Harper says backing Israel is a 'moral imperative'
Prime Minister Stephen Harper described Canada's support of Israel as a "moral imperative" in a historic address to the Israeli parliament.
While Harper's reception in the Knesset on Monday evening was largely a warm one, his speech was interrupted when two Arabic-speaking members of parliament began to heckle the prime minister before they both walked out.
Ahmad Tibi, an Arab-Israeli member of the Knesset, was one of the men who began shouting as Harper spoke about what he called the twisted logic of calling Israel an apartheid state.
"Israel is an apartheid state," Tibi shouted before storming out of the Knesset.
Throughout the rest of his speech, however, Harper received standing ovations from other members of the legislature.
The prime minister described Israel and Canada as "the greatest of friends and the most natural of allies."
"Israel is the only country in the Middle East, which has long anchored itself in the ideals of freedom, democracy and the rule of law," he said.
Over time, Harper said this is the only way "in which human rights, political stability and economic prosperity may flourish."
"Likewise, when they are threatened anywhere, they are threatened everywhere,” Harper said.
Harper said Canada finds it "deplorable" that Israel's legitimacy continues to be questioned, and referred to the emergence of a "new anti-Semitism."
"People who would never say they hate and blame the Jews for their own failings or the problems of the world, instead declare their hatred of Israel and blame the only Jewish state for the problems of the Middle East," he said. "As once Jewish businesses were boycotted, some civil-society leaders today call for a boycott of Israel."
While Harper has at times been criticized for his staunch pro-Israel stance, the prime minister also expressed his support for a Palestinian state in his address.
"Just as we unequivocally support Israel’s right of self-defence, so, too, Canada has long-supported a just and secure future for the Palestinian people," he said.
Harper said he has "sincere hope" that the Palestinian people and their leaders will choose a democratic state that will live peacefully alongside Israel.
"Sadly, we have yet to reach that point," he said.
Harper announces new aid for Palestinians
Earlier in the day during a visit to the West Bank, Harper pledged $66 million in new aid to Palestinians.
The prime minister said the financial aid will help advance the peace process between Israel and Palestine, as well as promote security in the region and deliver humanitarian aid.
Since the signing of the Oslo peace accords in 1993 and the creation of the Palestinian Authority, Canada has provided more than $650 million in development assistance for the West Bank and Gaza.
Canada was also one of only nine countries to vote at the United Nations against the Palestinian bid for statehood recognition.
Constanza Musu, a political analyst from the University of Ottawa, told CTV Power Play that while Harper received a warm welcome at the Israeli parliament, the same was not the case in Palestine.
“Obviously it was a little colder than the reception he got in Israel,” she said.
“The Palestinians are not necessarily impressed by the choices this government has made in terms of political rhetoric, but I think Harper wanted to underline a new way where Canada is still part of the international effort to support Palestinian development.”
Musu says Harper’s trip is less about making political waves in the region and more about solidifying ties with the Israeli state.
“This trip is not a new step in Harper’s policies towards Israel or in Canadian-Israeli relations. I think it is part of a continuum that started in 2006 that has seen an aggressive tightening of relations between Canada and Israel.”
Musu says Harper was careful not comment on the status of Israeli settlements in the region, hoping to avoid political tensions during his trip.
“This is a sore point…I think Harper did not see this as an occasion in which this particular issue would be straightened out,” she said.
“It can create a lot of problems, the Israeli government does not see those settlements as a legal problem, they don’t see it as an illegal policy on the part of Israel, and discussing that would kind of spoil the trip.”
On the issue of Iran, the Canadian government has stressed it stands firmly on the Israeli side, separate from key allies, including the U.S. and Britain.
Harper raised the issue of Iran during Monday's address, saying that while other countries, including the U.S. and the European Union, have announced the easing of economic sanctions, Canada's sanctions will "remain firmly in place."
"We truly hope that it is possible to walk the Iranian government back from taking the irreversible step of manufacturing nuclear weapons," he said. "But, for now, Canada's own sanctions will remain fully in place and should our hopes not be realized, should the present agreement prove ephemeral, Canada will be a strong voice for renewed sanctions."