On November 15, 2016, at a meeting in Toronto, Friends of Israel Initiative welcomed former Prime Minister Stephen Harper as a new member.
The organization, composed mainly of non-Jewish world leaders, was founded in 2010 by former Spanish Prime Minister José María Aznar. Its board of directors includes such notable figures as Peru’s former president Alejandro Toledo, former US Congressman and retired Army Colonel Allen West, former British Military Commander Richard Kemp, former US Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton and former Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs John Baird.
The Initiative, whose mandate is to defend Israel’s right to exist, arose out of a sense of deep concern about the unprecedented campaign of delegitimization of Israel waged by the enemies of the Jewish State, as well as the onslaught of radical Islamism and threat of the Iranian nuclear program.
Throughout his tenure as Canada’s Prime Minister, Harper has been a vocal and unapologetic supporter of Israel who has consistently backed the Jewish State not just in Canada, but also on the international stage.
Some of the most notable examples of Canada’s support under his leadership include becoming the first country after Israel to cut off aid to the Palestinian Authority when Hamas (a group which Canada designates as a terrorist organization) won elections in Gaza, being one of only nine countries to vote against the accord to grant Palestinian Authority a ‘Non-Member Observer State’ at the United Nations, boycotting the anti-Semitic Durban II UN conference in Geneva, walking out of the UN when former Iranian dictator Ahmedinejad took to the podium, condemning Hamas and Hezbollah’s aggression towards Israel and supporting Israel’s right to defend itself against Palestinian terror.
Under Harper, the Conservative Party has taken a zero-tolerance approach to anti-Semitism, denounced the anti-Israel boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement as “hateful and deceitful” and recognized that anti-Zionism is “the new face of anti-Semitism”.
In a historic speech to the Israeli Knesset on January 20, 2014 – the first such speech by a Canadian prime minister – Harper said that Canada and Israel are the greatest of friends and the most natural of allies, and that the friendship between the two countries is based on shared values and strongly held inner convictions. He applauded Israel for making the desert bloom, for its accomplishments and its courage living under constant threat of terror, and said that Canada supports Israel because it is the right thing to do. ”It is right to support Israel – because, after generations of persecution, the Jewish people deserve their own homeland – and deserve to live safely and peacefully in that homeland,” Harper told the Knesset.
His concluded the speech with the iconic quote: “through fire and water, Canada will stand with you”.
For his steadfast support of Israel and the Jewish people, Harper won special recognition from the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, B’nai Brith, Canadian Jewish Congress and Yad Vashem. The Jewish National Fund named a bird sanctuary in Northern Israel in his honour, and the Jewish Community Council of Montreal presented him with the King David humanitarian award.
Harper continues to support Israel even after retiring from politics. Following a private dinner with top Republican donors in Las Vegas in April which his spokeswoman said should be viewed “exclusively” as expression of his continuing support for the Jewish State, Harper tweeted: “Thanks all for a great weekend in support of Israel”.
On December 23, 2016, he publicly thanked President-elect Donald Trump for being a “principled voice on Israel at the UN” after Trump urged the US to veto an anti-Israel resolution at the Security Council. In the end, the Obama administration opted to abstain from the vote, which signalled a shocking departure from four decades of US policy of shielding Israel from unfair treatment at the United Nations.