Stephen Harper vows loyalty to Israel in speech to Knesset

Prime Minister Stephen Harper spoke fiercely in defence of Israel Monday, accusing critics of anti-Semitism, vowing to stand with the country, and drawing heckles from two legislators who eventually stormed out of his speech to the Knesset.

Speech to Israeli parliament unique for a Canadian prime minister

Harper's address to the Israeli parliament

9 years ago
Duration 24:40
Stephen Harper vows support for Israel in a speech to the Knesset that draws protest from 2 Arab-Israeli members

Prime Minister Stephen Harper spoke fiercely in defence of Israel Monday, accusing critics of anti-Semitism, vowing to stand with the country, and drawing heckles from two legislators who eventually stormed out of his speech to the Knesset.

"Through fire and water, Canada will stand with you," Harper said in closing his speech to Israel's parliament, echoing a prayer that is said on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.

The two hecklers, Ahmad Tibi and Abu Arar, are Arab-Israeli members of the Knesset from a small coalition party called Ra`am-Ta`al-Mada.

They walked out part way through the speech as Harper spoke out against what he said is anti-Semitic criticism of Israel.

The remaining legislators rose in a standing ovation for Harper, one of many throughout his speech, as the two hecklers left the Israeli parliament.

Harper is the first Canadian prime minister to address the Knesset.

In his speech, Harper spoke of the long ties between the two countries, and said Israel and Canada share the same democratic values.

'Going along to get along' is 'weak and wrong'

Harper accused Israel's Western critics of moral relativism and said they single out Israel "to go along to get along."

He addressed critics of his government's foreign policy, who have called it unsophisticated and simplistic.

"Such 'going along to get along,' is not a 'balanced' approach, nor a 'sophisticated' one; it is, quite simply, weak and wrong," Harper said.

Harper argued it's within moral relativism that "the seeds of much more sinister notions can be easily planted."

The line that drew the heckling seemed to be one in which Harper described what he referred to as updated, more subtle anti-Semitism.

"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," he said.

'Twisted logic and outright malice'

 "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," he said.

"That is condemned, and that condemnation is masked in the language of anti-racism. It is nothing short of sickening."

Harper allowed that criticism of Israeli government policy isn't in and of itself "necessarily anti-Semitic."

Most disgracefully of all, some openly call Israel an apartheid state.- Prime Minister Stephen Harper

"But 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?"

"This is the face of the new anti-Semitism. It targets the Jewish people by targeting Israel and attempts to make the old bigotry acceptable for a new generation."

Peaceful Palestinian state must come

Canada will defend Israel's right to exist, Harper said, because Jewish people deserve their own homeland after generations of persecution.

Jewish people "deserve to live safely and peacefully in that homeland," he said.

He acknowledged Canada turned away Jewish refugees in the 1930s, but said Canada has consistently chosen to stand with others who oppose injustice.

And, just as Canada supports Israel's right to self-defence, he said, Canada supports "a just and secure future for the Palestinian people."
Members of the Knesset gave Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper a standing ovation following his speech to the Israeli parliament. (Derek Stoffel/CBC)

Both Canada and Israel share "a sincere hope" that the Palestinian people and their leaders will choose a democratic Palestinian state that lives peacefully alongside Israel, Harper said.

"Sadly, we have yet to reach that point. But, when that day comes, and come it must, I can tell you that Israel may be the first to welcome a sovereign Palestinian state, but Canada will be right behind you."

More sanctions on Iran possible

Harper said Israel is in a tough place, condemned for defending itself but facing the consequences if the country doesn't act.

"And that consequence will be final, your destruction," he said.

"Many of the hostile forces Israel faces are faced by all western nations," Harper added.

"And Israel faces them for many of the same reasons we face them. You just happen to be a lot closer to them."

It's easier to scapegoat Israel than to emulate its success, Harper said.

"It is easier to foster resentment and hatred of Israel’s democracy than it is to provide the same rights and freedoms to their own people."

Harper said Canada truly hopes the Iranian regime walks back from its path to making nuclear weapons, but that the country's sanctions will stay in place until it sees real effort. 

"And should our hopes not be realized, should the present agreement prove ephemeral, Canada will be a strong voice for renewed sanctions," he said.

'Welcome to Israel, dear friend'

Canada and Israel's militaries also work together to share information and technology, he said.

Israel has rolled out the red carpet for Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper's speech to the country's parliament, the Knesset. (Derek Stoffel/CBC)
​"This has also been to our mutual benefit. For example, during Canada’s mission to Afghanistan, our use of Israeli-built reconnaissance equipment saved the lives of Canadian soldiers."

Harper said nearly 350,000 Canadians "share with [Israel] their heritage and their faith." 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israelis deeply appreciate Harper's steadfast support.

"Welcome to Israel, dear friend," Netanyahu said ahead of Harper's speech.

Ahmad Tibi, one of the two legislators who later walked out during Harper's speech, heckled the Israeli speaker and Netanyahu, which drew a response from Netanyahu in Hebrew. The two argued back and forth for a few minutes while others laughed, until the speaker intervened.

"I think I've made my point about the robustness of Israeli democracy," Netanyahu said in English.

Harper is on his first trip to Israel as part of an official visit to the Middle East.

He started the day with a visit to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. He and his wife, Laureen, were given a warm welcome to Israel at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office.​

He also announced $66 million in aid for Palestinians.