Address by Minister Baird at 12th Annual Herzliya Conference

January 30, 2012 - Herzliya, Israel

Check Against Delivery

It is a privilege and a pleasure to be with you this evening.

This is my third visit to Israel, though my first as foreign minister. I was last here as transport minister in 2010. While I didn’t make it during my posting as leader of the government in Canada’s “Knesset,” I have had constructive dealings with Israeli counterparts of each of the Cabinet portfolios I’ve held—and there have been several. While some might suggest that’s a sign I simply can’t hold down a job, I prefer to look at the number and variety of our interactions as a reflection of the breadth and depth of relations between our two countries.

As you can well imagine, my current job involves quite a bit of travel.

In the eight months since being named Canada’s foreign minister, I have logged mileage equivalent to eight trips around the equator.

Israel, though, is a destination unlike any other.

It is a place of deep and enduring friendship—kinship, even.

And I would like to begin by thanking all who have helped to make this visit possible. It is great to be back in the Jewish state.

I have been asked to address the topic of leadership.

In that vein, I wish to deliver reflections on three areas as they relate to leadership in the Canada-Israel context:

  • first, historical factors and recent developments across the Middle East and North Africa;
  • second, the basis of Canada’s care and concern; and
  • third, a way forward.

Let me state at the outset, and for the record, that Israel has no greater friend in the world than Canada.

Canada is not a large nation in population terms.

Our 34.5 million people are spread across a massive land mass.

I believe it was David Ben Gurion who said Israel has too much history, not enough geography.

We share so many things in common.

A lack of geography is not one of them.

Thankfully, we are endowed with an awesome abundance of natural resources. The wealth we derive from them allows us to invest in developing our human capital and such sectors as technology—or the “new economy” as some call it.

In that sense, Canada is indeed rich—and blessed.

When it comes to commercialization of technology, we have much to learn from Israel, but that is perhaps another topic for another time.

When it comes to world affairs, we find the greatest effectiveness in working with others—partner nations with whom we see eye to eye.

Canada is what I like to call a “smart power.”

And this is what has allowed us, throughout our history, to “punch above our weight,” if you will.

It is how we continue to “punch above our weight” today—in areas where we choose to do so.

Over the course of our history, Canada has never shied away from standing up for what is right and just.

Indeed, like Israel, Canada has fought mightily against hatred and intolerance.

We have paid a high toll for the principles that guide us.

In two world wars—and in conflicts before and since—we have paid in blood spilled and lives lost.

All in defence of freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law.

Most recently, we answered the call as part of the NATO-led, UN-sanctioned mission to protect the people of Libya.

We “punched above our weight” to prevent the slaughter of innocents in Benghazi.

We supported all Libyans in their quest to end four decades of oppressive, one-man rule.

We supported their desire to share in that country’s immense natural wealth.

And we supported their calls for democratic self-determination, in which all Libyans have a role and voice.

We knew this would not be easy. It is proving not to be.

But it was what was right.

The massive wave of change that has swept across Libya and the Arab world in the past 12 months has been truly remarkable.

It is not done yet—witness the courageous struggle of the Syrian people at such great cost to themselves against the appalling violence of the Assad regime.

Nor is the precise outcome of any of these transitions by any means certain.

What is emerging, though, presents both challenge and opportunity.

It is, as our prime minister calls it, “the paradox of freedom: That awesome power, that grave responsibility—to choose between good and evil.”

Israel, of course, is no stranger to this.

And perhaps no other nation has more at stake in the choices the newly free will make in the coming months and years.

I can assure you that Canada will stand with you in the face of challenge.

For the same reasons Canada was one of the first countries in the world to list Hamas as a terrorist entity.

For the same reasons Canada was the first country to sign on to the Ottawa Protocol on Combating Antisemitism.

For the same reasons Canada this year voted against a package of one-sided, imbalanced resolutions at the UN.

The Canadian tradition is to stand for what is principled and just, regardless of whether it is popular, convenient or expedient.

Again, Israel has no greater friend than Canada.

Why is it that we care so much?

Why is it that our prime minister and our government believe so deeply and so passionately in Israel’s right not only to exist, but also to exist as a Jewish state and to live in peace and security?

Why is it that our prime minister has said that “those who threaten the existence of the Jewish people are a threat to all of us”?

The state of Israel embodies principles that Canada values and respects.

It is a beacon of light in a region that craves freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law.

A region where people are rising up against dictators, autocrats and oppressors who defied those basic principles, those values.

It is also, in no small measure, because Canada recognizes the long and unbroken history of anti-Semitism.

And we know the dangerous facts of history and of human nature: that humans can choose to be inhuman.

Indeed, Israel today is a country whose very existence is under attack both literally and figuratively.

Whether it be from rockets raining down on Israeli schools, or the constant barrage of rhetorical demonization, double standards or delegitmization, Israel is under attack.

It is symptomatic of that new ill—the new anti-Semitism.

Harnessing disparate anti-Semitic, anti-American and anti-Western ideologies, it targets the Jewish people by targeting the Jewish homeland, Israel, as the source of injustice and conflict in the world, and uses, perversely, the language of human rights to do so.

We must be relentless in exposing this new anti-Semitism for what it is. Of course, like any country, Israel may be subjected to fair criticism. And like any free country, Israel subjects itself to such criticism—healthy, necessary, democratic debate. But when Israel—the only country in the world whose very existence is under attack—is consistently and conspicuously singled out for condemnation, I believe we are morally obligated to take a stand.

For a country like Canada, the easy thing to do would be simply to go along with anti-Israeli sentiment, to get along with other countries.

It would be easier to pretend that engaging in anti-Israeli rhetoric is being somehow even-handed, and to excuse it under the false pretence of being an honest broker.

It would be easier to get votes, too, as taking a stand—even in defence of a friend—often risks offending someone.

Yes, it would be much easier for us to simply “go along to get along.”

But Canada will not “go along to get along.”

Canada upholds Israel’s right to exist—as a Jewish state—in peace and security.

On this point, there is no space for moral ambivalence. We are compelled as a country of free citizens to speak clearly.

We have the right, and therefore the obligation, to speak out and to act.

Canada will not accept that, or stay silent while, the Jewish state is attacked for defending its territory or its people.

We uphold Israel’s fundamental right to defend innocent civilians against acts of terrorism.

Just as fascism and communism were the great struggles of previous generations, terrorism is the great struggle of ours.

Far too often, the Jewish state is on the front line of our struggle and its people the victims of terror’s scourge.

The Second World War taught us all the tragic price of going along just to get along.

It was accommodation and appeasement that allowed fascism to gather strength.

As Winston Churchill said: “An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last.”

And so we defend Israel’s right to exist.

We do so in the strongest of terms and with the full weight of Canada’s “smart power.”

That is not to say that Canada does not support the establishment of a Palestinian state.

To the contrary, our government’s position has been very clear. The status quo is not an option.

We support a two-state solution that is negotiated by the two parties in good faith and without preconditions.

We believe that the statement by the Quartet this past September lays the foundation for a return to negotiations.

We encourage both sides to accept the Quartet’s principles and return to sustained, direct talks.

In that sense, we hold out hope for recent, helpful interventions by Jordan and others.

Let me conclude by looking forward.

First, a quick story: I was at the United Nations when Prime Minister Netanyahu (or Bibi) addressed the General Assembly this past fall.

I was proud to take my seat and listen to what he had to say.

And when you talk about leadership—that, friends, was leadership.

He didn’t go there to win applause; he went to speak the truth.

He spoke out against militant Islam.

He expressed Israel’s continued hope for peace.

He urged Palestinians to make peace, recognize Israel and return to the table.

One line in particular that resonated with me was the call to “stop negotiating about the negotiations.”

Canada could not agree more.

The unifying factor in the uprisings that have crested across the Arab world is a popular despair about a lack of jobs, hope and opportunity.

Such sentiments are natural, yet such uprisings are, by their nature, unpredictable and tough to corral once unleashed.

By returning to negotiations for a lasting peace, by resisting temptations to apply preconditions to talks, and by avoiding measures that would seek to prejudge the outcome of the talks, the Palestinian leadership could immediately take steps toward a more measured, stable transition to statehood.

Hamas, and other leaders who advocate violence, must renounce terrorism and the barbarians that commit it if they are to play a legitimate part in the future for Palestinians.

A negotiated settlement is the best route forward to ensure that Palestinians are “neither the citizens of Israel nor its subjects,” to quote Prime Minister Netanyahu last fall.

Palestinians and Israelis deserve free states of their own.

They deserve to live in peace, security and human dignity.

To that end, both must use the responsibility of their freedom for good.

Canada stands willing to help in any way it can. Our large diaspora communities are certainly watching closely.

More than 60 years ago, Israel appeared as a light in a world emerging from deep darkness.

Against all odds—and despite concerted efforts by some—the light has not been extinguished.

It burns still.

And it burns ever brighter when upheld by the principles of freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law.

There is room for more light in this region—especially as the darkness of swirling regional uncertainty threatens to close in.

There is room for two states respecting the principles of freedom, democracy, human rights and the rules of law.

Working together, we strengthen and affirm these important principles in word and deed.

And we declare our choice to use our freedoms and shared humanity for good, not evil.

Thank you.