On the second day of her official visit to Israel as part of a Middle East tour, Canada’s Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland spoke at length about the planned Nov. 7 official apology for Jewish deaths in the incident of the MS St. Louis in 1939.
“When the ship approached Canadian shores in 1939, the government… turned it away. Over 250 of those passengers later perished in concentration camps.”
Freeland delivered her remarks on Nov. 1 at an Israel Council on Foreign Relations (ICFR) forum in Jerusalem in conversation with former Israeli deputy prime minister and ICFR chair Dan Meridor.
“We must never forget this horrific chapter in human history and we must never let it be repeated,” Freeland said. “Nor can we stand idly by when human rights are violated, wherever that may be.”
Freeland also met with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, taking the opportunity to jointly announce Rivlin’s upcoming visit to Canada in 2019.
She praised Israel’s co-operation with Canada in aiding more than 400 Syrians affiliated with the White Helmets, a civil defence organization, in fleeing to safety in Jordan last July.
In her remarks at the ICFR forum in Jerusalem, Freeland reiterated the Canadian government’s official two-state stance but also affirmed Israel’s right to self-defence.
“We know Israel is a democratic state in a dangerous neighbourhood. And… we fully support Israel’s right to defend itself against aggression – whether it is from Iran or from terrorist groups such as Hamas.”
On the first day of her visit, Freeland met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, where she called Canada’s support of Israel’s security “unwavering” and “ironclad.”
“We support Israel’s right to live in peace, and we are committed to a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East.”
Freeland began her remarks to Netanyahu by paying tribute to the victims of the synagogue massacre in Pittsburgh on Oct. 27, calling the incident “a reminder to all of us that our shared objectives – peace, security, and acceptance – are fragile works in progress and we must continue to work together to combat hate and prejudice.”
Referring to the 35,000 Canadians in Israel and the 100,000 Israelis who travel to Canada each year, Netanyahu reaffirmed the two nations’ shared values.
“We are friends,” he said, expressing his appreciation for Canada’s refusal to establish diplomatic relations with Iran as well as the White Helmets humanitarian initiative.
Discussing a renewed Canada-Israel Free Trade Act in the works since Freeland’s previous post as minister of international trade, Netanyahu said he was eager to expand trade channels with Canada in a global economy based on “extraordinary new industries.”
At the ICFR forum, Freeland admitted that “Jewish people are the religious group in Canada most likely to be targeted for hate crimes – whether vandalism, graffiti, hate propaganda or racist online commentary.”
She mentioned a bomb threat at the Miles Nadal JCC in her own downtown Toronto riding in March of 2017, which led to the facility’s evacuation. That incident was part of a wave of similar threats to Jewish centres around North America.
She also mentioned Canada’s current bid for one of 10 non-permanent seats on the UN Security Council for 2021-2022, which she hoped would allow Canada to serve as an “asset for Israel and… strengthen our collaboration.”
She visited the Kotel and Yad Vashem, accompanied by former justice minister Irwin Cotler and three other members of Parliament: Tracey Ramsey, Anthony Housefather and Michael Levitt, who chairs the Canada-Israel Interparliamentary Group.
Freeland came to Israel after visiting Jordan on Oct. 29 to meet with King Abdullah II and participants in a Canadian-funded program for victims of sexual and gender-based violence. Her trip continued on Nov. 2 in Ramallah, where she met with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and other Palestinian officials and citizens.
Freeland’s visit was the first by a Canadian foreign minister since Prime Minister Justin Trudeau took office in 2015.