Baird defends appointment of new Israeli ambassador ahead of Harper trip
Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird defended the decision to go outside the ranks of the foreign service to appoint Toronto lawyer Vivian Bercovici as Canada’s new ambassador to Israel, while also saying her clear support for the Jewish state is in line with Canada’s position.
Bercovici, who has more than two decades of experience practicing law, was appointed to the position on Wednesday.
Bercovici’s only past government experience appears to be a two-year stint in the 1990s as a senior policy adviser in Ontario's financial ministry.
Baird told CTV’s Power Play that Bercovici’s lack of political or diplomatic experience would not hamper her ability to perform well in the role.
“I think probably Stephen Harper’s government has made far less political appointments than other governments in recent memory,” Baird said, adding that some of Canada’s best foreign appointments have been individuals with no previous diplomatic experience, including former B.C. premier Gordon Campbell who now serves as Canada’s high commissioner to the U.K.
“She’s got a lot of knowledge of the file, a lot of experience. Law is a good background for this type of business, and I think she’ll do a phenomenal job to represent Canada,” Baird said.
Bercovici has also done work as a freelance columnist for the Toronto Star, with her writing on Israel and Palestine indicating that she is a strong supporter of the Jewish state.
When Baird was asked whether he believed there was any issue with appointing a “booster” of Israel as ambassador, Baird said that’s fully in line with Ottawa.
“The government is a strong supporter of the state of Israel,” he said.
In a Jan. 28, 2013, column in the Toronto Star, Bercovici praised Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and criticized Palestinian leaders.
"Many western governments, judging from their comments, hold onto a misguided fantasy of the Middle East: that the persistent obstacle to peace is Israel, not the intransigence of Palestinian leaders," she wrote.
She called Netanyahu a "respected leader" who has "enhanced national security, immeasurably."
She said Palestinian leadership calls for "the destruction of Israel -- disseminated openly in political forums, the tightly controlled media and taught freely in schools and universities."
Bercovici also criticized U.S. President Barack Obama and British Foreign Secretary William Hague, saying that they regard Israel as "the peace spoiler," a view which she says "defies logic."
Bercovici's law career has spanned more than two decades and has included specializations in aboriginal affairs, regulatory matters and media issues.
She has also served on the boards of Radio-Canada and the Canadian Journalism Foundation.
Baird said Bercovici’s role will be to promote Canadian values and Canadian interests in Israel, adding that she is not the “ambassador to the West Bank.”
He said, however, that he believes Canada has shown leadership in promoting peace in the region, supporting talks between Israel and Palestine, and also providing support to economic development in the West Bank.
“Our relationship is pretty good with the Palestinian Authority. Yes we have some honest differences of opinion and I think they respect the fact that we’re honest and are upfront about these,” Baird said. “Just because we’re good friends with Israel doesn’t mean we can’t be good friends and strong supporters of the Palestinian authority.”
Baird refused to be drawn into substantive comment about the most recent Israeli decision to build new homes within existing settlements in the West Bank -- settlements the U.S. has denounced as illegitimate.
“I’m not going to join an international pile on,” Baird said.
Bercovici’s appointment comes just weeks before Prime Minister Stephen Harper will leave for a trip to Israel.
The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs said Bercovici would bring a "wealth of experience" in law and academia to her new posting.
"She is well-poised to take the Canada-Israel relationship to the next level for the benefit of both countries, particularly in the areas of trade, energy, science and technology," David Koschitzky, the centre's chairman, said in a statement.
With files from The Canadian Press and a report from CTV News’ Robert Fife