Skip to main content
analysis

Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper (R) walks down the Hall of Honour with Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Parliament Hill in Ottawa March 2, 2012.CHRIS WATTIE/Reuters

Update: Benjamin Netanyahu has won the Israeli election. Read the full story here.

Ottawa's support for Israel is unlikely to be affected by the results of that country's election, observers say, though the nature of the ties between the two governments could shift if a new prime minister comes into power.

Exit polls on Tuesday suggested a possible two-way tie between incumbent Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party and the Zionist Union bloc led by Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni. That would represent a better-than-expected performance for Mr. Netanyahu, but one that nonetheless leaves him weakened.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has cultivated a close relationship with Mr. Netanyahu in recent years, and refused at times to criticize the Israeli leader even when the United States and European countries issued their own rebukes over some of his policies.

Mira Sucharov, a political science professor at Carleton University and a blogger for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, said the two leaders have a close personal relationship, in part because they appear to share similar world views. But she and other experts said the ties between the two governments run far deeper than that personal connection alone.

"They see support for Israel in general as a compelling moral issue, a deep commitment that they have personally and have expressed collectively in the name of their government and in the name of the Canadian people," said Gil Troy, a professor of history at McGill University.

Shimon Fogel, chief executive officer for the Toronto-based Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, said there are also a number of links between the two countries that transcend politics, including in the business and academic sectors. "There are so many layers to the relationship that I think that it insulates it against any particular development on the political front," he said.

Should Mr. Herzog become Israel's next prime minister, observers of Canadian and Israeli politics said it is unlikely that Canada's support would change in any marked way. However, they noted that a Herzog-led government could have an easier time rebooting relationships between Israel and the United States, where tensions have risen.

"Clearly, a Herzog government would be more user-friendly in terms of the West. It would first of all press a reset button, cleansing many of the toxins that have entered into the relationship between Bibi Netanyahu's government and many other governments," Prof. Troy said.

Prof. Sucharov said Mr. Netanyahu has relied on public opportunities to display Canada's solidarity with Israel and buttress some of his more controversial policies. "I don't think that the Zionist Union would require that kind of defensive flank from Harper," if they form government, she said.

On Monday, Mr. Netanyahu suggested in an interview that he would not accept the formation of a Palestinian state as Israel's leader – a statement that contradicts Canadian policy promoting a two-state solution.

Prof. Sucharov said the comments are unlikely to have a significant effect on Mr. Netanyahu's relationship with the Canadian government, should he form the next government.

"While the Harper government is publicly committed to a two-state solution as the best outcome, I think that they, like [Mr. Netanyahu], are more inclined to believe that there's no one to negotiate with and more inclined to be less trusting of the Palestinians," she said.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Foreign Affairs said she could not comment on the Israeli election, but noted that Canada supports Israel's right to defend itself and live in peace with its neighbours.