Without doubt, the simultaneous visit last week to Israel by Foreign Minister John Baird and Finance Minister Jim Flaherty was one of the most memorable demonstrations of alliance with and support for the Jewish state by a Canadian government in recent history.
The ministers were in Israel for complex, multi-layered, political, economic, security and relationship-affirming meetings and discussions.
Both Canadian ministers, of course, met with their governmental counterparts and with Israeli President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. But their respective itineraries also included wider consultations and participation in key institutional events.
Baird, for example, joined in a panel discussion at the annual prestigious Herzliyah Conference on regional security matters. He also attended the official ceremonies in Jerusalem of the expansion of Yad Vashem’s International School for Holocaust Studies. For a significant part of his visit, Baird was accompanied by one of his Ottawa constituents, Rabbi Chaim Mendelsohn, director of public affairs for the Canadian Federation of Chabad Lubavitch.
Flaherty met with Israeli industrialists, scientists and high-tech innovators. “I admire what has been done with the Israeli economy. We have much to learn on research and development and boosting innovation and productivity,” Flaherty told a large group of Canadians and Israelis at a reception in Jerusalem. One of the tangible, mutually rewarding results from the finance minister’s visit to Israel will be the attempt by both countries to expand the 1997 Canada Israel Free Trade Agreement.
In the moving ceremony Jan. 30 atop the windswept, fir-covered promontory of Mount Herzl, where the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum melds and blends into the beautiful landscape like tears in a painful memory, Baird proclaimed that “Israel has no greater friend in the world than Canada.” It was a moral statement, not a political one.
In the curt, unembellished manner that is characteristic of so many Israelis, Minister for Strategic Affairs Moshe Ya’alon succinctly summed up the bilateral relations between Israel and Canada: “We share not just the same interests, but the same values.”
Like all conglomerates of human beings, democracies are indeed flawed, problem-laden and imperfect. Thus, imperfectly but determinedly without cease, democracies affirm under conditions of freedom and the rule of law that the sanctity of human life and its preservation are our highest values.
These are the values that Canada and Israel share.
How proud we are, and how thankful to Baird and Flaherty for reminding the world.