Ex-Canadian PM Harper: Popularity of My Support for Israel Among Electorate Makes It Difficult for Trudeau to Go in Different Direction
Former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said on Sunday that the pro-Israel stand he took while in office has made his successor, Justin Trudeau, cautious about moving in a different direction.
Speaking at a Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA) gala dinner in New York — at which he received the media-monitoring group’s Emet (“Truth”) Award — Harper noted that his record during his nearly decade-long stint as prime minister showed that anti-Israel media bias could be overcome and that average Canadians viewed Israel favorably.
“My support for Israel ultimately won us more votes than it lost us,” Harper said. “My support for Israel became more widely supported over time, to the extent that my successors are trying very carefully to avoid appearing to be shifting away from it.”
Trudeau’s foreign minister, Chrystia Freeland, recently told a World Jewish Congress (WJC) gathering in New York that Canada has “an unwavering, ironclad commitment to the security of Israel and its neighbors.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lauded Harper “as a great friend of Israel and the Jewish people” when the Canadian leader made an official visit to the Jewish state in 2014. “I am not just saying that, I mean it deeply from the bottom of my heart, and I am speaking for all of the people of Israel,” Netanyahu said at the time.
Turning his attention to the media on Sunday, Harper told gala attendees that regardless of what they thought of US President Donald Trump, his election campaign had “debunked the myth… that a politician cannot successfully buck mainstream media opinion.”
In a later conversation with internationally-renowned legal expert Alan Dershowitz, Harper recalled his battles with the Canadian media over his backing of Israel. He described what he called an “egregious case” that occurred during the 2006 Second Lebanon War, which broke out a few months after he became prime minister.
At a press conference, a journalist from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) asked Harper about the appreciation for his pro-Israel positions among Canada’s Jewish community. “I said, ‘That’s interesting, but I don’t really care about that,'” Harper recalled. “And then I explained why I took the position that I took: that Israel is a sovereign state with a right to defend itself, that it’s been attacked.”
That night, a CBC news report showed the deaths of civilians in Lebanon before cutting to Harper. “They said, ‘We asked Prime Minister Harper what he thought of that,’ and they showed me saying, ‘I don’t care about that,'” Harper recounted.
Media scrutiny and the willingness to speak out against media bias, Harper said — citing CAMERA’s work as a positive example — proved itself effective in this and other cases.
“A generation ago, that report would have gone unchallenged, but our supporters were so outraged they started an internet campaign showing the reporter’s question and his answer,” Harper said. Within a week, Harper continued, CBC acknowledged the offense and let the reporter go.
Harper argued that the key strategic difference between Israel and North American countries is that, in Israel’s case, existential threats are present right on its borders.
“The threats that Israel faces from jihadism and terrorism are the same ones that threaten all of us,” Harper warned. “Should Israel ever fall to such forces, those forces would only strengthen and would redouble their attacks on us.”
He added: “Our support for Israel’s right to exist must be unconditional, our support for Israel’s right to self-defense must be unequivocal, and our refusal to single out Israel must be unbreakable.”