PM Harper vows 'Israel will always have Canada'

WATCH: Canadian premier sings for Israel; Harper announces first-ever visit to region next year, receives honor at annual JNF gala dinner in Toronto.

Netanyahu walks with Harper 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Chris Wattie)
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.
Addressing the 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 band.
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.”
Harper’s show 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 leader.”
Some 150 protesters gathered outside the dinner in a rally against the prime minister’s appearance at the gala dinner.
The 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 event.
“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.
The new 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 upcoming visit.
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.”