Dennis Gruending. April 2011. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
On day 12 of the federal election campaign Stephen Harper was in Markham, Ontario wooing immigrant voters. That same evening in Ottawa several hundred people gathered at a church called the Peace Tower on Bronson Avenue not far from Parliament Hill. There they pledged fealty to the state of Israel and praised Stephen Harper as that country’s Canadian benefactor. The event, called Canada Celebrates Israel, was one of four that occurred in Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto and Vancouver within a few days in early April. The rallies featured three Israeli politicians who are members of the Israeli Knesset Christian Allies Caucus, as well as a cast of fundamentalist Christians from Canada. The four events received virtually no coverage in the mainstream media but an Ottawa-based student newspaper did a look-ahead piece in March. In that story one of the tour’s organizers said it was an outreach effort to Jewish and Christian communities to show support for Israel, but it certainly was not political.
Perhaps. But the Conservatives happened to be well represented. Jim Abbott brought greetings on behalf of the federal government. Abbott was the longtime Reform, Canadian Alliance and later Conservative MP for Kootenay-Columbia but has chosen not to run again in the 2011 election. Stockwell Day, the recently retired minister of the Treasury Board, had been billed as a guest speaker at the Ottawa event, but instead he provided a message on videotape. Day was available in person at the Canada Celebrates Israel event in Montreal on the previous evening. The Canadian Jewish News reported on it and described Day as giving “a strongly pro-Israel speech” which earned him a standing ovation. The newspaper described part of his speech as follows: “Day earned wide applause when he said Israel, as a Jewish state, has ‘an aboriginal right to exist’ and that the Hebrew scriptures, written as far back as 1,000 years BCE, provide historically accurate evidence of the Jewish presence in what is now Israel.”
According to the newspaper, the Knesset Christian Allies Caucus and “several Canadian fundamentalist Christian groups” had organized the tour. Those Canadian groups included Christians for Israel, For Zion’s Sake, and Return Ministries, an Ontario-based organization whose website mission statement says the group “encourages Jews and Christians to work together to fulfill God’s plans and purposes for Israel and the nations according to the Word of God.” These fundamentalist groups are Christian Zionists, who believe that the return of the Jews to the Holy Land and the establishment of the state of Israel are prerequisites for the second coming of Christ. These Christians have found an eager ally in the state of Israel, which is desperate to avoid being diplomatically isolated for its shabby treatment of Palestinians and its continuing illegal occupation of their land. In Canada, the Conservatives court both Christian Zionists and the Jewish vote — hence the appearance of Jim Abbott and Stockwell Day at a thinly disguised political event.
The Ottawa rally had received little advance publicity but the main floor of the church was almost full and there was a scattering of people in the balcony as well, a testament to the networking ability of the groups involved. A single bagpiper and a red-coated RCMP constable accompanied the dignitaries, including Miriam Ziv, Israeli’s ambassador to Canada, as they walked to the front. There was a procession of flags, Klezmer music, speeches, and two videos extolling the virtues of Israel. Near the end of the evening, everyone was asked to stand and to recite in unison a Canada-Israel Declaration, whose words were projected on a screen in the church. People were also asked to sign a pledge sheet containing the declaration, which was left on a table at the back of the church.
The Canada-Israel Declaration reads, in part:
Whereas we the undersigned, friends of Israel, affirm the eternal and steadfast love of God for Israel and the Jewish People as clearly decreed in the Word of God. “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness.” (Jeremiah 31:3)
We affirm the noble stand that our Prime Minister, the Right Honourable Stephen Harper has taken in support and solidarity of Israel: “The Jewish state can expect the full support and friendship of Canada.” Oct. 19, 2009, Toronto.
We affirm our Prime Minister’s explicit statement in his speech addressing the delegation of International Parliamentarians and global leaders at the International Conference to Combat Anti-Semitism . . .
We affirm, as stated in the Bible, that people, nations and leaders will be blessed when they bless Israel. “I will bless those that bless you (Israel) and whoever curses you (Israel) I will curse.” (Genesis 12:3)
We affirm that the State of Israel, like Canada, has a right to exist, prosper, thrive and defend her people against the pernicious onslaught of terror, racism and anti-Semitism targeted against them.
We affirm the Abrahamic Covenant of God with Israel, and His promises, and in the giving of the land to the Jewish People as their everlasting homeland and eternal inheritance. “I will give you this land as an everlasting possession to your descendants after you.” (Genesis 17:8)
Crude Biblical literalism
This, of course, is a crude form of Biblical literalism and Stockwell Day’s remarks represent an equally selective history. The noted writer William Dalrymple says that when the state of Israel was created in 1948, an estimated 700,000 Palestinians (Muslim and Christian) were driven from their homes and land. There was no acknowledgment of that by Day, Abbott, or any of the presenters. The preemptive 1967 war Israel captured East Jerusalem and the West Bank from Jordan and they were placed under a military occupation that persists to this day. The Oslo Accords in 1993 set out a process and timetable for peace negotiations and Palestinian self-government but such negotiations are rendered impossible by the relentless development of Israeli settlements on occupied land. As longtime MPs, both Day and Abbott would know that but they choose to ignore it.
The Canada Celebrates Israel rallies were no doubt planned prior to the federal election being called on March 26, but despite their religious trappings they were nonetheless blatantly political events. Their intention was to buttress support for the Israeli government and its policies, and to tighten the political alliance in Canada between the Conservatives, select Jewish organizations and Christian fundamentalists.
Dennis Gruending Pulpit and Politics