Prime Minister Stephen Harper became the first Canadian prime minister to speak to the Knesset in Jerusalem on Monday, January 20, 2014
Credits: David Akin/QMI Agency
JERUSALEM - In a historic speech here, Prime Minister Stephen Harper rolled out a new definition of anti-Semitism - name-calling that will be controversial at home and on the global diplomatic circuit but which will make him into a mega-star in Israel.
Two Arab-Israeli members of the 120-seat Knesset thought Harper's speech was objectionable enough even before he got around to this controversial re-definition. They walked out on his speech, loudly hollering at the Canadian prime minister about injustices to their communities.
Harper's speech was historic because it was the first ever by a Canadian prime minister to the Knesset. It was just as historic for Israel in that it was the first time two MKs - Members of the Knesset - walked out on a visiting foreign dignitary.
But, of course, there has never been a speech to the Knesset like Harper's speech.
It was blunt. Angry. Honest, perhaps, to a fault. Full of admiration for Israel. And full of scorn for those in Canada and around the world who organize academic boycotts and Israel apartheid rallies. "Quite simply, weak and wrong," he called those fools.
It was precisely at the point where Harper was dismantling the "sickening" logic of the use of the term "Israeli apartheid" that Ahmad Tibi and Talab Abu Arar, one half of the Ra'am-Ta'al-Mada caucus in the Knesset, walked out.
They missed a remarkable finish to Harper's speech in which he extended the definition of anti-Semitism to include a great many more people.
Basically, in Harper's formulation, you're an anti-Semite if you criticize Israel. And no, I don't believe I'm exaggerating.
"Of course, criticism of Israeli government policy is not in and of itself necessarily anti-Semitic," Harper began, sounding reasonable and accommodating.
After all, calling someone an anti-Semite is to say they are ignorant, that they harbour hateful and prejudiced views. It's not a nice thing to say about anyone.
After that opening came a series of questions and tests with which he hoped to force this issue.
"What else can we call criticism that selectively condemns only the Jewish state and effectively denies its right to defend itself while systematically ignoring or excusing the violence and oppression all around it?" Anti-semitism.
"What else can we call it when Israel is routinely targeted at the United Nations and when Israel remains the only country to be the subject of a permanent agenda item at the regular sessions of its human rights council?" Why, anti-semitism, of course.
"Any judgment of Israel's actions must start with this understanding: In the 65 years that modern Israel has been a nation, Israelis have endured attacks and slanders beyond counting and have never known a day of true peace." If you don't understand that, well ... you're a you-know-what.
"Neither Israel's existence nor its policies are responsible for the instability in the Middle East today." That last bit surely is an arguable point but argue it and you'll risk Harper calling you out for "weak and wrong" new-style anti-Semitism.
"One must look beyond Israel's borders to find the causes of the relentless oppression, poverty and violence in much of the region, of the heartbreaking suffering of Syrian refugees, of sectarian violence and the fears of religious minorities, especially Christians, and of the current domestic turmoil in so many states."
In other words, there's nothing to see here in Jerusalem. Move along.
In Israel, they love this. An enthusiastic standing ovation in the Knesset, front page newspaper headlines and approving editorials here are proof of that.
But how can Israel and the Palestinians find peace when Mssrs. Tibi and Abu Arar can't even stand listening to a 30-minute speech by a Canadian prime minister? If all sides are calling each other names, who will reach out for peace and understanding first? Harper or Tibi and Abu Arar?
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