Quebec plans to open a representative office in Israel, an initiative that the Jewish community and the Israeli consulate have long promoted.
The Coalition Avenir Québec government, first elected in 2018, announced on Aug. 3 that it will establish the office in Tel Aviv, within the Canadian embassy, this fall.
Its realization is being viewed as a testament to the enduring bond between the province and Israel, despite the political turmoil it is now facing.
This will be the 35th such overseas office maintained by the province, and its first official full-time presence in the Middle East, according to the announcement.
International Relations Minister Martine Biron said the office will strengthen bilateral economic relations, as well as promote institutional collaboration in the areas of research and innovation.
Trade between Quebec and Israel is valued at $525 million annually.
“Israel’s dynamic economy offers business opportunities,” particularly in information technology and life sciences, Biron posted on social media, noting that numerous multinational corporations have research and development centres in the country.
“This office will bring economic spinoffs and will highlight Quebec’s expertise in the sectors of the future.”
Quebec is especially interested in tapping into Israel’s know-how in cybersecurity and artificial intelligence.
Biron, who is also the minister for the Francophonie, observed that more than 500,000 Israelis speak French.
In March 2022, Pierre Fitzgibbon, minister of economy, innovation and energy, led a week-long mission of business people and university officials to Israel.
The announcement speaks of Quebec and Israel having had ties for over six decades, and of the numerous agreements on co-operation in research and development in a variety of areas signed by the two governments in 2007 and 2017. That latter year, Liberal Philippe Couillard became the first Quebec premier to lead an official mission to Israel.
In addition, there are myriad areas of collaboration in the academic and cultural fields.
Israeli Consul General Paul Hirschson made persuading the government to set up an official Quebec presence in Israel a priority when he took up his Montreal post two years ago.
However, he gave credit for laying the groundwork to his four immediate predecessors, going back to Yoram Elron, now ambassador to Bulgaria, who was consul general in Montreal from 2007-2011.
“It has been a privilege to work with Minister Biron and the Legault government to realize the establishment of a Quebec representative bureau,” he said. “With a presence in Israel, Quebec will be able to better represent itself in one of the world’s most exciting technology innovation hubs.”
Hirschson shared the protocol letter sent by the Quebec government to the government of Israel. It describes the mandate of the office as “developing and consolidating” political, as well as economic and multi-sectorial, relations between the two governments. Its staff, who have yet to be named, will be responsible for assisting any Quebec project in Israel.
Federation CJA and its advocacy agency, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), commended the government, saying that the creation of the government bureau follows “years of discussion.”
“CIJA has encouraged successive Quebec governments to open a formal diplomatic mission in Israel for several years,” the organizations said in a joint statement.
“The Quebec-Israel relationship has grown remarkably since its beginnings in the days of (Parti Québécois leader) René Lévesque, who noted the similarities between the two people’s struggles for self-determination. More recently, representatives of the Quebec government have made official visits to Israel.”
Through its consulate in Montreal, Israel has had an official presence in Quebec for over half a century, they added.
Eta Yudin, Quebec vice-president, said, “We congratulate Minister Biron for expanding Quebec’s international presence to Israel…Quebec and Israel both have much to gain through the opening of this mission.
“As Quebec’s first mission in the Middle East, the selection of Israel is a testament to the Abraham Accords’ success in ushering in a new regional trade and economic reality. We are confident the bureau, as a valuable resource for partnerships, will bolster existing links and generate significant opportunities for international collaboration.”
Yudin also said an official delegation will enhance connections between Quebec and Israel’s French speakers and the larger francophone world.
Federation CEO Yair Szlak said, “Through two governments, a pandemic, and an ever-evolving geopolitical landscape, the bureau’s creation reflects the non-partisan and robust bond between Quebec and Israel. There is much to celebrate on this occasion.”