So Stephen Harper finally got his Birthright trip to Israel. Good for him, even if he pushed the 26-year-old cut-off date. And it ended, as such emotional excursions should, with a campfire moment, everyone swaying to his “Hey Jude.”
At first I thought the trip was simply about making it official: Canada is now a province of Israel, at least when it comes to foreign policy. But that didn’t fit. Even the trumpet blasts after Harper’s name at the airport were more like a summer camp pageant than a state function. And in fact, little has changed in Canadian policies, which don’t differ much from the Liberals’. There was something else though that was uniquely bizarre and touching about it.
I can’t think of anything comparable in the Canadian past or anyone’s: taking a huge tribute delegation to simply pay homage to another state in its current incarnation, while packing along much of your government and retainers galore. It sounds like the heyday of Rome. Can you imagine even Israel admirers like the U.S. or U.K. sending such a procession?
In fact, the oddness had nothing to do with Israel. It would’ve been as odd anywhere. We send delegations to China. But as Jonathan Kay pointed out in the National Post, this was equivalent to 42,000 Canadians going there. It had to do with that sense of tribute and deference.
So I found, surprisingly, that it didn’t embarrass me as a Jew, which I’d thought it might; it embarrassed me as a Canadian. It was so unrestrained and disproportionate. It’s unseemly to go so gaga for another country.
I don’t think at the height of the Cold War, Canada ever put on such a show of adoration for the U.S.; I doubt it did for Britain in Empire days. As a kid I sat on the curb on Bloor St. waiting for Elizabeth and Philip to drive by but at least they came to us, paying a kind of reverse tribute to their “subjects.” But we went to them in this case, our government in tow. Who was minding the store? (It was disconcerting to see a Neil Young item on CTV and they had to go to Jerusalem for a rebuttal from our minister of energy.)
Nor is it that this was a display of friendship and admiration. I can think of lots of countries worthy of that, including in some ways Israel, at least before everything there got polluted by the 47-year occupation of a subjugated people. It’s that unmitigated fawning, which is unworthy of an adult, much less a nation. No one else in the pro-Israel camp has gone that far and it’s not because they’re anti-Semitic or less supportive of Israel; it’s because they have a minimal sense of national decorum.
Canadians would never do stuff this garish at home (think of Chris Hadfield’s dignified “O Canada” at the last Leafs-Canadiens game) but they go to a foreign place and let it hang out like cheerleaders at a Texas high school football game. It may be appropriate for kids or young adults who visit Israel on paid-for Birthright trips (I did the equivalent when I was 20) but not for the government of a sovereign nation. You behave with dignity, not like some smitten Belieber (or in this case Beliebibier) with less excuse. Even the Israelis weren’t very into it; the ecstasy was all on the Canadian faces.
And why were they gaga? Well, everyone likes some romance in their politics. Most political romance has had a leftish tilt in recent history: revolutions, liberation movements, etc. The right has had massive success with its fiscal programs and cutbacks but those hardly carry the same emotional kick. Israel, however, stands as a grand tale of suffering and triumph through the ages, and at this moment, it fits a right-wing template. Maybe for Harper, Israel is his version of Ho Ho Ho Chi Minh, NLF is gonna win, and this trip was his Woodstock.
As for that arms-crossed campfire moment when he sang “Hey Jude,” even Bibi (Netanyahu) looked perplexed. But Bibi’s a guy who’s spent his life feeling paranoid about everyone else being determined to get him. The undiluted adulation might’ve thrown him.