After hearing Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s promise the Knesset this week that his government would support Israel “though fire and water,” one could excuse Israeli lawmakers for thinking that they had died and gone to hasbara heaven.
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And after seeing Benjamin Netanyahu enthusiastically nodding at Harper’s assertion that singling out Israel for criticism was the same as anti-Semitism, one might easily imagine the prime minister imploring God to seriously consider “castling” the current residents of the White House in Washington and Langevin Block in Ottawa, at least for the remainder of President Barack Obama’s second term.
And coming straight on the heels of Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop’s even more extraordinary proclamation in Jerusalem last week on the legality of Jewish settlements in the territories, Harper’s visit to Israel took on the airs of what the Hassidim call “mashiachzeit”: this is the way the world will look after the Messiah arrives.
But even for Israelis less religiously inclined, these back-to-back expressions of uninhibited political support were welcome rays of sunshine amidst the gathering clouds and proliferating forecasts of impending torrents of condemnation, isolation and boycott. Things can’t be that bad, many Israelis told themselves, if fine, upstanding countries such as Canada and Australia were willing to unabashedly stand up against the otherwise shrill winds of Western public opinion.
Indeed, under their respective conservative governments, both Canada and Australia have gone above and beyond the traditional parameters of support for Israel, much to the dismay of its detractors among commentators and public opinion in both countries and in the Arab world at large. Harper has dramatically broken with the mildly supportive but largely detached Israeli policies of his predecessors, while Australia’s Tony Abbott has rapidly reinstated John Howard’s effusive pro-Israel policies after three years of realignment efforts carried out by the recently ousted Australian Labor Party.
Although the prim and proper Harper and the bold and brash Abbott have been described as polar opposites on a personal level, their shared love for Israel stems from nearly identical ideological roots. Both are deeply-religious social conservatives and proud nationalists who view themselves as serving on the front lines of a Western, Judeo-Christian civilization that is under threat: their support for Israel is not just a matter of political expediency, if that, but of firmly held convictions and belief.
Both Harper and Abbott lead political parties that are distilled versions of the Republicans under George Bush and Dick Cheney; not only neocons, but even so-called “Theo-cons,” as Harper has been described. They may differ in their day-to-day handling of tactical policy decisions, but the two leaders share not only religious beliefs – Harper is an evangelical Protestant and Abbot a devout Catholic – but also a disdain for big government, excessive regulation and social democracy as well as an adamant opposition to unchecked abortions or gay marriages.
Both Harper and Abbot are highly critical of widely accepted theories of global warming, a hot button political issue in both their countries. The New York Times went so far as to accuse the Harper government recently of “silencing scientists,” “attacking academic freedom” and “trying to guarantee public ignorance” about climate change, or as Tony Abbott once said: “The argument for climate change is complete crap.”
Both leaders are considered “old-fashioned” in their personal and political outlooks. They are “monarchists,” critics of the “overreach” of multiculturalism, proud and largely unrepentant representatives of nations borne of white European settlers. Both are confronted with significant issues relating to their indigenous populations, which they tackle with political dexterity but also with what their critics often describe as nothing more than lip service.
It goes without saying, of course, that Harper and Abbot, perhaps more than any other leaders on the world stage today, are ideologically aligned with Netanyahu on a wide portion of their overall weltanschauung, not just Israel and the Middle East. If the leaders of the world were forced to choose sides, Harper and Abbot and Netanyahu would undoubtedly find themselves in the same faction of the same party on the same right-wing side of the political spectrum. They would have portraits of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan on the walls of their meeting-room, and the liberal media and leftist academia would be the favored butt of their derision and jokes.
But Harper and Abbott, much to Israel’s regret, do not represent the next big thing in international politics. As far as support for Israel is concerned, they are, in fact, exceptions that prove the rule: together with American evangelicals and other so-called Christian Zionists, Abbott and Harper are the last bastion of the kind of total love and absolute support that Netanyahu and most Israelis not only yearn for, but actually think they deserve. In an increasingly hostile environment, they are an island of comfort and tranquility that, on closer inspection, turns out to be nothing more than a mirage.