Address by Foreign Affairs Minister to the Israel Council on Foreign Relations


November 1, 2018 - Israel

Check against delivery. This speech has been translated in accordance with the Government of Canada’s official languages policy and edited for posting and distribution in accordance with its communications policy.

Thank you, Dan [Dan Meridor, President of Israel Council on Foreign Relations], for such a kind introduction. 

It is so great to be with all of you today. 

In this vibrant country steeped in history.

In this country that has flourished as a democracy and, over the past seven decades, has become a global hub of innovation and technology, a sought-after trade partner and a close friend and ally to Canada.

This year marks an important milestone for Israel—the 70th anniversary of its founding. It is a time to celebrate the hard-won accomplishments that have helped Israel grow into the country it is today. 

Canada also joins you in the solemn remembrance of the women and men who have died while defending this country. May these losses forever remind us of the sacrifices made to safeguard Israel’s security and independence. 

In 1949, Canada was among the first countries to officially recognize Israel, and since then our foreign policy has consistently affirmed Israel’s right to live in peace and security with its neighbours. 

Today we continue to stand with Israel. And, like so many, we are concerned by efforts that unfairly single out Israel for criticism and seek to isolate it internationally. 

This is a land of refuge for Jewish people from all over the world. A country that gives us hope for prosperity in this region but that also reminds us of humanity’s long and painful struggle for peace in the face of persecution. 

At Yad Vashem yesterday, I had the painful opportunity to tour exhibits that documented a time when there was no such refuge for a persecuted people. I saw personal artifacts and photographs, and read poignant testimonies about the terror and genocide visited upon the Jewish population in Europe during the Holocaust. 

We must never forget this horrific chapter in human history, and we must never let it be repeated. Nor can we stand idly by when human rights are violated, wherever that may be. There can be no place in the world for violence, intolerance, persecution or genocide. 

Of course, Israel knows this already.

For Canadians, we do not forget the story of the MS St. Louis—the German transatlantic liner carrying 907 Jewish refugees who were fleeing persecution. When the ship approached Canadian shores in 1939, the government of the day turned it away. 

Over 250 of those passengers later perished in concentration camps. And only 5,000 Jewish refugees entered Canada between 1933 and 1945. 

Our Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, will deliver an official apology in the House of Commons, next Wednesday, over our government’s treatment of the MS St. Louis and its passage.

Rather than erase our past, we choose to learn from it. 

That is why Canada calls for an immediate ceasefire in Yemen. We deplore the humanitarian disaster and demand immediate access for life-saving food and aid.

That is why Canada has not shied away from demanding accountability for the crimes against humanity that have been committed against the Rohingya in Myanmar. 

And that is why Canada’s House of Commons unanimously endorsed the findings of the UN fact-finding mission, recognizing that these crimes against the Rohingya constitute genocide. 

It is unacceptable that so many years after the Shoah, we still see incidents of hatred against religious groups, such as the appalling anti-Semitic attack on those at prayer in the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh [United States] on Shabbat just days ago.

I am sad to say that Jewish people are the religious group in Canada most likely to be targeted for hate crimes—whether vandalism, graffiti, hate propaganda or racist online commentary. Last year, in Toronto, the Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre faced a bomb threat. 

Too often the violence seems insurmountable—especially so after last weekend. 

I challenge that view. Let us all champion peace and inclusion in the face of hatred, discrimination and terror.

In Canada, we know that our diversity is our strength. Our government will keep working to protect the right of all Canadians to be free to practise their faith without the fear of hate-motivated crimes. 

And we regularly stand up against the growing xenophobia, racism and anti-Semitism, worldwide, that is rooted in the misguided belief that diversity is a threat. 

Internationally, we have supported a number of initiatives, along with Israel, the United States, the EU and others, to remember and learn from the Holocaust, to improve education about genocide and to counter anti-Semitism. Canada has worked alongside Israel to produce an internationally accepted working definition on anti-Semitism, through the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, and we will continue working with Israel to combat this evil wherever it is found.

Canada’s commitment to Israel’s security is unwavering and ironclad. We support Israel’s right to live in peace, and we are committed to a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East. 

We know Israel is a democratic state in a dangerous neighbourhood. And as I reiterated when Iran sent armed drones over Israel a few months ago, we fully support Israel’s right to defend itself against aggression—whether it is from Iran or from terrorist groups such as Hamas. 

We also know that it is in the interest of all of Israel’s supporters to encourage finding peace with the Palestinians. Not simply on the basis of human cooperation and coexistence, but also because that is the best hope for long-term security, and because Israel deserves to be understood and engaged with as an actor beyond this conflict. 

We often say, in my country, that the world needs more Canada. But with all that Israel has to offer—its innovative minds, entrepreneurial spirit, strong civil society and boundless energy—the world also needs more Israel. Our countries have much to offer the world when we’re at our best, and Canada will continue supporting both Israelis and Palestinians to find peace with one another. Canada, therefore, remains ready to support—regardless of timing or initiator—any attempt to peacefully resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with a long-term and just solution, in a process that brings both sides to the table.

We do believe that a lasting peace in the Middle East is possible, but that it can only be achieved through a two-state solution resulting from direct negotiations between the parties.

Canada is a strong ally and close friend of Israel, continuing a mutually beneficial partnership that has advanced the shared values and interests of our two democracies for 70 years—and, most remarkably, irrespective of which Canadian political party is in power. 

There is no better recent example of our strong ties than the essential support that Israel provided, along with Jordan, the United States, the United Kingdom and Germany, as part of the effort Canada spearheaded to rescue more than 400 brave White Helmets and family members from Syria, and give them refuge. 

What is happening in Syria is so tragic, and I do not want to overemphasize one small, positive story. 

But the fact that a group of the White Helmets and their families were able to escape from Syria and are now finding refuge around the world is a real example of not cursing the darkness, and instead lighting a small candle.

We are forever grateful to Israel for its essential and brave action. 

Canada and Israel must continue to work together in international organizations and forums to defend the rules-based international order. We must stand up for democracy, together. Many international institutions are far from perfect, but they will depend on us to reform and strengthen them.

None of the critical problems we face today can be solved by a single country acting in isolation. We need to be part of a multilateral approach in order to effectively fight climate change, economic inequality and insecurity, migration, conflict and violent extremism.

This is why Canada is running for a seat on the Security Council. We believe our presence on the council can be an asset for Israel and can strengthen our collaboration.

Our countries already cooperate closely on public safety and defence, innovation and education, and trade and investment. An excellent example of this cooperation is the modernized Canada-Israel Free-Trade Agreement, which was introduced in Canada’s House of Commons last week. I was delighted to work on this agreement when I was international trade minister, and I am so pleased the work is nearly done.

And our people are deeply linked, with over 350,000 Jews living in Canada—the fourth-largest Jewish community in the world. 

Given these deep ties, and our long-standing friendship, I want to end by assuring you of this: Canada stands shoulder to shoulder with Israel and Jewish communities in Canada and around the world. 

And we will continue to do so—in the name of our friendship, and of the freedom, democracy, diversity and inclusion that we know are so vital for maintaining peace in the world. 

Thank you.

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