A brief his­tory of Canada-is­rael re­la­tions

The Canadian Jewish News (Toronto) - - News - MIRA SUCHAROV SPE­CIAL TO THE CJN

As Canada turns 150 and Is­rael turns 70 this year, we can take a mo­ment to con­sider what we’ve learned from the his­tory of Is­raeli-cana­dian re­la­tions. Two dy­nam­ics point to a friend­ship be­tween the two coun­tries: the longevity of the re­la­tion­ship; and its in­tense peaks, es­pe­cially dur­ing the nearly decade-long tenure of for­mer prime min­is­ter Stephen Harper’s gov­ern­ment. Amidst all this has been a gen­er­ally stated com­mit­ment to fair-mind­ed­ness that tends to char­ac­ter­ize Canada’s ap­proach to diplo­macy: crit­i­cize and praise when each are war­ranted. Yet what is fair, of course, re­mains in the eye of the be­holder.

*** The friend­ship be­tween Canada and Is­rael be­gan, one could say, even be­fore the State of Is­rael de­clared its in­de­pen­dence. As early as 1947, Canada was one of 11 coun­tries that served on the United Na­tions Spe­cial Com­mit­tee on Pales­tine (UNSCOP), which was tasked with mak­ing rec­om­men­da­tions on the fu­ture of the area. UN Res­o­lu­tion 181, passed in Novem­ber 1947, which re­sulted from UNSCOP’S rec­om­men­da­tions, en­dorsed the idea of par­ti­tion­ing the area into two states. Canada voted in favour of the res­o­lu­tion and Is­rael de­clared in­de­pen­dence in May 1948. And while Canada of­fi­cially rec­og­nized the State of Is­rael in May 1949, Is­rael’s first at­tempt at gain­ing UN sta­tus failed: on that vote, Canada ab­stained.

There have been some no­table times where Canada has punched above its weight on the global stage when it comes to Is­rael. The first was dur­ing the Suez Cri­sis of 1956. Af­ter for­eign min­is­ter Lester B. Pear­son’s di­plo­matic ef­forts bore no fruit, he led the UN’S first large-scale peace­keep­ing mis­sion to the re­gion. UNEF I, as the con­tin­gent was known, over­saw the with­drawal of Bri­tish, French and Is­raeli troops from Egypt. In 1957, Pear­son won a No­bel Peace Prize for his ef­forts. And while Canada’s ac­tive peace- keep­ing role has de­clined over the last two decades, Pear­son’s move helped shape Canada’s na­tional iden­tity as a “peace­keep­ing na­tion.”

The sec­ond time Canada left a sig­nif­i­cant di­plo­matic mark was dur­ing the mul­ti­lat­eral Arab-is­raeli peace talks that emerged from the 1991 Madrid peace con­fer­ence. Be­gin­ning in 1992, Canada led the work­ing group on refugees. Though when Is­rael, along with Le­banon and Syria, failed to show up for a round of talks that Canada hosted in May 1992, for­eign min­is­ter Bar­bara Mcdougall ex­pressed her dis­plea­sure dur­ing an ad­dress to the Cana­dian Jewish Congress’s ple­nary as­sem­bly.

Even­tu­ally pushed aside by the di­rect Is­raeli-pales­tinian Oslo talks that started in 1993 – where the fate of refugees was con­sid­ered, along with set­tle­ments, fi­nal bor­ders and Jerusalem, one of the “fi­nal sta­tus” is­sues to be left for sub­se­quent rounds of ne­go­ti­a­tions – the mul­ti­lat­eral work­ing groups stopped meet­ing by the mid-1990s.

The third time Canada left its mark was a decade-long phase – namely when prime min­is­ter Harper be­came what many con­sid­ered to be Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu’s best friend on the world stage. The 2013 Negev din­ner in Toronto hon­oured Harper for his long-stand­ing sup­port for Is­rael. “Is­rael has no greater friend than Canada,” Harper said at the time.


There have also been points of con­tro­versy – some where Canada was taken by sur­prise, oth­ers where Is­rael was. On two oc­ca­sions – in 1973 and 1997 – Cana­dian pass­ports were used by Mos­sad agents for un­der­cover as­sas­si­na­tions. In the first in­stance, a waiter in Nor­way was mur­dered in a case of mis­taken iden­tity fol­low­ing the Mu­nich Olympics mas­sacre. The sec­ond case in­volved an as­sas­si­na­tion at­tempt on Ha­mas leader Khaled Me­shaal in Jor­dan. In re­sponse to the 1997 op­er­a­tion, Canada re­called its am­bas­sador.

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