Canada, Israel agree to boost co-operation

Lisa Raitt

Not long after Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird left Israel following a warm diplomatic reception, a knife-wielding Palestinian stabbed 12 people on a bus.

Baird quickly took to Twitter to pronounce, “Awful to hear 12 people were hurt in a vicious knife attack on a bus in Tel Aviv, #Israel. Hamas rep calls it ‘heroic’. I call it terrorism.”

Canadians have become used to the government’s steadfast support for Israel and calling murderous acts terrorism. So it was no surprise that during Baird’s recent visit to the region, he re-tweeted: “Canada doesn’t stand behind Israel; we stand shoulder-to-shoulder with it.”

Baird’s visit came one year after Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s first visit to Israel, when he signed a strategic partnership memorandum of understanding. Last week, Baird and his colleague, Transport Minister Lisa Raitt, signed a series of agreements for enhanced co-operation between Canada and Israel on a number of fronts: 

• a “joint declaration of solidarity and friendship…[which] reaffirms the two countries’ commitment to a strategic partnership and sets out areas of increased collaboration in the areas of diplomacy, trade and development”;

• a memorandum of understanding to expand diplomatic consultation;

• a memorandum of understanding to “work together to oppose efforts to single out or isolate Israel by developing a co-ordinated public diplomacy initiative to oppose boycotts of Israel, to oppose those who call into question the Jewish state’s right to exist and to work to counter the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement”;

• the two countries agreed to promote  bilateral trade and explore joint business opportunities in third countries, including through Grand Challenges Israel.

In addition, Raitt and her Israeli counterpart, Yisrael Katz, signed a trio of agreements on air transport and aviation security.

Meanwhile, at an informal meeting organized by the United Nations General Assembly, Steven Blaney, Canada’s minister of public safety and emergency preparedness, told representatives of 50 member states attending that, “Canada is deeply concerned about the alarming increase in anti-Semitism worldwide. 

“We have seen recent violent events against Jews at home and abroad, whether at a kosher grocery in Paris or at a synagogue in Edmonton, that convey a clear message of hatred towards Jewish people.”

“Canada knows that history has shown that the enemies of freedom and democratic rights often target the Jews first. As I said to Jews I met this year in Israel, Paris and in Canada: Canada is your friend and Canada is your ally. We stand with you.”

In a phone interview from Davos, Switzerland, where he was attending the World Economic Forum, Baird told The CJN, “We have a great relationship with Israel. It’s grown stronger every year that Stephen Harper has been prime minister.

“We have some honest differences of opinion with the Palestinian Authority – obviously their unilateral actions at the UN and the International Criminal Court (ICC). We take strong issue with the decisions they have made, but we have decent relations with the Palestinian Authority.”

Asked about a recent column in the Globe and Mail authored by chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, which urged Baird to apologize for Canadian policy, Baird said he hadn’t read the column. But, “I do know he made comments comparing the government of Israel with ISIL, which is deeply offensive.”

Baird acknowledged that the ICC came up in meetings with Palestinian officials.

“I just outlined how problematic their unilateral action by going to the ICC is. Obviously this further handicaps the government of Israel from protecting the government and the people of Israel.

“We’re concerned about the politicization of the ICC against Israel,” he said.

As for the question of attacks on innocent civilians, Baird said, “Terrorism is the great struggle of our generation.

“Far too often, the State of Israel and the Jewish People are on the front lines of that struggle. The attack on the kosher supermarket in Paris was obviously an anti-Semitic attack. People who were inspired by ISIL and radical extremists obviously pose a real threat to Israel, to Jews and to Canadians as well.”

About critiques that the Harper government has departed from a more even-handed approach to the Middle East, Baird said, “Canada is not the referee for the world. My job is to promote Canadian values. Israel is the only democracy in the region. They are our strong friend and ally.

“But we have excellent relationships with the Arab world,” he continued. “I had a very good meeting [Jan. 22] with [Egyptian President Abdel Fattah] al-Sisi. We have good relationships with Jordan, with the government of Egypt, with the leadership in Saudi Arabia. We have great relationships with the Emirates, with Bahrain. So our relationship in the Arab world is very warm.

“We have an honest difference of opinion on one issue, but when it come to the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, we share the same view. When it comes to [President Bashar] Assad’s war against his own people in Syria, we share the same view. When it comes to ISIL, to Iran’s nuclear program and its support for terrorism, we share a lot in common.”