Stephen Harper’s foreign policy was widely criticized by his opponents. The former Prime Minister is blamed for having changed a country known as an honest broker to a warrior and biased nation aligned with the American foreign policy. The rapprochement with Israel constitutes one example of the changes made by Stephen Harper. However, the shift of the foreign policy is wrongly ascribed to the former Prime Minister. Indeed, Jean Chretien and Paul Martin have initiated this change. Stephen Harper reinforced it.
In 2008, the government of Canada officially proclaimed itself “the best friend of Israel,” ahead of the United States. This correlated to the coming to power of Barack Obama, a democrat leader more moderated regarding his support of Israel than his predecessor, George W. Bush. Many elements demonstrated the strong relationship which was built between the two countries since Harper became Prime Minister: all the Canadian government’s declarations and actions with respect to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict agreed with the Israeli government whatever its policy was.
At the time of the Israeli-Arab wars, Stephen Harper always took side for Israel and severely criticized its opponent, especially when it was Hamas. During international summits, Canada always stood for Israel. In January 2014, the countries signed a Memorandum of Understanding. The current question is whether the newly elected Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wants to follow Harper’s steps regarding the relationship that Canada had with Israel or change the relationship to a more moderate one, focused more on the Palestinian side’s issues. Diminishing its support to the Hebrew State would constitute the first step allowing Canada to regain its former reputation back as an honest broker in the Middle East and in the world.
However, according to CBC, Trudeau tends to demonstrate an unwavering backing to Israel. As pointed by Rafael Barack, Israel’s ambassador to Canada, only the style will change, but the substance of the relationship will remain. Yet, Justin Trudeau demonstrates his will to tone down the Canadian foreign policy in the Middle East by starting in re-establishing diplomatic relations with Iran, severed in 2012. This decision would not damage to relations with Israel since it is considered as a Canadian domestic issue that would not have any impact on the current situation in the Middle East.
Thus, Trudeau’s support to Israel was expected given that past Liberal government, under the leadership of Paul Martin, had a pro-Israel foreign policy. Israel constitutes a key ally to Canada whether Conservative or Liberal party runs the country. In that way, it is impossible to withdraw Israel from Canadian allies for the country is a significant economic and security partner. Indeed, Canada and Israel have signed a Free Trade agreement in 1995. Since then, both countries have built a strong commercial relationship whose key element is the collaboration in science, technology and innovation. Moreover, Israel represents the only stable country in the Middle East; therefore, it is needed to help fighting against threats such as terrorism from that region. However, it seems like Trudeau is able to implement a more moderated policy towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict than Stephen Harper did since he promotes multilateralism and wants to renew Canada’s commitment to peacekeeping.
Amélie Maréchal is a French exchange student, studying MA in International Relations at Carleton University. She has a Bachelor degree in History and Political Science from the University of Rennes. She did her first year as a Master student in Rennes. Her thesis examines the relation between Canada and Israel under the leadership of Stephen Harper. She is interested in the Middle East and diplomacy, in general.