Israel’s president was in Canada for just three days, but it was a whirlwind tour.
Reuven Rivlin was kept busy from March 31 to April 2, in Ottawa, Toronto and Niagara Falls, Ont., where he viewed the rushing water with awe and signed the guestbook.
But more weighty matters were at hand: a state dinner hosted by Governor General Julie Payette, meetings with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Ontario Premier Doug Ford, and kicking off a business summit in Toronto that hopes to further high-tech partnerships between Canada and Israel.
The visit marked 70 years of bilateral relations between the two countries and Rivlin said he hopes to see increased co-operation in culture, science, innovation and high-tech under the recently updated Canada-Israel Free Trade Agreement.
Rivlin, 79, had to cut his visit short, however, amid news that his wife, Nechama, had experienced a sudden deterioration in her health. She had recently undergone a lung transplant.
Israel’s Embassy in Ottawa issued a statement saying that Nechama Rivlin was on respiratory support, due to severe shortness of breath and cardiac complications. It said that upon landing in Israel, the president would go straight to Beilinson Hospital to be at her side.
In Ottawa, Rivlin and Trudeau laid a wreath at the National Holocaust Monument.
Prior to raising a toast to Rivlin at a luncheon in Ottawa, Trudeau said Canada is working to combat hatred and anti-Semitism around the world, including through the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance and the Global Campaign to Stop Anti-Semitism.
His government “will continue to speak out in the most forceful way against movements like BDS and the so-called ‘Israel Apartheid Week,’ which hold Israel to an entirely different standard than any other country in the world,” the prime minister said.
Rivlin thanked the prime minister for his friendship and “moral leadership” in combating anti-Semitism and standing up for Israel at the United Nations.
“The mark of a true leader is his willingness to take a clear moral stand,” said Rivlin. “Your moral stance against anti-Semitism in all its forms, the strong support for Israel at the UN, the annual resolution on the human rights situation in Iran, are just some examples of your moral leadership.”
In a later statement from his office, Rivlin said he expects that Canada would oppose any unilateral Palestinian moves against Israel and any discrimination of Israel in international organizations.
The two also discussed Iran and Rivlin noted, “with satisfaction, the decision by the Canadian Parliament to freeze its relations with Iran and to declare the Iranian Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization,” according to the statement.
In addition, Canada and Israel have launched discussions on a youth mobility agreement, according to a statement from Trudeau’s office. The agreement would allow young people from Canada and Israel to work when they travel to the other’s country, “which would deepen our countries’ strong people-to-people ties and help more young people gain valuable international work experience.”
Rivlin was the special guest at a cocktail reception hosted by Canadian Magen David Adom in Toronto on March 31. He thanked the organization for purchasing hundreds of ambulances, medi-cycle emergency scooters and blood bank equipment.
The next day in Ottawa, he met Payette in an official welcoming ceremony at Rideau Hall, at which he inspected a guard of honour.
Back in Toronto the day after, he met with Premier Ford.
“Israel is one of Ontario’s top trading partners in the Middle East and I am pleased that this trade relationship has been growing in recent years,” Ford said in a statement.
“We also reflected on Ontario’s good fortune to have large and active Jewish and Israeli communities that act as important bridges between our economies and societies. Maintaining these strong economic, political, cultural and social ties will strengthen our trade and investment relationship, and support innovation and collaboration across various sectors.”
Rivlin noted Ford’s “strong stance against anti-Semitism,” saying: “What you do to combat anti-Semitism isn’t just important for the Jewish community. Anti-Semitism and xenophobia affect the whole world. We no longer live in a world of right and left, but rather of right and wrong. You are on the right side.”
Later that day, Rivlin, accompanied by a large business delegation from Israel, helped open a day-long Canada-Israel business forum that featured experts in health care, financial technology, cybersecurity, artificial intelligence and cleantech.
“There is no gap between (being) a Jewish state and a democratic state. And everyone has to know this before even beginning to talk about business,” Rivlin said to applause.
He said Israel “is committed to greater co-operation with Canada in the fields of health, homeland security (and) high-tech.”
Welcoming Rivlin were Janet De Silva, president and CEO of the Toronto Board of Trade, and Karina Gould, the minister of democratic institutions, who noted that her parents had met on an Israeli kibbutz in 1975 and that her grandparents had survived Auschwitz.
Gould noted that since the free trade agreement between the two countries was inked in 1997, the value of two-way trade has tripled, to $1.9 billion. Under the Canada-Israel Industrial R&D Foundation, the two countries have funded close to 60 projects over the last dozen years, she added.
Ties between Canada and Israel “are long, deep and mutually beneficial,” she said.
Also in attendance were Deborah Lyons, Canada’s ambassador to Israel, Henri Rothschild, president of the Canada-Israel Industrial R&D Foundation, and Rocco Rossi, head of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce.
Rivlin was then whisked to the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre at the Toronto General Hospital, to unveil a groundbreaking holographic imaging technology that was developed in Israel and will be used by cardiologists and cardiac surgeons in Canada.
Dr. Kevin Smith, president and CEO of University Health Network (UHN), said the UHN’s holographic heart program is the first of its kind in the world “and an excellent example of Canadian-Israeli collaboration, which benefits patients, research and commercialization.”
Rivlin left Toronto before his scheduled appearance at the Westin Harbour Castle hotel, where he was going to join a singalong of Matisyahu’s hit song One Day, led by the Israeli musical group Koolulam. But he recorded a video prior to his departure, in which he apologized for his absence and lauded the Toronto Jewish community’s support for Israel.
Trudeau and Toronto Mayor John Tory were on hand at the event, which was attended by some 1,800 people and sponsored by UJA Federation of Greater Toronto and Israel Bonds Canada.
In his remarks, Tory said that, “It shocks and disturbs me that anti-Semitism continues to grow in the 21st century.… There is no place for this in Toronto and I will always speak out against it and stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the Jewish community and others facing this hatred so we can continue to ensure that everyone feels safe and secure and included in our city.”
Trudeau’s office added the following:
“Canada and Israel are close friends and steadfast allies united by democratic values and deep people-to-people bonds. We are proud to stand with Israel. We are continually looking for new ways to expand the trade and security relationship between our two countries – and we will always stand up and speak out against anti-Semitism, wherever it occurs. By updating the Canada-Israel Free Trade Agreement, and exploring a youth mobility agreement, we are setting up both of our countries for future prosperity and growth, creating new jobs, and paving the way for an even closer Canada-Israel relationship.”