Netanyahu pleased with Freeland on Iran, as she offers 'ironclad' support
'Canada's commitment to Israel's security is unwavering and ironclad," says Freeland
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is pleased Canada won't be rushing to restore diplomatic ties with Iran as Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland affirmed Canada's "ironclad" support for the Jewish state.
Freeland said Thursday her two-hour meeting with Netanyahu a day earlier touched on a wide range of pressing global issues, including Canada's own strained relationship with Iran, a country that Israel views as an existential threat.
The Liberal government pledged during the 2015 federal election to re-establish diplomatic relations with Iran, but Freeland made clear that isn't going to happen unless the regime allows Maryam Mombeini, an Iranian-Canadian dual citizen, to leave the country.
The Iranian government has denied Mombeini permission to travel after her husband, an environmentalist and university professor, died in a Tehran prison while being held on espionage accusations.
"That is what we need to resolve with Iran before moving on to any other issue," Freeland said in a conference call with reporters Thursday.
Netanyahu highlighted the Iran discussion as he welcomed Canada's top diplomat on her first Middle East trip, which included stops in Jordan and the West Bank.
"We appreciate your support in various international forums," Netanyahu said in remarks released by his office.
"In fact, you have said that you will not establish international relations with Iran, which ought to be self-evident for a country that openly calls for the destruction of the one and only Jewish state but you have acted on it and we appreciate that."
Earlier Thursday, Freeland said in a major speech that Canada's rejection of Jewish refugees before the Holocaust was shameful, but that it has since become Israel's unwavering ally against anti-Semitism — especially after the Pittsburgh synagogue murders last Saturday.
Freeland evoked the sweep of Canada's modern history with the Jewish people during her address to the Israel Council on Foreign Relations.
Her remarks 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 Stephen Harper's previous Conservative administration.
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 also 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 a hard-won lesson after the Canadian government rejected the MS St. Louis. 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.
"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 ever 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 the 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 which has launched 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 fleeing 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 also visited a Palestinian refugee camp on Thursday, and met with Riyad al-Maliki, her counterpart with the Palestinian Authority.