Address by Minister Baird to the American Jewish Committee

May 3, 2012 - Washington, D.C.

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Address by Minister Baird to the American Jewish Congress

Shalom chaverim [peace, friends].

Thank you very much for that warm welcome.

It is an honour to be among the distinguished guests speaking today. And it’s a real pleasure to be back in Washington.

Beyond being a close observer of American politics, I quite love this city as I think it embodies the hopes and aspirations of a truly great nation.

Even in times of political gridlock!

This visit, though, is particularly special for me. The AJC [American Jewish Committee] does such important advocacy work. Not only for the Jewish people of America and of the world, but in supporting dignity and respect for all peoples.

It is truly commendable—and important—work.

And in that work, you have a reliable partner in Canada, represented here in Washington by our ambassador—and my good friend—Gary Doer.

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

I make that point around the world often.

In fact, I will make that point again when [Israel’s] President Shimon Peres visits Ottawa next week.

I’ve got to tell you: our strong support for Israel is not about politics at home. And it certainly is not about winning popularity contests at the United Nations.

Canada has the scars to show for it.

You see, for us it’s all about values.

Canada and Israel—like the United States—share the same values. We respect freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law.

Dignity for the people we serve.

We have a history of defending the vulnerable, challenging the aggressor and confronting evil.

In the conduct of our foreign policy we do not simply “go along to get along.”

Over the course of our history, Canada has not shied away from standing up for what is just and what is right.

Indeed, Canada has aggressively fought against hatred and intolerance in all forms.

And 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 and dignity.

We back our principles with action.

Canada is no small player in this regard.

In Afghanistan, we have invested billions and billions of dollars and sacrificed more than 150 lives to ensure that country never again becomes a haven for terrorism.

We don’t take these stands and espouse our values for popularity’s sake. We take these stands because we know there is no moral equivalence between right and wrong.

At the UN and elsewhere, we make it clear that Israel’s right to exist is non-negotiable. 

We vote against one-sided and unfair resolutions.

When Assad murders thousands and thumbs his nose at the world, as Iran continuously abuses the fundamental rights of its people while fuelling international terror and unrest, the United Nations Security Council seems overcome with paralysis.

We say directly to UN member states that the greatest enemies of that organization are those that sit idly by, watching its slow decline.

We believe what’s right is right.

And what’s wrong is wrong.

And it is in defence of those beliefs that we act.

In our view, liberal democracies and international terrorist groups are not equal.

They do not deserve equal treatment.

The concept of moral relativism in international relations is something we reject.

We fight it constantly, regardless of whether our position is popular, convenient or expedient.

Over the past 20 years, I have visited Israel on a number of occasions. On one such visit, when I was a provincial legislator, in my briefing over dinner, overlooking Jerusalem’s majestic old city, I asked a Canadian official in Israel one simple question:

Why does Canada continually vote with one-sided resolutions condemning the liberal-democratic state of Israel?

At that time, we did.

The official paused, peering down at me like I was a provincial politician—“provincial” both figuratively and literally—and gave me a ‘go-along-to-get-along’ response

The official said that these resolutions were meaningless, they occur every year and nobody pays attention.

That is no longer how Canada operates.

Not under this foreign minister.

And not under this prime minister.

We pay attention, we think the resolutions are relevant, and we believe this type of anti-Israel rhetoric undermines the very institutions that should be promoting liberal democracies instead of cutting them down.

We will not apologize for the positions we take, because we stand for what is right. Just like Israel, we stand for the freedom and dignity of the individual.

We see these fundamentals are still missing in areas confronting the most substantial changes. These areas of unrest and violence are aching for freedom.

And for dignity.

Families want the dignity of providing for their children, of practising their faith, of going about their daily lives in peace and security.

Prosperity is central to this discussion.

The absence of jobs, hope and opportunity leads to violence, unrest and instability. In Canada, we realize this fundamental truth; the impact that the national economy has on the average household—and on the aspirations of our people—is why we have made economic matters our government’s top priority.

Jobs, growth and long-term prosperity.

Everything we do, we do with those goals in mind for Canadians.

Many people I meet are surprised to know that Canada has the third-largest oil reserves in the world.

We are one of the world’s leading mining nations.

And we produce more hydroelectricity than almost any other country.

We are blessed, indeed.

This is why we continue to drive our country forward.

Reducing regulations, balancing our books and developing our resources responsibly and trading them around the world.

You may have heard of the infamous Keystone XL Pipeline.

This is just one project of many that can create jobs and opportunity—not just for Canadians but for Americans, too.

Tens of thousands of jobs, billions of dollars in spinoffs and the energy security that America has sought for generations.

We are confident progress will be made. 

But we cannot simply sell to one market. 

That is why we have looked to Asia, to the fastest-growing economies across the Pacific. Canada, like the United States, is a Pacific nation and a trading nation at its core. And our government continues to work on trade deals with countries around the world.

The European Union members, Jordan, Japan and India, just to name a few.

We are expanding our trade horizons. And other countries are very willing to deal with us.

People are slowly realizing that turmoil in one part of the world can hit home—and hit hard.

In the last year, even some countries that are resource-rich have been fraught with unrest. In parts of the Arab world, for example, that’s because bountiful resources haven’t translated into basic rights for more than a select few.

That can’t last forever.

Nor should it.

Canada, though, is a liberal democracy. A country that respects the human rights and dignity of its people. One that practises responsible development; one that is built on the foundations that all prosperous and stable nations share.

Canada can be a source of stability in uncertain times.

We are what is called a “smart power.”

A country that punches above our weight.

An energy powerhouse.

An example to the world.

There are great challenges that like-minded countries around the world need to confront. Our interests and our values are very much connected—rooted in the fundamentals that countries like ours hold so dear.

Freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law.

The dignity of our people.

We fight for these fundamentals at every turn. Through the G-8 and the G-20, through the United Nations and the Commonwealth.

We protect and promote the values that Canadians believe in.

We will not “go along” or look the other way when a minority is denied its human rights or its fundamental freedoms.

It is our common duty to uphold the rights of the afflicted, to give voice to the voiceless.

As citizens of the global community, we have a solemn duty to defend the vulnerable, to challenge the aggressor, to protect and promote human rights and human dignity at home and abroad.

For women, Christians, Bahá’ís and other victims of persecution in Iran. For Roman Catholic priests and other Christian clergy and laity, driven to worship underground in China. For Christians driven out of Iraq by al Qaeda and Copts assaulted and killed in the streets of Egypt.

Gays and lesbians are threatened with criminalization in far too many countries.

Our nationalities are many, but we share only one humanity.

Over the past century, the world was infected by a lethal combination of utopian ideology and brutal despotism that spawned totalitarian regimes that enslaved their own peoples.

Apologists tried to persuade us that the ideology of communism was benign.

Canadians knew better.

We took a stand for freedom and fundamental human rights.

We stood against oppression in the very early days of World War Two.

We stood with its brave people and with those of the other captive nations of Central and Eastern Europe.

One of those Canadians was my grandfather.

He embodied the Canadian tradition of standing up for what is right and what is just.

He believed, as I do today, that going along with the common thought was a dangerous road to travel—far more dangerous than risking his life to protect our values, our freedoms and our dignity.

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

And far too often, the Jewish people are on the front lines of this struggle.

Some 20 years ago, I had a summer job at the very ministry of foreign affairs that I am pleased to lead now. As a bright-eyed, idealistic young person, I was being briefed on the daily goings-on: once, I was told, simply, that it was raining in Metula.

Most of you in the audience probably know that when one says it’s raining in Metula, one means that there are rockets being indiscriminately launched into one of Israel’s most northern towns.

Thoughts of what actions to take ran through my head. Should we release a statement of condemnation? Should we take this to the United Nations?

Naïve as I was then, I asked the official: What do we do next? What should Canada do?

His response was something that will stay with me for the rest of my life.

He said, “John, on this issue, it’s difficult to tell the white hats from the black hats.”

I sat there, doodling.

White hat, black hat.

Israel, Hezbollah.

Liberal democracy, terrorist organization.

Canada’s best friend, our worst enemy.

“The differences,” I replied, “couldn’t be more stark.”

That exchange—like others I’ve shared with you tonight—helped shaped my views on the world more than I could ever have known at the time. More strongly than ever, I believe that Israel is a country we should not just stand behind but one we should stand shoulder to shoulder with.

The international criticism thrown upon Israel should never equate it with an international terrorist organization.

With an organization that indiscriminately launches rockets with the goal of death, destruction and chaos.

With an organization that makes the complete destruction of Israel fundamental to its charter.

Israel is subject to protests and international criticism on a daily basis.

We are under no illusions that Israel is perfect.

But as [Israel’s] Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu rightly put it to [pro-Palestinian] protesters landing in Israel last month:

“You could have chosen to protest the Syrian regime’s daily savagery against its own people, which has claimed thousands of lives.

“You could have chosen to protest the Iranian regime’s brutal crackdown on dissent and support of terrorism throughout the world.

“But instead you chose to protest against Israel, the Middle East’s sole democracy.”

This is what drives me, and this is what drives our prime minister: fighting this unabashed moral relativism that runs counter to our values and our core interests. 

In these pursuits, we must constantly remind ourselves that we are neither hopeless nor helpless moving forward.

The massive wave of change that has swept through parts of the world in the last year or so has a voice.

It is our voice.

And if we continue to speak the same words, if we continue to promote the same values, if we continue to stand against evil, oppression and despair, then those calling for change will have their voice.

And I can tell you here tonight, with great confidence, that if we continue to speak out, for our values, for shared prosperity and shared dignity, that Israel—like the United States and like Canada—will be on the right side of history.

Thank you.