Stephen Harper to visit Israel in 2014
Announcement marks PM's first official visit to the country
Prime Minister Stephen Harper basked in the glow of support from Canada's Jewish community on Sunday, announcing a first-ever trip to Israel next year and then breaking into song at a gala fundraising dinner.
Hundreds of kilometres away from the battle-like atmosphere of Parliament Hill where the Senate scandal rages on, Harper was clearly relaxed and comfortable enough at the Jewish National Association dinner to belt out his own rendition of the Who's "The Seeker" and a string of other classic songs.
But first, he announced an official visit to Israel, as well as Jordan and the Palestinian Authority.
"I look forward to visiting the Middle East early next year to explore ways of strengthening peace and security, stimulating sustainable economic growth, and promoting essential Canadian values, such as tolerance and human rights, across the region," a statement from Harper's office said.
Harper also reiterated that Canada will continue to back Israel in the United Nations and elsewhere abroad preaching Israel's right to exist in peace and security.
Harper, who didn't wear a suit and tie, then abruptly stopped his speech and offered a musical interlude for his audience. He started with the Who's "The Seeker" and continued on with several more songs, including The Beatles "Hey Jude," Buddy Holly's "Oh Boy" and Neil Diamond's "Sweet Caroline."
Harper has been unafraid to sing in public in the past, getting up on the stage at events in Calgary in Ottawa.
Harper can expect a warm welcome in Israel — the middle eastern country's prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, gushes openly with public affection for the friend he simply likes to call "Stephen."
$5.7M raised for bird sanctuary
Rafael Barak, Israel's ambassador to Canada, echoed those sentiments.
"Your friendship is just not talk, but is evident in your actions on the global stage," he said in a speech before Harper provided his remarks Sunday night. "We are truly touched by your friendship and we admire your integrity."
Sunday's gala fundraiser was to acknowledge Harper's staunch political support of Israel. His pro-Israeli policies have sowed resentment in Canada's Arab and Muslim communities.
The dinner was put on by the Jewish National Fund's Canadian chapter, which raised $5.7 million to build a bird sanctuary in Israel to be named after Harper.
Spokesmen for the Jewish National Fund and the Prime Minister's Office wouldn't say last week what persuaded the prime minister to lend his name to the Stephen J. Harper Hula Valley Bird Sanctuary Visitor and Education Centre.
Not everyone gave Harper a warm embrace.
Outside the Metro Toronto Convention Centre where the dinner was held, dozens of protesters turned out to protest Harper's political agenda and his environmental policies.