Harper will defend Israel 'whatever the cost'
Prime Minister Stephen Harper says he is prepared to suffer any political backlash that comes his way for speaking out against anti-Israel rhetoric.
Harper told an audience Monday that while Israel is receptive to fair criticism, Canada is obligated to stand up for its ally when it comes under attack from others.
"Not just because it is the right thing to do, but because history shows us, and the ideology of the anti-Israel mob tell us all too well, that those who threaten the existence of the Jewish people are in the longer term a threat to all of us."
The prime minister acknowledged that his position is not popular with all governments and organizations, including members of the United Nations and the Francophonie.
"And I know, by the way, because I have the bruises to show for it, that whether it is at the United Nations or any other international forum, the easiest thing to do is simply to just get along and go along with this anti-Israel rhetoric, to pretend it is just about being even-handed, and to excuse oneself with the label of honest broker.
"There are, after all, a lot more votes -- a lot more -- in being anti-Israeli than in taking a stand. But as long as I am prime minister, whether it is at the United Nations, the Francophonie or anywhere else, Canada will take that stand, whatever the cost."
The prime minister's use of the phrase "honest broker" is an apparent reference to a recent speech made by Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff.
Ignatieff criticized the Harper government for using Israel as a wedge issue with his political opponents in Canada, at the expense of the country's influence on peace in the Middle East. The Liberal leader called for a return to a time when Canada was perceived to be an honest broker in the global community.
Harper made his remarks at the start of a two-day conference on anti-Semitism that is being held on Parliament Hill during Holocaust Education Week.
After his caucus meeting on Monday, Ignatieff criticized Harper for suggesting that Canada's recent failure to secure a seat on the UN Security Council can be blamed on the federal government's support for Israel.
"They're trying to claim it's a moral victory," Ignatieff told reporters.
"It's a defeat, especially if you want to support the state of Israel. What is the institution that's enforcing sanctions against Iran, which is a strategic threat to Israel? The Security Council. If you're not on it, you're not playing."
Ignatieff also reiterated his party's support of a two-state solution for peace in the Middle East.
"Why? Because we believe it's essential for the security of Israel, and because we think it's essential for the security of the Palestinian people," Ignatieff said.
He also added that "we are not neutral and will never be neutral between terrorist organizations and democratic states. That's been the position of Canada for a very long time, that's the position of the Liberal Party."
Meanwhile, the group Independent Jewish Voices, which is not taking part in the conference, accused the Harper government of trying to suppress debate about Israel.
On CTV's Power Play, spokesperson Diana Ralph said the government is trying to "criminalize criticism of Israel."
"What this conference is actually about isn't anti-Semitism," Ralph said. "What it's about is attacking and limiting dissent and criticism on expressing criticisms of Israel. And the thing is that when Harper says today that Israel is a country under attack, Israel is being attacked for its violations of human rights."
With files from The Canadian Press