Netanyahu walks with Harper 370.
(photo credit: REUTERS/Chris Wattie)
TORONTO – Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper vowed Sunday night that Israel
will always be able to count on his country for support, as he announced plans
to visit Israel at the beginning of next year.
This will mark his first
visit ever to the Jewish state.
Harper made the announcement at the
annual Toronto gala of Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael- Jewish National Fund, where he
raised the roof with a surprise rock performance.
audience, the premier – this year’s guest of honor – was dressed in surprisingly
casual attire, the reason for which soon became clear as he stunned the crowd by
becoming the lead singer and keyboard player of a four-person rock
Ahead of his musical performance, Harper stressed that Israel,
Canada and the Western world share common threats.
“We understand the
future of our country depends on having a free and democratic state in the
Middle East,” he said. “Israel will always have Canada.”
included renditions of Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” and “Jumping Jack Flash”
by The Rolling Stones.
He wrapped up the set, quipping that he “has a day
job” to get back to, before satisfying his audience’s demand for an encore with
a Beatles number.
Harper’s performance was followed by a televised video
message from Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, who lauded his
Canadian counterpart as a “true leader.”
“Stephen doesn’t follow the
herd,” Netanyahu said. “He has stood up for the truth, time and time again.
Stephen doesn’t want to be politically correct, he wants to be correct. He had
the courage to stand up for what he believed,” he said. “I salute you Stephen,
not only as a personal friend, and a friend of Israel but as a great
Some 150 protesters gathered outside the dinner in a rally
against the prime minister’s appearance at the gala dinner.
demonstrators included Palestinians as well as Israelis and Jews. The protesters
stood outside the venue hosting the dinner, carrying signs condemning Israel’s
“policy of apartheid” as well as the Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National
Fund’s land policies in the Negev.
Police on horseback were deployed in
order to keep the peace, and close to a thousand other protesters were prevented
from accessing the main street adjacent to the event. JNF organizers slammed the
protests as attempts to “delegitimize” Israel.
KKL-JNF chairman Efi
Stenzler described Harper’s central role in the evening as an unprecedented
display of support for the State of Israel and KKL-JNF, which, he said, puts
into proportion the demonstrations of hate and lies that preceded the
“KKL-JNF and its supporters all over the world will continue to
strengthen the State of Israel with all its strength and will act fearlessly to
reinforce it,” he told The Jerusalem Post
Harper was honored at the
annual dinner in light of the construction of a new visitor center in the Hula
Valley to be named after the premier. Some 4,000 guests attended the event at
the Metro Toronto Convention Center, including public officials, Canadian
government officials and major donors to Israel and KKL-JNF.
project includes the establishment of an international bird sanctuary visitor
and education center, as part of the Hula Valley Rehabilitation Plan. The center
will be a 4,000-sq.m. construction and will serve as a scientific and
educational facility. Harper is scheduled to visit the project during his
David Koschitzky, chairman of the Center for Israel and
Jewish Affairs, welcomed Harper’s announcement “as an important indicator of the
dynamic relationship that exists between two great countries, which has grown
and strengthened under the prime minister’s leadership.”
“This visit will
provide Israelis with an opportunity to thank the prime minister for his
steadfast friendship and support over many years.”