During a press conference with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Tuesday, an Israeli reporter asked visiting Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, “Is Canada paying a price for being so supportive of Israel? Is it possible to support Israel and still have ties to the Arab world?”
This question goes to the heart of what is generally perceived as Israel’s greatest weakness. The Arab boycott of Israel and of companies doing business with Israel has served as one of the most potent weapons in the anti-Israel arsenal for over a generation. Indeed, since the OPEC oil embargo in 1974, it has been the Arabs’ single most powerful weapon in their unceasing campaign for the destruction of the Jewish state.
It was Arab economic bullying that forced African nations to cut their ties with the Jewish state.
It was the Arab use of the oil weapon after the 1973 Yom Kippur War that convinced Western Europe to end its diplomatic support for Israel and throw in with the PLO.More than anything else, it is the Arab economic boycott of companies that do business with Israel that has eroded Israel’s diplomatic standing over the past two generations and transformed the only human rights respecting democracy in the Middle East into an international pariah.
And yet, under Stephen Harper, as the noose of international isolation is drawn around Israel’s neck more tightly every day, Canada has emerged as an outspoken supporter and defender of the Jewish state.
So in essence, the Israeli reporter’s question to Harper could easily be rephrased as, “Are you crazy?”
Harper responded to the question by rejecting its premises – that the Arab world behaves as a bloc, and that standing up for your convictions is a losing proposition when those convictions involve taking unpopular stands.
As he put it, “I wouldn’t want to say there is no price, but my general view of the world is that people respect your view, if you express it appropriately and they understand it’s genuine….The fact of the matter is, Canada has deep relations with many Arab countries…. And frankly [there are] many matters where we probably far more often agree than disagree. So look, I don’t think it’s automatically the view that if you have a particular issue where you disagree, that this needs to rupture relationships irrevocably.”
In other words, what Harper acknowledged was that yes, Canada has lost contracts in some Arab countries due to its support for Israel. But by and large, it hasn’t taken a serious hit.
The obvious follow-up question would have been to ask if Canada gains anything from its support for Israel that can compensate for the economic hits it takes for it.
The answer to that question is yes, Canada, and other countries that support Israel now, when such support is more notable than it was in the past, do gain significantly from their actions. This is true on two levels.
First, economically, Israel is in a far different position than it was 20 years ago. During Harper’s visit, Canada and Israel updated their free trade agreement and signed a number of other agreements enhancing cooperation in multiple fields.
As Netanyahu said, “I think that cooperation makes us both stronger and more prosperous and more secure countries.
Canada isn’t alone in recognizing the economic potential of good ties with Israel. Consider Norway.