Q&A with Iddo Moed, the Israeli Ambassador to Canada, who recently took a trip back home with Liberal cabinet ministers

Iddo Moed
Ambassador Iddo Moed (Embassy of Israel in Canada photo)

Just days after Canadian lawmakers voted to stop further export permits of arms sales to Israel, the Israeli ambassador to Ottawa, Iddo Moed, hinted the move would not go unanswered. He told The CJN Daily that Canada’s decision to halt weapons sales—even though the motion was non-binding on the government—sent “the wrong message at the wrong time.”

However, Moed denied that Canada’s new policy would make it harder for Israel to defend itself in its current war against Hamas. This is a walk back from comments the ambassador made earlier last week to other media organizations.

So how does Israel now view Canada’s pivot in military support for Israel after the March 18 House of Commons vote? What does Israel make of Canada becoming the first G7 country to renew funding for UNRWA, before the UN’s own internal investigation is finished? Is Prime Minister Justin Trudeau even welcome in Israel anymore? Moed returns to The CJN Daily nearly six months after his first interview with us, which took place just hours following the Oct. 7 massacre. Hear Ellin Bessner’s interview with the ambassador on the podcast here.

Joining us now from Ottawa is Ambassador Iddo Moed. Welcome back to The CJN Daily. 

Thank you for having me.

We would have hoped that this would have been all over the last time we spoke to you, but it’s nearly six months later. And here we are. 

I’d like to start off with your Twitter feed posts every day. You post pictures of the day that it is still 106, 107, 108 days—I was wondering what that means to you, because I haven’t seen it done on other Israeli embassy social media. So I wondered if this was your thing?

That’s my thing. Just like this [orange neck] tie, I want to remember every day in the morning and in the evening and during the day that there are 134 hostages being held there. This orange color is for the kids, the Bibas kids. And it’s our story. This is our lives. This is what is happening in Israel. And this is our—each and every one of us—story. We have to remember. And our memory is what has kept our people, our Jewish people, what it is. So remembering today, every day, that our family is still held captive in Gaza, that we are fighting for their lives, that we are there to retrieve them, and that we have to stay together. All of that in a nutshell has – I’m very much into symbolism. So for me, personally, I need that, and I need to share that with others to remember that this is the longest day of terror, that this day has been lasting for a very long time. I recently encountered a calendar, but actually on every day, it’s the 7th of October. I saw that in Israel. And it is. So that’s a date we’ll never forget. It’s also Simchat Torah. So the Simchat of the Torah will change forever. Although it’s a very significant holiday for the Jewish people, it will also have another meaning. And this is a source of resilience for us. A source of strength. 

So you do this yourself, you pick the images, you decide which ?

Yes absolutely. So sometimes it’s easy where the latest ones are pictures that I took in Israel from the Hostage Square in Tel Aviv or the airport. And sometimes it’s just a computer-generated picture. I’m very much into technology. So ChatGPT or other applications. To find a way to symbolize what we feel, what we have to think about when we’re thinking about the hostages. So the fact that they are kept under horrible conditions, that they are deprived of food, of medication, of light, of any basic human needs, we have to remember that as well. 

I think our audience will like to follow this now. Hopefully it will end, b’ezrat hashem, yes. But I’m going to put a link to the Twitter account in case they don’t already, because I think it’s a very poignant thing that you’re doing. And I don’t know if you ever talked about it, but it struck me a lot. 

Let me go back to what you just said. You talked about how symbolism is important.

The Canadian government had a motion in the House of Commons on Monday night, and there were some symbols – keffiyehs and watermelon pins – shown in the House of Commons. When you saw this, what went through your mind?

So the keffiyeh, in whatever shape or form, very mistakenly in my mind, has become a sort of a symbol of resistance against Israel. It’s a symbol of not recognizing Israel’s right to exist. And so when so many people wear that, I wonder, do they really know what this keffiyeh represents? Keffiyehs are worn in Saudi Arabia, in Jordan, in Egypt, in many countries that maintain peace with Israel. But it’s not worn as a symbol of resistance against Israel. It’s just a cultural thing that people use. It’s a head covering that men use. And it stays like that. There is red, there is black, there is white, there are all kinds of colors. And all of a sudden here, people try to look for symbols that symbolize something that doesn’t really exist. I mean, what is a watermelon? It has three colors. And the Palestinian flag – but also the Sudanese flag and the Jordanian flag or the Kuwaiti flag also—has these four colors. So what is really the point here? What is somebody trying to use it for? What is actually the message? I don’t get it. The only thing that I would read into it is that somebody does not respect Israel’s right to exist no matter what they say because the symbol that they carry actually says something that contradicts most probably the verbal message. 

How did you explain the optics, again with symbolism, to your foreign affairs department in Israel when you had these pictures coming out of the House of Commons? 

So I think they will share my same sense as most Israelis would, that keffiyehs have nothing to do with the national aspirations of the Palestinians. They have something to do with the fact that they don’t respect Israel’s right to exist. And I think that this is wrong. And I think that people need to know that if they want to express solidarity with the Palestinian people, they should find other ways to do that. 

So when Israel Katz tweeted that what happened in the House of Commons on Monday with the motion would hurt Israel’s defense and that it was a bad look for Canada, it would be destabilizing for the region. What is your opinion about what Canada did on Monday in the House of Commons?

Look, it’s a non-binding motion. It’s basically rewarding terrorism that is instigated by Hamas by all kinds of political pressure against Israel. It pays lip service to the hostages and to Hamas violence because if one wants to end the situation, there are only two things that need to happen and it will cease immediately. And one is the immediate release of the hostages and the other one is that Hamas put down the weapons. Both of these issues and only these issues will make the difference. And so if one wants to stop what is going on in the Gaza Strip, that’s the only solution. There is no other way. But calling for the renewal of funding of UNRWA or any kind of other political pressure on Israel will not make a difference. As you know, UNRWA is linked with Hamas. It’s been infiltrated by Hamas, it’s skewed by Hamas. And since UNRWA has monopolized the assistance to the Gaza Strip, and it’s working according to the priority of Hamas, one can understand that aid doesn’t really get to those people who are really in need, but those people who Hamas would prefer to have it, and most of it are Hamas terrorists and their families. So there is something completely skewed there. And again, this is an anti -Israel motion. And in that sense, we said it very clearly. It doesn’t really resolve anything. Doesn’t change anything on the ground. It’s just what is being said here in Parliament. It is worrying. We follow that with concern because the only change between this motion being raised or not is the Oct. 7 massacre perpetrated by Hamas. That’s the only reason that this motion is out there. And so it’s a reward for Hamas. And I think that they also applaud this kind of motion. 

You did say, though, that the part of the motion, which was that the Canadian government will pause its military technology, lethal and nonlethal arms sales to Israel, would “weaken our possibility to defend ourselves against terrorism of Hamas.” Can you specifically tell us how exactly that would happen? 

Yes. Well, I wouldn’t like to go too much into details, but just to say, that the extent of arms sales between Canada and Israel is not that much, it’s not that big. And so we will continue to be able to defend ourselves. But I think that what is the position here, the political statement, and the fact that other countries look at Canada and Canada’s position is something that has to do with sort of a broader political aspect and not specifically the technical military capability of Israel to defend itself. It’s the wrong message at the wrong time. 

There were statements in the press. I’m going to read it. “Much of the gear Canada exports to Israel,” I don’t know if this is true or not, so I want you to say yes or no, “is modified in Israel, shipped back for use by the Canadian forces or shipped onward to Canada’s military allies abroad.” Is that true? 

So I’m aware of those reports, but I wouldn’t like to confirm or to refer to them any further.

Is Israel going to retaliate then in terms of military relationship? Because I know the Israel defense attache – Colonel Nachmani, when he was a defense attache back in 2017 to Ottawa, told us they send about $133 million to Canada from Israel in military hardware and things like that. Is there going to be retaliation because of this? 

We are weighing our options. 

What does that mean? 

That we need to determine very quickly how we respond and we are weighing the options and when we decide we’ll also inform. We will make sure that those who need to understand what the response is, they will get to know it.

Now you mentioned before we started taping, you went on the mission with Melanie Jolie and Ya’ara Saks to Israel. I’m not sure many people are aware of that. How did that come about? Was that something you wanted to go on or they invited you or it’s protocol?

No, that’s protocol. Usually when foreign minister travels to a country, the ambassador to that country will accompany the minister of foreign affairs throughout the period. 

Did you go to Ramallah with them? 

No Ramallah is out of our jurisdiction, as you know. 

You saw the photos? I’m sure that they are very controversial. 

Yes, I did. Absolutely. Yep. 

How did that photo strike you when you saw it? What went through your mind?

Looks like a very friendly picture.

What does Israel say about the fact that Justin Trudeau, the Prime Minister, has not gone to Israel? What is the reason that they’ve told you he’s not going? 

Nobody said he’s not going. I know it’s been contemplated and there’s no decision made, but we are ready to receive him at any time. 

The United States has said that they will not fund UNRWA for another year, so they will skip out on their payment this spring. What do you think when you see that Canada is moving out of sync with many Western nations?

We think it’s wrong. We think that UNRWA needs to be, at the very least, reformed. We think that much pressure needs to be exerted on UNRWA immediately because the aid is not getting to those people who are in need. Distributing aid from the air, from the sea, will not get to those who are not able to scramble and get aid from the street. These people need to be assisted, they are the weakest one in society. And so there needs to be an alternative to UNRWA, there needs to be an alternative to air drops and so on. We are doing on our end as much as we can to facilitate the flow of much more aid into the Gaza Strip. We know the situation is dire, we know that much more needs to go in, we do our utmost. But I think at the same time as we are working to alleviate the horrific conditions that people are living under in Gaza, I think that the international community’s responsibility is to find ways to go around the monopoly of UNRWA and to deliver aid directly to those in need. And that is what we keep saying. And we also say that to the Canadian government and it is still possible, even if it’s financing UNRWA at the time–it is necessary, not only possible, but it is necessary to find alternatives to UNRWA’s flawed organization. 

There has been a lot of talk in the press about UNRWA in terms of what you and the Israeli Government showed the Canadian officials, about whether it was the 12 alleged employees who perpetrated part of the Oct. 7. Can you clear up for us the confusion about what Canada was told by you, and when?

I know that the UN delegations visited Israel, and we shared with them the intelligence information that we shared also with others. That happened after Canada decided to renew its funding. But the intelligence that we share is very specific. I cannot go into detail because it’s intelligence, but I can only say that it was very specific and detailed, so that an informed decision could be taken.

And that was before the UN gave them information. So you gave it personally to the Canadian Foreign ministry here.

Well, the delegation from the United Nations visited Israel sometime last week, and we shared the information with the Canadian government the week before. Yeah. The Canadian announcement was made on Friday, the eighth of March, somewhere in the afternoon, and we shared the intelligence with Canada before that.

Okay, that’s helpful, very helpful.

When you have optics like this with Canada, with the motion and then UNRWA and then the military ban, some people say, ‘Is Canada still friends with Israel?’ Does Israel feel that Canada is still a friend? I’ve heard you say yes, but how does this change the friendship or strain it, if at all?

Friends are able to talk about everything all the time. And this is what we have. We have the channels and we have the capacity to deal with different perceptions of the situation on the ground. But there are some issues sometimes that are, when it comes to our defense, that are more sensitive in our eyes. And therefore the reaction of foreign minister Katz referred to that, and mentioned that, after he met with Minister Jolie, this decision was made. And I think that having that conversation take place prior to this decision makes us realize that something in the message was not received the way we thought it would be received. And therefore, hence that reaction.

Okay. I want to ask about what happens after the arms are laid down and the hostages are brought home. Jared Kushner said that the Gaza Strip area is an interesting investment opportunity. And there was that big conference in Israel where some of the very religious politicians said that we’ve got to resettle Gaza and kick all the Arabs out. How do you deal with that kind of optics when you’re trying to explain Israel’s position here?

I can’t refer to what other people presume or understand. Our government’s position is very clear. The people in Gaza stay in Gaza. What we want to eradicate is Hamas. We want to take them out. We want to release the hostages. This is the only thing, the only two things that we need to achieve. We have nothing against the Palestinian people in Gaza. What we are doing is we are fighting a terrorist organization that has posed a lethal threat to Israel, to the population of Israel. And I think for us, that’s extremely important to continue. That until we release the hostages and until we make sure that Hamas cannot pose that threat anymore, all the rest is irrelevant. 

Well, they are ministers in the cabinet, in the government that are saying these things. So. 

Well, you have to judge us by the actions on the ground. And as you know, we are facing a huge dilemma in Rafah. We know that there are several [Hamas] battalions still hiding behind the population there, but that’s the largest concentration of people in the whole Gaza Strip. And so that’s a very, very complicated dilemma because that’s also most probably where our hostages are being held. So we have to resolve this. We have to find a solution for this.

You said earlier, before we started taping, that you were in Israel and it was quite eye-opening because diplomacy over here is a whole different thing than physically being there. I’d love to hear some of your impressions of what you saw and what you did when you were with the Canadian delegation in Israel. 

I’ll tell you in a nutshell two things that I saw. One is the blow, the trauma. We’re in a trauma. Israel is traumatized. Everybody in Israel, Jews and non-Jews, are traumatized by the extent of this attack, by the vicious nature of it, the fact that it was indiscriminate, that it was perpetrated against Jews and non-Jews, against any community, just destroying everything that has to do with Israel. And that’s devastating for so many people. Bedouins, Jews, Arab Muslims, Christians, foreigners, and Jews, all alike, are traumatized by this. On the other hand, I also saw this resilience, this strength, this immense capability to rise above a lot of differences. And you’ll see slogans everywhere that say “We’ll win together.”

And this is exactly the spirit that we need and that we always have had in the Jewish people to overcome such, such horrendous times. So we have that resilience. And although we’re traumatized, we’ll come out of this stronger and we’ll do it together. And I’m sure that Israel will look different after this, for better and worse, but it will look different because we have learned to appreciate many things that we took for granted in the past. We learned that we need to address the issue of security in a much more complicated, nuanced way than we thought we could. And we’ll have to think about our joint future together as a nation. And I’m sure that we’ll find very interesting solutions. I’m very hopeful and I’m also very confident that we’ll be able to do that. The connection between Israel and the Diaspora is extremely strong. It’s stronger now than ever. Around the world, the rise of antisemitism has also been. People in Israel understand that and they are very concerned about that. And they feel that we should be, you know, the solidarity between Israel and diaspora is much stronger. We see it also here in Canada. We see the concern that Jewish communities have about their own security. And at the same time, we also see that they feel stronger and closer to the communities in Israel. And that is a source that for us is where we actually take our motivation to continue to work together to improve our lives, but also to make sure that as a nation, the Jewish people will thrive. And I see it from religious and non -religious people and communities and that is really wonderful. It’s very special to me. 

Did you bring anything back with you that you want to share with us? Because I know you were wearing an orange tie. 

Yeah, so I have this yellow [wrist]band and the orange ties for the [Bibas] kids and lots of other stuff. The calendar that I mentioned earlier is the 7th of October and T -shirts that have all kinds of sayings. One of them is acheret ein li eretz. “Otherwise, I have no country.” There is a song, Ein Li Eretz Acheret, that plays with the words, making sure that we have to be strong and fight back and win this war and continue to thrive as a Jewish people in our homeland. Eretz Yisrael. Am Yisrael Chai, What can I say? 

Nicely said.