It is rare to see a political leader who sticks to a position out of principle. So it is with Prime Minister Stephen Harper's unconditional support for Israel. This was again evident at the recent G8 summit in France, where Mr. Harper is said to have insisted on blocking a declaration that would use the country's prewar 1967 borders as a starting point for Middle East peace talks, a notion squarely rejected by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Whether the summit story is true or not – the Prime Minister's Office refused to comment – Mr. Harper's staunch support for Israel has been well documented since his first days in office in 2006.
His stand is obviously based on deep moral convictions. It brings him no political gain – in fact, it risks offending many Canadians and isolating him from his G8 partners, whose support for Israel is much more nuanced. On the 1967 question, Mr. Harper is the only world leader who stands by Mr. Netanyahu's government, a government which is highly criticized in Israel itself for its inflexibility toward the Palestinians.
For some people, anyone who unconditionally supports Israel must have a hidden, dark motive. Yet, this is not the case.
Electoral gains? No. According to the 2006 census, the Jews, in Canada, are a tiny minority of 315,120, whereas the minority of Arab origin is larger and growing because it is a younger population with a higher birth rate. In any case, for the majority of Jewish voters, let alone the sizable proportion who feel no special attachment to Israel, Ottawa's Mideast position is not a predominant criterion.
In the recent election, for instance, the two Montreal ridings with relatively large Jewish concentrations – Mount Royal and Westmount-Ville-Marie – re-elected Liberal incumbents, even though the Conservative candidates played heavily on the theme of unbending support for Israel.
Money, then? This is the standard argument of anti-Semites, but private donations to political parties are severely limited in Canada. In any case, the Conservative Party doesn't need money; it is handsomely subsidized by its own partisans.
A more original, albeit simplistic explanation, is offered by those who believe that Mr. Harper's position is "ideological." (As if ideology were not the basis of all political beliefs.)
The Prime Minister, they say, plays to his base of evangelical Christians who, for some bizarre reason, think that Israel is their way to salvation. Please! How many Christians wake up at night to think about the apocalypse? These voters are certainly more interested in economic stability and their families' future.
From the little I know about Mr. Harper's religious convictions, I think he is a mainstream Protestant with conservative leanings. As for his attitude toward Israel, why not simply admit that he thinks Israel, faced with so much hostility in the Arab world and throughout the world, needs at least one friend whose loyalty is unconditional?
His position might be sometimes misguided, in the sense that Canada should also take into account the positions of other mainstream Israeli parties, rather than always aligning itself behind Mr. Netanyahu's right-wing forces. Still, Mr. Harper's position appears perfectly sincere and disinterested, and he should be commended for being true to his convictions.