Canadian FM visits Israel for first time since Trudeau elected

Jerusalem is viewing her visit as a learning and listening trip, whose expertise is not the Mideast and who will be seeking to understand the strategic picture as the different sides see it.

October 30, 2018 18:41
2 minute read.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Canada Foriegn Minister Chrystia Freeland

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Canada Foriegn Minister Chrystia Freeland. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland arrived in Israel on Tuesday for the first visit of a Canadian foreign minister since Prime Minister Justin Trudeau took over the helm from Stephen Harper in November 2015.

Freeland, considered a rising force in the Liberal Party and someone often mentioned as a successor to Trudeau, arrived in the afternoon from a visit to Jordan, going directly to a meeting with Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman. She will be in the country until Friday, and spend a number of hours on Thursday afternoon in the Palestinian Authority.

Freeland was appointed in 2017, replacing Stéphane Dion, who had ruffled some feathers in Israel for saying during an interview that Canada – which took an unapologetically strong pro-Israel line under Harper – needed to return to its traditional “honest broker” status in the Mideast. Dion was replaced just two days before he was to make his maiden voyage to Israel as foreign minister.

A former journalist and Liberal MP who served Trudeau as his international trade minister, Freeland – whose mother is of Ukrainian ancestry – has been a sharp critic of Russia’s human rights violations and its policies toward Ukraine. Her trade expertise was apparently a factor in Trudeau’s selecting her last year, and she led Canada’s just-completed and contentious trade talks with the US.

While she had planned on visiting Israel earlier, the trade talks kept her preoccupied.

Before leaving for her Mideast trip, she said that Canadians “enjoy a long-standing friendship with Jordanians, Israelis and Palestinians, and I look forward to engaging with our important partners in the region this week. This visit will offer Canada an opportunity to strengthen our existing ties and exchange views on diverse issues, including the security situation and other critical challenges facing the region.”

Jerusalem is viewing this visit as a learning and listening trip for Freeland, whose expertise is not the Mideast and who will be seeking to understand the strategic picture as the different sides see it.

While the public rhetoric of Trudeau’s government has not been as strongly pro-Israel as his predecessor, and while there have not been as many high-level visits (Harper’s foreign ministers visited Israel regularly), substantively there has been little change toward Israel under Trudeau. The only exception is that while Harper’s government cut off funds to UNRWA, Trudeau has renewed some funding to the organization.

Among the issues that may be discussed during Freeland’s meetings here are the shooting by an IDF sniper of a Canadian-Palestinian doctor in May during rioting along the Gaza border fence, and Canada’s diplomatic crisis with Saudi Arabia.

In August, Saudi Arabia kicked out the Canadian ambassador and froze new trade deals because of Canadian criticism of Saudi human rights violations.

Freeland is scheduled to meet on Wednesday with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Reuven Rivlin, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein and opposition head Tzipi Livni. She is also scheduled to address the Israel Council on Foreign Relations.

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