A friendship with few benefits - Macleans.ca

A friendship with few benefits

Harper’s cheerleading for the Jewish state was excessive enough that it verged on the absurd


Jason Ransom/PMO

The epic bromance between Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was on full display this week in the Israeli Knesset, where Harper made a glowing speech about the Jewish state and its hawkish leader. Harper promised Canada would stand with Israel “through fire and water.” He commended Netanyahu on his steely resolve in the face of unjust international pressure and, most controversially, he denounced the phrase “Israeli apartheid” as anti-Semitic. (At this, Arab Israeli MKs Ahmad Tibi and Abu Arar began to heckle the PM and walked out of the room.) Harper’s 250-person delegation to Israel, complete with six cabinet ministers and 21 rabbis, received a royal welcome in the Holy Land. Reaction to its success, however, was cooler at home. After Harper made his speech, social media was full of indignant responses to what many perceived as the PM’s suggestion that any criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic. In fact, Harper was equating selective criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism: He also said, quite explicitly, that “no state is beyond legitimate questioning or criticism.”

Which raises the question: If Harper wanted to convey that one can criticize Israeli government policy and be a fierce friend to the country at the same time, why didn’t he do just that? His exceedingly sunny speech seemed to imply that either a) he had no objection to any Israeli policies, such as settlements in the West Bank, or b) he thought that simply to mention his reservations would amount to an act of disloyalty. His cheerleading for the Jewish state was excessive enough (even for a Jew) that it verged on the absurd.

When comparing the world’s “old anti-Semitism” to its “new anti-Semitism” (defined by the Boycotts, Divestments, and Sanctions movement) he said, “As once Jewish businesses were boycotted, some civil-society leaders today call for a boycott of Israel.” Really? Modern boycotts of Israel do sometimes come from an anti-Semitic place, but they are in no way comparable to Nazi boycotts of Jewish businesses in 1930s Leipzig—or business boycotts of any kind, in any place. The Israel Defense Force is not a helpless Jewish shopkeeper. It’s grotesque when anti-Zionist activists compare Israel’s occupation of the West Bank to the Third Reich’s treatment of the Jews—as they often do—but it is no less grotesque for Israel’s sympathizers to compare a peaceful political boycott of the Zionist government to the overtly racist Nazi policies that preceded the Holocaust. False equivalencies are false both ways.

There is no doubt Harper is a friend of Israel’s, but what kind of friend is he?

Barak Ravid, writing in Israel’s Haaretz newspaper, argues that Harper’s speech “will be remembered mostly for the things he did not say and for the truths he chose to sweep under the carpet.” Among those truths is Israel’s continued settlement expansion into the occupied West Bank (one of the biggest barriers to peace), a policy toward which the Conservative government has been pointedly silent. When asked in Ramallah prior to his historic Knesset address if he would discuss permanent Israeli settlements in the West Bank—something the government of Canada officially opposes—Harper said, “Any attempt to have me, while present in the Middle East, single out the state of Israel for criticism, I will not do.” He may not admit it, but it seems as though the Prime Minister has come to equate any open criticism of Israel’s actions as singular, selective and unfair. Harper appears to be under the impression that, in order to unequivocally support Israel, he must support practically everything it does. As Ravid writes (also, as anyone who watches the show Intervention knows), “This is not how a true friend behaves.”

True friendship is not blind endorsement, something the authors of the Talmud, Judaism’s central Rabbinic text, knew very well. Consider the story of R’Yochanan and Reish Lakish. In it, R’Yochanan, a religious scholar, befriends Reish Lakish, a highway bandit who, it turns out, has a great mind for the Torah. They become very close, devote their whole lives to studying scripture together and seldom agree on anything. (Reish Lakish famously refutes every proposition R’Yochanan makes 24 times). But because of Reish Lakish’s constant objections, R’Yochanan is always able to find the correct answer to whatever scriptural conundrum plagues him. One day, annoyed by a particularly vexing problem in a study session, R’Yochanan insults Reish Lakish, who, in turn, becomes very ill. Out of spite, R’Yochanan refuses to pray for him, and Reish Lakish dies. Sick with grief, R’Yochanan finds a new study partner, a man named R’Elazar who is as complacent and boosterish as Reish Lakish was critical and combative. R’Elazer agrees with absolutely everything R’Yochanan says. In the eyes of his new friend, R’Yochanan can do no wrong. Eventually, in the absence of constructive criticism, R’Yochanan goes mad and dies.

Israel doesn’t need a cheerleader. It needs a friend like Reish Lakish.


A friendship with few benefits

  1. Or a more basic question, why is Semitism, as in demanding that the world agree that Israel is a Jewish state, any more acceptable than anti-Semitism?

    • You mean anti-Zionism.

    • Anti-Semitism isn’t necessarily criticism of Israel (certain types of criticisms of Israel are anti-Semitic though) – it’s hatred/discrimination against Jews (one of many Semitic groups admittedly, but the term has come to exclusively refer to anti-Judaic hatred).

      And to answer your question, to deny that Israel is a state, and a Jewish state at that, would be to brazenly deny the truth. There is a Jewish state called Israel. If you don’t believe it is Jewish, well beyond the demographic and socioculture/economic de facto realities, check out its declaration of independence – http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/History/Dec_of_Indep.html
      Now whether you believe the state’s actions are acceptable, or even that the state itself is legitimate, is a different issue altogether.

  2. The reason the right-wing corporate/military owned government
    in Israel
    gets away with murder is because everyone is so scared of being called an
    anti-Semite. I’m not anti-Semite; I’m anti-murder.

    Support for Israel
    equals support for war crimes against Palestine. Stop Apartheid Israel. Free Gaza.

    h ttp://youtu.be/LLrjYIMCl_c


    • Ahhh….I see the kind of folks Harper was talking about stopped by for a visit.
      Howdy Nadine……have you finished reading your “protocols” synopsis yet?

  3. Canada gets absolutely nothing out of supporting Israel. Neither does the US. No benefits at all. Yet the US in particular pours in money and weapons. Harper has just become a ‘useful idiot’ in front of the whole world.

    It’s all aboul religion. No, not oil, not ‘freedom and democracy’…..religion

    There are ‘christians’ who believe that Jews must return to Israel, be attacked by Muslims so that ‘christians’ can wipe out the Muslims…..and that Jews will be so grateful they’ll convert to Christianity…..and voila Jesus will return.

    This is what our foreign policy is running on. ‘End Times’ crap. Kidjanot.

    • So does Obama believe in “End Times” crap?

      • Noop….normal people don’t ya know

      • It doesn’took like he’s letting it effect his responsibilities as president. Which is pretty much all we can expect of him.

    • Not nothing. Israel is not evil. We should move away from this “Jewish” state idea and focus on making it a safe country for nationals and vistors of all stripes.

      • We get oil from the Saudis….which is why they’ve been protected. We get nothing from Israel.

        Israel announced it was a ‘Jewish state’….it certainly doesn’t want to become just a tourist site.

    • Although religion does have a role in this, it’s primarily in the people settling the West Bank, not the fundamentalist/born again Christians in the US. How do we know this? Well, that demographic votes overwhelmingly for the Republicans, yet the Democrats continue with more-or-less the same policies. So while I do think that religion plays a role, it’s a weak explanation for the US’s foreign policy.

      Their support starts to make a lot more sense when you do some research and find out that, lo and behold, the US DOES get something out of it’s support for Israel. They give them billions of dollars a year to spend on military procurement. Guess which country’s weapons manufacturers they’re mandated to buy them from? If you guessed the US, you’re right!

      So there’s a huge, powerful group interest in the US that gets to appropriate billions of US tax dollars for themselves under the guise of aid to Israel. And, of course, they in turn help bankroll both parties’ election campaigns.

      Electoral politics are a much more important aspect of the Israeli right-wing’s support for settlers in the West Bank, but that’s a story for another time.

      With regard to the CPC’s absurd support for Israel’s current government and it’s policies, I completely agree with the article – we don’t get much of anything out of it. However, the CPC’s support for Israel has helped them convert important ridings with high Jewish demographics to their party, which might explain why they do it. When a party has to cut out a narrow electoral majority, they start pandering to targeted groups to get key seats. I think that’s what’s happening here, and I don’t think they give a crap if our country looks foolish on the international stage as a result.

      • Oh I think it’s well known that money is heavily involved ….however the US doesn’t do this much for any other country.

        As to us….there are more Muslims than Jews in Canada so this is a vote-losing move on Harp’s part.

      • Yes, JoeC…..because as everyone knows……when it comes to Jews,
        It’s all about the money…..right?

  4. its easy to write an article in canada, why dont you try visiting isreal! oh wait u werent invited (that explains the article)

    • So only the Harper toadies and sycophants who are traveling to Israel (note the correct spelling, argos03) on the taxpayers’ dime are qualified to comment on this issue?

      • No, I think full-time obsessive Harper haters who have no life are allowed to as well. That’s what makes democracy so vibrant.

        • Or even just intelligent articulate people who have solid fact based reasons, supported by evidence…

          • Well, gayle…..that pretty much explains why you shouldn’t be posting about it.
            the only articulate and intelligent person who has talked about Israel lately….is Harper.
            You just didn’t like what he had to say.

          • So it follows that anyone who didn’t like what he said must be…inarticulate and unintelligent…got that!

        • That’s exactly opposite to your kindred spirit’s inference above. Can’t you Harper fanboys get your stories straight?

          • I voted Liberal last election, Smart Guy, and likely will next election. If that’s all you’ve got, you’re lame.

          • Uh-oh,bad news for you, then You’ve apparently had a relapse.

          • You voted for Mr Just vistin’ and only in it for himself Iggy? You must a out of your freaking…oh wait. I think i got my tps mixed up.
            Let’s start again…

          • No need to get any “stories” straight…..
            We have about 4000 years of actual History on our side.
            You just have the crap you picked up from the NDP, or from Rabble.

          • Then start singing from the same hymn book. You wanna’-be Zionists are contradicting each other in this thread.

    • It’s easy to write an article from Canada; why don’t you try visiting Israel? Oh, wait: you weren’t invited (that explains the article).

      There, now pay attention to the corrections, and try harder next time. I hope you aren’t a product of our public school system in Canada.

      • im glad ur a grammar pro. i can see it wasnt that hard to read. i dont plan on reviewing a comment for 3 hours. at least i got drones like you to make corrections for me!

        • Yawn

  5. The Harper haters are out in force; It must be Wednesday.

    • And on a Monday, I’m gonna hate him
      And on a Tuesday, I’m gonna haaate him
      And on a Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, gonna haaaate him…

      Hey, I wonder if Harper ever sings that song to his man crushes?

    • This comment was deleted.

      • Not all idiots vote CPC. But we can be pretty sure all idiots called James R.Halifax do.

  6. I hear Harper visited the place where Jesus gave The Sermon on the Mount.

    I wish he had just stayed home and read it. We would all be better off.

  7. “Which raises the question: If Harper wanted to convey that one can
    criticize Israeli government policy and be a fierce friend to the
    country at the same time, why didn’t he do just that? His exceedingly
    sunny speech seemed to imply that either a) he had no objection to any
    Israeli policies, such as settlements in the West Bank, or b) he thought
    that simply to mention his reservations would amount to an act of
    disloyalty. His cheerleading for the Jewish state was excessive enough
    (even for a Jew) that it verged on the absurd.”

    Finally someone is using the word that comes to my mind for Harper’s performance – absurd. Nothing showed this any more then the news conference where Harper refused to single out[ what the hell does that even mean in this context?] Israel; and as if they were a tag team, Netanyahu provides the words that Harper says wont ever pass his lips. Netanyahu actually made a nuanced argument as to why the settlement question isn’t the real fly in the ointment. Why couldn’t Harper do that? Does he not know how to use qualifiers and the value of little word like but? It looked surreal and silly to me to see the PM insist on being mute and his host actually speak the words and provide the balance context he couldn’t. Truly bizarre.

    Good article Emma. Far superior to the stuff Coyne wrote. Although he did have the grace to concede Harper’s new anti semitism was a bit over the top. No mention of false equivalencies from him. Not one of Andrew’s better efforts.
    Doug Saunders ‏@DougSaunders Jan 21

    @RayHeard This, by supporting the Israeli people against worst admin instincts, was an example of defending Israel: http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2013/03/21/remarks-president-barack-obama-people-israel
    Saunders rebuttal as to how you can both be Israel’s friend and still criticize constructively.[ well it’s Obama’s actually]

    • He is ridiculous and it is amazing that more Canadians didn’t see it from the outset. We have very little to be proud about these days given the perfecta of Harper, Ford and Bieber stomping the world’s respect for us. We were once seen as a nation of honest brokers. Now we’re the laughing stock.

  8. Interesting how this columnist also quotes the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, the most left-wing newspaper in Israel. Harper answered the question himself: “Because it is the right thing to do!!” Can’t say it better than that! Do you want him to use economic filters to come up with a bland fence-sitting neutrality? Interesting how in Canada, and the west for that matter, the people who campaign for feminism, for equal marriage rights, etc. – routinely condemni the only country in the Middle East where this happens.

    • Ok, it’s just so hard to keep up with the list of sources that the right wing deems unacceptable. Now Haaretz is out, I guess.

      Is there a compiled list somewhere? It’s just getting too long to keep track of.

      • This comment was deleted.

        • They do? Seriously? Who’s on that list?

          • Scum, er sun news. Haaretz and sun are obviously of equal stature. Some guy was just assuring me that the Guardian is obviously far far left…yeesh.

  9. bah.
    Take comfort in the fact that israel named a mosquito infested swamp after him; they’re not fools, you know.

  10. I find it odd that none of the macleans journos have written a word about the weirdest thing of all about Harper’s performance. It’s all over twitter[ and it had me puzzled before i checked twitter] I’m talking about the beatles number he chose to serenade Netanyahu with…hey jude!..
    Jude is i’m fairly sure German for Jew. I imagine a fair number of Israelis still speak some German. Was no one offended even a tad?
    It was beyond bizarre to choose that song.But apparently it isn’t the first time he’s performed it before a jewish audience.

    • Yet another outrageous atrocity committed by Harper! This is even worse than the communion wafer thingy.

      • It isn’t up to me to say this was offensive if the Jewish community are fine with it. You don’t find it odd to choose that particular song, not even insensitive ?

        • The name “Jude”, as referenced in the song, is a relatively common one (see: Jude Law, British actor). The original meaning of the name is “praised one.”
          Some of you people are genuinely stupid. Oy Vey!

          • Plus the fact that the German word is pronounced Jud eh. Oy vey X 2!

          • Jeez,. i guess my German spouse should learn some German then.

          • Yes, that would be good. For Jew pronounciation in German, go here and learn something.
            Hey “you-de” just doesn’t sound right! But nice try on the Harper = Nazi play!

          • I don’t know where you got your info genius, but the etymology of Jude in English is: http://www.behindthename.com/name/jude

            It is hardly common. And my point, if you missed it was: was anyone thinking before choosing this song to perform before an Jewish audience that may not have a handy reference to English etymological names. Particularly when it does mean Jew in German.

          • Yes, even though the song is actually addressed to young Julian Lennon, who’s about as Jewish as Pat Boone.

          • Yes and i’m sure lots of folks sitting in the audience were able to easily grasp the distinction.I’m not suggesting it was a deliberate oversight – just an odd one considering the audience.
            Is that a fact. That song must have been written when Julian was how old? I did try briefly to find out something about the song. Do you have a source for this?

          • The original McCartney lyric was “Hey, Jules” and it was written for Julian Lennon — Wikipedia says McCartney wrote it to comfort young Julian during his parent’s divorce, which sounds right, timewise.

          • Oh, i forgot about wiki:)

            I guess it is slightly embarrassing to be a Brit and not know this stuff.

          • Good heavens: surely you are not expected to know every obscure bit of pop culture emanating from your country of birth!

            I knew that it was originally “Hey, Jules” and written for Julian, but until I read that wiki, I didn’t know the specific circumstance under which McCartney wrote it (ie the divorce) but as I said above, the timing of that song is right for that.

          • Kcm2…this is much ado about nothing. Anyone who is in anyway interested would know that Paul McCartney wrote the song for Julian Lennon. “Jude” was a pet name for Julian. You are English and you don’t know that???? Come on!! I know you hate Harper but come on!

          • I guess you’re right since no one in the MSM is making a deal of it. I did see it on twitter and have no idea if it is still topical.[ very much doubt it on twitter, that was yesterday after all]
            I’m Scots actually[by birth] And no i did not know that fact. Love the beatles as much as the next guy, but being aware of the origin of everyone of their hits or lyrics isn’t a high priority for me. I can’t imagine many people in the audience were aware either…So i guess it comes down to how tuned in to popular culture your average Israeli right wing politician is.

  11. The Semitic peoples include both Jews and Palestinians. Although “anti-Semitic” is often interpreted to mean “anti-Jewish,” this is not accurate. Being “anti-Palestinian” is also “anti-Semitic.”

  12. “…few benefits for Harper…” -what an understatement. It really means few benefits for Canada.

    lol – Harper and Netanyahu – that is like a minnow trying to make a “reasonable” deal with a Shark. I don’t care what they sign together.
    We are gonna get nothing but “pain” out this.

    • Stephen likes to inflict pain on us, and he’s really good at it. He believes it’s our cross to bear.

  13. This Harper guy is something else. What a fascist low life. I’m a Canadian and completely embarrassed with the way our Government is handling Israel. John Baird is every bit as bad and they should both be in jail. Israel is an Aparteid State. End of story

  14. How very chick is this new anti-Jewish rhetoric masquerading as “journalism” in todays media, eh?

    • So you think that someone who isn’t a cheerleader for Israel is anti-Jewish? Give me a break! People who think as you do are a huge problem. Believe it or not, it’s possible to support the state of Israel without approving of everything it does. Someone who disapproves of an action Israel takes is not necessarily anti-Jewish or anti-Semitic, although far too many people seem unable to make that distinction.
      (BTW the word is spelled chic)

  15. smarmy
    1.unctuous, ingratiating, slick, oily, greasy, obsequious, sycophantic, fawning;

  16. Ah, true love. I think a slow passionate peck is in order.

  17. Odd isn’t it……
    An article meant to discredit Harpers visit – written by someone who would ONLY be safe in the Middle East, if she was in Israel. In every country surrounding Israel….the author would be killed simply for being who she is. (Doublethink much?)
    For the record, one does not pick ones friends, simply in the expectation of getting something material in return, though obviously, that does not include anyone in the Liberal party.
    Also, the settlements have NOTHING to do with the problems in the middle east, as Isael has been repeatedly attacked before any settlements were even built.
    I think the author is just regurgitating the garbage she picked up a journo school….or she spends too much time on Rabble.ca. / CBC / BBC….or the parliamentary Press gallery.

    • “In every country surrounding Israel….the author would be killed simply for being who she is.”

      There are two choices here: You are either an idiot or a liar.
      Which is it?

      • Tell me which Muslim Country around Israel, that Emma would be safe in?
        (Emma….is that you?)

  18. Is anyone here aware of the fact that there has been enough foreign aid handed over to the Palestinian people in the last 30 years to cover the entire Gaza region in five dollar bills, 20 deep. I’m not exaggerating here. In spite of that, the Palestinians are the most heavily armed population on the face of the planet. They spend the GD milk money- and the egg money and the bread money and the meat money and the toilet paper money on guns and ammo. So much small arms ammunition flows into Gaza every year its a wonder that it doesn’t simply sink into the Mediterranean, yet when the toilet overflows they have to call in a plumber from Tel Aviv, because the palestinians are so wrapped up in their running gunfight with the Jews they can’t function.

  19. Now that $66 million has given to the Palestinians + $105 million doled out to aid Arabs in Jordan C/O the Canadian taxpayers, we are look forward to the end of terrorists attacking The Jewish State.

    Yah right.

  20. we got a panda bear, now, will it be a camel?