With bands, a gala dinner and the naming of a bird watching observatory in his honor, Jerusalem will on Sunday begin welcoming Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, considered by many as the world leader most supportive of Israel.
Harper, who since assuming office in 2006 has shown unstinting support for Israel, even at the cost of losing a seat on the UN Security Council, will arrive at the head of a massive delegation of some 250 people, including six ministers, six parliament members, businessmen, church leaders and 170 Jewish community leaders.
This will be Harper’s first visit to Israel, and the largest delegation he has ever taken on a trip abroad. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has visited Ottawa twice since taking over as prime minister in 2009: once in 2010, and again in 2012.
Israel’s ambassador to Canada, Rafi Barak, said that under Harper, Canada is one of the few countries in the world where “values have a central influence on policy, especially when it comes to Israel. And he is not embarrassed to say so.”
The Canadian leader is scheduled to arrive on Sunday afternoon, and then be formally greeted at the Prime Minister’s Office by an IDF band and honor guard. Harper and his wife will then join Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, for a private dinner.
On Monday morning Harper is scheduled to go to the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem and then to Ramallah for a meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. He will then return to Jerusalem and address the Knesset in the evening.
Tuesday is his big political day in Jerusalem: He will meet with President Shimon Peres, hold another meeting with Netanyahu, and then take part in an Israel-Canadian government- to-government meeting with six ministers from each side. After a press conference, Harper is slated to visit Yad Vashm and go to Jerusalem’s Old City, before being hosted by Netanyahu at a massive state dinner for some 400 people at the David Citadel Hotel.
On Wednesday, Harper will fly up north to tour Christian sites in the Galilee, and then go to the Hula Valley to inaugurate the Stephen J. Harper Hula Valley Bird Sanctuary Visitor and Education Center, a project of JNF Canada. In the evening, before flying to Jordan for a day of meetings, he will go to Tel Aviv and receive an honorary doctorate from Tel Aviv University.
David Weinberg, director of the Israel office of Canada’s Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), who has been involved in planning the visit, said that Canada, under Harper’s leadership, “has emerged as Israel’s staunchest ally. It is frequently a step ahead of the rest of the world in defending Israel, setting a principled, pro-Israel example.”