Mayors’ trip to Israel called ‘very enlightening’
Toronto and Montreal mayors John Tory and Denis Coderre wrapped up a week-long mission to Israel on Nov. 18 with a visit to Yad Vashem and sightseeing in Jerusalem’s Mahane Yehuda Market and the Old City, a welcome break after a hectic week of travel, from Haifa in the north to Be’er Sheva in the south, along with the West Bank.
“It’s unbelievable how much we’ve accomplished,” said Rob Douglas, CEO of Bioconnect Inc., who joined Tory’s 50-member delegation. The mayors pursued different agendas, with overlapping stops over the week.
Both visited Be’er Sheva, an emerging high-tech hub, as well as Bethlehem and Ramallah in the West Bank. Coderre’s 70-member team spent time at the annual Homeland Security and Cyber Conference on Nov. 16 while Tory visited Technion University the day before.
“It was very enlightening,” Toronto City Coun. James Pasternak told The CJN of the Technion visit. “Seeing how Israel grooms the best and the brightest for science and technology, and how it’s partnered with other colleges to expand its worldwide reach.” Technion opened a branch in China in 2015, and currently partners with numerous Canadian institutions.
For Pasternak, a key goal was encouraging Israeli companies to come to Toronto. “Our city is open for business,” he said. “We’re telling Israelis that Toronto is a great opportunity to spread the reach of the start up nation.”
As Greg Wolfond, CEO of Securekey Technologies and part of Tory’s delegation, told The CJN, “We’re starting to show the world that Canada can lead.” Wolfond said the group met with members of the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office to showcase Canadian innovations. “We couldn’t do that if we didn’t have missions like this.”
The Montreal delegation pursued similar interests. Israeli textile manufacturer Tefron committed to move its North American headquarters from New York City to Montreal, which Coderre noted is part of the city’s re-emergence “as a major player... after many difficult years in the textile and fashion industry.” Tourisme Montréal also signed an agreement with the Jerusalem Conventions & Visitors Bureau.
Coderre also announced a partnership with Phinergy, an electric car battery company that will see it test its latest technologies in Montreal.
At the Kotel for Shabbat, Coderre recited Kaddish for Leonard Cohen together with Chief Rabbi Rabinovitch and with former cabinet colleague and MP Irwin Cotler, who joined Coderre’s mission to Israel.
“It has been an absolutely incredible week,” said Patrick Benaroche, co-chair of Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) Quebec. “The mayor has shown incredible leadership in terms of his vision and conviction to stand... against all forms of discrimination and anti-semitism.”
Pasternak reiterated both mayors’ condemnation of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement. “By being here we’re making a strong statement that the BDS is really just a smear campaign.”
In Toronto, however, Tory took heat for his administration’s travel expenses. Outspoken Toronto Sun columnist Sue-ann Levy, in a Nov. 13 article, expressed indignation at the city’s “soaring” travel budget.
Calling herself a “committed Zionist,” Levy accused Tory of being “as politically correct as possible” by visiting the Gaza Strip. In fact, Tory was not planning to visit Gaza, but Levy’s claim may have resulted from her misunderstanding of the location of Ramallah, in the West Bank. When corrected on Facebook, Levy commented that “the fact that they are even going to Ramallah is beyond me!”
The one-day West Bank trip involved meetings with business leaders and entrepreneurs, along with the mayor of Ramallah and a visit to the Church of the Nativity.
Levy also locked horns with Pasternak over travel costs, which she claimed via Twitter on Nov. 14 have “tripled since Tory came to office.” On Facebook, Levy accused Pasternak of “pandering for votes” rather than helping the Toronto economy.
Pasternak pointed out that business and community leaders had all paid their own way, though the mayor and his staff were funded by the city.
As a business leader, Bioconnect’s Douglas said there’s no substitute for an in-person trip. “This will absolutely contribute to the success of the city.” His company has partnered with Deloitte Consulting Israel to connect with rising innovators in Israel.
“I’ve always believed we need to sell Toronto,” said Douglas. “I feel more strongly having come here.” Douglas sees Tory as “very committed to business, very pro-innovation,” and said Toronto will benefit from this and other trips abroad. “The city is taking our game to the next level.”
Benaroche also stressed the economic and social benefits to Montreal. There were 13 business and institution agreements signed where Israeli companies and Canadian companies are partnering “largely in cyber security and other forms of technology.”
The mayors of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Be’er Sheva also endorsed Coderre’s “Living Together” diversity initiative.
Coderre held meetings with Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely, Deputy Minister Michael Oren and with Boaz Ganor, dean of the Institute for Counter-terrorism at IDC Herzliya. He was also received by Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein.
On Nov. 15, Coderre delivered a keynote address at the Foreign Ministry’s annual International Mayors Conference after his meeting with Hotovely. Tory did not attend the mayors’ conference.
John Tory, left and Denis Coderre at the gravesite of Shimon Peres.