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New ambassador to Israel to focus on innovation, co-operation

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Reuven Rivlin and Deborah Lyons
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin receives new Canadian Ambassador Deborah Lyons at his residence in Jerusalem. JENNIFER TZIVIA MACLEOD PHOTO

The new Canadian ambassador to Israel, Deborah Lyons, says she’ll be following in the footsteps of the previous ambassador, Vivian Bercovici, by strongly promoting the good relations between Canada and Israel.

“I’m very much picking up on Vivian’s strong promotion of the Israel-Canadian relationship,” Lyons told The CJN in an interview following the Dec. 12 ceremony in Jerusalem where she presented her diplomatic credentials to Israeli President Reuven Rivlin at his residence. “She’s a good friend, and we are very similar in terms of our approach.  We’re both very keen on Canada, and we’re both incredibly keen on Israel.

“A lot of that is ingrained in her, being a Jewish Canadian. I don’t have that, unfortunately, but I think I come with the same degree of enthusiasm and commitment.”

READ: THANK YOU, AMBASSADOR BERCOVICI

Lyons said she has four main goals for her term: continuing a strong political relationship, fostering business and academic partnerships, creating a partnership of support to third countries, and sharing information between the two countries.

“Canadians need to know how fantastic Israel is, and Israelis need to pay a bit more attention to Canada,” she said “We’re going to be launching a pretty intensive communications campaign, really getting out there to both countries.”

The campaign is being called, “Wow, Israel!”

Issues on which she hopes Canada and Israel will collaborate in other countries, as she discussed with Rivlin during the ceremony, include education, life sciences, water management, and more.

“I believe with all my heart, especially coming from Afghanistan… that Israel has a lot to offer the world.”

Lyons said she’s looking forward to working with Canada’s strong and vocal Jewish community. Before coming to Israel, she met with the community in Toronto, and plans to do the same coast to coast several times a year, saying, “those communities are my bench strength. They’re very committed to the Canada-Israeli relationship… These people are my guides.”

“I want them to critique me. It’s only going to be helpful.”

Although other Diaspora communities in Canada are involved on behalf of their countries of origin, the Jewish community is unique, Lyons said. “I’m particularly fortunate with the Canadian Jewish community, because they’re so active and they’re so committed, on the whole political spectrum.”

READ: LIBERALS SET TO NAME NEW AMBASSADOR TO ISRAEL

Lyons has already unofficially served more than two months in Israel, during which she has received hundreds of representatives of the Canadian public and private sector, including the governor general and a joint mission by the mayors of Toronto and Montreal.

A career diplomat who previously served in Afghanistan and Washington, D.C., Lyons was appointed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau just a little more than two years into Bercovici’s term. Ambassadors normally serve for three or four years.

News of Lyons’ appointment received a mixed reception within Canada’s Jewish community, many of whom had actively supported Bercovici, a Toronto lawyer with no previous diplomatic experience. However, the change has been applauded by those who felt Bercovici lacked balance in her approach to Israel and the Middle East.

In November 2015, Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion announced that Trudeau would be taking a less “partisan” approach toward Israel than that of former prime minister Stephen Harper. Shimon Fogel, CEO of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, suggested to The CJN in May 2016 that Bercovici may have been replaced due to her “very outspoken” views.

Trudeau has named more than 26 new Canadian ambassadors this year.

READ: BAIRD NAMES NEW AMBASSADOR TO ISRAEL

In an off-the-cuff talk at the Dec. 12 ceremony, Rivlin referred to his brief meeting with Trudeau during Trudeau’s quick stop in Israel for the funeral of former Israeli president Shimon Peres and expressed the hope a longer visit will follow soon. Rivlin commented, “In another year, you will celebrate 150 years of the existence of Canada. I hope that we will celebrate together 150 years of the Israeli state.”

He mentioned the friendship between the two countries based on shared values and highlighted Canada as a model of coexistence between French and English speakers.

Rivlin noted that even though the two countries remain friends, they can still criticize one another when necessary. Israel takes Canada’s insights seriously, he said, knowing “that this is a real friendship that goes back such a long time, in so many areas.”

He also mentioned that he has relatives in Winnipeg, prompting Lyons to respond that “Winnipegers are special Canadians, very hardy Canadians.”

On Dec.12, Rivlin also received new ambassadors from Cambodia, Guatemala, France, and Turkey. The Turkish appointment is believed to be part of a new diplomatic approach by both governments after a period of strained relations following Operation Cast Lead in Gaza in 2009 and the 2010 Gaza flotilla incident.