David Levy leaves his post as Israeli consul general to Quebec and the Atlantic provinces with a warning to Canadian officials that they must take anti-Israel demonstrations more seriously.
Levy characterizes the protests that have taken place since the Israel-Hamas conflict in May outside Montreal’s Westmount Square, the office tower that houses the consulate, as racist, violent and openly supportive of an organization Canada designates as terrorist.
He feels police security is insufficient, and questions why repeated permits are issued for these demonstrations, especially in such a busy central location. The most recent protest took place on June 30, said Levy who departs in early August after 3-1/2 years in Montreal.
“Chanting ‘From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free’ is a euphemism for the destruction of Israel,” said Levy.
The person arrested after a ground-floor window was broken during the largest demonstration, on May 15, was found to have a Molotov cocktail in his possession, Levy pointed out, something he thinks should have been publicly condemned by Canadian officials as an attack on a diplomatic mission.
On May 10 Levy said he witnessed “the mob surrounding a vehicle with an Israeli flag; if it had not been for the handful of police there, (the driver) would have been lynched…
“There is no doubt in my mind that the consulate and Jewish community institutions require more security…With all due respect to freedom of speech, Canadian authorities are wrong when they do not limit the location and duration of these demonstrations. If they pay close attention to the very disturbing slogans they will see they are not in line with Canadian values.”
Levy is encouraged that under his watch, the New Brunswick legislature and the Quebec government, both this spring, adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance working definition of anti-Semitism.
“This is a diagnostic instrument (establishing) a clear line between freedom of speech and criticism of Israel and what is plain and simple anti-Semitism.”
Levy is proud that the consulate, deemed an essential service, neither interrupted nor reduced its operations for a single day of the pandemic. The office has been open throughout with staff rotating between working there and at home, and the public served by video call or appointment.
In fact, the staff has been busier than ever since Israel, for the first time, required Canadians to obtain special permits to enter the country.
“We were flooded… It’s been a huge challenge, learning as we go and with constant changes, but we have processed requests speedily,” he said.
“Very painful” was how Levy described the period when Israel closed its borders, to even its own citizens, as COVID cases skyrocketed. “It was very difficult to turn down people, denying Jews the basic right to travel to Israel. This was something traumatic in the history of Israel-Diaspora relations, even though it was to protect lives. It will take time to repair the damage.”
The lockdown did afford Levy the chance to carry out two especially meaningful initiatives.
The first was a donation on behalf of Israel to the Native Women’s Shelter, located a block away from the consulate. Levy made the acquaintance of its director, Nakuset, and learned that the shelter did not have indoor showers. The gift rectified that situation.
The second was the commissioning of an outdoor mural at the Jewish General Hospital in honour of healthcare workers on the COVID front lines. Levy rallied fellow diplomats in Montreal in supporting the creation by a local artist of the painting which soars six storeys.
Nearing finalization is an agreement between Quebec and Israel on mutual recognition of driver’s licenses, which would obviate Quebecers or Israelis having to re-qualify for new licenses.
In the Atlantic, Levy managed to visit Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Prince Edward Island before its “bubble” was imposed. “We promoted cultural and economic collaboration. The potential is huge there.”
Levy, his wife Maya and their four children have felt fully integrated into the community and formed strong personal ties here that he hopes to maintain. A first-generation Israeli, former air force officer and law graduate, Levy joined the foreign ministry in 2002. He previously served in Cameroon, Latvia and South Korea.
This was the first time he was head of mission. The job also entailed serving as Israel’s permanent representative to the International Civil Aviation Organization, a United Nations agency based in Montreal.
“Being in North America changed the way I looked at Israel-Diaspora relations,” Levy said. “This was my first time in a large Jewish community, and it is such an active, generous one. It has never ceased to amaze me how engaged it is with Israel. This is something I will never take for granted.”
Levy will work at foreign ministry headquarters before any future overseas posting. “I will try to help promote relations with Canada and Quebec in any capacity I can.”
The new consul general, Paul Hirschson, is slated to arrive in August. Born in South Africa, he is a former foreign ministry spokesperson and ambassador to West Africa.
Read more from The CJN: Galit Baram reflects on five years as Israel’s consul general in Toronto and Western Canada