Quebec’s Premier Philippe Couillard will lead an economic mission to Israel in the spring, becoming the first Quebec premier to head an official visit to the country.
He made the announcement during the annual cocktail for members of the National Assembly held at the legislature by the Quebec branch of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), with Federation CJA and the Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee, on Nov. 30.
Close to 70 representatives of the Montreal Jewish community attended the event, which had a special significance this year because it highlighted the federation’s 100th anniversary.
Couillard spoke of the long and important contribution of the Jewish community to Quebec. “Your history is that of Quebec’s, and the history of Quebec is your history.”
Couillard described Israel as “the only democratic state in that troubled region.
“Israel and Quebec have much in common and together we must reinforce the ties that unite us,” he said.
In addition to Couillard, the delegation was addressed by Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) leader François Legault and the Parti Québecois’s (PQ) Stéphane Bergeron, critic for international relations. Both spoke warmly of the Jewish community’s impact on the province.
Gail Adelson-Marcovitz, co-chair of the federation centennial, said, “Since the election of the first Jew to the legislative assembly of Lower Canada in 1807, the Jewish community has never ceased to contribute to Quebec’s political and cultural life, as well the writing of our common history.
“Federation CJA is proud to participate in the civic and social engagement of Quebec Jews for a pluralistic, prosperous and just Quebec.”
That day, an all-party motion was adopted by the National Assembly saluting the federation on its centennial.
The National Assembly “ recognizes that Federation CJA has helped for a century new arrivals, the most disadvantaged, youth and seniors, to flourish and fully contribute to their community,” and also help create and sustain such “flagship” institutions as the Jewish General Hospital.
D’Arcy McGee MNA David Birnbaum, who introduced the motion, continued: “May this National Assembly recognize that Federation CJA continues to lead and support a vibrant, diverse and multilingual Jewish community dedicated to both honouring the memory, sacrifice and perseverance against persecution that has so marked the history of the Jewish people, all the while committing to the continued participation of this same community in the building of an inclusive, prosperous and flourishing Québec.”
The motion was presented with Carole Poirier of the PQ, Benoit Charette of the CAQ, and Amir Khadir of Québec solidaire.
“What a proud and moving moment,” said federation CEO Deborah Corber.
Charette also tabled a declaration that Nov. 30 was a day of commemoration of the Jewish exodus from Arab lands – “a neglected chapter of 20th century history.”
It reads: “Immediately after the Arab-Israeli conflict, the Jews of North Africa and the Middle East were forced to flee exclusion, confiscation, persecution and violence. Two-thousand-year-old communities were forever uprooted.
“The majority of these refugees were able to rebuild their lives in Israel. Others found refuge in Quebec, attracted by the French fact. These refugees and their descendants contributed to shaping the francophone personality and francophilia of the Jewish community and enriching our cultural life…”
Among the other elected officials attending the cocktail were several cabinet ministers, including Health Minister Gaétan Barrette, Immigration Minister Kathleen Weil, Public Security Minister Martin Coiteux, Higher Education Minister Hélène David, and Economy Minister Dominique Anglade, as well as Speaker Jacques Chagnon.
Prominent PQ MNAs present included caucus chair Maka Kotto and party whip Poirier.
CIJA Quebec co-chair Rabbi Reuben Poupko told The CJN that Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre’s leadership of a 50-member economic mission to Israel in November and now Couillard’s intention to make a similar trip next year confirm a repudiation of the anti-Israel boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign by the province’s political, business and academic leaders.
“BDS is an idea now beyond the pale…it has moved further to the fringe and has minimal, if any, impact on decision-makers,” he said
“There is no more effective tool in Israel advocacy than taking people to the country. Any [negative] perceptions they have are debunked because they see the country for what it is: a vibrant, open and creative society.”
His co-chair Patrick Benaroche added: “Clearly, there is a strong political consensus that Israel, as a sister democracy and a leader in scientific and technological innovation, is a natural partner for Quebec. CIJA-Quebec is looking forward to helping expand the bilateral ties between Quebec and Israel by offering the premier our longstanding expertise with trade delegations.
CIJA Quebec vice-president Eta Yudi was personally touched by the recognition of the injustice suffered by Jews who fled Arab lands.
“As the descendant of a once vibrant and thriving Iraqi Jewish community, I am particularly proud of the recognition of our history for the first time at the National Assembly by [Charette] who made a powerful declaration on the nearly one million Jewish refugees from North Africa and the Middle East.”