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Senior Canadian Official Dismayed by Israel’s No-show at Peace Talks

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Canada’s foreign minister told Jewish leaders here last week that she regretted the fact that Israel, Syria and Lebanon had boycotted multilateral talks on the Palestinian refugee problem, held May 13-15 in Ottawa.

Speaking May 21 at the 23rd plenary assembly of the Canadian Jewish Congress, External Affairs Minister Barbara McDougall said she had been given a personal assurance on Israel’s attendance by her counterpart in the Jewish state, Foreign Minister David Levy.

“I accepted this role for Canada because I believe that we can legitimately contribute to the peace process, based on our reputation as an honest broker, especially in the Middle East and especially on refugee issues,” she said, adding that further talks lie ahead.

Paraphrasing Pirkei Avot (the Ethics of the Fathers), she asked, “If Canada does not respond to a call for peace, who will?”

McDougall cited Canada’s role in encouraging countries such as Nigeria, India, Vietnam, Benin and the Maldives to establish diplomatic ties with Israel.

She also mentioned the trilateral agreement signed in October 1989 in which Canada defrays half the cost of training participants from the Third World who come to Israel to study agriculture and rural development.

“All of these actions build legitimacy — and they build confidence,” she said.

McDougall also recalled the triumphs in the human rights campaigns to free the Jews of the former Soviet Union, Ethiopia and Syria since she addressed the previous triennial CJC meeting in 1989, when she was minister of employment and immigration.

She singled out for praise Judy Feld Carr of Toronto for her work on behalf of Syrian Jewry. “It just shows what one individual and the 24-hour fax machine can accomplish.

“I am sure that I would not be alone in this room if I were to admit that the events which have taken place in these areas in such a short period of time are almost beyond belief,” McDougall said. She added: “Of course, the Jewish people are no strangers to miracles.”

Alluding to the plummeting popularity of Prime Minister Brian Mulroney’s government, she quipped, “This is something we Progressive Conservatives understand. Indeed, relying on miracles is part of our election campaign strategy.”

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