I started writing this blog post soon after Prime Minster Harper’s recent trip to Israel, but got distracted. I am now picking up the thread because of recent events, including Harper’s appalling response to the situation in the Crimea in comparing Putin and Hitler, and the announcement of a very large sale of armoured vehicles [read tanks] to Saudi Arabia. Both cast new light on the Israel trip.
My initial reaction to that trip, and the stage management that attended it, was simply to marvel at the lengths to which our Prime Minister will go to garner the support of the Jewish community; and to lament the extent to which the tactic is working. I know many Canadian Jews support his conservative government on the basis of his pro-Israel stance alone.
No, I am not going to wade into the turbulent waters surrounding the current policies of the Israeli State. Rather, my purpose is to speak to those who support the Harper government because of its full-throated support for those policies to explain why I believe that support is ill-founded.
To begin with there is the problem of the Prime Minister’s domestic agenda, which is terrible by any rational, let alone humane, standard. He (or his cabinet colleagues) have weakened federal environmental regulation, done nothing meaningful to address climate change, disparaged environmentalists (going so far as to accuse them of eco-terrorism), and muzzled government scientists to keep Canadians uninformed about the environmental impacts of oil, gas and other resource projects.
The Harper government has also abandoned its obligation to work with the provinces to improve medicare and has refused to even meet with provincial health ministers. His government is wasting the wealth of the nation on military ships, planes and armaments that will do nothing to make Canadians more secure in the world.
He has waged a war on democratic processes and institutions — proroguing parliament for parochial political purposes, defunding the Court Challenges Program that supported the advancement of Charter equality rights, and turning question period into a grotesque farce. He has undermined, and is now seeking to undo the fundamental rights of working people to join unions and bargain collectively. Most recently there is the Fair Elections Act, which is anything but.
Nevertheless, there are those who argue that Harper’s support for Israel eclipses the failures of his domestic policy agenda. But the benefits of that support may be greatly overestimated given the damage Harper has caused to Canada’s international reputation. His government distinguished itself by repudiating its commitment under the Kyoto Convention to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, it was isolated on the question of water as a human right, and is reported to be blocking key proposals related to the prevention of sexual violence at the United Nations Human Rights Council. Its interventions in the Middle East have been highly provocative, adding fuel to a fire that already threatens to burn out of control. Despite intense lobbying, it isn’t surprising that Canada failed to gain a seat on the United Nations Security Council.
Mr. Harper has also transformed Canada’s status as a leading peacekeeping nation into a second-string military power willing to join in ill-conceived and failed military misadventures. In this vein, consider the Government’s overblown and dangerous rhetoric comparing Putin’s actions in the Crimea with those of Germany in annexing the Sudetenland, Czechoslovakia, in 1938. Not only are such statements incendiary, but comparing Putin with Hitler belies any notion that Mr. Harper understands Nazi history, and in fact diminishes the importance of the Holocaust.
There is also the curious timing of Mr. Harper’s trip to Israel in light of the subsequent announcement of a major sale of armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia — according to the government one of the biggest in history. Knowing the (then-unannounced) deal was looming, the question is whether Mr. Harper engineered, or at least timed the trip to Israel as a way to head off criticism of the arms sale to an extremely repressive regime.
As a Jew who is very proud of his cultural heritage, and in particular of the important role Jews have played in fighting for civil rights, the rights of workers, and other progressive causes, I am discouraged by the support of so many in the Jewish community for a political regime that is engaged in an assault on these very rights and values.