“Tomorrow is Dominion Day, the ninety-third anniversary of the farsighted decision of our forefathers, taking their inspiration from the 72nd Psalm, to create here ‘a Dominion from Sea to Sea.’”
So said former Prime Minister of Canada John Diefenbaker on June 30, 1960. Some 54 years have passed since then and as Canada prepares to celebrate its 147th birthday one can reflect on all that has changed.
July 1st is no longer called “Dominion Day” but rather now goes by “Canada Day”. The Canadian Bill of Rights that Diefenbaker so eloquently promoted that day in his speech was passed, and then redacted to become the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, some 22 years later. Even the Canadian Flag has since changed as well, from the Canadian Red Ensign in conjunction with the Union Flag to the current Maple Leaf. However, one thing that has not changed, or better yet, has only increased, and that is the cooperative friendship that Canada shares with Israel.
Canada has widely been acclaimed as Israel’s best friend in the world, especially in today’s turbulent political climate. Having rebuffed the United Nations numerous times on account of their biased anti-Israel stance, one of the most outspoken G7 nations, Canada is ever-increasing their ties with Israel, and the cooperation between the two countries has never been tighter.
Canada recognized the State of Israel upon its founding in 1948, with formal diplomatic relations established on May 11, 1949. Since the 1960’s Canada and Israel have had strong, multidimensional bilateral relations, marked by close political, economic, social and cultural ties.
Support for Israel, especially its right to live in peace and security with its neighbors, has been at the core of Canada’s Middle East policy since 1948. The relationship has been strengthened in recent years as evidenced by increased cooperation in several areas including; public security, defense, trade and investment, and the increased frequency of ministerial visits.
The most prominent of these visits occurred earlier this year when Prime Minister Stephen Harper brought an entourage of over 200 ministers and delegates from Canada to Israel for an official visit, and was given “The Key to the Knesset”. Harper was the first foreign dignitary in Israel’s history to receive such an honor.
In his address to the Knesset, Harper stated, “Canada supports Israel because it is right to do so”. He also expressed fears at the emergence of a new strain of the old disease of anti-Semitism.
Canada and Israel marked 60 years of diplomatic relations on May 11, 2009. On this occasion, Harper reflected on the long friendship between the two nations and said, “At the heart of relations between Canada and Israel is the dynamism of our shared communities. We look forward to the next 60 years and beyond.”
And indeed, the glance is already looking quite positive from the current vantage point.
One of the underlying strengths of the Canada-Israel bilateral relationship lies in the extensive people-to-people ties. There are approximately 25,000 Canadian citizens living in Israel, while nearly 45,000 Israelis live in Canada.
The Canadian Jewish community, which stands at around 350,000, also acts as an important bridge between Canada and Israel. These informal ties give rise to significant cooperation between the two countries in business, philanthropy and tourism.
Another strength is in trade. Since the Canada-Israel Free Trade Agreement (CIFTA) came into force, Canada-Israel bilateral merchandise trade has more than doubled, from $507.3 million in 1996 to $1.4 billion in 2012.
On January 21, 2014, Harper and Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister of the State of Israel, announced the launch of negotiations to expand and modernize the CIFTA Agreement. The first round of negotiations took place in Israel from February 3-9, 2014.
Canada has always been a friend of the Jewish state, but in recent years — especially since the Harper government came to power in 2006 — Ottawa has redefined what it means to be staunchly pro-Israel. Indeed, in the Middle East conflict, no other nation, not even the United States, has been so unstintingly supportive of the policies of Israel’s government as the Great White North.
The UN vote in September 2013, when the Palestinians petitioned to become a non-state member, was just one of many examples when Canada stood up for Israel and against much of the worlds consensus. Harper has publicly rebuked the international community in the UN for its stance on what he called the “one stable, democratic” country in the Middle East.
“There’s nothing more shortsighted in Western capitals in our time than the softening of support we’ve seen for Israel around the globe,” he said during his visit to New York in 2013. Harper has continually shunned speaking to the general assembly at the United Nations.
In January 2014, Canada and Israel committed to stronger future relations with the signing of the Canada-Israel Strategic Partnership Memorandum of Understanding, witnessed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
On May 5th, 2014, Israel’s Independence day, the Honourable Jason Kenney, Minister for Multiculturalism, issued the following statement; “I am proud that Canada was one of the first countries to formally recognize the State of Israel and was among the 33 countries that voted in favour of the United Nations resolution 181, which called for the creation of a Jewish state as part of the two-state solution. We are proud of our country’s strong relations with Israel, based on our common, fundamental values of freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law.”
“Our Government is committed to standing up for Israel against those who seek to threaten her very existence. As Prime Minister Stephen Harper said in his historic address to the Knesset, ‘through fire and water Canada will stand with our great friend Israel’,” he added.
David Ben Gurion Visiting Canada in 1961
In addition to political support, Canada and Israel work on projects that are mutually beneficial to both countries such as cooperation on water projects, a continually expanding free trade agreement, and Canada being one of the leading R&D partners of Israel. Other joint projects between the two include: The Ontario-Israel Collaboration Program, Canada Israel Energy S&T Fund, and Industrial R&D Collaboration. Canada even goes so far as to include the date according to the Hebrew calendar on many of the agreements and treaties.
It is of no coincidence that former Canadian Prime Minister John Diefenbaker claimed that the founders of Canada took their inspiration from the Bible when they founded the country. It seems that the current Canadian leadership are taking their lead from a passage out of the good book as well:
I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed. (Genesis 12:3)
On Canada’s birthday, we wish them continued blessing and prosperity and an everlasting friendship with the State of Israel.