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Friday, August 29, 2014

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Israel faces unprecedented challenges: consul general

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DJ Schneeweiss

TORONTO — Israel’s consul general to Toronto and Western Canada, DJ Schneeweiss, keynote speaker at last week’s Empire Club of Canada meeting, talked about the challenges and opportunities facing Israel today.

In his lecture – which marked the first time in 37 years that an Israeli diplomat has been invited to present a talk for the speaker’s forum – Schneeweiss spoke about Israel as a paradox, “a country faced by unprecedented threats and challenges, yet safer and more full of promise than any time in its history.”

He said Iran’s “relentless drive toward nuclear weapons” is one of the threats to Israel’s existence that makes “the view from Jerusalem look stark indeed.”

Iran and six world powers came to Geneva last month to hammer out a six-month agreement that aims to curb Tehran’s nuclear program in exchange for limited sanctions relief.

“Having come so far, having brought Tehran to begin to seek a way out of the stranglehold of the sanctions, Israel believes that the interim deal reached in Geneva is a mistake,” he said.

“Through its de facto recognition of an Iranian right to enrich uranium, the core of the Iranian military nuclear program – and a right, I may add, that no other nation on earth has ever demanded or received – through allowing Iran to keep its centrifuges intact, and maintain other components of its military program… [the deal] reverses the very psychological and economic momentum that brought Iran to the negotiating table in the first place,” he added.

Schneeweiss insisted that the deal weakens the possibility that the six world powers will be able to negotiate a comprehensive deal in the future.

“Freezing the situation is not enough. We need to roll back and dismantle Iran’s enrichment capacity… We have to prevent Iran from having the capacity ever to build such weapons. We believe in and support a negotiated settlement – one that ends the threat, not one that perpetuates it,” he said.

Turning his focus to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Schneeweiss said that Israel has made “repeated offers of territorial compromise. We have withdrawn from territories, we have removed ourselves from governing the daily lives of Palestinians, recognized the need for a Palestinian state and more. But we continue to come up empty handed.”

Schneeweiss said he recognizes that some of Israel’s actions have negatively impacted Palestinians, making them feel “victimized or worse. But it is a simple undeniable fact that this conflict began long before the Israeli community was established in the West Bank.”

He said that Israel is committed to participating in negotiations with Palestinian leadership, adding that Israel is “ready for Palestinian statehood and for territorial compromise… but we also insist that the Palestinians recognize our own inalienable national rights and abandon further claims on our country.”

In spite of the security threats that plague the Jewish state, Schneeweiss said that Israel is better off than it’s ever been.

He said Israel still enjoys peace with Egypt in Jordan, Palestinian terrorism is on the decline due to a “mix of deterrent and defensive measures and diplomatic initiatives,” and Israel’s development of a missile defence system in response to the missile threat posed by Hezbollah and others has been successful.

TORONTO — “Meanwhile, in economic and diplomatic terms, Israel is more integrated than ever in the global economy,” he said.

“Israel’s technological prowess has become legendary. We are ranked top in the world by the World Economic Forum for the quality of our scientific research institutions and fourth overall for our innovative capacity.”

Late last month, Apple purchased PrimeSense, an Israeli tech company, for $350 million.

“This makes it the 13th Israeli high-tech company to be acquired by foreign investors in 2013. Why isn’t Canada getting a greater piece of this seriously nutritious pie?”

Schneeweiss said that despite Canada’s long-standing friendship with Israel, “the Canada-Israel relationship is not where it should be.

“Bilateral trade was less than $1.5 billion in 2012, far from its potential… Firms are not even fully utilizing the funds the government has made available for [research and development] collaboration… As like-minded peace-loving democratic nations… and as nations whose economic success is directly linked to maintaining our respective competitive edges, it is bordering on negligent if we don’t work harder to harness the synergies and opportunities that reside in the strengths that we both bring to the table.”

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