“Canada is a Friend of Israel “. I was to hear these simple words on many occasions during my all too brief visit to Israel this past summer during ‘ Operation Protective Edge ‘ . I could not have agreed more.
This sentiment, freely offered by various Israelis once they learned that I was from Canada, was frequently followed by the words ” Your Prime Minister Harper is a strong supporter of Israel and has visited our country “. Once again I would agree and being an admirer of our Prime Minister would acknowledge his heightened role on the world stage.
I would then point out that the roots of Canada’s ties to Israel go back to the very inception of the state. My purpose was to show that Canadian support for Israel is not a new phenomenon. Nor was it dependent on any one individual, but rather I think stems from a collective mindset.
In 1948 some Canadian pilot veterans of the Second World War volunteered to go to Israel and serve in her fledgling air force. These men, though perhaps overshadowed in numbers by their American counterparts, helped form the basis of the Israeli Air Force. This is set out in the documentary film ‘ Above and Beyond ‘ produced by Nancy Speilberg, which I recently saw at the Vancouver Jewish Film Festival.
George ‘Buzz’ Buerling was certainly the most famous of these brave young men. Unfortunately he did not make it to Eretz Israel. His plane crashed off the coast of Italy. Initially buried in Italy, he was reburied some years later in the Haifa Military Cemetery. Another Canadian, Benjamin Dunkelman, son of the founder of Canada’s Tip Top Tailors, also served with distinction in the 1948 war.
In the 1956 Canada played a pivotal role in the Suez Crisis. This work saw Lester B. Pearson awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his role in proposing and establishing the first UN Peacekeeping Force. Another Canadian, General E. L. M. Burns, served as the first Commander of this UN force from 1956 through 1959.
On Israel’s northern border Canadians formed part of the first Golan UN peace keeping troops in 1974 following the Yom Kippur War. The creation of ‘ The Canada Centre ‘ with its indoor ice arena has only increased the bonds between Israel and Canada in the north of Israel.The ‘ Institute of Medical Research Israel Canada, (IMRIC) ‘ at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem is a very visible and practical expression of the links between Canada and Israel. The innovative and collaborative research being undertaken there will result positive medical applications for years to come.
Tangible expressions of the shared values between our two countries can be found in many other areas.
Notably, the work of Moshe Safdie, an Israeli Canadian architect who designed our National Gallery building in Ottawa and Yad Vashem in Jerusalem amongst other buildings in both countries and around the world The famous Israeli violinist, Pinchas Zukerman, was appointed Music Director of Ottawa’s National Arts Centre Orchestra in 1999. A position which will conclude next year.
What is evident is that while some of the above examples are by their nature highly charged public events, others are more practical in nature and simply form part of the everyday life and fabric in both of our countries.
In summary I believe that the core values shown by the State of Israel over the years are shared with and understood by most Canadians. This common mindset, has been reflected in accomplishments which can be seen in many fields of endeavour in both countries.
Such practical expressions form the basis upon which Canada has felt connected to the state of Israel. This support has grown over the past 65 years and will continue.