hamas won parliamentary elections in 2006 – Harper’s first year as prime minister – and he supported Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in response to Hezbollah’s terror. He visited Israel in January, received an honorary degree from Tel Aviv University, became the first Canadian prime minister to address the Knesset, and declared that “Canada supports Israel because it is right to do so.”
Harper derives no big political benefit at home for his Israel backing. His nation is about two-thirds Christian, about 3 percent Muslim, and less than 1 percent Jewish. Nor does it win him plaudits at the United Nations and other global bodies, where Israel-bashing is both persistent and fashionable.
That Harper issued the statement cited above this past Sunday is significant, for it further proves that he’s willing to stand alone, rather than mirror the predictable shifts in conventional wisdom. After all, global responses to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict follow a longstanding pattern. At first, leaders make clear that the Jewish state has the right to defend itself. As Israel does so, the terrorists fight back while embedding their fighters among civilian populations to make the loss of innocent life inevitable. As deaths mount, global leaders lose their focus, raise concerns about Israel’s response, and lapse into the morally vacuous language of “cycles of violence.” That Israel seeks to avoid civilian deaths at home and abroad while the terrorists aim to create them in both places is increasingly forgotten.
Contrast, for instance, Harper’s statement of Sunday and the various remarks by President Obama and his team in recent days. After the two paragraphs cited above, Harper had this to say: “Canada is unequivocally behind Israel. We support its right to defend itself, by itself, against these terror attacks, and urge Hamas to immediately cease their indiscriminate attacks on innocent Israeli civilians. Canada reiterates its call for the Palestinian government to disarm Hamas and other Palestinian terrorist groups operating in Gaza, including the Iranian proxy, Palestinian Islamic Jihad.”
Thus, from Harper, we have no caveats, no shared responsibility for the terrorist attacks on innocent civilians.
To be sure, Obama has criticized Hamas for causing civilian losses on both sides and backed Israel’s right to defend itself. So, too, have his spokespeople at the White House and State Department. Nevertheless, in a White House statement after Obama spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday, he “expressed concern about the risk of further escalation and emphasized the need for all sides to do everything they can to protect the lives of civilians and restore calm.” Meanwhile, as Israel was launching “Operation Protective Edge,” Obama’s White House Coordinator for the Middle East, North Africa, and the Gulf Region, Philip Gordon, was in Tel Aviv, warning Israel that it must make peace because it “cannot maintain military control of another people indefinitely.” Thus, with terrorists launching rockets at Israeli civilians and a remarkably patient Israel finally responding, Obama and his team call on both sides to protect innocent life and for Israel to make peace.
So what explains Harper’s unyielding support for Israel? Some suggest that his Zionism derives from his Christian faith, while others believe that he inherited a deep-seated hatred of totalitarianism from his father, a student of history. Maybe, however, the answer is simpler. Maybe – just maybe – Harper is that refreshingly rare politician with a commitment to values, a desire to stand on principle and a thick enough skin to withstand the slings and arrows that come his way.
Lawrence J. Haas, former communications director for Vice President Al Gore, is a senior fellow at the American Foreign Policy Council.