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WTF Wednesday: Harper’s speech to Israeli parliament

Simon Treanor

I really, really hope it is obvious to everyone that “the Holocaust was a bad thing” is a sentiment we can all agree on (if not, you might be reading the wrong magazine). It is certainly something that Prime Minister Stephen Harper believes in strongly. Strongly enough, apparently, to imply that the Holocaust is enough to excuse all of Israel’s recent political actions. In a speech made to the Israeli government, the Knesset, during his Middle-East trip, Harper explained how he felt recent criticism of certain Israeli policies from world leaders was a new subtle form of anti-Semitism:

Some civil-society leaders today call for a boycott of Israel… Most disgracefully of all, some openly call Israel an apartheid state. Think about that. Think about the twisted logic and outright malice behind that… A state, based on freedom, democracy and the rule of law, that was founded so Jews can flourish as Jews, and seek shelter from the shadow of the worst racist experiment in history.

Now perhaps credit to Harper for trying, but this sort of statement seems to indicate misunderstanding of a few things, as well as outright ignoring others. By calling any critical statement towards the Israeli government anti-Semitic, Harper appears to be claiming that the state of Israel is in fact the entire Jewish population. Not only is this mistaken, but it serves to highlight Harper’s questionable approach to issues in the Middle-East.

As Tyler Levitan, spokesperson for the Ottawa Independent Jewish Voice, said in a recent press release on the issue: “This is a continuation of Harper’s outrageous efforts to disparage the Palestinian people, as well as the growing international solidarity movement that supports the non-violent Palestinian campaign to boycott, divest from and sanction Israel until Israel is willing to accept Palestinian rights.”

During his speech Harper repeatedly compared recent calls to boycott Israel to that of the treatment of Jews in Nazi Germany, during which Jewish shops were boycotted. He then went on to describe that Israel was being singled out for criticism on a global scale, and that such an approach was unbalanced, weak, and wrong.

However, as Levitan notes, ‘“Palestinian human rights activists support universal human rights for all people, so we are not singling out Israel. It is Harper, who refuses to challenge Israel’s systematic human rights abuses, who is making an exception of Israel by exempting it from criticism.”

Harper’s biased approach to the Middle-East was commented on by some of the Knesset—two of their members openly heckled Harper, and then stormed out in protest. Ahmad Tibi, one of the hecklers, said that he walked out on Harper’s speech as the approach Harper was taking was “biased, non-balanced,” and added “that’s why Canada has a very marginal role in the Middle East.”

Not only this, but Harper seems to have completely ignored how the Canadian government is against the Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. In fact Harper was deafening in his total exclusion of the subject, refusing to be dragged into commenting on it at all.  Tibi’s view on the situation was: “When you are controlling, discriminating, confiscating, occupying lands from one side and putting them in the corner without any basic rights, you are by this way ruling and committing apartheid in the occupied Palestinian Territories.”

While Harper is on his tour, there is a planned protest outside the Israeli consulate happening today, January 22, at 4pm in Toronto, as well as twelve other cities across Europe and North America. The protest is in support of nearly 50,000 African asylum seekers on strike since the  January 5. The strike is in response to a recent amendment to the Prevention of Infiltration Law, which previous amendments were condemned by the High Court of Justice as “a grave and disproportionate abuse of the right to personal freedom.”

More information on the protest can be found here.

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