When Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper addressed the Knesset, every seat in the visitors gallery was taken. Photographers jostled each other for a good shot, and invited guests stood up for ovation after ovation.
“As someone who was born and raised in Toronto and immigrated to Israel as a young adult, I am so lucky to have benefited from the best of both countries,” Frances Kummer, a real estate agent who was one of 50 Israeli-Canadians invited to the Knesset for the speech.
“I am especially proud of my Canadian heritage because of the positive example and leadership of Prime Minister Stephen Harper. I admire his position on Israel and anti-Semitism and doing what is right no matter how unpopular it is. He is a leader of integrity and conviction.”
The Israeli newspapers covered the speech, but not always on page 1. Yedioth Ahronoth relegated the story to page 12, and ran two photos – one of Prime Minister Harper speaking, and the other of Arab-Israeli Member of Knesset Ahmed Tibi walking out in protest. The headline reads, “A Zionist Hug from the Canadian Prime Minister.”
Harper’s visit gives Israel a boost at a time when relations with members of the European Union are tense over Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.
“Unfortunately for Israel, Harper is the exception rather than the rule: he really supports Israel’s basic argument vis-à-vis the Palestinians and rejects the criticism of Israel in Europe,” Yedioth Ahronoth's Nahum Barnea told The Media Line. “If the Israeli government had difficulty with criticism towards its policies in the peace process, now they have a winning argument. They can say, “Listen to Harper, not (French President Francois) Hollande or (British Prime Minister David) Cameron.”
Others said that Harper’s visit will have a longer-term impact.
“Canada is not as significant as the United States, but it is a country with impact,” Osnat Kollek, artist and the daughter of Teddy Kollek, the legendary long-time mayor of Jerusalem. “It gives Israel justification to continue its policy.”
Yet, on the streets of Jerusalem many asked didn’t even know that Harper was in the country. Those who did said they supported Harper and saw him as a friend.
“If he's pro-Israel, we love him already,” Nella A, who preferred not to give her last name, told The Media Line. “In Europe a lot of prime ministers are against us, and they think they can tell us how to make peace. All we need is support because we really don't feel any hate for the Palestinians. All we want is peace. As long as the Palestinians feel that all we give is not enough because we're still here, there won't be peace.”
Others said that they welcome a world leader who seems to understand the difficulties Israel is facing.
“He is welcome here and it is nice to feel that someone likes us,” Ziva Tuchman told The Media Line. “He understands the situation. We need more people like him to make us feel better in the world.”
Article written by Linda Gradstein and Felice Friedson
Rye Druzin contributed reporting from Jerusalem
Reprinted with permission from The Media Line