It is often remarked that Israel’s best friend is the United States (US) for a multitude of reasons, but as Canadian Prime Minister, Stephen Harper’s, recent foreign visit demonstrates, this long-held precept may not be the case. Both vocally and politically, Canada looks to be taking a significant step forward where American leadership has been notably absent.
In his first trip to the Jewish State, Harper took a hard-line stance in support of Israel and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. At home, Harper has consistently made it clear how he and his Conservative party frame Israeli-Palestinian issues. That, coupled with an even stronger support for the country at the United Nations (UN) and elsewhere, makes the most recent rhetoric somewhat predictable. What is genuinely surprising is the contrast between Harper’s approach and President Barack Obama’s strategy.
One of the favorite foreign policy jabs at the Obama Administration regards its seemingly naive engagement in the Middle-East. From fumbling and bumbling the Arab Spring to the complete write-off that is Syria, Obama’s efforts across the Middle-East have been highly criticized by both Democrats and Republicans. Never mind Benghazi, what will be remembered by future generations is the shift in perspective in regards to Israel, and the lackluster results of these endeavors.
Rather than reconciliation or working with America’s proverbial greatest ally in the region, the Obama Administration has consistently demonstrated contempt for Netanyahu and Israeli policies. Considering the time he was caught on an open mic trash-talking the Prime Minister, to their well-documented frosty relationship, Obama lacks the openness and friendly attitude that Harper approaches the region with. Now Israeli leaders can only wait anxiously for Secretary of State John Kerry to level what is sure to be a heavy-handed and clumsy attempt at a peace process. The picture of the US being a fair-weather friend and Canada being Israel’s best friend is almost an oxymoron, but it is none the less a reality.
Compare all of Obama’s difficulties with Stephen Harper’s Israel stance. Canada has never been so involved both vocally and physically in the region. His entourage was the largest such group of people to ever travel on official Canadian business to any country. Not only did Harper outline his Israel stance quite clearly, he also went after its critics while sitting right beside Netanyahu. The two leaders are apparently on a cozy first name basis. On top of all of this, Canadian citizens have a proportionally lower support for Israel when polled in contrast to Americans, so it is not as though Harper is doing this solely on a politics basis.
It then becomes conceivable that Israel’s best friend may in fact be Canada, and not the US. It is true that military ties, public opinion, and sheer financial aid favors the view that America is still Israel’s strongest ally, but that is just a continuation of the status quo. On the other hand, Harper’s administration has aggressively worked to improve its Israeli relations, taking every opportunity to show undying support and admiration for the Jewish State. Regardless of whether it is the right or wrong thing to do, it is clear that Harper and Obama are very different in their approaches, and given Obama’s Middle-East track record, one might assume that Harper’s leadership will be remembered for its success.
Opinion by Brett Byers-Lane