Vivian Bercovici appointed new ambassador to Israel, but not without controversy

Steve Mertl
Vivian Bercovici
Vivian Bercovici has been appointed Canada's Ambassador to Isreael.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has reaffirmed his hardline support for Israel with the appointment of Toronto lawyer and journalist Vivian Bercovici as Canada's new ambassador to the Jewish state.

It's not unusual for governments to go outside the ranks of professional foreign service for appointments embassies they consider politically important, but CBC News noted that Bercovici is the first non-diplomat appointed to its embassy in Israel by this government since it came to power in 2006.

Bercovici certainly seems to embody the shift in Canada's position towards Israel under Harper from helpful middleman to "we've got your back."

“Canada and Israel share a strong and multi-faceted relationship based on shared values, common interests and strong political, economic, cultural and social ties," Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird says in his announcement.

“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."

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Bercovici was a partner in the law firm Dickinson Wright LLP, handling a wide range of issues and she also sat on the board of CBC/Radio-Canada and the Canadian Journalism Foundation.

She studied for a year at Hebrew University in Jerusalem before earning a post-graduate degree in international relations from the London School of Economics and a law degree from the University of Toronto.

Bercovici also wrote a monthly column on the Middle East for the Toronto Star, where she's been a staunch critic of the Palestinian leadership and Israel's international critics.

She points the finger at the Palestinian Authority and Hamas as the main obstacles to peace.

"The Palestinian leadership ... carries on with its unequivocal message — calling for the destruction of Israel — disseminated openly in political forums, the tightly controlled media and taught freely in schools and universities," Bercovici wrote in a Star column last January.

"That western leaders, among them President Barack Obama and U.K. Foreign Secretary William Hague, regard Israel as the peace spoiler, defies logic."

Here she is in a Star column last May on the movement to boycott intellectual and academic exchanges with Israel:

Their posturing vilifies Israel and anyone who dares support the right of the country to exist. It doesn’t take an astrophysicist to read between the lines of such visceral hatred. When such flawed, obsessive rhetoric passes, for a moment, as being worthy of discussion, it is a very worrisome portent for liberalism, democracy and free thought.

The National Post noted in its story on her appointment that Bercovici has been a strong supporter of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, calling him a respected leader who “has enhanced national security, immeasurably."

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Harper, who makes his first visit to Israel later this month, and Netanyahu have developed a strong personal relationship. It appears Bercovici will be a reliable conduit for communication between Netanyahu and the prime minister, though it remains to be seen what Canada's role might be in the newest Middle East peace process being quarterbacked by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.

It's possible the stronger ties the two countries have developed will allow Bercovici to speak candidly to Israelis when necessary on issues such as the expansion of Israeli settlements on the West Bank. On the surface, though, there seems little evidence of nuance in the government's position.

“The Harper government will continue to affirm our government’s unfailing support for Israel’s right to exist in peace and security, as well as the close and long-standing relationship that exists between both countries,” a Conservative source told the Post.

“Under the leadership of the PM, this government will take principled positions in the international fight against anti-Semitism, raising awareness of the heinous crimes of the Holocaust, and for being a steadfast supporter of Israel and the Jewish people.”