Home Perspectives Opinions Thank you, Ambassador Bercovici

Thank you, Ambassador Bercovici

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Vivian Bercovici with John Baird FILE PHOTO
Vivian Bercovici with John Baird FILE PHOTO

For three years, Vivian Bercovici served Canada as the ambassador to Israel, and for all of us who saw her in action, she had a huge impact. As a skilful lawyer turned diplomat, and without all of the baggage of the career foreign service, she represented the government articulately and forcefully, in ways that most foreign emissaries are not accustomed to hearing.

She brought a unique energy level and electricity to what is often a grey, invisible (and largely male) profession. In Canada, her appointment was criticized because she was not a career diplomat, but rather a political appointee, but this turned out to be a major asset. Bercovici had direct access to former prime minister Stephen Harper, former foreign minister John Baird, provincial and business leaders and other key Canadian players. And in her many public appearances, Bercovici’s skills as a top Toronto litigator were put to effective use in explaining Canada’s support for Israel.

Unfortunately, in Israel, including in the Foreign Ministry, Canada has generally been relegated to a minor player inhabiting the same continent as the United States. But Ottawa has been a key ally, particularly during the Harper years, and during her tenure, Bercovici raised Canada’s profile significantly. She was often featured in the local media, and hosted events attended by Israelis – Jews and Arabs – from across the social and political spectrum. Invitations to these events, including the Canada Day receptions, were coveted during Bercovici’s tenure.

In the political realm, she doesn’t reduce Israel to the one-dimensional image based entirely on the Palestinian conflict, unlike the old-school Arabists that continue to push outdated slogans in Ottawa and at the Globe and Mail. She made life difficult for lazy journalists (including Canadians) who follow the pack, repeating the artificial narrative of Palestinian victimization and aggressive Israeli power.

READ: LIBERALS SET TO NAME NEW AMBASSADOR TO ISRAEL – REPORT

During the July 2014 Gaza war, which began a few months after her appointment, Bercovici had to deal with missiles aimed at Tel Aviv, including, on one occasion, an attack that coincided with the approach of an Air Canada flight coming from Toronto – a contingency not usually included in the standard diplomatic portfolio. From the politically correct crowd in Canada, she was attacked for rejecting the standard Israeli “war crimes” myths that were pumped out in much of the media and by NGOs claiming to promote human rights. Speaking to a packed auditorium at Jerusalem’s Menachem Begin Center during the war, she joined Australian Ambassador David Sharma in expressing Canada’s solidarity and presenting Israel’s strong moral case.

Perhaps most importantly, Bercovici made a major (and successful) effort to understand what makes Israel and Israelis tick, as well as our complexities, from the ancient debates on how to mix ancient religious texts with modern democracy, to the fast pace of the “start-up nation.” While many ambassadors to Israel, particularly the Europeans, spend most of their time in the artificial environment of Herzliya and central Tel Aviv, Vivian – as many Israelis refer to her – has been everywhere, and she knows her way around Jerusalem’s many neighbourhoods and cultural sites. Her dynamism woke up the button-down diplomats, moving them away from gossip and small talk, often mixed with snide and de rigueur put-downs of Israelis. 

In her last official event, at the Canada Day reception, Bercovici announced that for professional and personal reasons, she was staying in Israel – another non-standard move among foreign envoys, to understate the case. For Israel, this is very good news, and means that her voice, skills and energy will continue to be heard and seen.

For the past three years, Canada and Israel both benefited significantly from Bercovici’s contributions, and while she will no longer be ambassador, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Foreign Minister Stéphane Dion and the Liberal government would do well to listen to her. A return to the old slogans and diplomatic myths about Israel will not benefit anyone.

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  • Borukh

    There’s no doubt at all that Vivian Bercovici has made an impact as Canada’s ambassador to Israel for the past three years. Though not a career diplomat, she has solid academic qualifications in her past, having taken a post-graduate diploma at the prestigious London School of Economics in the politics of the Middle East some years ago. At the same time, she has willfully ignored the Canadian official position on the Israel-Palesine conflict, which can be found on the Global Affairs Canada (as Foreign Affairs Canada is now named) Web site, “Canadian Policy on Key Issues in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict”.

    This includes such elements as: “Israel’s right to live in peace with its neighbours within secure boundaries”; “the Palestinian right to self-determination and support [for] the creation of a sovereign, independent, viable, democratic and territorially contiguous Palestinian state, as part of a comprehensive, just and lasting peace settlement”; “the creation of a Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with Israel”; “the [2006] Arab Peace Initiative as a potential basis for a comprehensive Arab-Israeli settlement”; “not recogniz[ing] Israel’s unilateral annexation of East Jerusalem”; “respect[ing] the rights of the [Palestinian] refugees, in accordance with international law”; “not recogniz[ing] permanent Israeli control over territories occupied in 1967 (the Golan Heights, the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip)”; noting that Israeli settlements in the occupied territories are a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention [and] also constitute a serious obstacle to achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace.”; “oppos[ing] Israel’s construction of the [security] barrier inside the West Bank and East Jerusalem which are occupied territories. This construction is contrary to international law under the Fourth Geneva Convention. Canada not only opposes Israel’s construction of a barrier extending into the occupied territories, but also expropriations and the demolition of houses and economic infrastructure carried out for this purpose.”; and while Canada has extended “official recognition [to] the experience of Jewish refugees from the Middle East and North Africa, who were displaced after 1948, this recognition does not diminish or compete with the situation of Palestinian refugees.”

    As one can see from this listing, Ambassador Bercovici ignored and in certain instances even strayed from some of these official positions. Perhaps that is why the new Liberal Government was not prepared to allow her to continue in her position, despite all the good effects of her three year term outlined by Mr. Steinberg. Bottom line: she did NOT accurately represent Canada’s official position on the conflict!

  • djvanbc

    Definitely, we should thank Ambassador Bercovici for her service. However, it is not surprising that she is departing. The new Liberal government is a strong ally of Israel but has set a much different tone on foreign policy than the Conservatives, including in the Middle East. I expect that an experienced career diplomat will be the new representative. A fresh set of eyes who has not been heavily invested in affairs in Israel will serve Canadians well. If the rumors are true that it will be Deborah Lyons (current Canadian ambassador to Afghanistan), that would be great.

  • moosehorn

    Finally one of the remnant of the trash left behind from the Harper regime era has been disposed of.

  • djvanbc

    The new Canadian ambassador to Israel will indeed be Deborah Lyons (outgoing ambassador to Afghanistan), a veteran federal public servant with experience in several federal departments and agencies who recently served in important diplomatic roles for Canada in the US, Japan, and Afghanistan. This is a welcome appointment. While thanks should be given to the previous ambassador Vivian Bercovici for her service, the new ambassador gives me greater confidence that Canada will once again play a constructive role in advancing peace in the region and upholding Canadian foreign policy traditions. The previous ambassador seemed to have a personal and political agenda and outspoken style that was at odds with the new Liberal government’s approach to foreign policy as well as to the expectations for Canadian representatives abroad. I look forward to a professional public servant and diplomat representing Canada in Israel in the years to come.