Northern Lights (or what can the American Jews learn from their northern neighbors?)

Stephen Harper’s unconditional support for Israel and its government, as opposed to the coercive and critical attitude of the Obama administration, is also the reflection of the differences between the Jewish communities of both countries.

After decades of voting for the liberal left-wing parties, the “Jewish vote” began to migrate towards the right-leaning parties of the Canadian politics. In May 2011, for the first time, a 52% majority of the Canadian Jews have voted for The Conservative Party of Canada.

Taking a stand

The majority of these Jews were not motivated solely by his domestic political statements, but mostly by his external policy. Harper broke the chain of ambivalent and non-interfering foreign policy, by taking a stand on key global issues. One of the main tidings of his foreign policy was the attitude towards Israel. The journalist, Marci McDonald’s, went as far as defining this change as “the most dramatic shift in the history of postwar Canadian foreign policy”.

Harper’s pro-Israeli orientation was evident from the beginning of his first term, when he stated during the Second Lebanon War that “Israel has the right to defend itself”, and that its military response was “measured”. His statements were consistent, and in every performance in front of a Jewish crowd, such as this year’s annual JNF gala, he repeated his strong support for Israel.

Stephen Harper ©
Stephen Harper ©

Beyond the “sweet-talk”, Canada supported Israel in the main diplomatic junctions of the last 7 years, such as the decisions to stop Canada’s aid to the Palestinian Authority in 2006, to boycott “Durban II” conference in 2008 and the call for the dismissal of Richard Falk for being biased against Israel in 2013. Canada has even paid a price for its policy when failed the 2010 bid for a seat on the UN Security Council. The peak of this unprecedented support was of course Harper’s visit to Israel last week and his continuous pro-Israeli statements.

The “shared values” effect

Harper’s attitude towards Israel was shaped not only by his evangelical ideology and paternal legacy, but also by the actions of the Jewish community in his country. As one of the Jewish community leaders has stated: “(We) want to see our profound attachment to Israel reflected by the support our government extends to that country.” Canadian Jews have also invested in Israeli advocacy efforts. Eight years ago, alongside the rise of the global BDS movement, Canadian Jews managed to unite and mobilize literally all the Jewish organizations to the mission of educating the Canadian society in a pro-Israeli manner. The initiative beard fruit and its success went as far as rooting the term “shared values” into the official terminology of the prime minister.

 It’s the civil rights, stupid

Following the results of the 2012 elections, a Canadian newspaper, “The National Post”, raised the question of “Will American Jews Follow the Example of Their Neighbors to the North?”– Referring to the U.S. presidential campaign of 2012. Unfortunately, they didn’t.

How is it possible that a president that refused to visit Israel, had anti-Israeli friends such as Rashid Khalidi and headed a party that almost dropped the definition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel from its platform, is still “electable” for Jews?

I remember a discussion with a Jewish-American friend, prior to the 2012 elections. I argued that Obama’s policy endangers Israel because it leads to a nuclear Iran and a Gaza-like Islamic state in Judea and Samaria. She argued that Romney will not promote women’s rights and the legalization of Marijuana.

And that’s the point: American Jews fear that a republican government might lead to regression in the field of civil rights. The truth is that Canadian Jews had similar fears. After all, they did not become hardcore conservatives overnight. However, they managed to separate their liberal views on domestic issues from their passionate Zionism. After all, even the staunchest liberals can be vigilant about their governments’ attitude towards Israel.

Idle and indifferent

Eviction Notice ©
Eviction Notice ©

When it comes to dealing with the growing effect of the BDS movements, American Jews have also a lot to learn. In most academic institutions that host these anti-Israeli events, the number of Jewish students far exceeds the number of their Muslim colleagues. However, most of them remain indifferent to the de-legitimization of Israel. In one case recently, one Palestinian student in FAU has made more noise than hundreds of idle Jewish students, when she taped mock eviction notices on dormitory doors to symbolize alleged evictions of Palestinians from their homes.

Canadian Jews decided that Israel is not a side-issue- it is the main issue. The message had spread to the public and to the politicians, causing a change in the foreign policy. There is no reason that American Jews cannot follow the steps of their northern neighbors. After all, if the Jews won’t stand for Israel, why should the non-Jews do so?

About the Author
Michael is a licensed attorney, who holds a master's degree in International Relations and a Bachelor of Laws degree from the University of Haifa. He currently works as a Senior Parliamentary Assistant at The Knesset, and is also active in the field of public diplomacy and Israeli advocacy. Michael headed the University of Haifa Students Union as Vice Chairman and C.E.O. He is a reserve officer in the rank of captain.
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