Israeli President Reuven Rivlin and his wife Nechama officially welcomed Canadian Gov. Gen. David Johnston and his wife Sharon to Israel on Nov. 2, Day 5 of the governor general’s weeklong visit to Jordan, Israel and the West Bank.
In his remarks, Johnston noted that this was his fourth trip to Israel, but his first in his present role.
“This is the first time a governor general has visited the State of Israel, and I can assure you that there will be many more such visits in the years to come,” he said.
“Our two countries are truly great friends and truly great partners.”
He praised Israel’s multicultural heritage and diversity, and reiterated Canada’s commitment “to work with Israelis, Palestinians and other partners to uphold the prospects of a two-state solution and achieve a just and lasting peace.”
In his official remarks, Rivlin mentioned numerous Israeli diversity initiatives, recalling Johnston’s official motto as governor general, contemplare meliora, a Latin phrase meaning “to envisage better things.” “In the Jewish tradition, we also have this motto,” said Rivlin. “In Hebrew, it is tikkun olam, to heal the world.”
In what may have been a subtle dig at inconsistent Canadian policy on the status of Jerusalem, Rivlin said, “It is a great honour to welcome you to Israel and to Jerusalem, the eternal capital of the Jewish people. Jerusalem is not just the capital of the Jewish People, it is the heart of the Jewish People.”
Later in the day, Johnston paid visits to the Knesset, where he met Speaker Yuli Edelstein, and to Yad Vashem, where he laid a wreath. He also laid wreaths at the graves of Theodor Herzl, the father of modern Zionism, and former Israeli president Shimon Peres, whose recent funeral was attended by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
In addition, Johnston became the first Canadian to plant an olive tree as a symbol of peace in the Grove of Nations, a JNF project that’s home to many trees planted by heads of state from around the world. He was also held a private meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
On Nov. 3, Johnston was expected to receive an honorary doctorate from the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology and attend a roundtable discussion on student diversity. Sharon Johnston was scheduled visit a joint Jewish-Arab preschool in Haifa promoting bilingualism and multiculturalism.
While in Jordan earlier in the week, the governor general praised the nation’s moderate stance, saying, “This country is a true partner in the region, including in the fight against extremism and in helping those who are fleeing the horrors of war.”
While there, Sharon Johnston met with Syrian refugee families in Jordan who are immigrating to Canada, and her husband joined Canada’s ambassador to Jordan, Peter MacDougall, in announcing more than $25 million in new aid.
The trip to Jordan also emphasized cultural exchange.
Toronto filmmaker Niv Fichman, along with Canadian director Paul Gross, joined Johnston’s delegation for a screening of their award-winning film Hyena Road, which was filmed on location in Jordan. Johnston met with Jordanian Prime Minister Hani al-Mulki to unveil new co-production agreements that will offer tax breaks and other incentives for bilateral co-operation.
“Jordan has incredible locations that we don’t have in Canada,” the Israeli-born Fichman told The CJN.
Writer and director Denis Villeneuve filmed segments of his 2010 movie Incendies on location in Jordan.
Other meetings for Johnston while in Jordan emphasized youth entrepreneurship, education and Canadian humanitarian support in the region.
Johnston’s delegation includes Palestinian-Canadian doctor Izzeldin Abuelaish, who founded the charitable organization Daughters for Life following the death of his three daughters and a niece from an Israeli strike in Gaza during Operation Cast Lead in 2009.
Abuelaish, who became a Canadian citizen in December 2015, visited Israel and the West Bank in May 2016 as part of the delegation accompanying Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne. At that time, he unveiled new scholarships to enable young women from the region to continue their education, saying, “Education provides light in this world that is full of darkness.”
Johnston took office in 2010 as Canada’s 28th governor general. He has made a name for himself with his busy travel schedule, with 40 official state visits over that period. Because the governor general is received with full head-of-state honours and cannot touch on issues of politics or policy, it is an ideal role to lead delegations. As Johnston said in 2013, “We make our contribution to more peaceful international relations generally.” He has also focused on international business relationships and a shared commitment to innovation.
Johnston’s three-day Israel visit was scheduled to be followed by two days in the West Bank, including meetings with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and visits to educational and cultural sites.