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Nikki Haley speaks at gala in Toronto

Nikki Haley, left, and David Axelrod participate in a discussion at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre on June 18. (Credit: Amara Studios)

It seemed as though everyone at the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center’s (FSWC) annual Spirit of Hope fundraising dinner was pushing for guest of honour Nikki Haley to run for president of the United States at some point. Even Ontario Premier Doug Ford called her the future president, which prompted a round of applause.

The FSWC presented Haley, former U.S. ambassador to the UN and former governor of South Carolina, with a human rights award at the dinner, which took place at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre on June 18. Over 2,700 people attended the event and over $5 million was raised for the FSWC. Two police officers from Pittsburgh were also honoured.

“Haley championed human rights and proudly defended the U.S.’s sovereign right to move their embassy to Jerusalem – Israel’s true capital,” wrote Gerald W. Schwartz, chair of FSWC’s board, in a letter in the event’s program.

After accepting the award, Haley sat down for a conversation with David Axelrod, a political commenter and former senior advisor to then-U.S. president Barack Obama. The wide-ranging discussion touched on Haley’s experiences growing up in the only Indian family in her small South Carolina town, the prospects for peace in Israel, the importance of respecting human rights and more.

Haley and Axelrod both stressed the importance of calling out hate when we see it. Anti-Semitism is “palpable” and “on the rise,” said Axelrod, while Haley said it has reached a “fever pitch” and that “we can’t wait to deal with this.” The responsibility to combat hatred is incumbent upon those in positions of power, such as politicians, she continued, but it’s not only incumbent upon those in power.

“Every person has the ability to stop hate.… Every single one of us has to call it out every time we see it. We have to be loud every time we see it,” said Haley.

“And also be loud when it’s directed at others,” added Axelrod.


Haley, who was appointed by President Donald Trump, said she called him after the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Va., to express her disappointment with comments he made in the aftermath of the hate rally. She said it was a personal conversation, that he listened and that he used what he learned to be more respectful in the aftermath of the shootings at synagogues in Pittsburgh and San Diego.

Haley wouldn’t go into the specifics of Trump’s Mideast peace plan, even though Axelrod tried to press her on it, including asking her to confirm that it would not involve a sovereign state for the Palestinians. Haley declined to comment on that, but did discuss the plan more generally.

“I think we should all want peace,” she said. “The plan takes into account Israel’s national security,” but also the needs of the Palestinians. At the end of the day, the U.S. can’t force the plan onto anyone; it’s up to the two sides to come to the table and make decisions for themselves, she added.

Axelrod asked her if moving the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem might undermine an American-led peace process, but Haley responded by saying that the U.S. always puts its embassy in a country’s capital city.

“Palestinians have lived in a false world for a long time. Moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem acknowledged a truth … Jerusalem is the capital of Israel,” she said to applause from the audience.

Although Haley said moving the embassy addressed the reality on the ground, she did not support Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s campaign promise to annex the Israeli settlements, saying it would not be helpful.

Axelrod and Haley also spoke about the Iran deal, North Korea, the role of human rights in American foreign policy, including how to balance ideals with strategic interests, and what America’s role in the UN should be going forward.

Finally, Axelrod asked Haley about any future plans to run for national office, but she said it’s too soon for her to think about that.

“I’ve only been out (of public life) for six months,” she said, adding that she hasn’t even had a conversation about running for president with her husband. “I know that I’m too young to stop fighting. What that looks like, I don’t know.”

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