Canada to replace outspoken pro-Israel envoy with career diplomat

Canada to replace outspoken pro-Israel envoy with career diplomat

Vivian Bercovici, a political appointee of the previous Harper government, said to be succeeded by current ambassador to Afghanistan

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Canadian Ambassador to Israel Vivian Bercovici speaks at an event for Air Canada airline, at the Ben Gurion International Airport, August 5, 2014. (Moshe Shai/Flash90)
Canadian Ambassador to Israel Vivian Bercovici speaks at an event for Air Canada airline, at the Ben Gurion International Airport, August 5, 2014. (Moshe Shai/Flash90)

The Canadian government is reportedly recalling its current ambassador to Israel and replacing her with a career diplomat.

According to Canadian media, the government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has decided to recall Ambassador Vivian Bercovici, a political appointment of the previous Conservative administration of Stephen Harper. She will be replaced by Deborah Lyons, currently serving as Canada’s ambassador to Afghanistan, the Globe and Mail reported on Wednesday.

Bercovici, an outspoken friend of Israel, on Thursday refused to confirm or deny the reports. “All I can say is that I serve at the pleasure of the prime minister. I continue doing my job every day,” she told The Times of Israel.

Before she was appointed in January 2014 by then-foreign minister John Baird, Bercovici was a lawyer in Toronto and a part-time columnist for The Toronto Star. During the 2014 war in Gaza, she raised eyebrows in some quarters for her unapologetic support of Israel’s actions and harsh criticism of Hamas.

Canadian governmental sources said it was normal for an incoming government to replace the political ambassadorial appointments of the previous administration and that the move in no way signals a change in Ottawa’s staunch friendship with Jerusalem. Canada has been one of Israel’s closest allies on the international stage, and despite fears that Trudeau’s new government would recalibrate Ottawa’s policies, so far no material change in Canada’s traditional support for Israel has been registered.

Jewish Canadians were unsurprised by the move as well. “It’s pretty much the convention that political appointments don’t often survive a change in government,” Shimon Fogel, the CEO of the Canadian Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, told the Canadian Jewish News. “Typically, ambassadors in those circumstances would tender their resignation… It’s standard operating procedure. So nobody should be surprised.”

Canada will strive for a more balanced policy regarding the Middle East, including active outreach to the Arab world, the country’s new foreign minister, Stéphane Dion, said when he took office in November.

“Israel is a friend, it is an ally but for us to be an effective ally we need also to strengthen our relationship with the other legitimate partners in the region,” he said hours after being sworn in. Ottawa strives to be more balanced, “more open” and more “efficient” in its foreign policy, he added. Siding with Israel only, as the previous governments under Harper did, is ultimately in nobody’s interest, he argued.

Ottawa will strive to become an honest broker in the Middle East and seek to avoid turning Israel into a partisan issue, Dion said.

On October 19, 2015, Trudeau’s Liberal Party won the national elections, replacing Harper’s Conservatives, who had ruled the country for nearly a decade. The various Harper administrations were among the most supportive of Israel on the international stage. Trudeau is considered a friend of Israel as well, but was widely expected to adopt a more balanced approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, not shying away, for instance, from criticizing Jerusalem’s settlement policies.

“Canada and Israel have had superb relations. There’s a foundation there to make these relations even stronger,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in late November during a meeting with Trudeau at the sidelines of a climate conference in Paris.

“I look forward to continuing the strong friendship that Canada has shown towards Israel for decades, and will continue for ongoing times,” Trudeau replied.

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