By Rabbi Dow Marmur.
My column in the Toronto Star last Monday suggested that Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper is proof that you don’t have to be Jewish to be a Zionist. His speech at the special session of the Knesset later that day illustrated it. The probably pre-planned heckling and subsequently staged walk-out by the few of the Arab Members of Knesset who were there is further evidence.
Harper’s words were music to Jewish ears. Though some 5000 members of the Toronto Jewish community were reported to be present when he spoke in a similar vein at a dinner, sponsored by the Jewish National Fund, when funds were raised to build a bird sanctuary (of all things) that Harper will dedicate in the course of this his first ever visit to Israel, his words in Israel’s legislature must have made them, indeed all Jews, feel very good indeed.
Though I watched it all on TV and wasn’t part of the contingent of 21 rabbis that is said to have accompanied Harper, I too was pleased to hear his words of praise. I’m very happy to be the citizen of a country the political leadership of which endorses my Zionist commitment.
But I was disappointed that the prime minister of Canada didn’t use the opportunity to stress his country’s tradition as a peace keeper by reaching out to the Palestinians in more specific terms than generalities. For my Zionist commitment is based on Israeli partisanship wedded to the hope of peace and coexistence.
With this in my mind, in my aforementioned column I asked naively if Harper would use his visit to put friendly pressure on Israel to be more open to the most recent peace initiative by US Secretary of State Kerry and implicitly distance itself from the widely reported negative assessment by Israel’s defense minister.
I then went on to speculate that such an initiative would have given the Canadian delegation a golden opportunity to press for a corresponding positive response from Mahmoud Abbas, the Chairman of the Palestinian Authority, whom Harper also visited.
Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu alluded to Palestinians when he remarked that Toronto’s Yonge Street is longer than the distance between Jerusalem and Ramallah. However, there was nothing to suggest in either his or his guest’s speech that they’re truly committed to bringing the two cities closer beyond geographic proximity.
Not unexpectedly, the Leader of the Opposition in the Knesset, Isaac Herzog spoke more persuasively about the imperative of peace. To my mind he made the best speech of the evening. He started by quoting his late uncle Jacob Herzog who, when ambassador to Canada challenged the British historian Arnold Toynbee to a famous debate which unquestionably the former won. He ended by citing the world renowned singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen, a Jewish Canadian albeit of the Buddhist persuasion. I understood Herzog’s praise of Harper to suggest that Israel needs more than adulation, especially from friends.
I’d, therefore, like to remain naïve and hope that when Harper and Netanyahu meet behind closed doors, the prime minister of Canada will offer some sage advice. It would make the visit truly historic and give not only Canada’s Jews but also both Israelis and Palestinians cause to remember it in gratitude and in hope.