The Jewish Community Council of Montreal (Vaad Ha’ir) feted Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper for his unwavering and staunch support to Canadian Jewry and Israel. Harper was the honoree at the Jewish kosher certification organization’s first annual King David Award given to Harper for his “principled support of Israel and Jewish communities worldwide.” The gala dinner event was held at the Montreal’s Crowne Plaza hotel on Thursday, May 21, 2015 to an audience of more than 1,000. In his 20-minute speech, the prime minister spoke about the new Canadian anti-terrorism laws and Canada’s staunch support for Israel, and “drew parallels” between the two countries.
World Jewish Congress president Ronald Lauder delivered the keynote speech, stating that Israel “unequivocally” has “no better friend” than Harper. Lauder focused much of keynote address on the recurring and growing problem of anti-Semitism. Rabbi Chaim Steinmetz of Congregation Tifereth Beth David Jerusalem served as the evening’s MC also praised Harper, who he said, has “vowed to stand with the Jewish People.” Denis Lebel, the Minister of Infrastructure, Communities and Intergovernmental Affairs and Minister of the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec also attended.
The Canadian prime minister expressed his gratitude for the award that was presented by Rabbi Saul Emanuel, “I am deeply honoured to have been chosen as the recipient of this year’s King David Award by the Jewish Community Council of Montreal. Canada’s Jewish community continues to make tremendous contributions to every aspect of society across our great country, including here in Montreal. Our Government will continue to promote religious freedom in Canada and abroad and to take action against terrorists and extremists seeking to extinguish this fundamental Canadian value.”
Prime Minister Harper’s speech defended the country’s new anti-terrorism laws C-51, meant to protect the country against terrorism in the country and homegrown terrorists, Harper called it a “dark and dangerous time.” The Prime Minister “cited” a CSIS report, saying, “There is a war on Canada… the threat is real… there are violent groups and people in the world who want to kill Canadians.” Harper also defended his government’s decision to send Canadian troops to fight ISIS, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
Canada faced two terror attacks in Fall 2014 in St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Quebec and in Ottawa on Parliament Hill, and one foiled plot on a VIA Rail train. Since then increased Canadian Security Intelligence Service monitoring has discovered a number of homegrown terrorists, the radicalization of the youth in Montreal and elsewhere, with some looking or leaving to join ISIS in the middle east, and planning or belonging to organizations with terrorist ties. The new laws aim to prevent suspected terrorists from engaging from the suspected activity and “criminalize the promotion of terrorism.”
Harper’s speech emphasized Canadian support of Israel and defended Israel’s right to protect itself from national security threat. Harper explained why Israel need to defend itself is so vital, “What is the difference between Hamas and Israel, and ISIS and us? There is just one thing. Hamas is a lot closer to Israel than ISIS is to us. Israel is the front line of free democratic nations, and any who turn their back on Israel or turn a blind eye to the nature of Israel’s enemies do so in the long run at their own peril.”
Prime Minister Harper chastised terror plots and attacks “targeting” Israel, “Those who hate democracy and freedom, tolerance and openness having been plotting attacks against Western nations, beginning with Israel, for decades, seeking to destroy our rare and precious way of life.”
Harper took the opportunity to differentiate himself from his US counterpart President Barack Obama jabbing him, for his criticism of Israel, and appeasement of dictatorships referring to the Iran nuclear weapons deal. Harper pointed out, “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’s speech was well received by the audience with “several standing ovations.” The Canadian prime minister concluded by vowing, “Canada will continue to stand by Israel through fire and water.”
Bonnie K. Goodman is the Editor of the Academic Buzz Network, a series of political, academic & education blogs which includes History Musings: History, News & Politics. She has a BA in History & Art History & a Masters in Library and Information Studies, both from McGill University, and has done graduate work in Jewish history at Concordia University as part of the MA in Judaic Studies program. She covers US, Canadian & Israeli politics, with a particular focus on the Obama presidency, Congress, domestic policy, and elections.