MONTREAL — Stephen Harper defended his government’s anti-terrorism legislation as necessary for protecting constitutional rights and not a threat to them, as the opposition claims.
The prime minister received thunderous applause for Bill C-51, which will soon receive royal assent, from the more than 1,000 guests attending a dinner in his honour, held under the auspices of the Jewish Community Council of Montreal (Vaad Ha’ir) on May 21.
Harper received its inaugural King David Award for his clear and consistent defence of Israel and strong moral stance against anti-Semitism.
The event, held under extremely tight security at Montreal’s Crowne Plaza hotel, benefits a new fund in memory of Lynn Eltes, who died one year ago, created by her husband Sam Eltes. This year’s proceeds will be directed to Jewish education “in all its forms” in Canada and abroad, it was announced.
Guest speaker World Jewish Congress president Ronald Lauder stated “unequivocally” that Israel and the Jewish people have “no better friend” than Harper.
Harper’s theme was that the world is an increasingly dangerous place and Canada must do what is necessary to keep its citizens safe.
“There is a war on Canada… the threat is real,” he said, citing a recent CSIS report that “there are violent groups and people in the world who want to kill Canadians.”
Bill C-51 provides Canada’s security agencies with the tools to keep Canadians safe, without infringing on their freedoms, he said.
He also defended Canada’s participation in the battle against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, saying “it is in our national interests” and “Canada can’t opt out of the world.”
He also affirmed Israel’s right to defend itself.
“Israel’s leadership has no choice but, at all times, to take the force it needs to protect what its enemies wish to destroy,” he said.
“The only difference between Hamas and Israel, and ISIS and us, is that Hamas is closer to Israel. Israel is on the front lines. Those who turn a blind eye to Israel’s enemies do so in the long run at their own peril.”
Harper also said: “Our foreign policy is different from the approach in the past, when we were trying to be liked by every dictator with a vote at the United Nations… We refuse to be neutral.”
Harper was praised throughout the evening in the most effusive terms and received several standing ovations, even shouts and whistles.
Lauder also emphasized that the world is becoming more perilous, especially for Jews.
“I believe we are at the most dangerous point since the end of World War II,” he said.
“After the war, no normal person would express anti-Semitism. But three generations later, 70 years, it’s once again out in the open. And Israel is the lightning rod for this anti-Semitism.”
Lauder sounded the alarm that Iran “denies the Holocaust while it plans for the next one.”
The accusation from certain quarters that Israel sent a rescue mission to earthquake-stricken Nepal “to steal children is no different from the blood libels of 300 years ago,” he said.
The boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign’s “ultimate aim is to destroy the Jewish state.”
Anti-Semitism is a daily phenomenon, particularly in Europe, he added. “When a young boy in a yarmulke can’t walk safely on the streets of Paris or London or Berlin, something is terribly wrong… We’ve been this way before.”
The situation is made all the worse because “the world is silent,” with Harper being one of the few exceptions among political leaders, Lauder continued.
The evening’s MC, Rabbi Chaim Steinmetz of Congregation Tifereth Beth David Jerusalem, said Harper’s strong moral stance has special meaning for him as the son of a Holocaust survivor.
“The battle scars of anti-Semitism are not theoretical for many people in this room. You [Harper] understand this…You learned about anti-Semitism and what happened in World War II from your father, and you vowed to stand with the Jewish People.”