WASHINGTON — Former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper declared the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel to be anti-Semitism for the new generation as Vice President Mike Pence assured activists at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee annual conference this evening that the U.S.-Israel relationship will be “even stronger and reach even greater heights” under the Trump administration.
Harper, who served as prime minister for nearly a decade until Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party defeated the Conservatives in 2015, was in 2014 the first Canadian prime minister to address the Knesset.
He told the AIPAC crowd at D.C.’s Verizon Center that he did not take pro-Israel positions “as a favor to the state of Israel,” but “because I believed them to be in the best interest of my country, Canada.”
“What is the difference between our values and Israel? None,” he said. What’s different, Harper added, is while they face similar threats “Israel is much closer to those threats than we are.”
So western nations have the choice of supporting Israel, “or we watch those threats come daily to our own shores,” he added.
Haper condemned anti-Israel bias at the United Nations, noting that the world body “is the one forum in the world that includes everybody — the good, the bad and the ugly” and with human rights abusers in the mix it’s “hard to imagine their Human Rights Council would come to decisions we find terribly pleasing.”
He called it “outrageous” that Israel tops the HRC’s agenda, as the Jewish state is “one of the freest nations in the world by any standard.” Meanwhile, the prime minister added, there’s “virtual hero worship” of the Palestinian Authority at the UN.
Harper said he doesn’t see the UN changing anytime soon, but that’s not an excuse for America and Canada not standing up for the right principles there.
Asked about the greatest dangers faced by Israel, Harper noted Iran and terrorist groups, emphasizing that a Jewish state “surrounded by ungoverned spaces” would be particularly perilous, but the “most serious threat” is actually one found on college campuses across North America and beyond.
Harper, describing college BDS promotional materials showing an international “no” symbol over the Star of David, said the movement is a “principle vehicle” through its boycott campaigns of “translating the old ideology of anti-Semitism into something acceptable for a new generation.”
Pence, who followed Harper, was sent to represent the administration at the conference; President Trump spent the morning at his golf club in Northern Virginia and returned to the White House just after noon.
Most of the vice president’s address was focused on Trump, telling the activists that the president wanted to “pay a debt of gratitude” to the pro-Israel lobby for his election.
Both Trump and Hillary Clinton spoke last year to AIPAC, which did not endorse a candidate in the presidential election.
Reiterating many of the themes from Trump’s previous address, Pence said the administration stands by Israel because “her cause is our cause, her values are our values, her fight is our fight.”
On a personal note, Pence said, “My Christian upbringing compels me to cherish Israel… as for me and my house, we pray for the peace of Jerusalem and all who call her home.”
“President Trump and I stand without apology for Israel and we always will,” he said.
Pence touted the appointments of Nikki Haley, who will address AIPAC tomorrow, as U.S. ambassador to the UN and David Friedman, a former bankruptcy attorney for Trump and a campaign advisor, as U.S. ambassador to Israel. Pence will swear Friedman into office this week.
In his 2016 speech, Trump told AIPAC, “We will move the American embassy to the eternal capital of the Jewish people, Jerusalem.”
Pence said tonight that the president is “giving serious consideration” to moving the embassy to Jerusalem.
“Our commitment to Israel’s defense is not negotiable, not now, not ever,” he said, stressing that in the wake of last week’s London attack the administration is “crafting plans to defeat radical Islamic terrorism” and “will hunt down and destroy ISIS at its source.”
Pence added that “this administration has put Iran on notice,” and the United States “will not allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapon.”