JERUSALEM – Blaming Israel for the problems of the Middle East or demanding boycotts against the Jewish state comprise nothing more than a new form of anti-Semitism, says Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
Harper made the remarks to the Knesset, becoming the first Canadian prime minister ever to speak directly to the assembled members of the Israeli parliament.
But while the speech drew plenty of sustained applause, at least one Arab member briefly tried to shout Harper down before angrily storming out of the chamber when the prime minister spoke of what he called “the twisted logic” of calling Israel an apartheid state.
“We have witnessed, in recent years, the mutation of the old disease of anti-Semitism and the emergence of a new strain,” Harper said.
He said criticism of Israeli government policy isn’t anti-Semitic, but criticism which only targets Israel while ignoring violence and oppression in its neighbours is unacceptable.
“It is, thus, a Canadian tradition to stand for what is principled and just, regardless of whether it is convenient or popular,” Harper said. “But, I would argue, support today for the Jewish state of Israel is more than a moral imperative. It is also of strategic importance, also a matter of our own, long-term interests.”
Harper said the forces that have threatened Israel “every single day of its existence” threaten all countries, “as 9-11 graphically showed us.”
The prime minister said he refuses to single out Israel for criticism, saying it is easy to follow the international crowd and focus only on that one country.
That approach is both weak and wrong, he said.
Harper said Canada holds that Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state is absolute and that it would be quick to welcome a new sovereign Palestinian state if its leaders choose democracy and peace.
“Just as we unequivocally support Israel’s right of self-defence, so too Canada has long supported a just and secure future for the Palestinian people” Harper said
“And, I believe, we share with Israel a sincere hope that the Palestinian people and their leaders will choose a viable, democratic, Palestinian state, committed to living peacefully alongside the Jewish state of Israel.”
Harper also pledged solidarity with Israel on Iran, saying it will keep sanctions in place and steadfastly work to oppose Tehran’s pursuit of a nuclear weapon.
His promise to maintain those sanctions drew one of the loudest and longest of several standing ovations from the assembled members.