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In The Media

Liberals set to name new ambassador to Israel: report

by Ron Csillag (feat Ferry de Kerckhove)

Canadian Jewish News
May 25, 2016

Ending months of rumours and speculation, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has reportedly moved to replace Canada’s ambassador to Israel with a career civil servant.

Vivian Bercovici will be replaced by Deborah Lyons, this country’s current ambassador to Afghanistan, the Globe and Mail reported May 25.

The federal government would not confirm the report.

In an email to The CJN, Rachna Mishra, a spokesperson for Global Affairs Canada, said, “regarding any future diplomatic nominations, announcements will be made at the appropriate time.”

The appointment will be announced “shortly,” the Globe stated, citing an official with knowledge of the latest round of diplomatic shuffles.

Bercovici did not reply to The CJN’s requests for comment on her possible replacement.

But Shimon Fogel, CEO of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, said the announcement will likely be made before the summer.

He said he’s not surprised that Bercovici will be replaced by a new government.

“It’s pretty much the convention that political appointments don’t often survive a change in government,” Fogel told The CJN. “Typically, ambassadors in those circumstances would tender their resignation” as a matter of course when a new government is in place.

“It’s standard operating procedure. So nobody should be surprised.”

He said other envoys have also been replaced by the Liberals.

Bercovici “was very outspoken in her views,” Fogel allowed. “Some people may have taken note of that.”

A Toronto corporate lawyer and part-time columnist for the Toronto Star, Bercovici was appointed Canada’s envoy to Israel in January 2014 by the former Conservative government. In her columns, she had voiced strong support for Israel and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and had harsh words for Arab leadership and the United Nations.

In announcing the posting, then-foreign affairs minister John Baird noted that “having lived in Israel and written extensively on the region, Ms. Bercovici has an excellent understanding of the challenges facing the country and deep insight into the opportunities provided by the strong links between our two countries.”

The naming of someone with no background in diplomacy or the foreign service to the sensitive post raised some eyebrows and was seen by many as squaring with the Conservative government’s well-known support for Israel.

Within six months of getting the job, Bercovici found herself under fire for controversial tweets about Israel’s 2014 Gaza war. In one, she said: “‘Activists’ disseminating lies & hatred: ask yourselves y u r silent when Israeli civilians targeted by #Hamas rockets #IsraelUnderAttack.” Another said: “Ask #Hamas y they encourage civilians to offer themselves up as human shields while leaders r in shelters or Qatar.”

The Times of Israel said the “forceful postings” were hard to miss. “It could even be argued that they cross over – or at least skirt – the line between diplomacy and advocacy,” wrote TOI contributor Renee Ghert-Zand.

The tweets ignited widespread debate on social media.

Bercovici defended her posts, saying they amount to advocacy “only in that I am advocating the position and policies of the government of Canada.

“My tweets are strongly worded. I would like to think that they reflect the message and tone of Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird in terms of Canada’s unequivocal support for Israel,” she told the Times of Israel in July 2014.

She said other diplomats in Israel tweet “in a similar manner.”

She was also harshly critical of U.S. President Barack Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran, calling it “Munich,” or a form of appeasement.

In a recent interview with The CJN during a Toronto stopover, Bercovici denied being a Likud supporter.

“I’m not partisan,” she said. “Never have been. People choose to read into things I’ve said or written. There has been a lot of absolute fiction attributed to me, and I have no idea where that comes from. I’m not pro-Likud. I’m there as a public servant to represent the government of Canada.”

There had been speculation in Ottawa that Bercovici would be replaced.

“She’s been using her position to bemoan the Palestinians, to really be aggressive. I think her days are numbered. I think she’s been just too political and too much the Harper imbalance,” Ferry de Kerckhove, a longtime diplomat and former ambassador told Embassy magazine last year.

The next ambassador to Israel should come from the professional foreign service, de Kerckhove added.

Rumours of a replacement also surfaced earlier this year on iPolitics.ca. Bercovici “is widely viewed in the diplomatic community as someone who is closely aligned with the ideology that drove the former government’s foreign policy in the Middle East,” the popular website said, adding that “relations between Bercovici and staff at Canada’s embassy in Tel Aviv, as well as with senior officials at Global Affairs Canada, have grown increasingly strained.”

Asked by The CJN in March about a possible replacement, Bercovici said: “I go and I do my job with gusto and every ounce of energy I have every day.”

Lyons was named ambassador to Afghanistan in July 2013.

She joined the Foreign Affairs department in 1999 and has been posted to Tokyo and Washington. In Ottawa, she held positions with the Department of Natural Resources, the Privy Council Office and the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, according to a government website.

In an interview with Maclean’s magazine last year, Lyons said Afghanistan is no longer a haven for international terrorists. “That was a critical military objective and it has been achieved,” she said.

Fogel said Lyons is considered “a bit of a rock star within the diplomatic world. She’s is the subject of universal praise in all quarters.”

Lyons is said to have “real expertise in innovation and trade [which are] quickly becoming a fundamental pillar in bilateral relationships,” he added.

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