With President Barack Obama seeming to have taken a leave of absence as leader of the free world, the task of providing such leadership continues to fall to others. Increasingly, this task is being taken up by leaders in other English-speaking democracies, and for several of them their defense of the West’s values is never more strongly pronounced than when it comes to Israel.
This has been particularly noticeable with the recent visits to Israel by Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop. Both of these individuals have not only seen to it that their countries have taken concrete actions to defend Israel on the international stage, but they have also voiced this support in terms of standing by democratic values and doing what is just. In short, both have demonstrated a clear sense of moral clarity, where other Western governments have failed to do so.
Prime Minister Harper’s speech delivered before the Knesset on Monday was a case in point. Rightly, Harper spoke of Israel’s accomplishments, defending unequivocally its right to exist as a Jewish state and denouncing in no uncertain terms the new anti-Semitism that masquerades as anti-Zionism–or as Harper put it, “the old hatred has been translated into more sophisticated language for use in polite society. 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.”
Ironically, when Prime Minister Harper came to rebutting the apartheid charge leveled against Israel, two of the Arab Knesset members present began to loudly interrupt him, before then promptly storming out–their very position in the Knesset, of course, serving to refute the accusation that they apparently felt so strongly about insisting upon.
This sense of obligation to speak out against such lies and bigotry clearly stems from the prime minister’s wider worldview. Harper declared unapologetically that we live in a world where “moral relativism runs rampant” and that “in the garden of such moral relativism, the seeds of much more sinister notions can be easily planted.” For, as Harper noted, “Those who, often begin by hating the Jews…history shows us, end up hating anyone who is not them.”
Indeed, the most important aspect of Harper’s speech was the explanation he gave for why Canada would stand by Israel. Having begun by stating plainly, “Canada supports Israel because it is right to do so,” Prime Minister Harper went on to explain that “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.”
Crucially, he observed that, “These are not mere notions. They are the things that, over time and against all odds, have proven to be the only ground in which human rights, political stability, and economic prosperity, may flourish. These values are not proprietary; they do not belong to one nation or one people. Nor are they a finite resource; on the contrary, the wider they are spread, the stronger they grow. Likewise, when they are threatened anywhere, they are threatened everywhere.”
It is a similar tone that we hear when the Australian foreign minister speaks, and indeed acts. In contrast to the policies of her predecessor, Julie Bishop has twice now ensured that Australia has been one of only a handful of countries at the United Nations to resist voting in support of motions demanding that Israel halt all settlement activity. In an interview during her recent visit to Israel Bishop stated that she thought the international community should refrain from calling settlements illegal, remarking, “I would like to see which international law has declared them illegal,” and arguing, “I don’t think it’s helpful to prejudge the settlement issue if you’re trying to get a negotiated solution. And by deeming the activity as a war crime, it’s unlikely to engender a negotiated solution.”
Foreign Minister Bishop has likewise been unwavering in her opposition to boycotts, seeing to it that funding from the Australian government does not reach organizations calling for them. Of the BDS movement Bishop exclaimed, “It’s anti-Semitic. It identifies Israel out of all other nations as being worthy of a boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign? Hypocritical beyond belief.”
Bishop stands out as an almost lone voice on a number of these issues, yet in doing so she echoes the Canadian prime minister’s attitude when he stated that his country will “stand for what is principled and just, regardless of whether it is convenient or popular.”
With all America’s coming challenges on the world stage, Obama and Kerry would do well to pay attention to Harper’s example and remember his words when he spoke Monday of how “either we stand up for our values and our interests, here, in Israel, stand up for the existence of a free, democratic and distinctively Jewish state or the retreat of our values and our interests in the world will begin. Ladies and gentlemen, just as we refuse to retreat from our values, so we must also uphold the duty to advance them.”