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When Expediency Becomes Principle

November 19, 2010

Not long ago, relatively few Jews around the world could name Canada’s prime minister. Today, there are many hundreds who, though they did not know his name just weeks ago, now do.

That is because the text and YouTube version of Stephen Harper’s extraordinary speech at a recent Canadian Conference on Anti-Semitism have gone viral, making their way onto Facebook and countless websites and parking themselves in thousands of in-boxes. In the speech, Harper made clear that he, unlike many, understands that the new anti-Israel rhetoric now taking the world by storm is nothing more than anti-Semitism repackaged.

As Harper noted, Harnessing disparate anti- Semitic, anti-American and anti-Western ideologies, [the attack on Israel’s legitimacy] targets the Jewish people by targeting the Jewish homeland, Israel, as the source of injustice and conflict in the world, and uses, perversely, the language of human rights to do so.

Harper understands that mere hand-wringing will not suffice, that it is, in fact, an abdication of responsibility. We must be relentless in exposing this new anti-Semitism for what it is. Of course, like any country, Israel may be subjected to fair criticism… But when Israel, the only country in the world whose very existence is under attack is consistently and conspicuously singled out for condemnation, I believe we are morally obligated to take a stand.

And then Harper demonstrated what it means to be a leader: As long as I am prime minister…Canada will take that stand, whatever the cost.

Canada will take a stand, whatever the cost. What a breath of fresh air, especially when compared with the dazzling display of expediency over principle that is the now acknowledged position of Washington.

THERE ARE still conflicting accounts of what exactly Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton offered Binyamin Netanyahu in exchange for a 90-day extension of the building freeze. But many news sources, including Haaretz, claimed that the Obama administration promised not only F-35s, but increased pressure on Teheran to cease its quest for a nuclear weapon and an American commitment to fighting the growing assault on Israel’s very legitimacy as long as Bibi cooperates.

That alleged offer makes several things clear.

First, it constitutes a tacit admission by the American administration that it has not applied anywhere near the kind of pressure on Iran that it could, if it only wanted to. Even though an Iranian nuclear weapon would put six million Jews (an interesting number, to be sure) in the crosshairs of a hate-mongering maniac, the US has thus far decided not to be serious about stopping Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. All that talk about Washington’s iron-clad commitment to Israel’s security has been just that.

Even more distressing, however, is the suggestion that, in exchange for the building freeze, Washington would now commit to fighting the delegitimization of Israel. Obama and Clinton have every right to try to horse-trade Netanyahu into a freeze, if they so wish. They can make the airplanes contingent upon Netanyahu’s restarting the freeze, and can legitimately apply many other conditions. That is how the game is played (though one still wonders what’s been demanded of the Palestinians).

But making the fight against delegitimization dependent on Netanyahu’s cooperation means something else altogether. For the legitimacy battle is not about one Israeli policy or another.

It is about the very survival of the Jewish state, and, therefore, it is about the very future of the Jewish people. Our enemies understand that delegitimization can destroy the Jewish state.

Do our friends not get it? Until this week, we might have thought that while America and Israel could disagree on certain policies, when it came to defending Israel’s fundamental legitimacy, there could be no doubt as to what the US would do. Now, the pretense is over. This administration will protect the Jews and their state only if the Jews accede to American demands that Washington thinks it needs to advance its own diplomatic agenda abroad. That is the sign neither of a trustworthy ally nor of a country animated by principle.

There is precedent for this, of course. FDR did nothing to bomb the tracks to Auschwitz, and he closed America’s shores to boatloads of Jewish refugees with nowhere else to go. America has turned its back on the Jewish people before; if the reports emanating from Washington this week are correct, we are growing alarmingly close to that state of affairs once again. We are not there yet, but we could well be on our way.

THE ISSUE here is not whether or not to extend the building freeze. Reasonable minds can differ as to the wisdom of giving in to Obama. Reasonable minds can also differ as to the wisdom of building in certain parts of the West Bank altogether. Israelis have long been divided on this issue, for there are compelling arguments on both sides. But the fight against delegitimization is a different matter altogether, for it is a matter of Israel’s very life, and should therefore be a matter of principle. But in Washington, it now seems, expediency has become principle.

If only Washington could take a page from Ottawa. In Harper’s words again, Israel appeared as a light, in a world emerging from deep darkness. Against all odds, that light has not been extinguished. It burns bright, upheld by the universal principles of all civilized nations freedom, democracy and justice. By working together more closely in the family of civilized nations, we affirm and strengthen those principles. And we declare our faith in humanity’s future in the power of good over evil. Thank you for all you are doing to spread that faith.

No, Prime Minister Harper. It is we who thank you, for demonstrating that it is still possible to stand for principle over expediency, and for making it clear that whatever disagreements one might have with Israel or with any other country, true friends and genuine leaders stand first for what is fair and for what is just.

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