Say no, Canada

Last week Israel received a rush-delivery shipment of US-made precision-guided bombs. The week before, a few days into the bombing of Beirut, it was…

Last week Israel received a rush-delivery shipment of US-made precision-guided bombs.

The week before, a few days into the bombing of Beirut, it was $10 million worth of jet-fuel. From F16 fighters to Apache helicopters, the Israel Defence Forces’ arsenal is as American as apple pie.

Not only that, but it’s all paid for in US dollars. According to the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, US subsidies to Israel amount to at least $5.5 billion annually.

Given these figures, it’s hard to see Israel’s military actions as anything less than an extension of US foreign policy.

American money maintains Israeli military superiority in the Middle East, and if just once the US cancelled shipment on the fuel or the ammunition, that superiority would be in jeopardy.

It might be helpful for Canadians to bear these facts in mind as we try to unravel pro-tem Prime Minister Steve Harper’s baffling response to the deaths of our fellow citizens in Lebanon.

Harper began in the first days of the conflict by declaring Israel’s furious assault on Lebanese civilians a “measured” response to Hezbollah‘s attack on an Israeli border patrol.

He followed up with an insouciant shrug at the subsequent slaughter of a family of Lebanese Canadians.

Last week when a precision-guided Israeli bomb killed Canadian Armed Forces Major Paeta Hess-von Kruedener and three of his fellow UN observers, Harper took the opportunity to reiterate his support for Israel, and to suggest the UN was to blame for having observers there in the first place.

Israel’s supporters often make the claim that the world is quicker to jump on that county’s transgressions than on equal or greater crimes committed by others.

Other countries hold prisoners without formal charges in inhumane conditions.

Other countries assassinate rivals, incarcerate children, torture prisoners, bulldoze villages, kidnap leaders, use food and water as weapons of war, maintain secret nuclear programs and slaughter innocents.

Why do we pay such disproportionate attention to Israel’s sins?

Is it, as the challenge would seem to suggest, a case of entrenched racism? Perhaps.

Or maybe we care more about how Israel behaves because Israel, in so many ways, is us.

It’s a country of immigrants, largely middle class, mainly white, many of them Americans and Europeans, some Canadians, who like us have not always had a perfect relationship with the people who were already living on the land when their great dream of nationhood was born.

They get the bulk of their national budget from our closest ally and trading partner, and a portion of it from us.

We are members of the same military alliances, and since Harper came to power, we endorse all the same positions on international affairs.

Naturally, with such a close connection between our two countries, we care about what goes on in Israel.

We care when Israeli civilians are killed and maimed by suicide bombers. We care when rockets fall on Israeli towns, and by the same token we care when the Israeli military appears to target civilians, civil housing and infrastructure, journalists, UN observers and children.

When US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice flew to the Middle East last week, she was there not to broker a peace deal as so many secretaries of state before her have done, but to prolong a war.

Declaring that a quick ceasefire would be a “false promise” Rice made it clear that the US wishes the bombing to continue until Israel has subdued Hezbollah, and that the deaths of Lebanese civilians or the destruction of their roads, airports, hospitals and homes are not of sufficient consequence to stand in the way of that mission.

But what does it matter whether Canada echoes America’s unquestioning support of Israel?

We’re a small distant power; who in the Middle East cares what our essentially interim prime minister says about anything?

It’s worth remembering that Bush has squandered his once-great popularity with his wallowing about in Iraq, and that this is an election year.

When he takes a strong stand which most of the world rejects, he needs a bit of international support somewhere to show the folks back home, one or two good photo-ops with respectable-looking foreign leaders, preferably white guys in suits, and a few quotable words of support now and then.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s loyalty is so unquestioning and so long-standing it hardly counts any more.

That’s why Harper’s endorsement matters so much. It added a voice and helped to tip the scales in St. Petersburg when most other countries wanted to issue a joint call for an immediate ceasefire, and it lends credibility to Republican voices during an election year.

So even though it’s only words from the mouth of the stop-gap prime minister of a minor American satellite, those words help to keep the bombs falling on the heads of Lebanese civilians, and the missiles on their neighbours in Israel.

Instead of putting pressure on both sides to stop the slaughter, Canada put pressure on the world to let it go on.

Now when at least eight Canadians and 500 Lebanese have died under those bombs, and 50 Israelis under the answering missiles, Harper still says full speed ahead.

What do you say, Canada?

Al Pope won the 2002 Ma Murray Award for Best Columnist in BC/Yukon. His novel, Bad Latitudes, is available in bookstores.