Jerusalem Post last weekend.The Conservative government's staunch support of Israel has a lot of critics at home and abroad, but Prime Minister Stephen Harper might want to frame the love letter to Canada published in the
Strictly speaking, the column by Shimon Koffler Fogel aimed to recognize and defend the important role of Canada's Jewish organizations in their coordinated lobbying efforts with Ottawa in support of Israel.
But the opening paragraph will confirm for Harper that his policy is paying dividends among Canadian Jews, who have the ear of the Israeli media.
"By any measure, Canada has become one of Israel's best friends in the world," Fogel wrote. "From United Nations votes on Israel, to international efforts to curb modern anti-Semitism, and the effort to halt Iran's threatening nuclear program — Canada is in the lead. Canadians are widely supportive of these policies."
Fogel, chief executive of the Center for Israel and Jewish Affairs (Canada) goes on to praise a decision by various Canadian Jewish organizations to consolidate their efforts within his agency.
"Our community now benefits from strategic advocacy planning on the national level, sophisticated outreach abilities, and very effective lobby mechanisms — in addition to better operational accountability and cost savings," he wrote.
But if you dig a little deeper into Fogel's piece it quickly becomes clear he's defending his organization against criticism from within the Canadian Jewish community.
He was responding to an Oct. 10 op-ed piece in the Jerusalem Post by Canadian Charles Bybelezer, who essentially accused the center of, among other things, taking a soft line with the leadership of the Palestinian Authority and, bizarrely, trying to curry favour with Quebec sovereigntists.
The center, Bybelezer argued, should not be seen in Israel as the voice of Canadian Jews on issues about the country's future.
"Accordingly, it is unacceptable that [center] continue to be given carte blanche to set, unilaterally, Canada's Israel advocacy policy," he wrote.
"In this respect, it is imperative that checks and balances be introduced, in particular as regards [the center's] funding, to ensure [its] accountability to the full spectrum of Canada's diverse and staunchly pro-Israel Jewish community."
It's an interesting debate — played out in an Israeli newspaper — for non-Jewish Canadians to watch, especially those who think Canadian-Jewish positions on Israel and Palestine are monolithic.
Fogel rebutted Bybelezer's accusations.
"In the end, what matters is this: Jewish Canadians want to feel safe in Canada, and want to see our profound attachment to Israel reflected by the support our government extends to that country," he wrote.
In that, they've succeeded. The Harper government has been stronger in its support of Israel than any recent Canadian administration.
"Harper, both in 2006 [when he first outlined his stance] and to an even greater extent today, is a more ardent supporter of Israel than many Canadian Jews," columnist Lorrie Goldstein wrote in the Toronto Sun last month.
"Or, more accurately, Harper is more comfortable with the hardline policies of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, on everything from confronting a nuclear Iran to maintaining Israeli settlements in the Occupied Territories."
Harper has become a "rock star" among Canadian Jews, who traditionally have supported the Liberal party, Goldstein wrote.
"To many Canadian Jews, Harper is widely admired as the most unequivocally pro-Israel prime minister Canada has ever had, abandoning what his political, media and diplomatic critics describe as Canada's historically more 'nuanced' position in the Mideast as 'an honest broker,' working primarily through the United Nations."
Critics have attributed Canada's harder line to the Conservatives' strategy of nailing down voter support from specific ethnic groups.
"...[T]he biggest cause of Canada abandoning its traditional support for peace, justice and the rule of law and supporting Israel unquestioningly is the desire to woo Canadian Jews," Mohammed Azhar Ali Khan, a former Canadian journalist, public servant and refugee judge, wrote on the web site of the Muslim Coordinating Council of the National Capital Region.
"They used to vote for the Liberals but have switched to Harper. In this year's federal election a majority of Jews — 57 per cent — supported the Tories for the first time. This is a major achievement which would not have come about without the Tories supporting Israel blindly."
But the charge simply doesn't add up, University of Windsor political scientist Andrew Richter wrote last month in the Ottawa Citizen.
"Simply put, the Muslim community in Canada, with a population of roughly 900,000 and growing, is far larger and electorally more powerful than Canada's Jewish community, with a population of 350,000 and declining (even given higher Jewish voter turnout)," Richter pointed out.
"As such, support for Israel — even assuming that both Jewish and Muslim communities in Canada base their political allegiances on the government's position on the Middle East, a highly debatable proposition — is an electoral loser. While these numbers are hardly a secret, I have frequently been dismayed at how many observers seem unaware of them, and what they mean for the seemingly 'obvious' explanation."
The most likely explanation, Richter argued, makes a lot of Canadians who don't like Harper and the Tories uncomfortable: "Prime Minister Harper and the government he leads have taken a principled stand to support a fellow democratic state, one which is hardly perfect, but is also not the 'evil entity' its critics routinely allege."