Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird has announced Vivian Bercovici as Canada's new ambassador to Israel.
The Toronto lawyer is a former senior policy adviser to former Ontario finance minister Ernie Eves, who served in the same Ontario provincial government as Baird, as well as an outspoken critic of the militant group Hamas and the Palestinian Authority.
Bercovici is the first non-diplomat the Harper government has appointed to Israel.
"This is not unusual... she is a lawyer with 24 years of experience. She's smart and capable and will be able to represent this government well," said Baird in a scrum after the announcement.
In a statement Wednesday afternoon, the union that represents foreign service officers welcomed Bercovici to the foreign service and wished her success, but said it would reserve judgment on the merits of her appointment "until after Ms. Bercovici's skills, knowledge and network have been tested in the field."
The union said it believes in principle that foreign missions should be headed by career diplomats, but that political appointments can serve Canada well "in exceptional circumstances."
Norman Spector and David Berger were both non-diplomats appointed to the post by previous governments. Spector was appointed by the Mulroney government in 1992. Berger was appointed by the Chrétien Liberals in 1995.
"It won't be a huge shock to anyone that Canada is a strong supporter of Israel," Baird answered in response to a question about Bercovici's perceived bias against the Palestinian leadership.
Baird went on to point out Bercovici will be the representative to Israel exclusively and not the Palestinian Authority.
Later, on CBC News Network's Power & Politics, Baird was asked whether Bercovici's religious background was a factor in considering her for the post in the volatile region. Bercovici is Jewish. Baird said he didn't know or ask about her religious background, adding that her named sounded Italian.
"Before we offered her the position I, in fact, personally did not know her religious background, that's not how our government runs things," Baird told host Evan Solomon. "We look for people who are talented and capable and can do the job."
As well as practising law, Bercovici is a contributor to the Toronto Star. Her opinion pieces usually deal with political issues in Israel and the Middle East.
"Hamas, the PA and just about every government in the Middle East make no secret of their collective ideological commitment to the total destruction of the state of Israel, which they regard as a blasphemous blight on the Arab and Muslim worlds," she wrote in an April 2013 column in the paper.
Critical of Obama
In those same articles, she has been critical of U.S. President Barack Obama's dealings in the region.
"Tehran. Munich. So many, in recent weeks, have remarked on this déjà vu moment in international geopolitics, when the dazed and confused take the lead in appeasing the aggressor. Iran is being feted and fawned over by many western leaders, led by U.S. President Barack Obama," read a December 2013 piece about the interim deal to restrict Iran's nuclear program.
Bercovici is a partner at Dickinson Wright LLP, a leading U.S. law firm that claims a strong Canadian presence.
In March, she was appointed to the CBC/Radio-Canada Board of Directors for a five-year term. She left the position on Jan. 2.
The announcement comes as Prime Minister Stephen Harper prepares to visit Israel for the first time later this month. The trip to the Middle East will be Harper's first official visit to the region.