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Thursday, January 23, 2014

An oxymoron comes alive

And you thought that the idea that a political party could have honest, moral positions was an oxymoron. An honest political party? A moral political party? A political party that does the right thing, even if it costs them politically? Meet the Conservative party of Canada. I cannot tell you how impressed I am with this interview with senior member Jason Kenney.
The Times of Israel: In light of Harper’s very supportive speech, many Israelis think he was spot on, broadly speaking, and that the rest of the world doesn’t get it. Why is there a gulf between Canada and very few other countries on the one side, and the rest of the world on the other, where Israel is concerned?
Jason Kenney: Partly because as our prime minister said, “it’s always easier to go along to get along” — that is to say, [to follow] the path of least resistance. That certainly characterized Canada’s status quo-ante policy.
It’s no secret that the foreign ministries of most Western countries have an institutional bias against Israel that is probably informed by the fact that there is one Jewish state and dozens of other Islamic and Arabic states. That frankly informs the professional public service in most Western foreign ministries.
You mean there are 20 times as many diplomats who have served in Arab countries?
And 40 times more in Muslim countries. That’s right. The prime minister more or less intimated that in his speech. That means you’ve got dozens more diplomats and foreign policy wonks who absorb a particular perspective which is frankly and obviously hostile to Israel.
So that becomes the default position. It takes a profound act, it takes great intentionality on the part of political actors, to overcome that kind of institutional bias to begin with.
Secondly, the political incentives are not in favor of this. In the United State of course, with a large constituency of Christian Zionists, and the not insignificant influence of the Jewish community, there’s always been a strong political constituency generally to support Israel, but that doesn’t exist in Western Europe and it doesn’t exist in Canada.
The Jewish community constitutes 1% of our population at most, and there’s no Christian Zionist constituency to speak of. For most people, if they’re not familiar with the complicated politics and history of the region, they don’t understand why a government would want to take clear positions on this.
So you’ve got an institutional bias built into most Western foreign ministries, you’ve got a lack of political incentives to take these positions. I think that helps to explain it.
Those are the only two factors, or would you bring other factors into the mix? Is anti-Semitism in there somewhere, if not the dominant feature? Demographics — the fact that, for instance, there are 10 times as many Muslims as Jews in France? That hardly encourages a French MP, say, to take a fair-minded position on Israel and the region.
The positions that we have taken have been demonstrably against our electoral advantage. Some of the superannuated foreign policy establishment in Canada have grasped for an explanation as to why our government has taken these arguably contentious positions. And the simplest explanation they can come up with, which is really the dumbest, is that the Conservative Party has taken this position to advance our electoral interests. Nothing could be further from the truth. The truth is this: With the Jewish community representing less than 1% of our population, it tends to be concentrated in urban core electoral districts which have typically been inaccessible to the Conservative Party.
During the Lebanon conflict in 2006, our prime minister was flying to his first G8 summit, in Saint Petersburg, the day after the IDF began its operation in Lebanon, and he was asked by our media to respond. He was advised by officials to take a pass: Get to Saint Petersburg, hear what the consensus is, and follow it. That’s the Canadian modus operandi. He said no, I think under the circumstances we need to assert Israel’s right to defend itself. So he went to the back of his plane and said in a press scrum, he said, Under the circumstances I think that Israel’s reaction is restrained. Well, this quote was considered verboten by many, and it was played along with images of the devastation in Lebanon for the next several weeks and our party lost over the course of the six weeks of that conflict I think about eight percent in the public opinion polls.
So right from the very beginning we’ve been willing to spend political capital to do what’s right on this issue.
On anti-Semitism, one thing that’s not recognized here perhaps is that in addition to the positions we’ve taken on Israel and the politics of the Middle East, we’ve also become a global leader in combating anti-Semitism and promoting Holocaust commemoration, education and research. This year Canada’s chairing the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. We hosted the last meeting of the inter-parliamentary coalition for combating anti-Semitism. That led to the Ottawa protocol, that essentially said that not all criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic, but those who tend to single out Israel for opprobrium or condemnation or question the legitimacy of the Jewish state are arguably giving expression to hateful views.
Read the whole thing.

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