The boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel is waning in Canada, the mayors of Toronto and Montreal told The CJN at an Air Canada-sponsored event in Tel Aviv on Nov. 13 to celebrate their historic week-long joint mission to Israel and the West Bank.
Both mayors spoke of their cities’ special relationship with their Jewish communities and the social and economic value of investment in and co-operation with Israel.
Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre told The CJN that although the problem of BDS is not specific to Quebec, communities must react immediately to any incident or threat. “We have to make sure that people are aware of what’s happening and what it means.
“We have zero tolerance of racism in any form,” he added. Coderre has also met with the Jewish community in Berlin to discuss combating anti-Semitism worldwide.
John Tory, mayor of Toronto, is optimistic that BDS has lost most of the influence it once held over campuses. As he told The CJN, “They realized [BDS] was not an honest depiction of what is obviously a very complicated situation here… it doesn’t square with the facts.
“Israel is really one of the only countries in the Middle East that respects human rights, that has an approach to a lot of these issues very similar to Canada’s, that is a democracy.”
He added that response to his Israel mission was “entirely positive,” saying Torontonians support the mission’s dual purpose: “they understood… why we were coming, both because of the friendship between the two countries… but also because we’re here to do business with very smart, successful people.”
The two mayors were joined by a delegation of 120 representatives: 70 from Montreal and 50 from Toronto, including city councillors and members of the business and education sectors.
British Columbia’s Minister of Finance Michael de Jong and his delegation joined in the Tel Aviv event as part of a separate four-day economic mission to Israel taking place from Nov. 13 to 16. Ambassador to Israel designate Deborah Lyons said that during just her first six weeks in the position, she has welcomed numerous Canadian representatives from all levels of government and private life. Malcolm Brown, federal Deputy Minister of Public Safety, was also in Israel, participating in Israel’s fourth annual Homeland Security and Cyber Expo (HLS/Cyber) in Tel Aviv.
Coderre dedicated the evening in memory of Leonard Cohen, who died on Nov. 7. “Leonard Cohen was one of our greatest ambassadors,” he told The CJN, praising the Montreal-born Jewish poet and songwriter as part of the city’s “cultural signature” and emblematic of the city’s spirit.
Though the mayors have slightly different agendas for the trip, they are also participating jointly in a number of overlapping events over the course of the week.
Coderre is promoting his affiliation with Metropolis, an international organization of member cities with populations of more than one million. “I believe in urban diplomacy.” He quoted Ban Ki Moon as having said, “If you want to make things happen, ask a mayor.”
“We’re front-liners,” Coderre said. “We are part of the solution: actors of change and prevention.” He will be visiting the HLS/Cyber Expo and participating in a “twin communities” agreement between the Jewish community of Montreal with the community of Be’er Sheva.
While Tory’s trip is more focused on business and innovation, he was reluctant to put a specific dollar figure on the deals and agreements that would come out of the trip. “I never do,” he said. “I always say ask me in a year.
“I think a year from now you will find that some of the people we met with today will be doing business in Toronto or Montreal,” he said, “not just because we showed up but because the case to be made… is so strong in terms of the pool of talent, the excellence of the educational institutions… places to do medical research.”
This was the second trip to Israel for both mayors. Tory visited about 12 years ago as part of a private group, while Coderre came in 2009 during his tenure as a member of Parliament.
However, he called this trip historical not only for its message about the relationship between Canada and Israel. “It’s an historical moment because the mayor of Montreal and the mayor of Toronto, cities number one and two, are together. This is the Canadian way.”
Other stops over the course of the week include Be’er Sheva, Jerusalem, Ramallah, and Bethlehem. ;Tory’s agenda also included a visit to Technion University in Haifa, which two weeks earlier presented Canadian governor-general David Johnston with an honorary PhD.