Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne capped off her week-long business mission to Israel and the West Bank on May 20, which began with a visit to Haifa’s Technion – Israel Institute of Technology.
Wynne’s mission, which comprised more than 150 people, was massive in both size and scope, and included more than 40 stops over the course of five days. According to the premier’s office, it generated more than $87 million worth of business deals for Ontario in areas such as high-tech, education and medicine.
At an event in Tel Aviv early in the week, Wynne spoke out to reiterate her position on boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel.
“I entirely oppose the BDS movement. In fact, any position that promotes or encourages anti-Semitism in any way – we have to stand against that,” she announced to enthusiastic applause.
However, back in Ontario, a private members’ bill against BDS was defeated 39-18 at Queen’s Park on May 19. Tory MPP Tim Hudak and Liberal MPP Mike Colle introduced the bill, with Hudak stating that the aims of BDS are “to sponsor the delegitimization of the state of Israel as well as to foster hatred and animosity against those of Jewish faith in support of Israel.” The bill would have barred the province from doing business with companies supporting BDS.
Wynne said that while she supports free speech, “it’s unacceptable for students, or parents, or children to feel unsafe or discriminated against. So I oppose movements that are attempting to divide our society and are attempting to promote anti-Semitism, homophobia, anti-Islamism, all of those -isms that create fear and hate in our communities.”
During her visit, Wynne enjoyed unprecedented access, with highlights including extended personal meetings with both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. She has previously led business missions to China, India and the United States, drumming up business for Ontario and promoting the province as a world leader in trade, on par with many smaller countries.
Wynne was accompanied on the trip by high-profile MPPs, including Minister of Innovation and Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities Reza Moridi and Minister of Health Eric Hoskins, as well as more than 130 representatives from Ontario’s business, financial and educational sectors.
Moridi said, “We are here today, working as one team – a dream team, driving Ontario’s future success.”
Canadian Ambassador Vivian Bercovici said during the visit that Israelis “already know how fabulous Canadians are. We don’t need to sell them on that… now we’re going to get out there and tell everybody what a great place Ontario is to do business.”
While many of the deals cemented during the trip took place between businesses, including dozens of new business agreements and partnerships in the science and technology and information and communications technology (ICT) sectors, and did not directly involve government, Wynne said she sees official representatives playing a facilitating role, noting, “It helps to have the government opening doors and allowing those connections to happen.”
Other significant deals over the course of the week included a $50 million five-year deal between Ontario’s Centre for Commercialization of Regenerative Medicine and six Israeli universities and research institutions, which will generate an estimated 150 new jobs in Ontario.
New and extended partnerships were also announced between medical institutions, including Toronto’s Baycrest Health Sciences and University Health Network, along with numerous colleges and universities in Ontario and Israel, such as the University of Toronto, York University, McMaster University and OCAD University that will ensure two-way exchanges of students and innovation for years to come.
“Ontario is a place that is hungry to maintain its position… in terms of economic growth and being the economic engine that we are. We are in a very strong position… we need to keep that, and we can’t be complacent. We need to be very intentional,” Wynne said.
As well as stopping in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Haifa, Wynne’s mission spent time in the West Bank, in Ramallah and Bethlehem, meeting with Abbas and signing deals with businesses, health-care institutions and universities there.
While in the West Bank, Wynne attended a scholarship ceremony for the Daughters for Life Foundation, which will provide opportunities for 21 young women to pursue post-secondary education at Palestinian universities and colleges. She attended a parallel ceremony in Jerusalem giving scholarships to 28 Israeli Arab and Jewish students to study in Israel.
The Daughters for Life Foundation was established in 2011 by Palestinian-Canadian doctor Izzeldin Abuelaish after the killing of three of his daughters by Israeli tank fire in the Gaza War of 2008/2009. Additional scholarship opportunities were announced that will bring West Bank students to study in Ontario.
Wynne also made stops at both the Western Wall and Yad Vashem, where she laid a wreath and noted in the guest book that, “It is only through love, tolerance and mutual respect that we can shine a light to keep the darkness at bay.”