Former prime minister Stephen Harper, made a rare public appearance at the 66th annual B’nai Brith dinner in Calgary this month, where he reiterated his views on Israel that he was known for while in office.
“Let us never forget the value and interest of our two countries [Canada and Israel] are closely bound together,” he told a sold-out crowd March 16 at Beth Tzedec Congregation.
“We are both advanced nations based on the values of freedom, democracy and justice, and we are in a world that is increasingly dangerous and unsettled. We face similar threats,” Harper said.
“Unlike our country, Israel is located in the neighbourhood where these threats live very close by and in some cases right next door. And this is the only real strategic difference between our two countries. The threats that Israel faces from the forces of terrorism are the same ones that threaten all of us. Should Israel ever fall to such forces, those forces would only straighten and fall on all of us.”
Speaking to a hometown audience, Harper appeared relaxed and was seen taking photographs with guests.
He began his talk with self-deprecating jokes before discussing the challenges facing the world today.
Putting the changes in historical context, he spoke about the decline and fall of the Soviet Union and its eastern bloc empire due to crumbling economies and advances in communications.
“The Soviet empire simply vanished without a shot even being fired. There is no parallel example of an utter and sudden collapse of a major power in history. It led to the spread of the western economic system, open societies, open markets, freer trade, [and] freer migration across the world.”
Harper said the forces that destroyed the Soviet Union have accelerated and continue to erode power around the world.
Technology, such as cheap smartphones, has allowed people to have access to information that they can “tailor to their needs and biases and can transmit information and network with others, close to them or around the world,” he said.
“Never in history have people been empowered in this way. Now wide politicization [can] develop quickly and outside of established institutions. This is eroding established centres of power and influence.”
He noted how this is happening in the Muslim world, where groups such as ISIS and the Taliban act like governments when they’re little more than gangs with guns, cellphones and Internet access.
China, he said, is the most resistant to these trends and maintains strict controls on information flow.
He noted that as one billion people, mostly in Asia, have been pulled out of poverty into something resembling a middle class, incomes have been stagnant or declining in the developed world and good jobs have been disappearing. As well, trade relationships have become “brutally unbalanced, low-skilled migration has accelerated and social security systems and jobs have become insecure.”
As a result, he said, it’s “not surprising there is a political revolt in some of these countries.”
Harper said the reason Canada has remained relatively untouched by these trends is because until recently, the middle and working classes have benefited from income growth.
At a March 22 dinner in Toronto for top donors of Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies, Harper further explained his government’s strong support for Israel.
“When I was prime minister, I looked at the world and I concluded that I had a pretty clear choice,” he said. “Either we stand up for our values and our interests right on the frontline with Israel… or the greatest threats will come daily, right to our own shores. That is why all free people must support the State of Israel.”
With files from CJN staff.
Irena Karshenbaum is a writer in Calgary. Her e-mail address is [email protected]