Middle Eastern Opportunity Costs


In the economic sphere an act, a habit, an institution, a law produces not only one effect, but a series of effects.  Of these effects, the first alone is immediate; it appears simultaneously with its cause; it is seen.  The other effects emerge only subsequently; they are not seen; we are fortunate if we foresee them.

There is only one difference between a bad economist and a good one: the bad economist confines himself to the visible effect; the good economist takes into account both the effect that can be seen and those effects that must be foreseen.

 “What is Seen and What Is Not Seen,” Frédéric Bastiat, French economist

Earlier this week, I wrote about the signals in the fog of the Prime Minister’s speech to the Israeli Knesset.

Harper’s move to become Netanyahu’s BFF, I figured, was a conscious and calculated choice that stemmed not from unwavering belief in Israeli exceptionalism, but instead from principle and policy.

The speech, though, contained questionable byproducts of that approach.  Harper’s serenading of the Israeli PM with Hey Jude was unnerving and uncomfortable.  His comparison of Israeli boycotts by little old church ladies and Canadian labour unions to the Kristallnacht was obtuse.  His equivocation of labelling Israel as an apartheid state as being anti-semitic was excessive.

But all-in-all, Harper’s visit and mission speech were chided more in style than in policy.

The official opposition, for example, released a statement with many letters but no words.

“A balanced position would allow Canada to play a key role in helping foster a lasting and secure peace…”

Meaningless drivel.

As I wrote on Monday: Harper, for good or bad, has taken a position.

The NDP, meanwhile, once had quite a strict position that roughly corresponded with being the mirroring of Harper’s current standpoint.  It, in short, was that Canada ought to go to the table and recognize that much of Israel’s expansionary settlement-making and land-claiming borders on internationally illegal, and ought to be discouraged as a precondition to peace.

So where did that go?

Because it would be infinitely easier to take into account the rhetoric from the second-place party if it had a policy of its own to stand on.

Now, the party — by way of the Foreign Affairs critic Paul Dewar — call the labelling of Israel as an “apartheid” state as racist and anti-semitic.  In other words: South African Archbishop and survivor of apartheid, Desmond Tutu, is guilty of being racist.

If you’re looking for the counter-point of the Zionist, Netanyahu crowd, a good place to start might be with the suggestions from the reasonably well-respected, unabashedly pro-Palestinian and left-wing group Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (or, more simply, CJPME.)  What they offer is a coherent criticism of the Israeli government that generally remains respectful of the nature of the debate.

In a news release in advance of Harper’s trip, their president — Thomas Woodley — argued in a press release that “Harper should press Israel to halt settlement expansion, once and for all.”  The release goes on: “CJPME reminds the PM that Israel’s establishment of ‘settlements’ in the occupied Palestinian territories is a grave violation of international law and has been repeatedly condemned by most western nations.”

It notes that, despite Israel’s indication that it will halt the settlement-building process, much of Palestine is run by regional settlement councils, which presents a very real and pressing problem for Palestinians in the area.  The naval blockade, too, is arguably an absolutist Israeli policy precipitated on notional idea of security over the wellbeing of the the Palestinian people.

Now, there’s little doubt that, at present, Canada opposes new settlements.  Harper’s refusal to discuss that, however, has been signalled as a missed opportunity.  His approach, meanwhile, appears to be to lobby on the issue with his newfound best friend behind closed doors.

And here is where my friend Bastiat comes in.

It is easy to criticize the immediate causes of a policy standpoint.

Yet there are both short-term and long term implications of every approach.  To take Harper’s approach, you must divest all criticism to earn the trust of Israel and work within the confines of that friendship to offer perspective and advice on how to solve the situation; while to take CJPME’s position, you have the immediate satisfaction of vocalizing the various problematic aspects of the Israeli occupation, but risk sacrificing the long-established relationship that affords the freedom to speak that openly.

This is a situation where there really isn’t an in-between.  There’s no good moderate, middle-of-the-road position, here.  That’s not to say, however, that being on the right side is anti-Palestinian, nor that being on the left is anti-Israeli.  Both are striving towards the same goal.

And there are merits to both.  But each carry an opportunity to cost.  And we ought to consider each.

But alas, while the Conservative Government of Canada advances the first policy, only the lowly activists in obscurity present the second.

It would be nice to see the NDP re-capture some of the fervour it once had and present a reasonable alternative to Harper’s vision.


Other columns by Justin Ling

To Charte, or not to Charte?

Harper and the liberal journalists of Sparks Street

It’s time for the Toronto Star to get back to journalism

Follow Justin Ling on twitter: @Justin_Ling


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