When truth is a threat to a government’s lies, honest opinion must adopt a satirical guise
Canadian Arab News,
August 8, 2006
Ugh! TV—what a wasteland! Hmm. What’s this? A new political affairs show? Let’s give it a shot. Click!

SONOROUS VOICE-OVER: “…and now Face of the Nation, with your host Brian Cohen.”

BRIAN COHEN: “Good evening. As the massacre in Lebanon continues to dominate the news, Canada’s uncritical support for Israel’s bombardment is having damaging repercussions at home and abroad for Stephen Harper’s new government. His party’s popularity is collapsing in Quebec, and even his own constituency office in Calgary is beset by anti-war protesters.

Overseas, Canada’s reputation as a fair-minded, law-abiding nation is now in question. Has the new Harper government shot itself in the foot? How did the party come to adopt pro-Israel absolutism? To answer these and other questions, please welcome our guest, Foreign Affairs Minister Peter McKay.”

(He enters the studio and sits down in chair across from Brian, who looks puzzled).

COHEN: “Uh, Minister McKay?”

PETER MCKAY: “That’s right, Brian. Good to be here.”

COHEN: “Yes… well, first off, let’s clarify one matter. Are you not, in fact, Stephen Harper wearing a paper mask of Peter McKay?”

STEPHEN HARPER: “Is that a problem, Brian?”

COHEN: “I was expecting to interview the foreign minister.”

HARPER: “Comes to the same thing.”

COHEN: “Talking to a cut-out face of the foreign minister is the same as talking to the foreign minister, himself—is that what you just said?”

HARPER: “That’s exactly the sort of hostile question I expect from the Liberal media. You wouldn’t have asked a Liberal Prime Minister that question!

COHEN: “True enough. Perhaps you should explain the mask to the audience.”

HARPER: (takes off the mask) “Brian, I have a lot of reforms to enact, and I can’t have ministers going off-script and thinking for themselves. Now, Peter’s a smart guy—no question—but he hasn’t fully embraced my government’s philosophy.”

COHEN: “And that is…?”

HARPER: “‘Democratic centralism,’ Brian. ‘One leader. One thought. One truth.’ If I… I mean, ‘If my government,’ hopes to improve relations with the U.S. we can’t continue to antagonize President Bush. 

COHEN: “Are you saying that Minister McKay antagonized the president?”

HARPER: “Not intentionally, but he has not been sufficiently sensitive toward the new reality in Washington. Remember when terrorists took control of the Palestinian government in the recent elections…

COHEN: “Didn’t Hamas win…”

HARPER: “…and Peter said Canada would maintain some level of support to Hamas? That’s the sort of slip-up I can’t afford. Foreign policy is co-ordinated in my office for a good reason. Peter is just the public face of that policy.

COHEN: “So, when Minister McKay called Hizbullah a ‘cancer’ at the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs recently, it wasn’t really him.

HARPER: “That’s right."

COHEN: “Well, that clears that up! He didn’t seem to be himself, and now I know why. Anyway, let’s move on to Lebanon and your government’s decision to back Israel’s bombardment…”

HARPER: “Now, hold on, Brian! Let’s not forget that Hizbullah started this by kidnapping two Israel soldiers and firing rockets into Israel. Israel has every right to defend itself, and Canada supports that right.”

COHEN: “You’ve also praised Israel’s defensive response as measured.”

HARPER: “Right!”

COHEN:: “If you look at the monitor to your right, prime minister, you'll see a map of Lebanon detailing the destruction caused by the Israeli Air Force from July 12 to 24. Every port, all three airports, 65 roads, 66 bridges, power plants, even a lighthouse have been destroyed. Not shown are the gruesome effects of the U.S.–supplied chemical, phosphorus and depleted uranium bombs, all of which are expressly outlawed. If you call this response ‘measured,’ what would you call extreme?”

HARPER: (Visibly uncomfortable, he unconsciously crushes McKay’s mask) “I am not going to second-guess Israel’s response!”

COHEN: “So, you approve of dropping white phosphorus on civilians in violation of the UN Declaration of Human Rights, and the Fourth Geneva Convention, both of which are fundamental to Canada’s foreign policy.”

HARPER: “Of course not!”

COHEN: “But you just endorsed…”

HARPER: “Have you forgotten who started this? Hizbullah!”

COHEN: “Does that matter?”

HARPER: “Of course it does! You’re not trying to defend terrorists are you?”

COHEN: “Quite the opposite. To the question of who started all this, the most recent information says Hizbullah captured the Israelis to trade for 15 Lebanese prisoners still held by Israel.”

HARPER: “I suppose Hizbullah’s rockets just fired themselves, or maybe Israeli soldiers fired them!”

COHEN: “No, Hizbullah fired them, but Israel had been looking for an excuse to attack Lebanon. In fact, more than a year ago, a senior Israeli army officer began giving U.S. diplomats, journalists and think-tanks detailed off-the-record PowerPoint presentations of a planned attack. In addition, the UN reports that Israel had conducted hundreds of border provocations since May 2000.”

HARPER: I haven’t seen anything about this!”

COHEN: “Then you also likely haven’t seen the report from Doron Rosenblum, columnist for the Israeli newspaper Ha‘aretz, who said the motive for Israel’s attack was not the seizure of the soldiers, but a boastful TV speech by Hizbullah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah.”

HARPER: “You see? Hizbullah was responsible!”

COHEN: “In his speech Nasrallah mocked Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Defence Minister Amir Peritz, and Chief-of-Staff Dan Halutz, saying they were ‘small’ compared to Ariel Sharon and emphasized ‘small’ with his fingers. According to Rosenblum: ‘“bad-tempered” Olmert, Peritz, and “arrogant Halutz” flew into rages at this grave insult to their manhood, and sought to prove they could out-Sharon Sharon by turning a minor skirmish into an all-out war.’ Any comment?”*

HARPER: (silence)

COHEN: “From this perspective, and from Israel’s holding of 15 Lebanese prisoners, Hizbullah seems to be in the right and Israel’s attack looks like a premeditated slaughter driven by wounded vanity. Will you re-evaluate Canada’s support for Israel, in light of this information, or is it Canada’s policy to defend Israel’s manhood?”

HARPER: (more silence)

COHEN: “Prime Minister, I think viewers are entitled to an answer.”

HARPER: “I don’t respond to nonsense.”

COHEN: “Many Canadians wouldn’t consider the question nonsense. In fact, given your lack of criticism of the nature and magnitude of Israel’s attack, as well as your earlier attempt to blame the United Nations for the deliberate murder of four of its workers—including a Canadian…”

HARPER: “Israel said it was an accident. Why are you picking on Israel?”

COHEN: “Did Israel ‘accidentally’ ignore repeated warnings from the UN? Did Israel ‘accidentally’ target a Red Cross ambulance? Is Israel’s right to self-defence more important than a Canadian life?”

HARPER: “Israel said it was an accident, and that’s good enough for me. What are you trying to do?!”

COHEN: “Trying to understand how you—I mean ‘your government’—could become so exorcised over Hamas’s victory in an election, yet be almost blasé about the destruction of an entire nation and the deliberate killing of civilians.

HARPER: “I am not blasé. I just see things from a different perspective, that’s all.”

COHEN: “About that perspective…Before the Palestinian election, you consulted with three members of Canada’s Israel lobby and promised them you would not recognize a Hamas-led government, even if fairly elected. Recently, you expressed support for a draft cease-fire for Lebanon that does not require Israel to withdraw its forces. At the standing committee hearing, McKay’s… er, your denigration of Hizbullah as ‘a cancer’ is the language of Israeli propaganda. Can you understand why your critics accuse you of being an agent of the Israel Lobby?”

HARPER: “No. These people are just pro-terrorist and anti-Israel.”

COHEN: “What about your MPs who blame your support for Israel for the government’s falling popularity, especially in Quebec?”

HARPER: “One leader. One thought. One truth.”

COHEN: “I see. Well, that’s all the time we have this week. Stay tuned for It Pays to be Vacuous, a profile of Condoleezza Rice. For Face of the Nation, I’m Brian Cohen. Good night and good grief!”

* Eric Margolis, “The war has backfired for Israel,” Calgary Sun, Aug. 6, 2006.