TORONTO — Canada has a keen appreciation of the problems Israel faces in confronting terrorism, says the new Canada desk officer at Israel’s foreign ministry.
Carmela Shamir, the deputy director of the North American department, suggested earlier this month in an interview at the Israeli consulate, that Canada has a greater understanding of the difficulties because of its role in Afghanistan combating the forces of Islamic radicalism as personified by the Taliban.
“We see Canada working with democracies to fight radical Islam, just as we’re doing in our backyard in the Gaza Strip,” she said in a reference to Israel’s ongoing conflict with Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
Shamir, who visited Ottawa and Toronto during her whirlwind five-day trip, her first to Canada, said Israel and Canada see eye to eye on major issues.
“We share similar understandings of global issues.”
Calling Canada an ally and a “very important” country for Israel, Shamir described Israel’s relationship with Canada as positive.
“Canada has expressed support for Israel in a clear, courageous manner,” she said, referring to Canada’s decision to boycott the Durban II anti-racism conference in 2009 and its support of Israel at a recent session of the United Nations Human Rights Council during which Israel’s policies in the territories were condemned.
Shamir, a 38-year-old career diplomat who took over the Canada desk two months ago, added she is pleased with Canada’s voting record at the United Nations.
Praising the Canadian government’s overall attitude toward Israel, she noted, “This is clearly a very supportive government. It’s very encouraging and helpful to Israel.”
But she does not believe that Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s support of Israel is a departure from traditional Canadian policy.
Canadian support for Israel is politically bipartisan, observed Shamir, who had lunch with members of the Canada-Israel Interparliamentary Group while in Ottawa.
Shamir, who was previously the deputy chief of mission at Israel’s embassy in Belgium, said she hopes to strengthen bilateral relations through more mutual visits of Israeli and Canadian VIPs.
She brushed aside a recent comment by Canadian Foreign Minister Maxime Bernier expressing concern about Israel’s military operations in the Gaza Strip, claiming it had no effect on Israel’s bilateral relations with Canada.
In addition, she was unconcerned by the release of a Canadian army report that recently blamed Israel for the “preventable” death of a Canadian major who was killed while serving as a United Nations peacekeeper in southern Lebanon during the Second Lebanon War.
“This was a tragic and unfortunate incident and Israel has expressed its regrets. It has had no impact on relations with Canada.” Shamir is pleased with Israel’s commercial relations with Canada.
“We’ve reached $1.5 billion in the volume of trade. We’ve gone from about $1 billion to $1.5 billion in five years.”
She said Israel’s free trade agreement with Canada, signed in 1996, has had “a dramatic effect” on trade.
Israel is now looking to forge joint ventures with Canada in three fields in which Israel excels: biotechnology, information technology and environmental technology, she said.
Shamir, a mother of three married to a management consultant, explained her visit as a learning experience. “I’m here to get to know Canada and the Jewish community better.”
Apart from meeting Canadian diplomats and parliamentarians, Shamir conferred with officials from the Canada-Israel Committee, UJA Federation and the Canadian Council for Israel Jewish Advocacy.
“It was too short a visit, unfortunately,” she stated, saying she intends to visit Montreal on her next trip. “I was in and out of meeting rooms.”
She leaves Canada with good impressions. “It’s a welcoming society in all respects. And I have a very positive image of the Jewish community, which is extremely vibrant, reflective and supportive of Israel.”