(CNSNews.com) – Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s defeat in this week’s general election deprives Israel of arguably its strongest ally in the international arena – and the United Nations of one of its most outspoken critics.
Harper’s downfall at the hands of Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party comes a little over a month after another staunch ally of Israel, Tony Abbott, was ousted as leader of Australia’s ruling party, and therefore as prime minister.
Canada and Australia under Harper and Abbott frequently angered Arab and Islamic blocs at the U.N. with their vocal support for Israel and other foreign policy stances. (They similarly upset others over their lack of enthusiasm for global climate change initiatives.)
Over the past nine years, Harper’s Conservative government took the lead in supporting Israel at the U.N., and its Human Rights Council (HRC).
As a member of the Geneva-based HRC from 2006-2009 Canada often clashed with Islamic states and other non-democratic member-states, at times voting alone against resolutions it opposed. (The U.S. was not then a member, the Bush administration having shunned the council over its anti-Israel bias and other concerns.)
When Hamas won legislative elections in the Gaza Strip in 2006, Canada under Harper was the first country after Israel to cut funding to the Hamas-led Palestinian government.
Canada was also the first country to declare it would boycott two U.N. racism conferences – in Geneva in 2009 and again in New York in 2011, taking that stand well before the U.S. and other democracies. Criticism of the so-called “Durban” process centered on its singling out Israel for condemnation.
Harper’s government in 2010 withdrew funding for the U.N.’s agency for Palestinian refugees, and said it would instead direct the money directly to projects such as food aid, in line with “Canadian values.”
That same year, Canada failed to win a two-year seat on the U.N. Security Council – an unexpected development in a secret ballot vote which some attributed to antagonism in the General Assembly to Canada’s foreign policies.
During a visit to Jerusalem early last year, Harper drew praise for his support for the Jewish state and standing ovations when he addressed the Israeli Knesset. (Arab lawmakers heckled him and staged a walkout.)
In that speech, Harper spoke about standing up for what is right in international forums, “regardless of whether it is convenient or popular.”
“Now I understand, in the world of diplomacy, with one, solitary, Jewish state and scores of others, it is all too easy to ‘go along to get along’ and single out Israel,” he said.
But doing so was neither “balanced” nor “sophisticated,” he added. “It is, quite simply, weak and wrong.”
“Unfortunately, ladies and gentlemen, we live in a world where that kind of moral relativism runs rampant,” Harper said.
“Harper was the best friend Israel’s had among the leaders of the world,” Israeli journalist Herb Keinon wrote on Wednesday. “As problematic as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s relationship has been over the years with U.S. President Barack Obama, it was that good with Harper.”
Hillel Neuer, executive director of U.N. Watch – a Geneva-based non-governmental organization that monitors the HRC – paid tribute Wednesday to the outgoing prime minister.
“Over the past decade, when others were silent, you courageously led Canada to defend moral clarity at the United Nations, defying dictatorships and double standards,” Neuer wrote.
“[T]hose of us at the United Nations who work to restore the founders’ ideals were deeply fortunate to see a world leader who showed, through extraordinary actions, how a profound commitment to basic principles can defy even the most intense peer pressures of international politics.”
Iran welcomes Harper’s departure
Canada under Harper also took a hard line against Iran.
In the fall of 2012, his government suspended diplomatic relations with Iran, closed its embassy in Tehran, and expelled Iranian diplomats in Ottawa, a move welcomed by Jerusalem.
“Canada views the government of Iran as the most significant threat to global peace and security in the world today,” then-Foreign Minister John Baird said at the time, attributing the move to Iran’s defiance of U.N. resolutions regarding its nuclear program, threats against Israel, support for terrorist groups, human rights abuses at home, and military assistance to the Assad regime in Syria.
More recently, Canada announced last July that it would maintain sanctions against Iran despite the nuclear agreement reached between Tehran, the U.S. and five other powers.
Iran’s foreign ministry on Tuesday welcomed the election outcome, which spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham said reflected a desire by Canadian voters to distance themselves from the Harper government’s “radical policies.”
An unsigned commentary in Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency said Harper had been defeated “because his reckless decision to support Israel, follow the U.S.-led war on terror, and sever ties with Iran didn’t advance Canada’s national interests in any form.”