It may be mere protocol, but Peter Kent sports a badge with Israeli and Canadian
flags on the lapel of his jacket with a pride surely far greater than that
required by diplomatic custom. Canada’s minister of state for foreign affairs of
the Americas is as staunch an ally as Israel could possibly hope
“Prime Minister [Stephen] Harper has adopted, I think, what is a
very principled stand with regards to Canada and Israel,” says Kent when asked
why Canada has been unflinching in its support. “From virtually the first months
of his administration in 2006 he articulated very clearly that his position on
issues with regard to the Mideast and Israel’s neighbors would be based on
principle, and he demonstrated that during the Lebanon war and since at the
United Nations in the annual votes that attempt to single out Israel over
countries with far less solid reputations for democratic principles and
practices and the rule of law, and try to victimize Israel on an annual basis in
“Prime Minister Harper made very clear... that
there is no moral equivalence between terrorism and oppression and democracy.
There are some in the Canadian political spectrum who talk about a more balanced
approach to the Middle East, but in fact there is no balance when it comes to
rockets from Gaza on Sderot; there is no balance in attacks like the south
Lebanon border incident [the August 3 killing of an IDF officer by a Lebanese
army sniper]; there is no balance between those who would seek to destroy Israel
and those who are willing and have demonstrated any number of times over recent
years to come to a negotiated resolution.”
Kent, 67, is no stranger to
Israel. He first came here in 1973 as a war correspondent in his previous
incarnation as a journalist – a profession he left just over two years ago to
make the transition into what he calls “the responsible side of public policy.”
The current visit, which ended last week, is his first in his present
Kent recalls the Yom Kippur War when he followed Ariel Sharon’s
tank column across the Suez Canal – “albeit in a taxi.” Since then he has been
here many times. “I’ve had an opportunity as a former journalist to spend a lot
of time here, admittedly more often in bad times than good,” he says. “But I’ve
made a point of also trying to celebrate with my colleagues in Parliament and
also with Canadians at large that Israel is not only a country often besieged by
its undemocratic neighbors, but is also a country of great scientific,
intellectual and cultural accomplishment.”
ELOQUENT AS A journalist, Kent
has quickly mastered the language of diplomacy.
Following his statement
on Canada’s “principled stand” for Israel, he adds that its support for the
latest round of peace talks is “solid and unwavering” and that it “supports the
Palestinian Authority and President Mahmoud Abbas in terms of our investment of
financial and human resources in trying to institution build in the PA to
prepare for that eventual day of an independent Palestinian
Canada, says Kent, has made a $300 million investment in that
institution building effort with most of the money going into Operation Proteus,
the Canadian contingent to the US-led mission to train and build the PA security
forces. Canada is also putting funds into development assistance in the area of
justice, specifically codification of a justice system appropriate to an
independent state, renovation and construction of courthouses and knowledge in
forensics and crime scene investigation for the prosecution of civil and
Kent adds that, as he told his counterparts in Ramallah
and Jerusalem, “Canada stands ready to assist in whatever capacity as the peace
talks go forward and preparations go forward, hopefully, toward a two-state
solution.”From your talks with Palestinian leaders, how willing are they
to proceed, especially on the difficult core issues?
I don’t think anyone
glosses over the core issues, the final status issues, but certainly in meetings
with [PA Foreign Affairs] Minister [Riad] Malki and officials in the Foreign
Ministry they are speaking from the same script that President Abbas laid out in
Washington, and there is a commitment to make an effort to go the extra mile to
achieve what has been so difficult to achieve.”On the other hand, the
other script coming from President Abbas has been “push me one bit and I’m going
Well both leaders have the domestic environment to deal with in
their respective communities. President Abbas also has to deal with Hamas and
the very destructive obstructionism that Hamas is attempting to derail the
Washington was an important start and I think that [in] the fact
that both leaders have agreed to meet every two weeks there is at least a
momentum and a commitment at least at this point to move forward.
clear at every opportunity that we are prepared to offer to both sides whatever
we might, whether it’s refugees, Jerusalem, security. In any of these areas we
stand ready to provide assistance in any way we might be able to.What
about Israel? Is Israel in your impression ready to make the necessary
Being in Israel and reading a cross section of the Israeli media,
there is a spectrum of opinion of approval, criticism, skepticism, endorsement,
and again it’s for Israeli and the Palestinians through their leaders to move
toward that ultimate goal, however difficult.
It’s too important not to
try, and I think the coming months are going to be interesting, they are going
to be challenging... it’s a time of hope.Would Canada be willing to put
troops on the ground to back up a peace agreement?
Canada stands ready to assist
in any way in the achievement of a negotiated two-state solution. It’s
hypothetical to address at this point, but our commitment over the years has
Canadian forces have served in the region in peace
observation and various UN capacities and continue today. We have the largest
number of military personnel taking part in Operation Proteus; it is our second
largest deployment after Afghanistan.Canada has been very vocal on Iran.
What is Canada's position on Teheran’s nuclear weapon’s program?
We embraced and
enacted the provisions of Security Council Resolution 1929 in June and in fact
enacted sanctions which go further in specific areas with regard to oil and gas
and relations with financial institutions and provision of listed personnel,
including the Revolutionary Guards. We hope the international community will
remain unified in its positions on the sanctions, and if broader, deeper
sanctions are required, Canada will again consider those as they may be
necessary.And if sanctions fail?
Again we are into the hypothetical
here, but Canada is as concerned as the other democracies who support Israel,
who support the Security Council resolution in terms of ending [Iranian
president Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad’s nuclear weaponry adventurism.
tell. We hope that the sanctions will do the trick.And if Israel were to
decide to go it on its own?
I think I would leave that as a hypothetical
question with a hypothetical answer which I can’t answer. But again Canada has
made it very clear over the years that we defend Israel’s right to defend
itself.You have been quoted as saying that an attack on Israel is an
attack on Canada.
What I was saying was not as much literal, what I was
talking about was an attack on the values that we share: freedom, democracy,
human rights and the rule of law. In that area Canada is proud to stand shoulder
to shoulder with Israel.
WHILE MUCH of Kent’s visit focused on the peace
process, the reason for his visit was in fact to discuss areas of interest and
concern in Latin America and the Caribbean, which fall under his umbrella as
minister of state for foreign affairs of the Americas.
represented Israel’s interests in Cuba since 1973, when diplomatic relations
were severed after the Yom Kippur War, and in Venezuela since Israel’s
ambassador was expelled during Operation Cast Lead.
On the Venezuelan
front, Kent expresses concern about an upsurge of state-promoted anti-Semitism.
“This is an election month in Venezuela and the official media has again fired
up some of the anti-Semitic slurs against the Jewish community as happened
during the Gaza incursion,” he says.
“There has been, I understand, an
agreement by [President Hugo] Chavez to meet with members of the Jewish
community in Caracas, and Canada would hope that he encourage the media to lower
the tone. We don’t like to initiate criticisms, but Canada has on a number of
occasions expressed its concerns over the shrinkage of democratic space, not
only in general society with regard to the media, opposition political parties
and individuals, but with regard to the community which we are proud to
represent in Israel’s absence from the country.”
On the Cuban front, he
is more optimistic.
“The story from Cuba is a good story,” he says.
“Since the years of religious repression and official atheism there has been a
relaxation with regards to all religions in Cuba. The Jewish community is
approximately 1,500 these days, down from its previous much larger congregation
[some 15,000 before the 1959 revolution].
The community that is there,
although without rabbis and cantors, is a vibrant community. When I was there
last I had a chance to see that the community was unhindered. Two families made
aliya while I was there, and it was done without harassment and without
In an almost unveiled criticism of American policy toward
Cuba, Kent cites US sanctions as a major obstacle to the establishment of
diplomatic relations with Israel.
“The principal problem is the Helms-
Burton Act, the American legislation which isolates Cuba, and which is used by
the Cuban government on the one hand as a defense from more open domestic
politics, and on the other hand by some in Congress to maintain what Canada
believes is an outdated [policy]."
Another area where Israel and Canada
are cooperating in Latin America is Iran’s involvement. “One of the
Canada has worked with Israel,” says Kent, “is in encouraging more
prosecution of justice with regards to the AMIA terrorist bombing in
car bombing on the Jewish Mutual Association building in Buenos Aires
85 people dead and hundreds wounded] and the destruction of the Israeli
in 1992, and of course one of the principal parties of interest is today
minister of defense in Iran [Ahmad Vahidi].
Canada would hope that the
International Court of Justice might see itself free in prosecuting more
what is almost a two-decades-old pair of terrorist actions.”
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