18 October 2006
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Members of B’nai Brith,
Ladies and gentlemen,
Thank you, Ralph/Frank, for that kind introduction, and thank you all for that warm welcome.
I’m pleased to be here tonight at B’nai Brith’s annual Award of Merit dinner.
It is a great honour to speak to such a distinguished organization.
B’nai Brith has been active in Canada for more than 130 years.
And during those 130 years, this organization has demonstrated that it is not only a strong voice for the Jewish community, but also a powerful champion of the values we cherish as Canadians: equality of opportunity, human rights for everybody, democracy for all.
To all who are or have been associated with B’nai Brith over these long years, I say simply thank you for making such an important and lasting contribution to our country, and for the contribution I know you will also make in the future.
Let me talk about our country and the future.
Ladies and gentlemen, since taking office, Canada’s New Government has pursued a focused and active agenda.
We’ve cut taxes, tackled crime, and introduced sweeping accountability legislation.
Tomorrow, we will move forward on another front – a historic first-step in fact – when we table Canada’s Clean Air Act, the first national regulatory framework for the long-term control and reduction of air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.
But I think we in the government have all been surprised by how much of our time in office has been consumed with international relations.
Thinking of foreign affairs, I include issues as diverse as resolving the Canada-US softwood lumber dispute, defending Canada’s Arctic sovereignty, and re-committing to the United Nations mission in Afghanistan.
In all of these things, our new government has been actively defending and advancing this country’s interests and values on the world stage.
But as all of you know, one of the most significant and challenging foreign policy issues our new government has had to face is the situation in the Middle East.
Our approach to the Middle East, as elsewhere, has been guided by our values: Freedom. Democracy. Human rights. The rule of law. And the uncompromising opposition to terrorism.
These, my friends, are not new values.
They are fundamental to what this nation has always stood for.
The state of Israel, a democratic nation, was attacked by Hezbollah, a terrorist organization – in fact, a terrorist organization listed - illegal - in this country.
We are fighting terrorists in Afghanistan. We have arrested alleged terrorists here in Toronto.
Thus, when it comes to dealing with a war between Israel and a terrorist organization, this country, and this government, cannot and will not be neutral.
Ladies and gentlemen, I said that this position is rooted in what we have long stood for as a country.
As a boy I was, like all lucky men, most influenced by my father – and one of the great influences on my father’s life was World War II.
He was too young to have fought in the war, but old enough to have absorbed its lessons.
The world was too slow to fully grasp the threat of fascism, too willing to make excuses for it, too blind to see what it meant for all of us.
As you know, this summer, we were attacked mercilessly by our opposition for the position we took on the Middle East. I understand why.
I understand that, with the news reports of the day, in the sound of battle and the images of destruction and the suffering of innocents, it is sometimes difficult to see what is truly at stake.
But the fact is this: those who attacked Israel – and those who sponsor such attacks – don’t seek merely to gain some leverage, to alter some boundary, or to right some wrong.
They seek what they and those like them have always sought – the destruction of Israel and the destruction of the Jewish people.
Why? A thousand complicated rationalizations but only one simple reason – because the Jews are different. Because the Jews are not like them.
And because Israel is different, and alone in a complicated part of the world, it is too easy to embrace the rationalizations and ignore this truth.
And too easy to ignore the greater implications of that truth – which became so evident in World War II.
That those who seek to destroy the Jews will, for the same reason, ultimately seek to destroy us all.
It is why Canada’s New Government has reacted with speed and spoken with clarity on the recent events in the Middle East – just as we have against terrorists in Afghanistan
Why we were the first nation outside of Israel to cut off funding to the Hamas government.
Why we defended Israel’s right to vigorous and effective self-defence against Hezbollah.
And why we opposed a one-sided resolution at the Francophonie. Because it wasn’t right. It wasn’t fair. And it wasn’t the Canadian way.
Now, friends, in this same spirit of truth and with the openness that real friendship allows, I need to tell you that we must also seek a fair and just future for the Palestinian people.
Issues of human dignity, of giving people the opportunity to build their community, to realize their own dreams – as long as they respect the rights and dignity of others – are values we also share.
Our government believes in a two-state solution – in a secure, democratic and prosperous Israel living beside a viable, democratic and peaceful Palestinian state.
We believe in the need for peace … a just and lasting peace.
Egypt and Jordan took courageous steps many years ago to make peace with Israel. They know the benefits of peace.
We think the time is long overdue for others in the region to join them.
And it is, in the end, the only way forward for everyone.
And I have to believe that that is what most ordinary Palestinians, like most Israelis and most everyone else in the region, really want.
The mother wants peace and security for her new child. The father hopes for a happy future for his family and his community.
The young adult seeks freedom, opportunity, and the chance to get ahead.
Other than the terrorists, the extremists, and the fanatics, who wakes up each day and wishes that the public life in their community or their country will be an endless cycle of hate, violence, oppression and corruption?
But, in the end, that is all they will ever achieve, and why we must be ever vigilant against them.
Now, I don’t profess to be an expert on Israeli politics, but it seems to me that the current government of Israel doesn’t want to be where it finds itself today.
It wasn’t elected to wage war but to pursue peace.
This is the great tragedy, because Prime Minister Olmert and Prime Minister Sharon before him sought a mandate to break the mould and to find a new way forward, not to have to yet again wage the same battle over the same ground.
They both said that Israel is willing to make painful compromises for peace.
This is the sort of leadership and vision and commitment that we need – and that we have come to expect -- from the great state of Israel.
In my conversations with the Prime Minister, I have come away convinced that he still aspires to find a genuine peace for his people and with his neighbours.
That, I’ve told him, is what Canada really wants.
And Israel, as a fellow democracy that prefers peace – as true democracies always do – can count on Canada’s steadfast friendship, support and encouragement.
Ladies and gentlemen, I promised I would not speak long tonight.
So let me just say that, in our short time in office, we have been guided by our clear values and interests in addressing the Middle East and other foreign policy matters.
I was guided by them, for example, at the G8. In my speech to the United Nations. And again recently at the Francophonie.
Some have claimed that this is charting a radical new course in foreign affairs.
That is simply not accurate.
Rather than charting a new course, we are restoring Canada to its traditional and true role: principled leadership in world affairs.
A country that knows where it stands.
Speaks up for what’s right.
And invests in the tools of diplomacy: foreign aid, intelligence and military capability.
Friends, this is a role we have played countless times in our history.
A role we as Canadians should be proud of.
A role we will continue to pursue.
Thank you and good evening.
Shalom, and God bless Canada.