Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland spoke about her recent Middle East trip, the future location of Canada’s embassy in Israel and the importance of civil society at Beth Tzedec Synagogue in Toronto on Dec. 17, to a sold-out crowd of over 600 people.
Freeland was emotional about her first official visit to Israel last month. “I think you would have to have a heart of stone to walk through the Old City and not be really moved,” she said. Freeland reaffirmed Canada’s “ironclad” support for the right of Israelis to live in peace and security.
Her meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was two hours long, double the length it was scheduled to be. For the first hour, they spoke about Israel’s leading role in developing innovative new technologies and possible future partnerships between the two countries.
Freeland also announced that Israeli President Reuven Rivlin would be paying a visit to Canada in April.
Despite Freeland’s positive experience in Israel, her trip did not change her opinion of where the Canadian Embassy should be located. In contrast, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer pledged that he would move Canada’s embassy to Jerusalem, if elected in the upcoming 2019 election.
“It’s impossible not to recognize the tremendously powerful, rich and deep connection that the Jewish people have with Jerusalem,” Freeland said. “Having said that, when it comes to our foreign policy, it is a longstanding position of the government of Canada that resolving the final status of Jerusalem needs to be a very final step and a longer conversation that resolves the other issues on the table.”
She acknowledged this position was likely painful for many people in the room, but stood firmly by it and pledged that Canada would play a constructive role in peace and security negotiations. For her, moving the embassy would be the final step of a long-term solution.
Freeland noted that that it had been exactly one year since four synagogues in Toronto, including Beth Tzedec, were targeted by anti-Semitic hate mail and that Jewish people are the most targeted religious group in Canada.
“I call on you to push back, to champion peace and inclusion in the face of hatred, discrimination and terror,” she said.
“It is an important message that the government of Canada supports the community. It is something we all need to hear in light of Pittsburgh and attacks on the Jewish community,” said Debbie Rothstein, chair of the board of directors of Beth Tzedec.
In search of ways to improve security here at home, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale came to Toronto recently, where he met with MPs Michael Levitt and Marco Mendicino, as well as other local leaders, to discuss practical ways to bolster the Security Infrastructure Program, to help protect places of worship.
“We are living in really concerning times,” Levitt, who also attended Freeland’s speech, told The CJN. For him, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s recent apology for Canada not admitting the Jewish refugees aboard the MS St. Louis during the Second World War was more than just looking back at history, “it was a reflection for all of the leaders on anti-Semitism and they all said they were going to stand up against it.”
I call on you to push back, to champion peace and inclusion in the face of hatred, discrimination and terror.
– Chrystia Freeland
Freeland also emphasized the importance of community involvement in strengthening the country as a whole. She cited the support Beth Tzedec and other synagogues have given to Syrian refugees as an example of the impact the community had on the government’s effort to resettle Syrian White Helmets.
Last summer, a joint Canada, Israel, Jordan, United States and United Kingdom mission saved 400 volunteer humanitarian workers and their families from southwest Syria.
“We cannot stand idly by when human rights are violated, wherever that may be. There can be no place in the world for violence, intolerance, persecution or genocide. Of course, tragically, this is something the Jewish people know all too well,” Freeland said.