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Prime Minister Stephen Harper meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, Israel, on Sunday, Jan. 19, 2014. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Prime Minister Stephen Harper meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, Israel, on Sunday, Jan. 19, 2014.

(Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Netanyahu calls Harper a ‘friend that always stands by us’ Add to ...

Israeli’s leaders mounted a reception for Prime Minister Stephen Harper that matched the unprecedented hoopla he’s bringing to his visit, with trumpet blasts after the announcement of his name, cabinet ministers waiting, and a welcome as a “friend that always stands by us.”

In a tent pitched outside the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accompanied Mr. Harper in reviewing an honour guard to the strains of a military band, past a receiving line that included a half-dozen senior Israeli cabinet ministers, and then, to a dais where Mr. Harper and his wife Laureen beamed alongside Mr. Netanyahu and his wife, Sarah.

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At home and elsewhere, Mr. Harper has faced criticism that his staunch pro-Israel positions are too one-sided, but here, his Israeli hosts said he has picked the right side.

“This world is often cynical and hypocritic, and you have shown great moral leadership,” Mr. Netanyahu said, lauding him for speaking out against terrorism and anti-semitism, and for Israel’s security. “In all this, and so many other things, you’ve shown courage, clarity, and conviction. And in standing up for the truth, your voice, Stephen, has been an indispensable one.

There was little doubt that the smiling Mr. Harper enjoyed the reception – and he has brought a similarly vast demonstration of connection on his first trip to Israel with a large group in his tow.

The prime minister arrived aboard a packed plane for a trip that has become as much about having Canada's Jewish community witness his first trip to Israel as it is about diplomatic work between countries.

The "accompanying party" of private citizens on the Israel portion of this trip numbers 208, according to a list released by the Prime Minister's Office. It included 21 rabbis, representatives of about 20 Jewish community groups and a half-dozen evangelical Christian organizations, as well as a number business people, including a handful of lobbyists, the presidents of Air Canada and Bell Helicopter Canada and prominent Jewish business leaders like David Asper and David Azrieli. Former Conservative cabinet minister Stockwell Day, a staunch pro-Israel advocate, is also in the delegation.

About 40 of those private citizens travelled on Mr. Harper’s plane, along with a number of Conservatives. In all, 15 Tory MPs, including five cabinet ministers, lined up at the welcoming ceremony – with Mr. Harper, that’s about one-tenth of the Conservatives’ caucus of 162.

After being welcomed at Ben Gurion airport by Israeli foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman, Mr. Harper and Laureen Harper made a brief stop at the Mount of Olives, overlooking a vista of Jerusalem’s Old City and the Dome of the Rock, being shown key sites by a University of Haifa research fellow, Haim Cohen. He then attended the welcoming ceremony mounted by Mr. Netnayahu.

Apart from a brief story of how his two children had asked to be excused from exams to come with him, Mr. Harper said little more than he was “delighted to be in Israel” – and that he would save the rest for his speech to the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, on Monday.

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