Obama vs. Harper: Who's the Real Man of Principle?

While the American president hints at U.S. Jews' dual loyalties and is disturbed by their activism, Canada's PM confronts hostility to Israel for the bigotry it hides.

Seth Lipsky
Seth Lipsky
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Seth Lipsky
Seth Lipsky

Years ago I wrote a column proposing that the leader of any country be permitted to run for president of the United States. The idea of the satire was that if the U.S. was to lead the world, foreigners ought to be able enter someone into the American fray. The Boston Globe illustrated the column with a cartoon of a perplexed, lunch-pail-toting factory worker walking past a line of politicians — Jimmy Carter, Leonid Brezhnev, Anwar Sadat, Menachem Begin — all wanting to shake his hand.

Well, why not Stephen Harper? He is the prime minister of Canada who just gave such a stirring address to the Knesset. Conrad Black, the ex-press baron who once owned the Jerusalem Post, is out with a column this week calling it one of the greatest speeches ever given by a Canadian leader. He ranks it with Sir John Macdonald’s defense of his conduct in the Pacific scandal in 1873 and Sir Wilfrid Laurier’s response to conscription in 1917.

The newsworthiness of Harper’s speech arises from the contrast with President Obama. The American leader is sending out word that he is “disturbed” by “Jewish activism in Congress” against his administration’s entente with Iran. Obama and Secretary of State Kerry, according to Israel Radio, are even blaming Prime Minister Netanyahu’s government for encouraging Jewish leaders to criticize the White House. We haven’t had this tone since President George H.W. Bush carped about being “one lonely little guy” beset by the Israel lobby.

Obama’s message hints at the kind of double-dual-loyalty libel that Harper confronted so bluntly in articulating the basis of the policies that have made him the most pro-Israel premier outside Jerusalem. He started with a paean to commercial and military cooperation, moved to the 250-year history of Jews in Canada and of the 350,000 Jews who are Canadians, and touched on the way the Holocaust put into sharp relief the logic of a Jewish homeland. “Canada supports Israel,” he said, “because it is right to do so.”

Then Harper acknowledged that Canada has made “terrible mistakes” in respect of the Jews, particularly “the refusal of our government in the 1930s to ease the plight of Jewish refugees.” But he said that “at the turning points of history,” Canada has “consistently chosen, often to our great cost, to stand with others who oppose injustice, and to confront the dark forces of the world.” He called it “a Canadian tradition to stand for what is principled and just, regardless of whether it is convenient or popular.”

Harper then declared that “support today for the Jewish State of Israel is more than a moral imperative.” He spoke of its “strategic importance” and declared it “a matter of our own long-term interests.” History, he argued, shows that those “who often begin by hating the Jew” eventually “end up hating anyone who is not them.” He spoke about “the new anti-Semitism” and the language that is used on campuses and in international fora to isolate the Jewish state. He called it “sickening” and said it “targets the Jewish people by targeting Israel and attempts to make the old bigotry acceptable for a new generation.”

At one point, Harper spoke of the “impossible calculus” with which Israelis live. “If you act to defend yourselves, you will suffer widespread condemnation, over and over again. But, should you fail to act, you alone will suffer the consequence of your inaction, and that consequence will be final, your destruction.”

Harper did not call on Israel to curtail its settlements — he didn’t mention them — or hector it about the peace process. This was startling given that, as Conrad Black pointed out, Canada has a foreign policy establishment as trans-configured against Israel as America’s own state department. Nor did Harper attack Obama’s demarche in respect of Iran. But he declared Canada’s intention to leave its own sanctions “fully in place” And “should the present agreement prove ephemeral” to renew the ones other nations are easing.

What is so striking about Harper’s speech is not the ardent expressions of friendship — all recent American presidents, including Obama, have done the same. Particularly George W. Bush, who, in the well of the Knesset, spoke of the “Chosen People” and called the Jewish state “the redemption of an ancient promise given to Abraham and Moses and David.” What is striking about Harper's speech is the willingness to confront political correctness and call the hostility to Israel for what it is. It makes me think that if Harper were allowed to run for the president of America, he’d have a refreshing platform.

Seth Lipsky is editor of The New York Sun www.nysun.com. He was a foreign editor and a member of the editorial board of The Wall Street Journal, founding editor of The Forward and editor from 1990 to 2000.

Prime Minister of Canada Stephen Harper and wife Laureen, April, 2013.Credit: AP

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