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Copyright © 2019 The American Israel Public Affairs Committee

Interview: Former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper Discusses Israel

Each year at AIPAC’s annual Policy Conference, thousands of pro-Israel activists come to Washington to hear from a diverse range of speakers who provide insights into the U.S.-Israel relationship. While the majority of speakers are American or Israeli lawmakers, policymakers or academics, a number of notable international leaders are also inspired to join this important gathering of the U.S. pro-Israel community.

Canada has been a long-standing friend of both the United States and Israel. This year, former Prime Minister Stephen Harper is scheduled to deliver live remarks at Policy Conference. During nine years of distinguished service as prime minister, from 2006 to 2015, Prime Minister Harper’s deep personal connection to the Jewish state led him to courageously stand with Israel at the United Nations and to work closely with America to build international opposition to Iran’s nuclear program.

In anticipation of his appearance at Policy Conference, the former prime minister consented to a brief interview with Near East Report:

Q: You have been called the most pro-Israel prime minister in Canada’s history. How did you come to develop this strong connection with the State of Israel?

A: Israel is a fellow member of the global family of free and democratic nations, so it shares our values. It is also our only long-standing and enduring ally in that most dangerous part of the world, the Middle East, so it also shares our threats.

Thus the defense of Israel is in our own national interests as Canadians, as it is in the interests of all western nations.

Q: Canada and the United States worked closely together to build international opposition to Iran’s nuclear program. How can Ottawa and Washington continue to collaborate to counter malign Iranian behavior, including repeated ballistic missile tests, support for terrorist groups and human rights abuses? 

A: There was a hope that the nuclear agreement would help moderate the Iranian regime’s behavior. It hasn’t. It has emboldened the Iranian regime. The nuclear agreement should be scrapped at the first sign of Iranian non-compliance.

It is incumbent on both our countries to continue to denounce Iran’s terrorist activities and human rights abuses. We should also look for every opportunity to dialogue with Iranian society through both traditional means and social-media platforms.

Q: The rise of the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement has been particularly acute on American and Canadian campuses. Is this a cause of concern for the future of bilateral Canadian-Israeli relations?

A: Yes. I am deeply concerned with the BDS movement and the anti-Semitism that it tries to mask and intellectualize. The reality of BDS on campuses is the targeting of Israeli academics, the harassment of Jewish students and intimidation against free speech.

On the positive side, I note that my party—the Conservative Party of Canada—was successful in passing a resolution through our Parliament that denounces this hateful movement.

Q: Moving forward, what areas offer Canada and Israel the greatest opportunity to deepen their relationship? In particular, what role can Canada play in helping Israel confront the range of challenges facing it today? 

A: As I’ve already said, both security and the economy are key areas where the Canada-Israel relationship could be much more developed. Countering the isolation of Israel in multilateral fora remains the chief area where Canadian leadership continues to be needed. For example, Canada could have and should have denounced United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334.

Stephen Harper was first elected to the House of Commons in 1993. He left in 1997 but returned in 2002 as leader of the official opposition. In 2006, he led the Conservative Party to electoral victory and became the 22nd prime minister of Canada, a position he held through three successive governments over a nine year period. He holds a BA and MA in Economics from the University of Calgary.

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