The Conservative government has reached outside the foreign service to appoint a staunch supporter of Israel, and admirer of its prime minister, as Canada's ambassador to the country.
Vivian Bercovici, a lawyer who lived and studied in Israel in the 1980s, has written a column on the region for The Toronto Star and has expressed support for Israel's current leadership under Benjamin Netanyahu.
Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird defended the decision to choose an envoy from outside the foreign service. It's an open secret that many in the diplomatic corps view the Conservatives' policy on Middle East issues as being overtly pro-Israel. "We appointed somebody with the same policy as the government of Canada," Mr. Baird said. "There's nothing new."
The move comes as Prime Minister Stephen Harper prepares for his first trip to Israel and the West Bank later this month – at a time when U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is pressing the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority to negotiate a long-term peace deal.
Mr. Baird said Canada "stands ready to assist that process in any way it possibly can."
He denied that the appointment will send a negative signal to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas about Canada's views. He said Ms. Bercovici will be ambassador to Israel, and it already has an envoy to the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah.
It is not the first time Canada's ambassador to Israel has come from outside the foreign service. In 1994, then prime minister Jean Chrétien appointed former Liberal MP David Berger as envoy. Mr. Berger, a lawyer and former president of the Canadian Football League, resigned his seat to take up the post. He replaced Norman Spector, who had previously served as former Progressive Conservative prime minister Brian Mulroney's chief of staff.
Asked if Mr. Harper will express opposition to the building of new housing in settlements on occupied Palestinian territory, Mr. Baird reiterated his previous statement that "unilateral action by either side is unhelpful," but he said he wouldn't condemn it. "We're not going to pile on, we're going to support the process," he said.
Ms. Bercovici has been a lawyer for more than 20 years. She studied at the University of Toronto, where she is an adjunct professor in the faculty of law, and the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Ms. Bercovici has been a member of the boards of CBC and the Canadian Journalism Foundation. She has two children.