Ms. Deborah Lyons, a career diplomat, presented her credentials to Israeli President Reuven Rivlin in Jerusalem on December 12th. She replaces outgoing ambassador Vivian Bercovici, a Harper appointment and outspoken Zionist. What will our new ambassador do? Read more.
The appointment of a new Canadian Ambassador to Israel by Prime Minister Trudeau was expected and a relief to many. Unlike her immediate predecessor, Deborah Lyons is a career diplomat. (Most recently, she was our Ambassador in Afghanistan). She replaces Vivian Bercovici a political appointee without diplomatic experience who was appreciated by the Israeli government but who had drawn criticism for strident defense of Israel and the Zionist project.
The change in ambassadors reflects in part the Trudeau government’s position that it would be taking a less “partisan” approach toward Israel than that of former prime minister Stephen Harper.
But will our new Canadian ambassador bring a new orientation to the job? There is every expectation that the tone will change, but what about substance, will that change?
Ambassadors are normally given explicit directives by Ottawa about what they are expected to do. That information is not publicly available, but in an interview with the Canadian Jewish News after her official appointment, Ambassador Lyons outlined the top priorities for her term in Israel:
- continuing a strong political relationship between Canada and Israel
- fostering business and academic partnerships,
- creating a partnership of support to third countries, and
- sharing information between the two countries.
Based on this, it is not clear that the new ambassador has been asked to change direction, or even to be more energetic in promoting Canadian values of tolerance, democracy and freedom in Israel. (Our ambassadors to other countries are regularly charged with doing this, including most notably, our Canadian ambassador to China.)
The Canadian government official position is that it supports a 2 state solution, but promoting that does not appear to be among her priorities. Nor are promoting human rights inside Israel, despite the fact that Israel has also been criticized by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and other NGO’s over its abuses of human rights.
According to a recent article by Dr. Yousef Jabareen, MK, Palestinian citizens of Israel (including its Bedouin citizens) suffer under widespread legalized discrimination, but the Trudeau government does not appear to have placed this any higher on her list of objectives than they were for the previous ambassador.
Interestingly, Ambassador Lyons also referred to her intention to launch a communication campaign called “Wow, Israel!” to meet the need for “Canadians to know how fantastic Israel is,” she said to the Canadian Jewish News.
No details are yet available about the campaign. But some might wonder if the Canadian government is joining the campaign against the movement to boycott Israel, known as BDS. In 2014, the Harper government signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Israel to cooperate on public diplomacy and opposition to BDS. It would appear that the Trudeau government might now be moving to implement that agreement.
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