Canadian Ambassador to Israel Deborah Lyons, in her recent speech to the Côte St. Luc Men's Club, was glowing about Israel's accomplishments, the very positive relationship between Canada and Israel, and the potential for collaborations between the two countries.
Lyons was accompanied to the meeting by Mount Royal MP Anthony Housefather. Also on hand were Israeli Consul General David Levy, Deputy Consul-General Rotem Segev and CSL Mayor Mitchell Brownstein.
But members of the Côte St. Luc Men's Club lived up to their reputation as tough questioners. One questioner asked Lyons why no Canadian representatives were present at the ceremony for the U.S. embassy opening in Jerusalem May 14, "to help celebrate the fact that we recognize Jerusalem is the capital of Israel!
"Did we do this (not be present) to kiss the behinds of all the Arab countries!?" he added.
Lyons clarified that no representatives of any other countries were invited to the May 14 ceremony, but Canada did choose not to attend a related May 13 celebration in Jerusalem.
"We were invited to that, as were many of the embassies," she explained. "About 25 or 30 embassies went to that, of about 88. I didn't go because I was here in Canada because it was parliamentary recess, and I needed to be here.... Could my deputy head have gone, yes, but the government made the decision not to go."
"Why?" many in the audience asked.
"Because the recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of the State of Israel is different than it being central to the Jewish heritage," Lyons said. "The position of successive governments — Conservative and Liberal — is that the status of Jerusalem will be recognized and determined as part of the larger peace negotiations."
Some in the audience laughed, and one member later said each country gets to choose its capital.
"I know you're not happy with this answer," Lyons said. "I understand that, and I love Jerusalem.... This is a decision of your politicians that I humbly serve, and I will do what I am told to do."
Lyons added that there was progress on the peace process in 2017. "And then on Dec. 6, President Donald Trump made his Jerusalem announcement, and either [Palestinian Authority leader] Mahmoud Abbas jumped or he was thrown in the ditch. What is your main goal? If it's peace, do everything we can do to create those bridges... let's not kill it before it starts. If this can get us to a framework Canada can participate in, if we can get the Palestinians to come back to the table, then we can all work really hard like adults are supposed to do for the next generation. Then we'll all go dance in Jerusalem.
"Give us all a little bit of time to make this work. I cannot bear the fact that we would deliberately do things that might cause people to turn away from peace."
Housefather also provided a response, saying Canada and others will have to make tough decisions in the next few years.
"There are times you can make the right decision, but do it at the wrong time or in the wrong way," he added. "I am hearing the point of view of my constituents and I am raising it the way I always do, within the government.... If a decision is made my constituents are not happy with, everyone hears from me about it, and everyone knows what I think Mount Royal constituents want to happen."
Consul-General Levy welcomed the fact Lyons spoke candidly to the Montreal Jewish community.
"Throughout the entire Obama administration, starting in 2009, the Palestinians refused to negotiate with Israel, even when Prime Minister Netanyahu, at the request of President Obama, froze [settlement] construction in Judea and Samaria, and they refused after President Trump was elected," Levy told The Suburban "I do not necessarily see any change, certainly not as a result of the White House decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital and move the embassy there."
Asked to react to Housefather's reference to the move as "the right decision at the wrong time," Levy pointed out the embassy move has been the position of the American legislature for more than 20 years.
The Consul-General then used a Hebrew term. Asked to translate that into English, Levy said: "If not now, then when?"