JERUSALEM — Canada’s foreign minister told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Canada understands Israel has no choice but to take every step necessary “against the forces that are openly committed to its destruction.
“We’ve long refused to be neutral in supporting Israel’s right to defend itself against violent extremists,” Rob Nicholson said in a meeting with Netanyahu in Jerusalem on June 3.
This was Nicholson’s first visit to Israel and he showcased the close ties that Canada has with Israel at a time of tensions between the U.S. and Israel. He told Netanyahu that he understands that “Israel’s neighbourhood is as dangerous as Canada’s is peaceful.
“This is my first trip to Israel here and I’m here to demonstrate emphatically Canada’s unwavering support for Israel,” Nicholson said against a backdrop of Israeli and Canadian flags. “Prime Minister [Stephen] Harper has made this very clear that we recognize Israel as a friend, a nation which shares core values, and a beacon of democracy in a region of repression and instability.”
Netanyahu praised Canada as a staunch supporter in a world that continues to unite against Israel and condemned a British student union’s decision to boycott Israel.
“They [the British group] boycott Israel, but they don’t boycott ISIS,” Netanyahu said. “That tells you everything you want to know. Israel is an exemplary democracy,” said Netanyahu. “We have academic freedom, press freedom, human rights. ISIS tramples human rights in the dust, burns people alive.”
The British National Union of Students, which has voiced strong anti-Israel sentiments in the past, voted 19-14 on, June 2, to boycott Israel. In May, it resolved to defeat a counter-terrorism act and support an organization that once harboured ISIS terrorist Mohammed “Jihadi John” Emwazi.
While the views of one student organization might not matter globally, the voice of the UN resonates worldwide.
“At the same time, in the UN, we’ve seen Turkey and Iran give Hamas status. Hamas fires rockets on our cities while hiding behind Palestinian citizens, Palestinian children. That tells you a lot about international democracy.”
Netanyahu was referring to the decision in the UN this week to grant NGO participant status to a British organization called the Palestinian Return Centre (PRC). According to a statement by Israel’s UN mission, the PRC is “an organizational and a co-ordinating wing of Hamas in Europe.” It has been banned in Israel since 2010. Israel voted against the decision, as did the United States. Canada is not a member of the NGO committee.
Canada is often a lone voice among the nations, said Netanyahu. “Canada stands out so clearly against these distortions of truth and distortions of justice.”
After leaving the Prime Minister’s Office, Nicholson met with President Reuven Rivlin for in-depth discussion of the current situation.
In his public remarks at the president’s residence, Nicholson brought up Canada’s air strikes against Syria, part of a U.S.-led coalition fighting ISIS militants, as evidence of its deep understanding of the situation in the region. “Canada has taken a firm stance in support of the coalition.”
In Canada, Nicholson said, “we may be a long way from what’s happening in Iraq, but it’s on everybody’s doorstep… the challenges there are the responsibility of everyone in the world.”
After nearly referring to Nicholson as “Mr. Prime Minister” in his official remarks, Rivlin invited Nicholson to take advantage of his first visit to Israel as a chance to see Jerusalem.
Nicholson said he’d been “interested in Israel” since childhood. His plans included a visit to Yad Vashem followed by a trip to Ramallah on Thursday to meet with his counterpart, Riad al-Malki.
In January, the convoy of Nicholson’s predecessor, John Baird, was pelted with eggs and shoes as a demonstration of the Palestinian people’s resentment of Canada’s stance in the region.
Nicholson’s visit to Israel followed a stop in Paris, where he joined in a meeting of foreign ministers in an anti-ISIS Coalition Small Group on June 2.
“We are not ones to stand on the sidelines and hope for the best,” Nicholson told Rivlin. “We want to be a part of the solutions to these challenges that we face in the world.”
The volume of trade between Israel and Canada has increased to $1.2 billion dollars last year. There are about 20,000 Canadians living in Israel and 350,000 Jews in Canada. But analysts say that support for Israel is a personal issue for Harper, who last year visited Israel and addressed the Israeli parliament.
”It is right to support Israel – because, after generations of persecution, the Jewish people deserve their own homeland – and deserve to live safely and peacefully in that homeland,” Harper said in that speech. “Canada supports Israel because it is right to do so. This is a very Canadian trait: to do something for no reason other than that it is right.”
With files from themedialine.org