Netanyahu launches ‘Walk with Israel’

15,000 expected to join the annual, daylong UJA walk in Toronto.

By
May 30, 2010 04:39
4 minute read.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu

Netanyahu Vicar 311. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)

 
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TORONTO – Residents of Toronto will get a chance to show their love for Israel on Sunday, when 15,000 people are expected to join the annual, daylong UJA Walk with Israel.

The walk, whose proceeds will go toward projects initiated by the UJA Federation of Greater Toronto to help Ethiopian immigrants in Bat Yam, is going to have an added attraction this year: Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who will speak to the walkers before they head off on their routes on Sunday morning.

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“The timing is perfect,” said Amir Gissin, Israel’s consul-general in Toronto, speaking about Netanyahu’s visit to Canada.

“Canada is today a very close friend of Israel, with both a friendly government and opposition. We just had the premier of Ontario, Dalton McGuinty, in Israel,” Gissin said.

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Netanyahu, who arrived in Toronto on Friday with his wife, Sara, was expected to meet privately with members of the Jewish community, as well as with selected members of the media during his stay in the city.

“Looking at the list of the editors, broadcasters and writers he’s meeting with, you see quite an impressive list and one that reflects the interest Canada has in Israel,” Gissin said.



Netanyahu, making the first visit by an Israeli prime minister to Canada since 1994, is scheduled to fly to Ottawa after launching the Walk on Sunday, to meet with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

On Monday, Netanyahu and cabinet members Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz and Diaspora Affairs Minister Yuli Edelstein will meet with Canadian officials to discuss issues such as the expansion of trade and the joint commercialization of hi-tech capacity in both countries.

Gissin said he expected anti-Israel demonstrations to take place during the walk, but that they would pale compared to the support being shown for Israel by the mainstream Canadian population.

“When you look at the people who protest, you see very clearly that the demonstrators don’t reflect the diversity of the Canadian population,” he said.

Jewish community 'fails to get mainstream support'

Outside his office at the Israeli Consulate, about a dozen protesters were handing out leaflets and waving Palestinian flags in support of the Gaza aid ships that were making their way to Gaza.

“The fact that the Jewish community here can bring 15,000 people out to hear the Israeli prime minister and on the other side, you have maybe several hundred people against Israel, shows that they are failing to get mainstream support from wider segments of Canadian society,” he said.

According to Ted Sokolsky, the president of the UJA Federation of Greater Toronto, the participation of Netanyahu has helped to raise the profile of the walk, which the UJA staff has spent months preparing.

“We’ve had to increase security and make some
changes, but the excitement around it really reflects the strong Jewish community in Toronto,” Sokolsky said on Thursday.

“I’m incredibly proud to have the prime minister here,” added Alan Winer, the chairman of the federation, on Friday, a few hours before Netanyahu was due to land in Toronto. “I think it’s really a tremendous matter of pride within the community to have him here.”

It’s a little scary to have a sitting prime minister launch the walk for the first time, admitted Winer, due to possible ramped up protests by anti-Israel activists overjoyed at having such a big target.

“I was a little apprehensive about it, but we had conversations within the community and we said, you know this is the time to stand up for Israel,” Winer said. “This isn’t the time to back away or be afraid. It’s time to say, ‘We’re proud of Israel, with all its challenges and blemishes.’

“People ask me all the time, ‘What can I do to make a difference?’ So I sent out an e-mail saying many people ask what they can do to make a difference; well, Sunday is the time, the walk is the place to show your support.”

While many Torontonians will heed that call, some are less than enthusiastic about the security regulations surrounding Netanyahu’s participation, which has moved the opening of the walk to the indoor CNE Direct Energy arena instead of an open-field stadium, and is forcing participants to arrive far in advance to pass security checks.

“I’m a huge supporter of Israel, and we’ve been going on the walk for years, and love it,” 50-year-old Ken Gruber of Toronto said, “but this year, I may just pass on it. it’s too much hassle.”

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