Canadian gov’t urged to line up policy on Israel with public support

TORONTO (JTA) — A former Israeli ambassador to Canada is among a group condemning an apparent discrepancy between Ottawa’s fervid public support for Israel and official policy.

Alan Baker, who served as Israeli ambassador from 2004 to 2008, and six Toronto lawyers wrote to Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird urging a change in his department’s website “to align it with statements and policies publicly expressed by the Prime Minister, yourself and other government representatives,” the National Post newspaper reported.

The group noted particularly that the site refers to the West Bank, eastern Jerusalem and the Golan Heights as “occupied territories,” and declares the construction of Israeli settlements and parts of the separation fence inside those areas as illegal.

“Parts of this policy statement appears to run counter to the Canadian expressions of support for Israel and its positions,” the group wrote, “as well as against specific statements repeatedly made by Prime Minister [Stephen] Harper and Foreign Minister Baird.”

The letter was made public as the staunchly pro-Israel Harper prepares for his first trip to the Middle East. Harper will visit Israel, the West Bank and Jordan from Jan. 19 to 22.

Information on the Foreign Affairs website reflects long-standing Canadian policy, which comports with the widely accepted international view that the West Bank, eastern Jerusalem and the Golan Heights are occupied territory because they were captured by Israel in a war in 1967. According to the policy, which has not changed since 1967, Jewish settlements on lands captured in the Six-Day War are illegal because the Geneva Conventions forbid construction on occupied territory.

In response, Baird’s spokesman, Rick Roth, said Harper and his Conservative government “have articulated Canada’s policy on Israel and the Middle East at great length since 2006.

“Israel has no greater friend in the world than Canada,” Roth told the Post, “and it is through our actions, not just words, that this rings true.”

Writing in The Jerusalem Post this week, Baker warned that Harper on his visit will face questions about the issue from senior Israeli government representatives and the media.

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