In an announcement that came one day before Israel celebrated its Independence Day, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer promised to move Canada’s Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Scheer made the pledge in a wide-ranging speech in Montreal on May 7 that touched on a number of areas of foreign policy.
“I will re-open the Office of Religious Freedoms and stand up for religious minorities all around the world. And I will recognize the fact that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel,” Scheer said.
After the speech, Scheer told reporters that recognition would “include making sure that Canada’s representation there is in Jerusalem and we’d work with the government of Israel to accomplish those types of things.”
Scheer’s promise comes about one year after the Conservatives pledged to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. It also comes about one year after the United States moved its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, which also coincided with Israel’s Independence Day.
Jewish community leaders applauded Scheer’s announcement.
“It’s simply the right thing to do. I think any Canadian prime minister should do it,” said Avi Benlolo, president and CEO of the Friends of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. “Jerusalem is Israel’s capital. There shouldn’t be any other motive than it’s the right thing to do. I’m happy to see Mr. Scheer putting this in his platform.”
Benlolo said Scheer discussed the move a few month ago, so the announcement did not take him by surprise. “The United States is paving the way for many countries to give this consideration,” Benlolo added.
“Jerusalem has been central to Jewish identity since it was established as the capital of the Jewish nation 3,000 years ago,” said Shimon Fogel, the president and CEO of the Center for Israel and Jewish Affairs. “Since the re-establishment of the modern State of Israel, Jerusalem has been the home to Israel’s democratically elected parliament, independent Supreme Court and national government offices. We have always maintained that Canada should formally recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.”
Michael Mostyn, the CEO of B’nai Brith Canada, said that, “Jerusalem is the eternal capital of the State of Israel. It’s our position that every country in the world, including Canada, should recognize the obvious reality that Jerusalem is the capital.
“The United States made the right move. The United States remains a major superpower, so when the States makes a change to its foreign policy, we know other countries pay attention to it.”
A different perspective was offered by JSpace Canada, a progressive Jewish organization. “JSpaceCanada agrees that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital, but Mr. Scheer’s position does nothing to further the global consensus on Israeli-Palestinian peace, including the final status of Jerusalem,” said Karen Mock, the organization’s president.
“Acting in defiance of the 128 countries that voted to reject the move of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem shows that Mr. Scheer sees Canada as a peripheral player on the international stage, offering no plan to build a larger consensus. By promoting a simple solution to a complex problem, he does nothing to reinforce Israel’s legitimate claims to Jerusalem.”
And in Ottawa, NDP MP Guy Carron, who was the party’s parliamentary leader from 2017-19, tweeted that, “Moving the Canadian Embassy to Jerusalem would be reckless and would fly in the face of international law and UN Security Council resolutions, since Jerusalem east is occupied Palestinian territory.”
Scheer’s pledge isn’t the first time a Tory leader has promised to move the embassy to Jerusalem. In 1979, Prime Minister Joe Clark made the same promise during the election campaign and repeated it two days into his administration. Yet opposition to the announcement was fierce, which prompted Clark to commission a special committee to look into it. Clark reversed his position when the committee reported that such a move would harm the prospects for peace.
CBC News reported in 2017 that cabinet documents it obtained indicated that the reversal was due, at least in part, to concerns that a prominent Canadian company would lose a lucrative contract in Saudi Arabia if the embassy move went ahead.
And a 1979 CBC television report indicated that the government was concerned that moving the embassy would lead to Canada losing oil imports, international contracts and its credibility as a peacekeeper.
Benlolo, however, suggested that the U.S. example showed that Canada should not expect blowback from an embassy move.
And Fogel pointed out that, “Multiple countries have signalled they will move their embassy or recognize Jerusalem following the American announcement. It is important to note that American political leaders from both major parties have long supported and advocated for this move.”
As to the possibility that the move could set back the peace process, Fogel said, “The argument that it undermines peace is ludicrous, given that Israel has long maintained Jerusalem as its capital and seat of government, while consistently demonstrating a willingness to negotiate peace and even offer significant territorial compromises to achieve it. In contrast, the Palestinian refusal to recognize Jewish historical ties to Jerusalem represents a denial of reality and mutual respect that makes peace more difficult to achieve.”
Scheer also discussed the values that are shared by Canada and Israel and how Israel’s enemies have no interest in peace: “To stand up for pluralism and democracy, Canada must renew our support for Israel and its inherent right to defend itself, by itself.
“Terrorist groups like Hamas and Hezbollah have absolutely no interest in peace. Since their inception, the leaders of Hamas have been trying to destroy Israel. When Israel gives them the concrete they need to build hospitals and schools, Hamas instead builds tunnels to kill civilians. When the world gives Hamas money to feed the Palestinian people, Hamas buys rockets to indiscriminately target Israelis.”
Scheer took the opportunity to launch an attack on the Liberal government, which he said “has abandoned Canada’s principled support for Israel. It abstained on a key vote condemning the United States for recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
“When Israel’s borders came under attack from Hamas terrorists, as they have in recent days, we must support Israel’s right to defend itself and recognize Hamas’ direct responsibility in inciting violence and the loss of life. Canada must be ready and reliable when Israel needs to count on their democratic friend and ally, Canada.”
In the 2015 election, candidates from the Liberal and Conservative parties vied with each other to proclaim their support for Israel. Tory candidates referred to the Harper government as always having Israel’s back, while Liberals argued there was no daylight in the parties’ support for Israel.