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Foreign minister reaffirms Canada’s support for Israel

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Canada's Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland receives a menorah from World Jewish Congress president Ronald Lauder after her speech to WJC delegates in New York. [Shahar Az-ran/WJC photo]

Canada “stands shoulder-to-shoulder with Israel,” Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said in her first major public statement on the Middle East.

Addressing the annual World Jewish Congress (WJC) meeting in New York on April 24, Freeland said it’s time to voice support for Israel “out loud.”

Canada has “an unwavering, ironclad commitment to the security of Israel and its neighbours. We support Israel’s right to security, its right to live in peace and we’re committed to a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East,” Freeland told WJC delegates from 90 countries, with a large group from Canada that included MPs Michael Levitt and Anthony Housefather.

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“We stand with Israel and with Jewish communities in Canada and around the world, and we recognize, sadly, that now, more than ever, that support is needed and it’s important to stand up and say it out loud.”

Assuring Israel’s security is a key part of Canada’s fight against terrorism, Freeland said in a speech that mixed English, French and a smattering of Ukrainian.

One specific initiative is Canada’s command of a combined task force that intercepts trafficking activities at sea that are essential to the survival of extremist groups. The multinational force promotes maritime security in the Red Sea, Gulf of Aden, Indian Ocean and Gulf of Oman, she noted.

“When Canada works to counter extremism and terrorism, particularly in the Middle East, Israel is always a natural partner and a close ally. Israel is also a significant motivation. Programs like these contribute to Israel’s safety and security, and that is a core Canadian international objective,” Freeland said.

She said Ottawa has invested more than $1.6 billion over three years in its Mideast strategy to defeat the Islamic State of Iraq & the Levant (ISIL, also known as Daesh) and deal with the humanitarian challenges posed by the rise of Islamic extremism.

“This is a fight we are winning and it is a fight that we will win,” Freeland said. “We’re on the right side of history. Daesh is a hateful, backward-looking death cult. We can and will prevail in the battle against it. We need to have the courage of our convictions.”

Canada is also making “meaningful” contributions to stabilize Lebanon and Jordan, partly by accepting more than 40,000 Syrian refugees in this country.

The stability of Jordan and Lebanon “is inextricably linked to the security of Israel.”

Apart from public security and defence, Canada and Israel continue to cooperate on trade, she pointed out.

As trade minister, Freeland said she worked to update the free trade agreement between Canada and Israel. “We’re nearly done.”

Touching on domestic issues, Freeland noted that Jews are the most likely religious group in Canada to be targeted for hate crimes: 17 per cent of all hate incidents in Canada targeted Jews, she noted, citing one study, despite the fact that Jews are less than one per cent of the Canadian population.

“This is totally unacceptable. The government of Canada is committed to ensuring the safety and security of Canada’s Jewish community.”

In her own riding, University-Rosedale in downtown Toronto, the Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre was recently subject to a “deplorable” bomb threat.

“So this is happening today. It’s real, and we have to stand up against it.”

That’s why last September — along with Israel, the United States and the European Union — Canada co-hosted a high-level forum on anti-Semitism at the UN, she went on.

“That’s why Canada’s a proud member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, along with 31 other states where we promote Holocaust education and research.”

As well, in September, Canada announced a $600,000 project with UNESCO and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum to improve education about genocide, Freeland added.

She also pointed out that the Liberals have doubled funding to the Security Infrastructure Program, which helps communities at risk of hate crimes offset costs for security equipment.

Her speech, according to some sources, earned a standing ovation.