Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland’s Yom Ha’atzmaut Speech

Minister Chrystia Freeland with Ambassador of Israel to Canada Nimrod Barkan and CIJA Vice-Chair Joel Reitman at Yom Ha’atzmaut celebrations in Ottawa.

Thank you, Ambassador Barkan, for such a kind introduction. It is so great to be with you all for the celebration of Yom Ha’atzma’ut —the 69th anniversary of the founding of the State of Israel.  And it’s wonderful that we are here amid the opening of this exhibit of renowned Israeli photographer Aliza Auerbach’s beautiful work.

I also want to pay tribute to another very special occasion on the Israeli calendar this week, Yom Hazikaron —Israel’s Memorial Day—a time to remember the women and men who have died while defending Israel, and those whose lives were cut short by acts of terror. These losses are a sobering reminder of the sacrifices made to safeguard Israel’s security and independence.

Canada was among the first countries to officially recognize Israel, and in his statement honouring Independence Day yesterday, Prime Minister Trudeau renewed Canada’s commitment to a safe and secure homeland for the Jewish people.

Israel is a land of refuge for Jews in need from all over the world. There was no such refuge during the Holocaust.

Last week, I spoke at the World Jewish Congress in New York one day after Yom HaShoah. And I said to the many people gathered there that we must never forget this terrible chapter in human history and must never let it repeat itself. Nor can we stand idly by when human rights are violated, wherever that may be. There can be no place in the world for prejudice, violence, intolerance, genocide, persecution.

Of course, Israel knows this already.  As Golda Meir said at the UN in 1956, speaking about the plight of Hungarians deported by Soviet authorities: “My delegation cannot refrain from speaking on this question. We have had such an intimate knowledge of boxcars and of deportations to unknown destinations that we cannot be silent.”

Later, when she was Prime Minister, Golda Meir also made another profound observation – she said: “One cannot and must not try to erase the past merely because it does not fit the present.”

These words are particularly meaningful to us here in Canada. We do not forget that in 1939, the Canadian government turned away the M.S. St. Louis and refused to take in the 907 refugees on board who were fleeing persecution. Over 250 of those passengers later perished in concentration camps.  Only 5,000 Jewish refugees entered Canada from 1933 until 1945.

But as Golda Meir counsels, rather than erase our past, we choose to learn from it.

The Wheel of Conscience monument on display at the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 in Halifax stands as a permanent reminder of Canada’s failings in 1939. But it also inspires us to do better.

And we are committed to doing better—not least, by welcoming more than 40,000 Syrian refugees to Canada. People who are new Canadians, who will be integrated into our diverse and vibrant society, and who will make it even stronger.

And by standing up against growing xenophobia, racism and anti-Semitism, worldwide, that is rooted in the misguided belief that diversity is a threat.

It is incomprehensible that so many years after the Shoah, we still see incidents of hatred against religious groups. I am sad to say that Jewish people are the religious group in Canada most likely to be targeted for hate crimes. That is a shame and something we must denounce.

According to our most recent data, 17 percent of all hate crimes in Canada target Jewish people, despite the fact that the Jewish population is only about one percent of the Canadian population. This is totally unacceptable.

These hate crimes can take many forms—whether vandalism, graffiti, hate propaganda or racist online commentary. In my own riding in downtown Toronto, the Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre was recently subject to a deplorable bomb threat.

So this is still happening. In our cities, our communities. In places where people should always feel safe. It is real and we have to stand up against it.

In Canada, we know that our diversity is our strength. It is absolutely a core national value. And the government will keep working to protect the right of all Canadians to be free to practise their faiths and their cultures, for example by helping communities protect themselves against hate-motivated crimes.

Internationally, we have also supported a number of initiatives, along with Israel, the United States, the EU and others, to remember and learn from the holocaust, to improve education about genocide, and to counter anti-Semitism.

We are engaged in efforts to prevent radicalization, and to counter violent extremism, particularly in the Middle East where, alongside our allies, we are part of a comprehensive, integrated, sustained effort to defeat the hateful, backward-looking death cult that is Daesh. We can and will prevail in that battle.

We are also making meaningful contributions to stabilize Lebanon and Jordan, whose stability is inextricably linked to Israel’s security. Preserving the stability of Israel is essential for the world.

We are a strong ally and close friend of Israel, continuing a mutually beneficial partnership that has advanced the shared values and interests of our two democracies for almost 70 years—and, most remarkably, irrespective of which Canadian political party is in power.

Today, we cooperate closely in public security and defence, innovation and education, trade and investment — and as Trade Minister, I was working on updating our free trade agreement with Israel; we’re nearly finished that!  Our people are deeply linked, with over 390,000 Jews living in Canada—the fourth-largest Jewish community in the world.

Given the deep ties and longstanding friendship between our two countries, I want to end by assuring you of this: Canada stands shoulder-to-shoulder with Israel.   We will stand together with Israel when it is singled out unfairly in international forums, something which happens far too often.  It happened again just this week at UNESCO, and I publicly denounced the attempt to politicize this institution — whose responsibility is to strengthen cultural and religious coexistence, not weaken it — with yet another one-sided resolution.

We have an unwavering, steadfast commitment to the security of Israel and its right to live in peace. And we are committed to a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East, built on direct negotiations, which includes the creation of a Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with Israel.

We stand with Israel and with Jewish communities in Canada and around the world. As you can see from the crowd that is here today, and my many colleagues from all parties, we do indeed stand together!

So on this very special occasion, Ambassador Barkan, please accept the Government of Canada’s warmest wishes for a Happy Independence Day.

Yom Ha’atzma’ut Sameach!

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