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Vivian Bercovici, shown with Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, is Canada’s new ambassador to Israel.

GOVERNMENT OF CANADA

The Conservative government has reached outside the foreign service to appoint a new ambassador to Israel, naming a Toronto lawyer and commentator who has expressed admiration for the positions of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Vivian Bercovici's monthly op-ed columns in the Toronto Star have urged a hard line on Iran's nuclear program, criticized Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas, and ridiculed U.S. President Barack Obama's "dithering" over Syria.

But Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, who announced Ms. Bercovici's appointment Wednesday, said her views on the region are in line with those of the Conservative government, and no one should be surprised by a pro-Israel envoy.

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"We appointed somebody with the same policy as the government of Canada," Mr. Baird said. "There's nothing new."

The appointment comes as Prime Minister Stephen Harper prepares for his first trip to Israel and the West Bank later this month, and Israel and the Palestinian authority are engaged in peace talks convened by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.

It's not the first time a political appointee has been named ambassador to Israel. Jean Chrétien appointed Liberal MP David Berger, and Brian Mulroney named his former chief of staff, Norman Spector.

But this is an unusual reach outside the foreign service: Ms. Bercovici is not a high-profile figure or known for having the PM's ear, nor, despite a stint in the 1990s as an adviser to Ontario Progressive Conservative finance minister Ernie Eves, a veteran political stalwart rewarded with a patronage plum.

Instead, it appears more aimed at choosing an envoy on the same wavelength as the government. It is an open secret that the Conservatives suspect the foreign service of seeking to obstruct their policy, and that many diplomats view the government's approach as one-sided in favour of Israel.

Canada's Middle East policy is created out of the government's political offices, Mr. Baird's and the Prime Minister's, rather than the foreign service – and now the envoy on the ground will come from outside the diplomatic corps, too. Mr. Harper also appointed the former head of his RCMP bodyguard detail, Bruno Saccomani, as ambassador to Jordan last year.

The Israel post has been filled by interim envoy James Fox since ambassador Paul Hunt left Tel Aviv last summer – and the government set its mind early on a political appointee, according to sources.

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The first choice was the former chief of the defence staff, retired general Walt Natynczyk, but he turned it down to head the Canadian Space Agency.

Ms. Bercovici's résumé doesn't list any particular diplomatic experience. She lived in Israel and studied at Jerusalem's Hebrew University in the 1980s, had a stint as a summer-intern reporter at The Globe and Mail in 1988, and except for two years as an adviser to Mr. Eves, has been a lawyer since. She was a media lawyer in her early career, and more recently practised insurance and regulatory law.

Mr. Baird's spokesman, Rick Roth, said the minister didn't know Ms. Bercovici from her time as a political staffer to Mr. Eves, when Mr. Baird was an MPP. He had met her more recently.

In her op-ed columns for the Star, Ms. Bercovici on occasion lauded the Conservative government, including offering kudos to Mr. Baird for closing Canada's embassy to Iran, and, she wrote, "emulating Churchill and not Chamberlain."

Her opinions square well with those of the Israeli PM. She's taken a hard line on Iran and expressed distrust of the interim agreement on its nuclear program. She's shown skepticism about the prospects for Mideast peace in current talks and wrote that peace cannot be reached until Palestinians accept Israel as a Jewish state, and that the main obstacle is the intransigence of Palestinian leaders.

Mr. Baird, however, dismissed queries about whether that will send a negative signal to Palestinians; he said, "it won't be a huge shock to anyone that Canada is a strong supporter of the state of Israel."

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Now, instead of steering relations through a foreign service the Conservatives mistrust on the Mideast, Mr. Baird will have a shared view in Tel Aviv.

Campbell Clark is The Globe's chief political writer.

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