Prime Minister Stephen Harper arrives in Israel on inaugural Middle East visit


TEL AVIV, Israel – Prime Minister Stephen Harper has arrived in Israel to kick off his inaugural visit to the Middle East.

Harper and a sizable entourage landed in Tel Aviv under sunny skies at Ben Gurion International Airport.

He and his wife, Laureen, were to be greeted by Avigdor Lieberman, Israel’s foreign affairs minister, and by Vivian Bercovici, Canada’s ambassador-designate to the Jewish state.

They will travel by motorcade to Jerusalem, where a welcoming ceremony will be held at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office later today.

Harper will address Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, on Monday, making history as the first Canadian prime minister to do so. It will be the prime minister’s first visit to Israel since winning power in 2006.

Spokesman Jason MacDonald says Harper will promote commercial relations, as well as peace and security in the region, when he meets Israeli leaders and, later in the week, the King of Jordan.

Harper is a passionate supporter of Israel and is expected to receive a glowing reception from Israeli leaders.

“We have been challenged many times in the region, by Iran, by Syria, by the attacks of terrorists, and each time he presents his position and we feel it’s the right position; it’s not a partisan position,” Israel’s ambassador to Canada, Rafael Barak, said in an interview from Jerusalem in the days leading up to the visit.

“To see citizens shelled by missiles, you have to decide who is right and who is not right … he was not shy to say this in public, this is the most important element.”

Harper’s visit is getting considerable attention in Israel’s media, in some cases days before his arrival. Harper “has emerged as a courageous global voice of principle about Jews and Israel,” said an editorial posted on Thursday on the Jerusalem Post website.

The prime minister has lots of company on his flight over — he’s taking six cabinet ministers and at least 30 business people and community leaders who will take part in business meetings and cultural events during the trip.

Another passenger on the plane was Sen. Irving Gerstein, the Conservative party’s chief fundraiser who became caught up in the Senate expenses scandal last year after RCMP court documents suggested he may have tried to influence the outcome of an audit into Sen. Mike Duffy, something Gerstein has never commented on.

MacDonald says air travel and some accommodation costs will be paid out of government coffers, although full details of the final tally are not yet available.

Media organizations travelling with the prime minister are paying $8,000 a head, a pricetag that includes ground transport and access to communication facilities.

During his eight years in power, Harper has shifted his government’s Middle East policy decidedly in favour of the Jewish state, marking what has been widely viewed as a departure from Canada’s so-called honest broker position in the troubled region.

In the summer of the 2006, while Israeli warplanes were pounding Lebanon after Hezbollah militants kidnapped two Israeli soldiers, Harper characterized the response as “measured.”

That comment angered Canadians of Arab and Muslim descent, and was widely viewed by analysts as marking a significant shift away from Canada’s traditional role in the Middle East.

Since then, Conservative support has manifested itself in myriad ways, including Canada’s vocal opposition against the Palestinian bid for statehood recognition at the United Nations. Canada was one of only nine countries to vote against the Palestinian efforts.

Harper has also forged a close relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who routinely refers to “Stephen” as a true friend of Israel.

Shimon Fogel, head of the Centre for Jewish and Israel Affairs, says the prime minister will likely provide counsel to the Israelis during his visit.

“Just based on the conversations I’ve had with Canadians over the past few weeks, I suspect the prime minister is going to provide observations and advice on some of the challenges that Israel faces,” said Fogel.

“Harper can give perspective from a North American, European viewing of things. He can alert them to issues they should be sensitive to.”

Harper’s unwavering support of Israel was on full display on the eve of the trip on Friday, when his spokesman sparred with reporters over Canada’s policy towards Israeli settlements in Palestinian territory.

MacDonald wouldn’t say whether Harper endorsed the policy statement on the Foreign Affairs Department website that denounces the settlements as breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

The policy states: “As referred to in UN Security Council Resolutions 446 and 465, Israeli settlements in the occupied territories are a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention. The settlements also constitute a serious obstacle to achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace.”

When pressed on how Harper views the settlement issue, MacDonald replied: “Canadian policy is what the prime minister has articulated, which is that we want and support a two-state solution. It has to be arrived at through negotiations. And unilateral action is not going to help that.”


Prime Minister Stephen Harper arrives in Israel on inaugural Middle East visit

    • So his beliefs are influencing what he does…Not very surprising. Who’s don’t? Of course, only because it is Israel does the “R” word come up, any other country and it wouldn’t even be an issue…Harper is Christian, and he is bringing Jewish Rabbis with him to show respect to the Jewish Nation. Every person needs to take a stance on something, religious or not religious people still have beliefs. I think it’s refreshing that someone is taking a side on a serious issue like Israel, instead of just sitting on the fence too afraid to say anything. You said his religion is interfering with his job…That implies that you think that his religion is dictating to him what to do, and that he has not thought it through or reached any of his own conclusions. I am quite certain that Christianity does not require anyone to unquestioningly support Israel or bring big delegations for visits. But, of all the nations in the world, I think Israel is definitely worthy of some respect, considering people from all over the world uprooted their lives to immigrate back there, they fought a war against all odds, took back their country against multiple nations that wanted to annihilate them with no practical way of making ammunition, survived the holocaust, brought back a dead language to a spoken language…I mean, that is some seriously inspirational teamwork…Besides all that, Israel is an important place in the world and has always been the center of political issues…All in all, Harper’s religion is simply not interfering with him doing his job, because his religion makes no demands for him to do what he is doing. He is clearly coming to his conclusions and decisions by weighing the issues and acting accordingly…Good job Steven Harper, Israel is important, treat it with importance!!

      • Canada’s foreign policy should be reasoned and rational…and good for the nation…..not one man’s religion.

  1. So taxpayers are paying for 30 wealthy business execs to take this junket.
    Fife said this was not “normal” practice as claimed by the PM, and that under Chretien these fat cats paid their own way. What’s the truth?
    I would like to see an enterprising reporter list the annual pay of each of the executives who have waddled up to the trough for this excursion.

  2. The Steven Harper Magical Vanity Tour(whats magical about it is, it makes more taxpayers money disappear) ! This is strictly a political vanity tour(photo op)on the taxpayers dime and nothing more. And finally, i get so confused whenever i see Harper arriving on that plane, im not sure whether he is representing Canada, or the US, UK, or France. you can put as many maple leafs you want on this plane and it still dosnt look like a plane that represents our country.

    • Via David Akin, there’s a Hebrew newspaper with a large pic of Harper and headline – ‘Our Man in North America!’. He’s posted the list – I see Stockwell Day and his lovely wife are along for the ride.

  3. Part of his ‘legacy’, he’ll step down before this 3rd term is finished with a fresh new scandal. Or an old one come back to haunt him.

  4. Leftist Mental Disorder is the theme of this thread.

  5. If Steven Harper would have lived all his life as a Palestinian in the occupied territory, then he probably would have appreciated what an apartheid-state entails. Steven Harper did not speak for all Canadians, as his reductionist mental shortcomings did not only disgraced but also constituted an insult on all peace loving and just minded Canadians.

    Steven Harper sounded like a Fascist who justified the superiority of Arian race and diminished all what is human, and just about other races. Steven Harper would have made a great Nazi because in his humanity and calculus there are inferior and superior systems of humanity; and he choses the superior system of humanity. Well, this seems kind of understandable because in his roots, his ancestors in Canada shared the same history as the state of Israel; they both have taken the land from their natives inhabitants away, denigrated them, forced them out of their land, killed them, and imposed their will on them. To date the Native Canadian’s are suffering from the past-apartheid-state of Canada. Well, its not ironic that he speaks with such unconditional support for the state of Israel.

    I would have advised Harper to take the following message from the Canadians to both; Israeli’s and Palestinians: peace and security are a shared blanket for both the Israeli’s and the Palestinians; there is no avoidance in sharing the blanket and that Canada will be a neutral ally/partner for peace and a sustainable resolution.