Netanyahu to visit Ottawa this week

Andy Levy-Ajzenkopf
::The Canadian Jewish News

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is scheduled to make a three-day stop in Ottawa this week before a March 5 visit to Washington.

Netanyahu plans to meet with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper on March 2, spend Shabbat in Ottawa, and then speak at a Jewish community Sunday breakfast briefing with lay leaders and other delegates before leaving for the United States later that day.

It’s anticipated the two leaders will address Israel’s plans regarding the continued escalation of Iran’s nuclear program.

Harper’s director of communications, Andrew MacDougall, told The CJN he expects they’ll discuss “the security situation in the Middle East.”

Harper has publicly stated he fears Iran would use nuclear weapons if it acquires them. In an interview with the CBC in January, he said he believes Iran is lying about its nuclear program being strictly for peaceful purposes and that he thinks its leaders would have “no hesitation about using nuclear weapons if they see them achieving their religious or political purposes.”

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has said that Israel should be “wiped off the map” and that the “Zionist regime is on its way to annihilation.” He is also a noted Holocaust denier.

Since coming to power in 2006, the Conservative government has shown unwavering support for the Jewish state on the global stage. Harper helped water down resolutions at the G8 summit last year that he considered to be weighted against Israel, and Canada was vocal at the United Nations last fall when the Palestinian Authority tried to get the General Assembly to recognize a unilateral declaration of independence.

The two prime ministers have reportedly also become fast friends.

Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird and Finance Minister Jim Flaherty spent a week in Israel last month on a diplomatic mission.

Shimon Fogel, CEO of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), said his organization was asked to brief both Canadian and Israeli officials “on the issues of the day, the political landscape and backdrop informing the situation at this particular juncture.”

He also said he was “delighted” that Netanyahu had agreed to meet with about 60 community representatives on Sunday morning at an event that CIJA is arranging on behalf of the Israeli Embassy in Ottawa.

Fogel said there was a tremendous interest by the community to meet with Netanyahu and hear Israel’s position on numerous topics.

He said members of Jewish federations across the country have been invited to the breakfast meeting, as have representatives of B’nai Brith Canada, Israel Bonds, the Jewish National Fund and other pro-Israel groups.

“Clearly, people are very anxious about the overall set of challenges facing Israel and are signalling their desire to connect both with the issues and the central personalities like Netanyahu, who can offer insight into where things are at and where they are going,” Fogel said.

He concurred with MacDougall’s assessment of the topics likely to be discussed by Harper and Netanyahu.

“The topic that will surely dominate the discussion is the threat posed by Iran, which continues its determined drive to acquire nuclear arms,” Fogel said.

Other topics on the table will probably include the “deteriorating situation in the aftermath of the so-called Arab Spring” and “the growing influence of Hamas and Hezbollah on Israel’s doorstep,” he added.

“I imagine some attention will be given to the effort to reinvigorate the peace process with the Palestinians and, of course, the mutual desire to strengthen the [Canada-Israel] bilateral relationship across the spectrum of economic and social sectors.”

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