Rosh Hashanah and the High Holidays are an opportunity for personal development and communal celebration. They are also an opportunity to reflect on the past year, while welcoming the year to come. Filled with historic milestones like the opening of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem, record-breaking tourism and successful diplomatic overtures, this was Israel’s year.
In April, we celebrated 70 years since the establishment of the State of Israel. From Victoria to Halifax, and everywhere in between, I was grateful to see Canadians of all stripes – Jews and non-Jews alike – celebrating Israel’s independence through song, dance and, of course, food. The remarkable festivities that took place across Canada are truly indicative of the warmth and affinity shared between our two countries and peoples.
Our close partnership was again strengthened and on display the following month. In May, Canada and Israel signed an updated, expanded and progressive free trade agreement. Israel’s minister of the economy and industry, Eli Cohen, travelled to Canada to join then-minister of international trade François-Philippe Champagne in Montreal for the signing. The modernization of the Canada-Israel Free Trade Agreement is a historic milestone that will further strengthen our successful trade relationship and contribute greatly to the economic prosperity of both our countries.
As well, we are hard at work on expanding the innovation co-operation between Canada and Israel, countries that already share an industrial research and development foundation, to promote and financially support co-operation in scientific research between firms in both countries. Whether it is green energy, water conservation, cybersecurity or nanotechnology, Canada and Israel are together making advancements in the fields that are defining the 21st-century economy. Through trilateral partnerships, Israel’s International Development and Aid Agency – which celebrated its 60th anniversary this year – and the Canada International Development Agency, are working to bring the fruits of this unique partnership to development projects around the world.
Today, Israel enjoys improving relations with countries around the globe. Successful diplomatic overtures in Africa, Asia, South America and the Arab world have captured headlines, as more and more countries view Israel as a strong political ally and partner in a growing number of fields. Israel’s founding prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, built ties with many countries, including Canada, and visited as prime minister in 1961. However, that was not the first time he visited Canada. This year marks the 100th anniversary of when Ben-Gurion first trained as a soldier in the Jewish Legion of the British Army in Nova Scotia.
In the coming year, Canada and Israel will be celebrating another historic milestone marking 70 years of friendship and diplomatic relations. On May 11, 1949, Canada recognized the State of Israel, and in 1953, it opened its first embassy in Tel Aviv, where George Kidd served as the first Canadian ambassador to the Jewish state. It was also in 1953 that Michael Comay was appointed as Israel’s first ambassador to Canada. Since the establishment of formal diplomatic relations, visits by political leaders of both our countries have been frequent and have engaged all levels of government.
The new year will also present its challenges for Israel. To the east, the potential threat of a nuclear-armed Iran and the regime’s increasingly aggressive movements in the region remains ever present. In Lebanon, Iranian-backed Hezbollah is increasing its political control and expanding its rocket capabilities. Meanwhile, in Gaza, Hamas continues to hold its people hostage and terrorize Israeli civilians with arson and rocket attacks.
Peace, while elusive, has been, and always will be, what Israel strives for. We thank Canada for supporting Israel, in its quest for security. This was exhibited in June by the passage of a private member’s motion, which had the support of both the Liberals and Conservatives, that condemned Iran for sponsoring terrorism, calling for genocide against the Jewish people and instigating the violent attacks on the Gaza border. Canada’s support for Israel at international organizations and our joint commitment to peace and stability in the region exemplifies the values and friendship we share and we are grateful for it.
I wish Jewish communities here in Canada and around the world shanah tovah. May we together seize a new year filled with peace, joy and good health.