A surprise, last-minute solidarity trip to Israel included many among the Who’s Who in the Canadian establishment. It warmed the hearts of Israelis and supported the fight against terror.
Jerry Grafstein, a former Canadian senator, lawyer and businessman, organized an impressive and heartwarming event demonstrating Canadian solidarity with Israel during a time of crisis within mere days.
Hundreds of Israelis – Canadian-Israelis in particular, but not exclusively – attended a Canada-Israel solidarity rally Wednesday evening at the David Citadel Hotel in the heart of Jerusalem.
Grafstein said his sudden decision to book a flight to Israel last Thursday was motivated by former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who came last week via El Al Israel Airlines in defiance of the U.S. Federal Aviation Agency’s temporary ban on flights to Ben-Gurion Airport.
“What really, really made me super upset late Wednesday night [last week] was when I heard that Air Canada had also stopped flights to Israel,” Grafstein told United with Israel a day before the rally. “I was upset by the FAA ban on. There were no bans on flying to Russia, Pakistan Syria – only Israel.
“I felt it was politically motivated,” helping anti-Israel elements, he said, also noting the economic loss that would result from a decline in tourism.
‘I’m Taking More than One Friend’
“I spoke to my wife. It was midnight. She said, ‘Let’s go.’ The following morning I booked two flights on Air Canada. You’ve got to put your money and your body where your mouth is!”
But Grafstein did not stop there. His wife had suggested bringing a friend. “I’m taking more than one friend,” he quipped.
Grafstein immediately gathered support from several organizations, including, among others, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, Jewish National Fund-Canada (in Israel, too, Keren Kayemeth L’Israel-JNF was very instrumental), Canadian Friends of the Hebrew University and UJA Federation of Greater Toronto. Rabbi Baruch Frydman-Kohl, spiritual leader of Beth Tzedec Congregation, the largest synagogue in Canada, where Grafstein is a member, also attended and appealed to others to join.
Thus, “a group of Canadians, on their own, with no financial or government support, got on a plane and came to Israel,” Grafstein said.
Senator Grafstein: ‘Support is Unbelievable’
Grafstein has hundreds of relatives, originally from Canada, who live in Israel.
“My cousins here are working the phones,” he told UWI in a telephone interview. “The support is unbelievable. There is unity that I have never seen before – from the left to the right. It’s almost surreal, but it’s fantastic. I’m so proud. Am Yisrael Chai (the Nation of Israel Lives)!”
“The message not very complicated: Shalom Aleichem. Salaam Aleikum. Peace be unto you. We must stand up against terrorism. It can happen anywhere. Israel is on the front lines in the global fight against terror but has never felt so alone in the Western world. We’re lighting a small candle in a dark, dark room. There are people standing up for what is right.”
The “Canadian media seems tilted towards the so-called victims,” Grafstein continued. “If you look at a TV screen, you see Bibi [PM Netanyahu] saying he’s fighting terror and then you see babies dying. Hamas has a good propaganda war. But there’s a difference between perception and reality.”
“All you have to do is look at Hamas charter, which calls for the elimination of Israel,” Grafstein asserted. “In the ’20s, nobody took seriously the message in Mein Kampf. Today we have a new message.”
Grafstein has led similar initiatives in the past. In 2003, when tourism was crippled in Toronto because of the SARS virus, he and former MP Dennis Mills, a prominent entrepreneur, organized a Rolling Stones concert in record time that brought 500,000 fans. Similarly, after 9/11 he organized some 30,000 people to visit New York.
Canadian politicians who participated in the 48-hour trip to Israel, visiting wounded IDF soldiers in hospitals and bereaved families, included Conservative MPs David Sweet, Ted Opitz and Randy Hoback; Liberal MPs Carolyn Bennett and John McCallum, and Senator Grant Mitchell. Sweet is also chairman of the Canada-Israel Inter-Parliamentary Friendship Group.
Bennett brought greetings from Canadian Liberal leader Justin Trudeau.
Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird was in China and could not attend, but he delivered a video message, including greetings from Prime Minister Harper, to the roughly 300 participants.
Jerusalem Mayor: ‘It’s Clear who our Friends are’
Israelis still recall the Harper visit to Israel in January, when the Canadian leader vowed that Canada will stand with Israel “through fire and water.” Canada has remained unique among nations in uncompromising support for Israel’s war on terror and in recognizing Hamas as responsible for the misery and deaths of civilians in Gaza.
Canadian Ambassador to Israel Vivian Bercovici, who was appointed to the position in January , said that her daughter will be joining her in Jerusalem for the coming school year and cannot wait to get here.
“They say that when the going gets tough, the tough get going,” Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat told the crowd. “It’s very clear to us who our best friends are.”
Strength and Unity in Israel
He noted the strength and unity in Israel as well as the sense of community; for example, thousands upon thousands of strangers have been attending soldiers’ funerals, visiting the wounded in hospitals throughout the country and preparing care packages for soldiers on the front lines.
“Thank you so much for being here,” Barkat stated. “You have no idea how important this support is…. It warms our hearts and gives us a very strong sense of partnership and care.”
Author: Atara Beck
Senior Writer/Editor, United with Israel
To view video of event, click below: