OTTAWA — Canada’s rejection of Jewish refugees before the Holocaust was shameful, but Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland told Israel that it is an “ironclad” ally against anti-Semitism especially after the Pittsburgh synagogue murders.
Freeland evoked the sweep of Canada’s modern history with the Jewish people during an address today before the Israel Council on Foreign Relations on her first trip to the Middle East.
Freeland’s speech appeared aimed at some Israeli pundits who are questioning whether Canada’s support of Israel has waned under the current Liberal government following the full-throated friendship expressed by the previous Stephen Harper Conservatives.
She reminded her Israeli audience that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will apologize next Wednesday for Canada’s 1939 decision to reject an asylum request from more than 900 Jews aboard the MS St. Louis ocean liner.
More than 250 of them would later be murdered in Nazi Germany.
Freeland reminded her audience that Canada was one of the first countries to recognize and support Israel’s emergence as a nation after the Second World War.
But she made clear it was hard won lesson after the Canadian government, in 1939, rejected the MS St. Louis, the German ocean liner bearing 907 Jewish refugees. Freeland noted only 5,000 Jewish refugees entered Canada between 1933 and 1945.
“It was a time of ignorance, for which we are forever ashamed,” she said in an advanced text of her speech.
“It is unacceptable that so many years after the Holocaust, we still see incidents of hatred against religious groups, such as the appalling anti-Semitic attack on those at prayer in the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh on Shabbat just days ago.”
Saturday’s fatal shooting of 11 Jewish celebrants at the Pittsburgh synagogue by a lone gunman was the deadliest attack on Jews in the United States.
Freeland said the attack is not entirely an American phenomenon.
“I am sad to say that Jewish people are the religious group in Canada most likely to be targeted for hate crimes — whether vandalism, graffiti, hate propaganda or racist online commentary.”
She said a Jewish community centre in her Toronto riding faced a bomb threat last year.
“Too often the violence seems insurmountable — especially so after last weekend,” she said.
“I challenge that view. Let us all champion peace and inclusion in the face of hatred, discrimination, and terror.”
Freeland said Canada supports numerous initiatives with the United States, the European Union and others to learn from Holocaust, improve education about genocide and to combat “the evil” of anti-Semitism everywhere.
“Canada’s commitment to Israel’s security is unwavering and ironclad.”
Israel occupies a “dangerous neighbourhood” that now includes a heightened threat from Iran that has included attacks by armed drones, she said.
Freeland also credited Israel’s co-operation with its Arab ally and neighbour Jordan, along with Britain, the U.S. and Germany for giving sanctuary to 400 White Helmets fleeting Syria.
The mission, Freeland said, “is a real example of not cursing the darkness, and instead lighting a small candle” in the face of Syria’s long-running civil war.
“We are forever grateful to Israel for its essential and brave action.”
Freeland began her trip to Israel on Tuesday meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and opposition leader Tzipi Livni. She also paid her respects at Yad Vesham, the World Holocaust Remembrance Centre.
Later today, Freeland will visit a Palestinian refugee camp, and meet with her counterpart with the Palestinian Authority.
Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press