Israel’s new Minister for Diaspora Affairs and Combating Antisemitism Amichai Chikli took a swipe at the Trudeau government’s long-standing refusal to move its Canadian embassy in Israel to Jerusalem when he visited Ottawa May 31.
Chikli was speaking to a group of mainly Christian politicians on Parliament Hill during his inaugural four-day visit to Canada.
During his remarks to the Israel Allies Caucus—chaired by Conservative MP Leslyn Lewis—Chikli gave special mention to her party leader, Pierre Poilievre, and to deputy Conservative leader MP Melissa Lantsman, for their “unwavering support for Israel and Jerusalem.”
Calling them “true friends of the Jewish people and the State of Israel,” in his prepared speech—a copy of which was sent to The CJN—the Israeli cabinet minister did not mention the Liberal prime minister by name nor thank him or his party directly. (Neither Trudeau nor Poilievre attended the reception.)
Instead, Chikli expressed his gratitude in general to the people of Canada and to the government for the “enduring friendship between our nations.”
However, as he pointedly reminded the lawmakers, which included Green Party leader Elizabeth May, other countries including the United States, Guatemala, Honduras and Kosovo have already recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s official capital and moved their embassies from Tel Aviv.
Since 2019, Canada’s federal Conservatives have pledged to do this, too, should they be elected.
Despite the United States embassy opening in Jerusalem in 2018 amidst much fanfare during the Trump administration, Canada’s official policy is that any move would have to wait until the international status of Jerusalem is resolved as part of peace negotiations with the Palestinians.
Historic Jewish ties to Jerusalem
Chikli doubled down on Jerusalem’s status as a united city with ancient ties to the Jewish people, and criticized those who deny it.
“King David established Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and Jewish People 3,000 years ago. The facts are indisputable to those who make the minimal effort to learn them,” he said.
Chikli delivered much the same message on June 1 to a large gala held at the Canada Christian College in Whitby, Ont. He was the keynote speaker for a celebration of Israel’s 75th birthday. It was arranged by the Israel Allies Foundation, a political advocacy organization based in Israel that forges relationships with Christian lawmakers around the world.
Chikli reminded the audience of nearly 1,000 pastors and other evangelical Christian leaders that King David purposely bought the land in Jerusalem rather than received it as a gift, so that opponents of Israel could not erase biblical evidence of Jewish presence.
“I don’t think they could have fully imagined the depths of absurdity we see today, including condemnations of Israel for building in Jerusalem or for Jews visiting the Temple Mount–that same Temple built by King Solomon, and that same Mount where our father Abraham bound his son Isaac,” Chikli told the audience.
Not following protocol
Ya’ara Saks, a Toronto MP who sits on a separate body of lawmakers called the Canada Israel Interparliamentary Group, was critical of the Israeli MK’s agenda while he was in Canada. She learned of Chikli’s visit to Parliament Hill only through a mass email invitation which Lewis sent to all the federal lawmakers, which she found highly problematic.
For Saks, the first Israeli-Canadian elected to federal politics, it raised eyebrows that she and her colleagues weren’t told directly by the Embassy of Israel or Global Affairs Canada, which usually happens when official diplomatic visits such as this occur.
“The minister chose not to go through… the appropriate protocol channels that should be done government to government, nation to nation that foster good diplomatic relations between countries,” Saks said.
Leslyn Lewis, the Conservative MP for Haldimand-Norfolk, became the chair of the unofficial Israel Allies Caucus in Parliament in January. It is a cross-party group of mainly Christian lawmakers who, like Lewis, take their biblical devotion seriously as a path to support Israel, with Jerusalem as its capital.
According to an email from Lewis’ office, it was Chikli who reached out to offer to participate in her group’s celebration of Israel’s milestone 75th anniversary.
It rankled Saks even more that Chikli would keep company with the likes of Lewis, who despite her professed support for Israel, was one of three Conservative MPs scolded earlier this year by their leader Pierre Poilievre for posing for photos with a far-right German politician, Christine Anderson, who came on a private visit to Canada. Anderson’s party opposes immigrants, Muslims and has other racist policies.
Saks did eventually meet privately with Chikli during his visit to Ottawa, together with other Jewish lawmakers including Liberal Senator Marc Gold, Liberal MP Anthony Housefather, Thornhill MP Melissa Lantsman, and others.
However, Saks also questioned Chikli’s visit on June 1 to the Canada Christian College as the guest of evangelical pastor Charles McVety.
“You know this group has a long history of positions that are anti-abortion, that are homophobic, or that are Islamophobic,” Saks told The CJN, adding that the Ontario government recently declined to grant McVety’s college the right to issue university degrees, despite the pastor’s personal friendship with Premier Doug Ford and his family. “It’s concerning that that was who he was here to meet with.”
For his part, McVety shrugs off the criticisms as “political.”
“I don’t understand her partisan motivation, but unfortunately, she’s telling half the truth,” McVety said in an interview with The CJN Daily. “This is a Knesset Christian Allies initiative so, of course, they’re going around the world to rally support in the Christian world.”
Instead, McVety suggests Saks’ own Liberal government should be taken to task for some of their official stances recently when it comes to support for Israel, including rebuking the new Netanyahu government for cracking down on funding to families of Palestinian terrorists, and for imposing sanctions on travel visas for some members of the Palestinian Authority.
In April, both Trudeau and the Global Affairs department condemned violent raids on the Al Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, and in March called on Israel’s government to reverse planned judicial reforms.
“It’s amazing to me that people would use this terrible language to attack Israel, and call it a far-right wing government, really?” McVety said. “And even our prime minister, [during] Passover said he deplores what’s going on in Israel and the Israeli government has to change its ways.”
McVety professed his continued support for Israel, saying he has been to the Jewish state 27 times, and has led more than 1,000 pastors on trips to the Holy Land.
“I take them as pilgrims and they return as Zionists.”
His group works with the Israel-based Knesset Christian Allies Caucus. It is a faith-based lobby group which forges ties between Israeli MKs and Christian lawmakers in dozens of countries around the world. They’re the ones who chose to send Amichai Chikli to his event in Canada, McVety maintains.
A spokesman for the Knesset Christian group, Josh Reinstein, calls what his members do “faith-based diplomacy.” Reinstein, who accompanied the minister to Toronto, said his team has helped coordinate similar events in Canada, dating back to the late 2000s.
“It’s Christians, not countries that are standing with Israel and they’re bringing their countries with them.”
Reinstein is a former Toronto resident who has been at the helm of the Knesset Christian Allies Caucus for years, as well as president of the umbrella organization of affiliated groups in 55 countries. He said Canadian Jewish community members are very supportive of the dialogue with Christians, and mentioned former B’nai Brith Canada CEO Frank Dimant among those who attend these events, as do rabbis and Jewish business executives.
Charles McVety wouldn’t reveal the list of Jewish attendees who came to hear Chikli speak at the Israel at 75 celebration.
Important bases of support
Chikli defended his decision to include meetings with Christian evangelists and other religious Christians as part of his extended Canadian schedule.
“I see tremendous importance in creating a support base for the State of Israel and the Jewish people with a wide variety of communities,” Chikli said in a written statement to The CJN. “The evangelical Christian community in North America is one of the important bases of support for the State of Israel.”
It’s unclear what the broader Jewish community in Canada felt about the Diaspora Affairs Minister’s spending time with Christian groups.
Chikli also held an extensive series of meetings with Jewish leaders during the fact-finding trip to Canada, including UJA Federation of Greater Toronto, Federation CJA in Montreal, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, B’nai Brith Canada, the Friends of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, and delegates from various synagogues and day schools.
Focus on Jewish education and identity
He wanted to see first-hand how Jewish schools are coping with the challenges of high tuition costs, and what measures they have taken to boost enrolment, particularly outside of the Orthodox system.
He learned about programs of subsidies and tuition freezes made possible by donations from philanthropists, including Montreal’s CAPS program, and a similar approach in Toronto, run by the city’s Jewish federation.
“He is impressed by what we have accomplished,” said Gail Adleson-Markowitz, the Montreal-based chair of CIJA’s national board.
“In Toronto he was very impressed with how day school enrolment is growing, and half the kids are non-Orthodox,” said Steve McDonald, a spokesman for UJA Federation in Toronto.
Chikli’s trip to Canada came on the heels of his recent announcement that Israel will inject $53 million to reinforce Jewish education in North America, under a new project dubbed Alef Bet. He is concerned that declining enrolment in day schools is hurting Jewish identity, particularly in the United States.
Which is why, although he is still working out the details, it appears most of the funding will go towards Jewish teacher training there, and not in Canada. However, the minister praised the Canadian approaches, and suggested their best practices “should be studied in depth and expanded to the entire area of North America.”
Chikli purposely added the title “Combating Antisemitism” to his Diaspora Affairs portfolio after taking office this January, and sees this new education initiative as one tool where Israel can help the Jewish world.
After hearing how Canada’s diaspora community encounters rising antisemitism, particularly on campus, he urged local leaders to take “an uncompromising approach” against the destructive trend.
In Chikli’s view, the blame falls on those in the “progressive” camp where Jews are painted as oppressors who are “complicit in the injustices of ‘Zionist imperialism and colonialism’” with the victims who he described as the “poor Palestinians.”
“The perverted Woke (sic) concept is currently the main generator of antisemitism in North America,” he told The CJN.
‘Magnificent’ Jewish community
Chikli’s tour in the Toronto area was met by at least two small groups of protesters but they didn’t come from anti-Israel quarters.
Rather, it was members of UnXeptable Toronto, a branch of an international pro-democracy group of expatriate Israelis, who oppose the Netanyahu government’s push to curtail the judiciary’s powers.
And before Chikli headed to New York City on June 2 to take part in a massive street parade in honour of Israel, and a day-long conference on Monday, he remained struck by his visit to Canada.
Chikli marvelled at the strong and cohesive Jewish community here, who he discovered to be deeply Zionist and connected to Israel.
He said Israelis would be surprised to learn that there are more Jews in Montreal than in Spain and Mexico combined, and as many in Toronto as in the Israeli city of Ashdod. It’s a gap in awareness that he feels needs to be closed, perhaps through sending more Israelis to Canada on gap year programs, such as the Shinshinim who spend a year in service before entering the army.
“Most Israelis are not aware of this, and do not know much about the magnificent Canadian Jewish community.”