Israel’s New Northern Friend

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While the antics of Canada's left-wing, anti-Israel ideologues have been soundly dealt with on these pages, less attention has been given to the pro-Israel stance of its new Conservative government, led by Prime Minister Stephen Harper. 

Earlier this month, it was reported that Harper had fired a high-level ambassador with a lengthy history of anti-Israel activism.  Yvon Charbonneau's last day on the job as Canada's permanent representative to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) was September 22nd.

Charbonneau has a long history of anti-Israel activism dating back to his days as the head of a radical Quebec teachers' union during the 1970s and 1980s.  Former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney has recalled how shocked he was to hear Charbonneau denounce Montreal Jewish leaders “in a decidedly racist manner” at a 1976 Quebec economic summit. 

In 1983, Charbonneau urged union members to place signs in public schools attacking the Israeli government for killing Palestinians.  Around the same time, he helped organize a mass demonstration against Ariel Sharon when he visited Montreal.

In 1997, Charbonneau was elected to Parliament as a Liberal, representing a district in eastern Montreal.  In a 2002 speech in Parliament, he said that “Sharon and his associates are turning Israel into a rogue state, a state that has no respect for friends or foes, a state that relies solely on the use of brutal force for its survival.”  The next day, a Hamas suicide bomber killed eight people and wounded 14 others on a bus in Haifa.

Despite all this, in 2004 then-Prime Minister Paul Martin appointed Charbonneau Ambassador to UNESCO.  The Montreal Gazette editorialized against the nomination at the time, citing his anti-Israeli views. 

While at UNESCO, Charbonneau's chief accomplishment was to help enact—against American and Israeli opposition—the Convention on Cultural Diversity.  This treaty—which Paul Martin signed—seeks to distinguish the “economic” aspect of cultural goods from their “cultural” aspect.

Under the treaty, a DVD is not just a product but has a separate, intrinsic value as a “vehicle of (cultural) identity.”   Supporters of this absurd document hope that this distinction will be recognized under international law and become an excuse to erect trade barriers to cultural goods.  In fact, the treaty gives countries the right to take “all appropriate measures to protect and preserve cultural expressions.”  Harper should reject the treaty and its advocacy of 'cultural protectionism' as a follow-up to his sacking of Charbonneau.

Harper's pro-Israel stance is also affecting Canadian foreign policy more broadly.  For example, in July, Canada voted against a U.N. resolution that condemned Israeli aggression against Palestinians, citing its anti-Israeli bias. 

This is a sharp about-face from Canada's attitude under the Liberal leadership of Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin.  And even after numerous critical stories in the media and polls showing declining support for his party, Harper courageously stood by his comments in which he called the Israeli response to the kidnapping of its soldiers by Hezbollah, “measured” and reiterated his support for Israel's “right to defend itself.”

It feels good to be able to say that Israel has a friend in Canada.