Now that Stephen Harper's back from his triumphant tour of Israel, I asked my friend Donna (who's Jewish) if she feels more inclined to vote for him.
"Ha ha ha ha ha," she said. "You must be kidding."
I was surprised. According to some members of our esteemed media, Mr. Harper's trip to Israel was little more than a naked effort to pander to the Jewish vote, which, presumably, is ready to fall into his lap like a ripe plum. One news analysis calculated that Mr. Harper's trip could help him win as many as 10 ridings in the next election – something that will only happen if he captures every last Jewish vote.
Some of my Jewish friends can't decide what's more offensive – Mr. Harper's lovey-dovey friendship with Bibi Netanyahu (not their favourite guy), or the casual assumption in some parts of the media that all Jews think alike, that all they care about is Israel, and that their votes can be bought so cheaply.
"I find that completely offensive," Donna says. "It's insulting and demeaning."
There is something about Stephen Harper that makes a lot of people irrational. Israel makes people irrational, too. So I guess it's no surprise that when you combine Mr. Harper and Israel, a lot of people start saying really stupid things. This applies especially to our progressive opinion elites, who seem to have decided that Mr. Harper has twisted Canada's Israel policy out of all recognition. Some of them also seem to believe that Canada's Jews are so numerous, so powerful, and so single-mindedly devoted to Israel that they can significantly influence our politics and foreign policy. I am afraid this vastly overestimates their clout. Although it's true that their accomplishments are out of proportion to their numbers, Jews account for only 350,000 of all Canadians. That's roughly 1 per cent of the population.
As for Canada's Israel policy, it's pretty much the same as it ever was. Canada supported a two-state solution back in 1947, and that has never changed. The Chrétien regime tilted a little more toward the Palestinians, but the Martin regime tilted back. Those who say we've sacrificed our role as an "honest broker" in the Middle East are simply nostalgic for the days when the Liberals were in power. They bitterly lament the decline of a "principled" approach to foreign policy, by which they mean their principles, as opposed to Mr. Harper's, which they don't like.
The truth is that Mr. Harper's trip was both political and principled. (Amazingly, the two are not exclusive). He has been a conviction politician on the subject of Israel as long as anyone can remember. He believes that Israel is a bastion of democratic values in a despotic, dangerous part of the world that is growing more chaotic every day, and that it deserves support despite its flaws. This stance is too crude and unnuanced for our progressive elites, but it's just fine with millions of Canadians and Americans who basically think the same way he does.
Israel policy in both Canada and the United States has not, in fact, been shaped by the Israel lobby. It has been shaped by a broad sentiment among ordinary people that the Jews deserve a homeland and that Israel is basically a good guy. A 2012 Environics poll found that nearly half of Canadians said the government's policy on Israel "strikes the right balance." (Twenty-three per cent said it was too pro-Israel, and 27 per cent said they didn't know.)
So it's doubtful that Mr. Harper's trip to Israel will change too many votes. Many Canadian Jews have already shifted to the right – in the last election, Ipsos-Reid estimated 52 per cent voted Conservative. And most non-Jews seem pretty happy with the way things are. As for those who are under the impression that all Jews think alike, my friends have news for them. "We're not sheep," says one. "Jews don't do anything en masse."