Strengthening the Canadian and Israeli relationship

Exploring the past, present and future of the Canadian-Israeli relationship in an interview with Canada's ambassador to Israel, Lisa Stadelbauer.

 H.E. LISA STADELBAUER, Canadian  Ambassador to Israel, presenting  her credentials to president Reuven  Rivlin in June. (photo credit: CANADIAN EMBASSY)
H.E. LISA STADELBAUER, Canadian Ambassador to Israel, presenting her credentials to president Reuven Rivlin in June.
(photo credit: CANADIAN EMBASSY)

November 29 will mark 74 years since the United Nations voted for the Partition Plan thereby enabling the rebirth of the State of Israel.

Canada was a key player in the framing of the history-changing UN General Assembly Resolution 181. Ivan C. Rand, a Supreme Court justice, was central in drafting the UN’s Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP). Canadian diplomat Lester B. Pearson (later to become Canada’s prime minister and a Nobel Peace Prize laureate) was appointed chair of the UN subcommittee responsible for creating a detailed plan of partition; historians credit Pearson with securing a positive vote at the UN. Many Zionists saw Rand and Pearson as Canada’s version of Balfour.

The anniversary of the plan is an appropriate moment to explore Canada’s current relationship with Israel. What better way to do that than to hear directly from Canadian Ambassador Lisa Stadelbauer

Back in August, the Magazine met with the ambassador to learn that she had presented her credentials to former president Reuven Rivlin two months earlier in the midst of the pandemic – not the best of times to begin her term of service here in Israel. Our meeting was on the eve of her return to Canada for a vacation; she graciously agreed to answer our questions.

Do you have family with you here in Israel? 

I am here with my husband, Brad, who like me is delighted to be back in Israel. This was our first posting nearly 30 years ago – we were honeymooners! To have celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary here, last month, was something very special. We have two daughters in Canada, and can’t wait to have them visit here when the COVID restrictions permit. 

 WITH MK Yoav Gallant, head  of the Israel-Canada Interparliamentary Friendship  Group.  (credit: CANADIAN EMBASSY) WITH MK Yoav Gallant, head of the Israel-Canada Interparliamentary Friendship Group. (credit: CANADIAN EMBASSY)

How was it to arrive in Israel in the midst of a pandemic? Are there similarities between Canada and Israel in the manner in which the countries are dealing with COVID-19? 

Taking up the role of ambassador in the middle of the pandemic has been challenging. Normally, the first six months of any diplomatic assignment are all about networking. Getting out and meeting people, and developing the personal relationships that are so important to deepening the relations between, in this case, Canada and Israel. Doing so has been a real challenge and remains one. We can do a lot online, but the personal connection is not the same. I never thought I would miss diplomatic receptions, but I realize now how much I took them for granted. They can be a great way to cover a lot of business quickly. 

Canada and Israel have faced COVID in different ways and at different times. Israel has a centralized, national response, which has been based largely on securing large quantities of vaccines very early on, with lockdowns when necessary. It has continued to be a world leader, being the first country to mandate a third vaccination.

Canada, a federal state, has differentiated responses, as each province has managed COVID differently. The federal government was quick to order vaccines, but supply chain issues meant that our roll-out was slower than in Israel.

Now, however, vaccination rates in Canada surpass those in Israel. Our health officials have connected several times since the start of the pandemic to share information and best practices, and our prime ministers have exchanged views on the COVID response.

 

The free trade agreement between the two states was introduced in 1997 and updated in 2019 – what were the major changes in the update?

The original Canada-Israel Free Trade Agreement (CIFTA) was a goods-only agreement that eliminated tariffs on all industrial products and only on some agricultural, fish and seafood products. The new agreement eliminates virtually all tariffs on agricultural, agri-food and fisheries products, expands market access for both countries, and includes new chapters on e-commerce, intellectual property and labor. 

 AN ISRAEL supporter faces off with a Palestinian supporter during a  protest in front of city hall in Toronto, May 15 (credit: CHRIS HELGREN/REUTERS) AN ISRAEL supporter faces off with a Palestinian supporter during a protest in front of city hall in Toronto, May 15 (credit: CHRIS HELGREN/REUTERS)

But it’s much more than just about tariff elimination. This agreement also reduces technical barriers to trade, it enhances cooperation, increases transparency in regulatory matters, and it reduces red tape for business – these non-tariff barriers are often the biggest challenges that companies face when exporting. 

But what also makes CIFTA a truly 21st-century agreement are the inclusive trade elements in areas such as gender and corporate social responsibility, which help to ensure that the opportunities that flow from trade are more widely shared.

In fact, this was the first time that Israel incorporated a chapter on gender, and just the second time for Canada after our FTA with Chile. This modernized agreement further strengthens Canada’s support for Israel, and advances joint values including securing prosperous futures.

Trade between the countries – what does Canada export to Israel and what does Israel export to Canada?

Since CIFTA came into force over two decades ago, two-way merchandise trade between Canada and Israel has more than tripled, totaling $1.6 billion (CAD) (NIS 3.9b.) in 2020. Two-way services trade was valued at $634 million (NIS 890m.) in 2019. Canadian direct investment in Israel reached $515m. (NIS 1.2b.) and Israeli direct investment in Canada reached $617m. (NIS 1.5b.) in 2020.

Canada’s top merchandise exports to Israel in 2020 included agricultural products, aircraft and spacecraft, industrial machinery, electronic equipment, scientific and technical instruments, and industrial products from wood, metals and other chemicals, as well as precious and semi-precious stones. Canada’s main merchandise imports from Israel in 2020 included industrial machinery, electronic equipment, scientific and precision instruments, and an array of industrial products.

 DIPLOMAT LESTER B. PEARSON in Toronto, 1944.  (credit: BIBLIOARCHIVES/LIBRARYARCHIVES/FLICKR) DIPLOMAT LESTER B. PEARSON in Toronto, 1944. (credit: BIBLIOARCHIVES/LIBRARYARCHIVES/FLICKR)

I’d also note that one of the underlying strengths of the Canada-Israel bilateral relationship lies in the extensive people-to-people ties. There are approximately 35,000 Canadian citizens living in Israel and nearly 90,000 Canadians, many with family in Israel, who travel to the country every year. The Canadian-Jewish community, which is the third-largest Jewish community outside Israel at nearly 400,000, serves as an integral bridge between our two countries. These ties give rise to significant cooperation between our two countries in business, philanthropy, culture, education and tourism.

As well, given that innovation is a significant driver for both countries, we look forward to maintaining our active science, technology and innovation agreements with Israel. Canada and Israel are on the cutting edge of several hi-tech fields such as information and communications technology and the life sciences, and both our countries have highly-skilled talent pools and innovation strengths. Cooperation in this area is mutually-beneficial and holds a lot of potential for the years ahead.

How do you view the most important aspect of the CIFTA? Ideas for expansion?

While all elements of the agreement are critical for both Canada and Israel, I would emphasize that CIFTA is the product of bilateral cooperation that prioritizes inclusive trade. 

The modernized CIFTA includes chapters on gender, small and medium-sized enterprises, as well as new provisions on corporate social responsibility and on labor and environmental protections.

CIFTA has done its job to create the conditions for growth, so we have all that we need from this agreement. It’s now up to companies to take advantage of this trade agreement. More than ever, we are well-positioned to expand and deepen our commercial relationship.

Canadian and Israeli companies now enjoy expanded market access, favorable conditions for exporters through important non-tariff commitments, and we have established mechanisms under which Canada and Israel can cooperate to address and resolve non-tariff barriers that may arise.

What’s left for us to do is encourage more Canadian and Israeli companies to explore our markets. That’s our focus now.

How does Canada view the relatively recent formal links between Israel and the UAE, Bahrain and Morocco? 

Canada welcomed the historic agreements establishing full diplomatic relations between Israel and the UAE as well as Israel and Bahrain, and their subsequent extension to include Morocco and Israel. I strongly believe that these accords will contribute to enhancing stability, security and prosperity across the region. 

As a longstanding friend of Israel, Canada looks forward to engaging with our regional partners as these agreements are implemented. I’m certain these accords will help create enhanced trade, economic and diplomatic opportunities.

In fact, I’m pleased to see this is already the case. The accords have opened up travel opportunities and transportation links between the signatories; I understand that more than 130,000 Israelis visited the UAE in the first four-and-a-half months alone after the agreement was signed. And the accords have also led to increased diplomatic engagement as well as strengthened people-to-people ties. These are important achievements for Israel and for the region more broadly. 

How does Canada view its relationship with the PA and Hamas?

Canada enjoys positive relations with the Palestinian Authority, recognizing the Palestinian right to self-determination and supporting the creation of a sovereign, independent, viable, democratic and territorially contiguous Palestinian state, as part of a directly negotiated, comprehensive, just and lasting peace settlement. Canada aims to uphold and promote the two-state solution by helping to establish a law-based, peaceful and prosperous society that can ultimately become a state for the Palestinians, and a stable and secure neighbor for Israel.

Canada has listed Hamas as a terrorist organization pursuant to the Canadian Criminal Code. The Canadian government has no contact with Hamas.

 

As you have stated, Canada’s Jewish community numbers nearly 400,000 – the third-largest Jewish community living outside of Israel. Is it a community that is growing or diminishing?

The 2021 Canadian Census gave Canadians the option of reporting their ethnic or cultural origins so we’ll have an update when the results are released in late spring of 2022. However, it’s important to note that Canadians don’t have to identify their ethnic, cultural or religious origins if they don’t want to, so even the census data may not tell us if the community is growing. 

We can say though that Canada is home to the fourth-largest Jewish community in the world. This vibrant community has contributed to all spheres of life in Canada, often overcoming significant challenges to succeed be it in business, politics, science, academic life or community and volunteer work from its earliest days. The earliest synagogue was built in 1768 in Montreal, with major waves of immigration following between 1880 and 1930 and again after World War II.

Jewish students at universities in many Western countries are finding it increasingly uncomfortable to be a Jewish student on campus today. What is the situation in Canada?

Regrettably, statistics show that antisemitism in Canada and around the world is on the rise, including on university campuses. Governments at different levels are working to combat antisemitism on university campuses. University administrations are seized of the issue and are working to ensure that Jews and students of all faiths are free to express their faith in safety and security and participate fully in university life. Jewish students are active in university life across Canada.

Has Canada adopted and promoted the IHRA (International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance) definition of antisemitism?

Yes, in June 2019, as part of its anti-racism strategy, the Government of Canada adopted the IHRA definition of antisemitism. Furthermore, on November 25, 2020, the prime minister announced the appointment of the Honorable Irwin Cotler as Canada’s special envoy on preserving Holocaust remembrance and combating antisemitism. In this capacity he also serves as Canada’s head of delegation to the IHRA. Special Envoy Stéphane Dion led the Canadian delegation to an IHRA meeting that concluded on November 10.

Internationally, in collaboration with IHRA members and other international partners, the special envoy is strongly advocating for a broader adoption of the IHRA definition of antisemitism. Domestically, the special envoy is supporting efforts to strengthen Canada’s implementation of the IHRA definition of antisemitism across the country. 

Canada reiterated its commitment to continue to enhance the adoption of the IHRA working definition and to mainstream its implementation during the Malmö International Forum on Holocaust Remembrance and Combating Antisemitism that took place in Sweden on October 13.

The appointment of Cotler, Canada’s former justice minister and attorney-general, to the newly created position of special envoy on preserving Holocaust remembrance and combating antisemitism, at this time – does this speak to an unprecedented increase in antisemitism in Canada?

Unfortunately, this speaks to an unprecedented increase in antisemitism around the world and not just in Canada. 

To seek input directly from Jewish communities, this past July the federal government organized a National Summit on Antisemitism. It brought together political leaders from all levels of government and leaders from Canada’s diverse Jewish community. It allowed Jewish community leaders to speak of their concerns about rising antisemitism and to find ways to work together to address this important issue.

During the summit, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said: “Antisemitism has no place in Canada – or anywhere else. It is unacceptable that Jewish communities and people still face violence, hate, and discrimination in our country.” 

The summit resulted in commitments to engage the Jewish community in the development of the next anti-racism action plan; to build on lessons learned to improve digital literacy and tackling misinformation; to explore potential changes to relevant programs, like the Security Infrastructure Program (SIP), Anti-Racism Action Program (ARAP), Community Support, Multiculturalism, and Anti-Racism Initiatives Program (CSMARI), to ensure that they are more responsive to Jewish community needs, while continuing to dismantle white supremacist groups and better combat hate groups.

Furthermore, Canada unequivocally condemned the disturbing rise of antisemitism at home and abroad at the Malmö summit. Trudeau, as head of the Canadian delegation, delivered a live-streamed intervention during the closing plenary session. On the ground, Canada was represented by Special Envoy Dion, who spoke on hate speech and social media.

Here are two pledges made by Canada during the forum: 

We pledge to combat antisemitism, Holocaust denial and distortion, hate crimes and all other forms of racism and to protect at-risk communities: 

• As part of a renewed Anti-Racism Strategy, we will engage with Jewish communities in the development of our National Action Plan on Combating Hate.

• Establishing the special envoy on preserving Holocaust remembrance and combating antisemitism as a permanent position, supported by dedicated resources.

• We will strengthen the Canada Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code to more effectively combat online antisemitism and hate.

• We will introduce legislation to combat serious forms of harmful online content.

• We pledge to promote awareness about the Holocaust and antisemitism in Canada.

• Building on lessons learned regarding the increase of antisemitism and of Holocaust distortion, we will continue to expand publicly accessible Holocaust-related material and to bring awareness to the dangers of antisemitism. This will include using the historical legacy of Raoul Wallenberg – hero of the Holocaust and Canada’s first honorary citizen – as an inspirational role model for educational purposes. 

How do you see your priorities in your role as Canada’s ambassador to Israel? 

My priorities as ambassador have been the same in each of my postings: to try to nurture the best possible relationship between our countries; to protect and promote Canada’s values and interests; and to manage the embassy to the best of my abilities, as a responsible steward of the taxpayer resources, and as a manager who leads with a people-first approach.

Now, those are pretty broad priorities – the fun is in fleshing out how best to do that. But given Canada’s focus on gender equality, you can be certain that we will be putting women and girls at the heart of everything that we do.

 

BACK TO the beginning and the Partition Plan: Pearson, through diplomatic means, ensured that every party would perceive that a solution necessitated the recognition of the right of the Jewish people to return to its historic homeland. To quote from his memoirs:

“I never had a doubt that this problem is unsolvable without recognizing a Jewish state in the Land of Israel. For me it was always the center of the issue. A Jewish state in the land of Israel, a national home, it is something that I felt that it was a sine qua non for every arrangement.” 

On the November 29 anniversary, we will appreciatively recall the catalytic part played by Canada in 1947. 

Thank you, Ambassador Stadelbauer, for sharing your challenges and hopes for strengthening the close bond that exists between Israel and Canada. 

The writer is chairwoman of Israel, Britain and the Commonwealth Association. She is also public relations chair of ESRA, which promotes integration into Israeli society.