Goodbye Canada, Hello Harperland

The defeated ogre, licking his wounds, finds little comfort from his hawkish “best friend”, despite his love for Israeli birds for whom he helped raise more than ten million Canadian dollars to build a bird sanctuary in the Promised Land. This was in preference to Canadian birds, who along with almost all other Canadians, had their funding slashed.

He did this with the help of the Jewish National Fund (JNF), an innocuous sounding organization, one which operates worldwide, but one which was founded to ‘disappear’ Palestinians and their homes, building bland pine forests (though not indigenous, they grow quickly and help us forget), where villagers once grew olives and tended sheep.

His JNF friends decided to honour him by naming the park, the Stephen J. Harper Hula Valley Bird Sanctuary Visitor and Education Centre. Harperland is near the Golan Heights, on land confiscated from 30,000 Bedouin in 1948. Lake Hula was vital, not only to the Bedouin, but to Nature, as a wetland. But as part of the plan to “make the desert bloom”, the lake was drained, creating a dust bowl, and the new kibbutz soon abandoned. (I’m not kidding.)

In the ogre’s favour, Harperland at least tries to provide migrant birds with refuge, if not the original occupants. In a slick promo JNF video advertising the park and lauding Harper as the new messiah (I’m still not kidding),  DJ Schneeweiss, Toronto’s Israel consul general enthuses, “The birds know no borders.”

Ogre’s mask hard to shed

Is there any advice from Trudeau Sr on how Justin should deal with the prickly beast occupying the Holy Land? Like his predecessors, Pierre Trudeau followed the US-led script, opposing the Arab boycotts of Israel during much of the 1970s, abstaining from United Nations resolutions that were critical, but increasing relations with the Palestine Liberation Organization and opening embassies in Arab countries. PET’s only (timid) public criticisms were of Israel’s invasion of Lebanon, and the massacre of hundreds of Palestinians in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps.

In 2003, then-Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chretien refused to join the attack on Iraq, much to the anger of our Israel Lobby. In 2006, after ex-Liberal leader Michael Ignatief condemned Israel’s bombing of the Lebanese village of Qana as a “war crime”, the Israel Lobby went into high gear, switching to support Harper, helping him get his majority in 2011 with the help of turncoat (Liberal) Jewish voters. Chastened, Trudeau Jr distanced himself from Ignatief and campaigned zealously in synagogues during the 2015 election, bringing these ridings back into the fold.

There is no question that Trudeau is a vast improvement over Harper on the domestic front. But is his foreign policy just going to be a facelift of Harper’s? The Liberal nay on Palestine last month at the UN (voting with the US and Palau against “the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination”) is not surprising. It is part of the ogre’s legacy.

His denunciation of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement is disappointing. In a recent interview in Canadian Jewish News, Trudeau called BDS “an example of the new form of anti-Semitism in the world,” and worried that “when Canadian university students are feeling unsafe on their way to classes because of BDS or Israel Apartheid Week, that just goes against Canadian values.”

Who wrote that nonsense for him? Are ‘they’ now whispering in his ear to pass Harper’s draft law outlawing all public protest of Israeli crimes? Wake up, Justin! Those students are your own past and our future. Some of them are your personal friends. Quebeckers are the backbone of BDS in Canada. There are many more Muslim Canadians (3.2% of the population vs 1% Jews), including 50,000 Palestinian. And their cause is just.

BDS will survive and prosper. The fact that Harper couldn’t kill BDS makes it unlikely that the nice Justin will be able to (or willing to, once he thinks about it for a nanosecond). Justin will be sure to have his mailbox flooded with plaints from thousands of idealistic students, his nature constituency, the very ones he writes about inspiring in his autobiography Common Ground.

New-old Liberal face?

In Common Ground, Justin tells how he enjoys math puzzles, but he doesn’t seem very good at sums. As MP, during the invasion of Gaza in July 2014 (2,200 Palestinians vs 66 IDF troops killed), Justin stated: “Israel has the right to defend itself and its people. Hamas is a terrorist organization and must cease its rocket attacks immediately.” He acknowledged “the suffering of Israelis”, but had nothing to say about the suffering of Gazans. Are these “the very values and ideals that define Canada: values of openness, respect, compassion, that seek for justice,” as he opined in synagogues during the election campaign?

There are some hints of a new face. Trudeau has pledged to normalize Canada’s relations with Iran, ties that Harper cut in 2012 to Netanyahu’s loud applause. He will embrace the P5 +1 nuclear deal (it’s Obama’s baby). He has pledged to stop bombing Syria and Iraq, neighbours of our ‘friend’. The beanstalk was slippery, and Justin is just getting his feet on the ground.

Liberal principles include “the creation of a sovereign, independent, viable, democratic and territorially contiguous Palestinian state”. The only way to achieve that is to make sure Palestinians get aid to prepare to run their own state. That is the objective of dozens of NGOs at work in the occupied territories–agencies which were all slashed by Harper, including Kairos and Rights and Democracy. Even the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees was not exempt. There is room here to restore justice without too much squawking from Israeli hawks.

There are Liberal wisemen who Justin can listen to. Top of the list is Robert Fowler, Canada’s ex-UN ambassador, who was kidnapped by al-Qaeda types and spent a harrowing 130 days with them in the Sahara (My Season in Hell, 2011). Fowler caused a furor at the March 2015 Liberal Party conference, castigating Harper for destroying Canada’s reputation in the Middle East as a result of domestic pandering to Jewish voters. He told the squirming delegates (including Justin) that while Canada condemned the 1956 British-French-Israeli invasion of Egypt and established the first UN peacekeeping force (Sinai), it was wrong to support aggressor Israel during the 1967 war. Let’s hope that Justin has a copy of My Season in Hell on his bookshelf beside Common Ground.

Then there’s his brother Alexandre. In 2012, filmmaker Sasha produced the documentary The New Great Game which was balanced on both Iran and Israel, and of course much criticized by Zionist media hawks. Justin is lucky to have such a brother. He can help him chart a truly liberal course in the Middle East, void of hype. The major challenge left by the ogre, one that will define Justin in the world as a man of the people, a legend, is shaping up to be Israel, the ogre’s “best friend”.

So far, we’re stuck with the ogre’s epithet–the ‘f’ word, so to speak. In a call to Netanyahu, Trudeau explained there would be “a shift in tone, but Canada would continue to be a friend of Israel’s”. All three parties are now ‘friends’, a term which applies to no other country, and wasn’t used before Harper about Israel. It’s as if there is some doubt about whether a country as prickly as Israel could ever befriend anyone. Note, Mr Netanyahu: “The lady doth protest too much.”

Harperian semantics are still being parsed. In his first press conference, after the obligatory ‘f’ word, Justin’s Foreign Minister Stephane Dion added: “But for us to be an effective ally we need also to strengthen our relationship with the other legitimate partners in the region.” Perhaps Harper’s term of endearment for Israel will be his only legacy in Canadian Middle East policy.

Eric Walberg is a journalist who worked in Uzbekistan and is now writing for Al-Ahram Weekly in Cairo. He is the author of From Postmodernism to Postsecularism and Postmodern Imperialism. His most recent book is Islamic Resistance to Imperialism. Read other articles by Eric, or visit Eric's website.