Again and again the world does not learn. The ego of dictators and high-ranking politicians is inflated, bordering on insanity. There are many conflicts in the world, but it is Russia’s war on Ukraine that I’m thinking of at this moment.
Who is suffering from all this? The mother with her scared child in her arms, the father who is forced to stay behind and fight, the old and frail, the children in the orphanage who have nowhere to go, the 36-day-old baby boy who does not have yet an identification paper, a name of his own. Who is suffering? The expecting mother who is running, injured, between the ruins of the hospital; the children, scared, hiding in the bomb shelters, hearing explosions and not knowing if they will have a home to return to.
Again and again, people are running in fear, looking for safe shelter. All around them, shelling, sirens, bombardment, hundreds of tanks parading on main city streets, explosions, ruins and distraction.
All this is taking me back decades to another time, the Second World War: Romania, 1940. It triggers memories of my early childhood journey of displacement, fear, cold and hunger. Then 2 years old, my family and I – and thousands of other Jews from northern Romania – were driven out of our homes to the unknown. For one year we were forced to live in a ghetto in a city called Czernowitz (now in Ukraine) in terrible conditions.
After one year, the ghetto was dissolved and we were forced for days to walk by foot in deep mud, carrying bundles of our meagre belongings on our backs toward an area called Transnistria. Long lines of frightened people, old and young, crying babies, the sick and those with disabilities. Those who could not walk were left behind or shot. The Romanian or German soldiers riding on their horses where shouting and beating up anyone who did not comply with their orders.
They forced us to walk from village to village until we arrived in a place called Djurin, where we settled down. There, we lived for four years in terrible condition. My father was taken from us to a work camp. My mother collected dry wood bunches from the nearby forest and exchanged them for food with the Ukrainian women who felt sorry for us. Toward the end of the war, my mother was injured in a bombardment when the Germans were retreating.
I am glad that I was too young to remember most of my fears, but I can’t escape the ripples of horror from those times. They are engraved in my psyche, in my pores. I tremble now when I see the young children on the TV screen with their big, scared eyes. Maybe they are hungry, cold or frightened. I wish I could hug and console them and feed them with my special chicken soup.
For us, there was no place to seek shelter, nobody wanted us, and nobody cared. The world was silent to our plight. We were denied refuge from most countries. We should remember the destiny of the St. Louis ship, which carried Jewish refugees trying to escape the terror of the war in Europe but was not allowed to enter Cuba, the United States or Canada. The ship had to return to Germany, where 254 of the passengers were murdered by the Nazis. Nor should we forget the ship Struma’s disaster – it was torpedoed and sunk with 800 Jewish refugees, who were on their way from Romania to Palestine. We should not forget Canada’s Frederick Blair, who was in charge of the immigration branch at the time, or then-prime minister William Lyon MacKenzie King’s immigration policy “None is too many,” just when the Jews of Europe were in despair and looking for shelter.
War is evil, then and now and always. Still, I can’t stop being amazed at the differences I see in the world’s reaction of kindness and compassion toward the Ukrainian refugees these days. Moldova, one of the poorest countries in Europe, Poland, Romania and Germany – all have opened their gates with outstretched arms to help the tired mothers, scared children, orphans, the sick and the old. The world’s reaction shows me that the world is changing – including Canada – and that gives me hope.
Israel is bringing in thousands of people from the war zone. They give humanitarian assistance wherever needed. Synagogues in Ukraine, and Jewish congregations from around the world, help bring people to safety, like the Odessa orphanage children that were taken to Berlin.
Still, millions of people suffer because of politics and a madman who wants to expand his territory and his pockets.
I wish that we had in our camps some support, food and warm clothing, medical attention and safety. For us, the world was blind. Only the ones who survived live to tell.
We child survivors are now home for one another.
Sidi Schafferwas born in northern Romania. In 1940, she and her family were put into a ghetto in Czernowitz and, one year later, they were driven toward a concentration camp named Djurin, in northwestern Ukraine. There, in terrible conditions, they survived for four years. In 1945, they returned to Romania and, in 1959, they immigrated to Israel, where she received her degree in art education. In 1975, with husband David and their three sons, she came to Canada. In Edmonton, she went back to her studies and graduated with a bachelor of fine arts from the University of Alberta. In 1998, she and her family settled in Vancouver. Schaffer is a proud member of the Child Survivor Group of Vancouver.
Jewish Canadians were instrumental in building the Canadian labour movement and, by extension, the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation, which would go on to become the New Democratic Party.
Political scientists and others have observed that, as immigrant communities integrate into their new societies and become more economically secure, their voting patterns and ideological outlooks tend to move across the spectrum. While Canada has seen a small but steady growth of Jewish immigration in recent decades – with spikes during significant events like the end of the Soviet empire – the community, as a whole, is now firmly established.
Canadian Jews, like other groups that have deep roots in our relatively new country, have experienced economic and social success. Individual Jewish households, of course, face every range of economic and social challenge, issues that are addressed by a network of social service agencies guided by the principle Kol Yisrael arevim zeh bazeh, all Israel is responsible for one another. While there is a sacred instruction for Jews to care for our own, Jewish values have also played a role in the actions of Jewish Canadians in relation to the broader Canadian society. Through individual and collective activism, from individuals like David Lewis in the last century to groups like the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs today, Canadian Jews have influenced public policy and made the country better and more welcoming for all.
Despite whatever economic advances Canadian Jews have made as a group, it is often noted that, as a community, Jews tend to remain politically progressive. In a practical sense, this has been complicated by positions taken by some on the left, including trade unions, the New Democrats and the Green party. Jewish Canadians are overwhelmingly Zionist and, over the past 50 years, picking up steam in the past two decades, the left has become less and less supportive of Israel and Jewish self-determination. The debate about where anti-Zionism ends and where antisemitism begins is for another day. Stated simply, many Canadian Jews are progressive voters who, due to foreign policy issues, find themselves politically homeless. (The pro-Israel stands of the Stephen Harper government also shook many Jews away from their traditional political allegiances.)
With this context in mind, the surprise announcement Tuesday that the federal Liberal government has signed a supply and confidence agreement with the New Democrats may allow some progressive Zionist voters to have their cake and eat it too.
Under this deal – the same kind of agreement that the NDP and Greens in British Columbia signed to topple the B.C. Liberals in 2017 – the parties have agreed to advance things that have long been on the NDP agenda, such as a national dental care program and national pharmacare. It will apparently enhance ongoing reconciliation work through investments in Indigenous housing and continuing to confront the tragedy of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. Changes to the tax system and reducing barriers to participation in elections are also among the points released Tuesday.
The thorny issue of affordable housing will also be part of the mix – although what any government can successfully and substantively do on this issue remains a big question mark.
The provision of affordable universal child care – a promise made repeatedly by the Liberals and still not realized – is another marquis issue, as is addressing climate change and supporting workers.
The deal hearkens back to a similar one between then-prime minister Paul Martin, a Liberal, and the New Democrats, under Jack Layton, which buoyed a minority Liberal government in exchange for a $4.6 billion injection of federal funds into social programs.
For Canadian Jews who remain committed to progressive political values, the rather sudden announcement this week could be very welcome. Canada will (presumably) get a raft of new legislation on issues from environmental protections to economic justice, without subjecting Canadian foreign policy to the whims of a party that has signaled disregard to Jewish Canadians’ familial, historical and emotional ties to the state of Israel.
For those Canadian Jews who do not subscribe to this agenda, well, there is an opportunity for shaping an alternative. The federal Conservative party is in the early stages of what will be, it appears, a fight for the ideological soul of the party. The response to the Liberal-NDP deal by interim Conservative leader Candice Bergen was predictably skeptical. She called it a “power grab” by Trudeau, though time will tell whether a three-year reprieve from a snap election will allow the new Tory leader to cement their role before facing voters.
In any event, the battle lines for the next several years are being drawn. A Liberal-NDP agenda on one side and a possible new approach at the head of the Conservative party on the other.
We hope that Canada avoids the level of polarized partisanship we see in the United States and some other countries. It is, in fact, Canada’s history of moderation and compromise that has made it a welcoming place for Jews and other minority communities. However, it is always healthy in a democracy to have clear, definable choices.
The NDP and Liberals will be laying out their apparently ambitious agenda for the coming years. Those vying for the Conservative party leadership will now have a plethora of fresh policy initiatives to sink their teeth into to define themselves in contrast with this unexpected new informal coalition.
Hebrew University academic Samuel Barnai said Ukrainian unity extends beyond political parties and politicians, such as President Volodymyr Zelensky (pictured here), and the war is viewed as a great patriotic fight for Ukraine. (photo from president.gov.ua)
In the July 12, 2021, essay “On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians,” Russian President Vladimir Putin declares, “I am confident that true sovereignty of Ukraine is possible only in partnership with Russia. Our spiritual, human and civilizational ties formed for centuries and have their origins in the same sources. They have been hardened by common trials, achievements and victories. Our kinship has been transmitted from generation to generation. It is in the hearts and the memory of people living in modern Russia and Ukraine, in the blood ties that unite millions of our families. Together we have always been and will be many times stronger and more successful. For we are one people.”
This quote from Putin’s 2021 essay was shared by Prof. Yitzhak Brudny at a March 15 Hebrew University of Jerusalem webinar focused on “the ideological sources of the Russian-Ukrainian War.” The webinar featured Brudny, a professor of political science and history, and Samuel Barnai, an adjunct lecturer at the European Forum and at the HU’s Rothberg International School.
Brudny explained that Putin went even further in his claims just over a year after that essay. On Feb. 21, 2022, three days prior to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Putin stated that “modern Ukraine was entirely created by Russia, more precisely, by the Bolshevik, communist Russia. This process began almost immediately after the 1917 revolution” and “Ukraine never had a tradition of genuine statehood.” Later in the speech, Putin points to Russia as being the main enemy in the eyes of the United States and NATO.
According to Brudny, these statements show a denial by Putin of Ukraine’s right to exist without an alliance with Russia and that the current Ukraine state is a “forepost of NATO” run by an “illegitimate, puppet government.” In Putin’s mind, he can justify the war because he sees it as rectifying an historical injustice caused more than a century ago, as well as remedying the security issues posed by a NATO-friendly state as Russia’s neighbour.
Brudny outlined the more recent history of Ukraine, from its 1991 independence from the Soviet Union (during its dissolution) to the present day. Ukraine stands in stark contrast to Russia in that it has accepted democratic electoral processes. Russia, meanwhile, has grown increasingly authoritarian and views a democratic state positioned between it and NATO countries, especially those that were part of the former Eastern Bloc, as a threat.
Barnai spoke to Russia’s military goals at the outset of the current conflict: destruction of Ukrainian air forces, destruction of Ukraine’s military headquarters, the besiegement of the capital Kyiv and the creation of a puppet government.
“Now that we are talking on the 20th day of the war, none of the targets have been reached,” said Barnai. “How can this be explained? In my opinion, one of the main reasons is the consolidation of Ukrainian society. There is widespread support for the president [Volodymyr Zelensky] and the government, which was not even the case two months ago. There is also support for accession to the EU and NATO, even in the Russian-speaking parts of Ukraine, which were less sympathetic to joining these alliances before,” he said.
In Barnai’s view, the present state of Ukrainian unity extends beyond current political parties and politicians, such as Zelensky, and the war is viewed as a great patriotic fight for Ukraine.
Barnai added that Putin, who has led Russia since Dec. 31, 1999, may have fallen victim to his own propaganda, “that Ukrainian-ness is an artificial tool to cause damage to the Russian people.”
The belief that Ukrainian culture is dangerous and must be eliminated runs deep in the Russian collective consciousness. Barnai gave several historical examples that illustrate this point. There was the suppression of the Ukrainian language by Czar Peter I in 1720. In 1763, Catherine the Great issued a decree banning the teaching of the Ukrainian language at the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy. In 1876, Alexander II prohibited the printing of all Ukrainian literature within the Russian Empire. And, in 1914, there was a decree by the last czar, Nicholas II, prohibiting the Ukrainian press. Despite a range of views on other historical matters, these and other Russian leaders shared a common desire to suppress Ukrainian cultural identity.
Barnai explained that there are close ties – historical, religious, and personal – between Russians and Ukrainians, and many have family connections to both countries. He said the real threat to Putin today is not NATO or the European Union, but “the success, even if it is limited success, of political and economic reform in Ukraine.”
This threat, Barnai concluded, plays out in the lack of true participation the Russians have in the political and economic processes of their country. “The main struggle of Putin for the last 22 years,” said Barnai, “has been to deprive Russians of their rights in the political arena.”
Sam Margolishas written for the Globe and Mail, the National Post, UPI and MSNBC.
Seth Klein speaks at the Press Conference from the Future on March 12. (photo by Lorne Mallin)
On March 12, hundreds turned out for a creative event that imagined what could be accomplished by 2025 with climate movement leaders in government.
“With the money that would have gone to piping some of the worst oil in the world to the West Coast, we have instead unleashed a wave of investment in healthy people and healthy land,” Kukpi7 Judy Wilson told A Press Conference from the Future in front of Vancouver Public Library’s central branch.
Wilson, secretary-treasurer of the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs, was speaking as if the twinning of the Trans Mountain (TMX) pipeline had been scrapped in 2023 and a TMX reparations and healing secretariat had been created.
The press conference event was under the banner of a fictional ministry of just transition presenting an update on new programs and institutions slashing pollution, creating meaningful work, and addressing injustice and inequality in energy, Indigenous rights, housing, transit, public health and more.
There were two Jewish speakers: Seth Klein of the Climate Emergency Unit and filmmaker Avi Lewis as the minister of just transition, as well as Secwépemc/Ktunaxa filmmaker Doreen Manuel, director, Bosa Centre for Film and Animation, Capilano University; Rueben George, Sacred Trust, Tsleil-Waututh Nation; Khalid Boudreau, climate youth activist/organizer; Christine Boyle, Vancouver city councilor; Alison Gu, Burnaby city councilor; and Anjali Appadurai, Sierra Club BC.
Klein, author of A Good War: Mobilizing Canada for the Climate Emergency, spoke as chief executive officer and commissioner of the fictional Just Transition Transfer Agency. “Winning [on emissions reductions] also means leaving no one behind,” he said, “especially the regions that have long relied on revenue and jobs from oil and gas.”
Klein said that, like the Bank of Canada’s qualitative easing policies in the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, the just transition could be financed in a similar way.
“Most of that year, the Bank of Canada was buying up federal government securities to finance the COVID emergency response to the tune of $5 billion every week for a year,” said Klein. “Once we embedded our climate emergency goals within the mandate of the Bank of Canada, the bank proceeded to do this again for a mere four weeks a year, generating $20 billion for climate and just transition programs.”
Lewis said his government is committed to climate action, having carefully studied the conditions and capacities of Canada’s advanced industrial economy. “We conducted an inventory of our conversion needs to determine how many heat pumps, solar arrays, wind farms and electric buses we needed to electrify virtually everything and end our reliance on fossil fuels,” he said.
Lewis encouraged the audience to make the future presented in the event happen. “Do you want to live in this future? Are we ready to fight for this future? Because this future we described here today is the work of all of us – the fruits of our imagination and struggle – and that’s what we came here today to commune around: the future we can build together.”
Manuel, portraying the chair of the land back secretariat, updated progress of an imagined Land Back Act, whose goal is “to reverse the land theft that underlies the colonial nation state of Canada. That means that 80% is being systematically returned to Indigenous jurisdiction.”
After the speakers, and entertainment by the Carnival Band, volunteers engaged members of the audience on their thoughts and feelings about the climate emergency.
The March 12 event was part of a national day of action calling for the passage of a national Just Transition Act.
“The Just Transition Act is the most important missing piece of climate legislation in Canada and it needs to pass this sitting of the House of Commons,” said Katie Rae Perfitt, senior organizing specialist with 350.org, one of the press conference’s sponsoring organizations.
“We cannot tackle the climate crisis without rapidly phasing out fossil fuels,” said Perfitt. “Canadians deserve immediate action from our federal government to make that shift happen in a way that puts workers and communities first.”
– Courtesy A Press Conference from the Future ogranizers
A still from Ahed’s Knee, which screens at Vancity Theatre March 25, 26 and 28. The movie – which won the Jury Prize at last year’s Cannes Film Festival – is about a celebrated Israeli filmmaker named Y, who arrives in a remote desert village to present one of his films at a local library. Struggling to cope with the recent news of his mother’s terminal illness, he is pushed into a spiral of rage when the host of the screening, a government employee, asks him to sign a form placing restrictions on what he can say at the film’s Q&A. Told over the course of one day, the film depicts Y as he battles against the loss of freedom in his country and the fear of losing his mother.
An end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict may be nowhere in sight, but the Israeli-Arab conflict may be coming to an end, says a leading Israeli diplomatic journalist.
Barak Ravid spoke virtually Feb. 20 in a presentation organized by the Jewish National Fund of Canada. Ravid, who reports for Axios from Israel, was formerly with Ha’aretz, where he worked for a decade as diplomatic correspondent and columnist, and is also a familiar face on Israeli TV. He was interviewed by Cynthia Ramsay, publisher and editor of the Jewish Independent.
Ravid spoke about his new book, Trump’s Peace: The Abraham Accords and the Reshaping of the Middle East, which is currently available only in Hebrew but should be out in English this summer.
Ravid acknowledges that Trump is a controversial figure and that the book’s title has received some pushback. “Peace is not the first thing that comes to mind when you say the word Trump,” he said. “I chose that name because it happens to be true.”
The author maintains that the Abraham Accords and the expanding normalization between Israel and Arab states would not have occurred under any other president.
“At the end of the day, Trump’s policies in the region closed down the trust gap that was open between the U.S. and the Israeli government … a gap that was opened during Obama’s term in office,” he said. “Whether it was warranted or not doesn’t matter. The gap was there. Trump’s policies in the region, mainly on Iran, closed down the gap and brought Israel and the Arab countries closer together.”
Trump’s decision to appoint his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, to deal with peace in the Middle East was key, according to Ravid. In interviews with Israelis and Arabs for his book, Ravid found that both sides viewed the appointment as proof of how central this issue was for Trump and served as an assurance that, when they spoke to Kushner, they were speaking to the president.
The ultimate reason the Abraham Accords were cinched, said Ravid, is that Trump did what he always claimed as his strength – he made deals. In return for normalizing relations with Israel, each party to the accords got something they wanted.
“For the United Arab Emirates, it was the arms sales, the sales of the F-35 fighter jets,” he said. “For Bahrain, it was an upgraded trade deal [with the United States]. For Sudan, it was removing them from the [U.S.] state department’s terrorism list. For Morocco, it was the U.S. recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over the Western Sahara…. Without those tangibles, those countries would not necessarily agree to take those steps.”
Ravid contends that Trump is not the only leader who deserves credit – Binyamin Netanyahu, who was Israeli prime minister at the time, was pivotal to the success. Ironically, he noted, the decision by most Arab politicians in Israel to reject the accords led Mansour Abbas to break away from the Joint (Arab) List and form a new party, Ra’am, whose participation in the new coalition government ultimately brought Netanyahu’s reign to an end.
“For the first time in history, an Arab party is a part of the coalition in Israel,” Ravid said. “In a strange way, the Abraham Accords enabled this change in Israel where Jews in Israel feel more comfortable towards Arabs and Arabs feel more comfortable joining the coalition and, therefore, Netanyahu’s biggest foreign policy achievement created the political conditions to get him out of office.”
It has long been an assumption that peace between Israel and Arab states would come only after a resolution of the Palestinian issue. When Netanyahu earlier tried to bypass the Palestinians and make friends in the neighbourhood, he was publicly shunned, said Ravid. But he kept plugging away behind the scenes, building relations in the region.
“It’s hard to go from zero to 100 in one step,” said Ravid. “You need to get to a situation where you narrow this gap and Netanyahu managed to take Israel and the Arab world from zero to, let’s say, 70. So, when the decision for the Abraham Accords came, the Arab countries didn’t have to go zero to 100, they needed to go 70 to 100.”
A third crucial contributor – who Ravid said deserves perhaps the most credit and who wants the least recognition – is the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, the de facto leader of the United Arab Emirates. Bin Zayed has been trying to modernize his nation and he saw normalization with Israel as advantageous to his project. At the time, Netanyahu was threatening to annex about 30% of the West Bank into Israel. According to Ravid, bin Zayed saw a way to manoeuvre.
“He decided to be the most vocal opponent of annexation,” Ravid said. Bin Zayed told the Trump White House that, if Netanyahu dropped the annexation initiative, he would be ready to sign a peace deal with Israel.
For the White House, the annexation issue was a huge headache, said Ravid, and bin Zayed’s offer solved that problem while delivering a generational diplomatic breakthrough at the same time.
The big question is, what’s next? What about Saudi Arabia?
“That’s the crown jewel,” Ravid said. U.S. President Joe Biden sent his national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, to Riyadh and received a list of demands from Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud. All the demands were on the United States, not Israel, including that the Saudi monarch be invited to the White House.
Bin Salman has been an international pariah since the Washington Post commentator and Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi was murdered and dismembered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2017. The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency concluded that bin Salman ordered Khashoggi’s killing.
“Biden will have to take a very hard decision if he wants to move ahead with the Abraham Accords,” said Ravid, walking the fine line between rewarding a foreign leader who American intelligence has dubbed a murderer of a journalist and seeking to advance peace in the Middle East. But, if it works, the dominos will almost certainly fall into place, said Ravid.
“If Saudi comes in, then Indonesia comes in, then Kuwait comes in, then Oman comes in, then Muslim countries in Africa join, Pakistan,” he said. “It’s literally the end of the Arab-Israeli conflict – while the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will continue, obviously.”
In this regard, Ravid said, “The Palestinians decided to boycott the Trump administration in December 2017 after Trump announced he is recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and moving the embassy there. While I can understand Palestinian frustration and anger, and it makes complete sense to protest, the decision to boycott Trump until his last day in office, I think, was counterproductive to their goals, and didn’t get them anything in the end.”
On the flip side, Ravid argued, Netanyahu’s annexation of a big chunk of the West Bank would have put another nail in the coffin of the two-state solution.
“I think the Abraham Accords, even though the Palestinians won’t admit it, saved the two-state solution, at least for now,” said Ravid. “Some people think it’s gone already, but if you think the two-state solution is still alive, the reason it’s still alive is that the UAE normalized relations with Israel and stopped Netanyahu from annexing the West Bank.”
Bernice Carmeli, president of JNF Canada Pacific Region, opened the event, and Michael Sachs, executive director of JNF Pacific Region, closed it. Lance Davis, chief executive officer of JNF Canada thanked Ravid.
Danny Danon addresses a United Nations Security Council meeting in 2017, when he was Israel’s ambassador to the UN. (UN photo/Rick Bajornas via Wikimedia Commons)
Many Israelis and their overseas allies may see the United Nations as an assembly of antagonists, but a former top diplomat who spent five years there sees plenty of reason for optimism.
Danny Danon, who served as Israel’s ambassador to the UN from 2015 to 2020, spoke candidly during a livestreamed conversation Feb. 8 with Jonas Prince, chair and co-founder of Honest Reporting Canada, which hosted the event.
Danon was a Likud party member of the Knesset from 2009 to 2015 and served as minister of science, technology and space, as well as deputy minister of defence and deputy speaker. He is also an author and world chairman of the Likud party.
“I’m optimistic because we are starting to see change,” Danon said. “We are starting to convince countries to read the resolutions before they talk about them and we are able to see a few victories at the UN, including in the General Assembly.”
He cited two examples of victories during his time at the international body. Working with then-U.S. ambassador Nikki Haley, Danon proposed a resolution condemning the terrorist group Hamas. To pass, it required a two-thirds majority, which was not attained, but a plurality of the member-states supported the motion.
“For us, it was a victory,” he said. “People speak about disappointments but we have to also speak about achievements.”
One unequivocal achievement was when Danon was elected chairman of the legal committee of the UN.
“We got the support of 109 member-states who voted for me and only 44 voted against me,” said Danon. “I became the first Israeli ever to chair a UN committee.”
How did it happen? Secret ballots, he said. On resolutions where the votes of each country are publicly counted, Israel routinely experiences massively lopsided defeats. In secret ballots, the outcomes can be quite different. For example, there are 57 members of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, which officially opposed Danon’s candidacy. Yet only 44 countries voted against him, he noted.
In his time at the UN, Danon also learned that ambassadors from the smallest countries are often the most persuadable. They do not have large foreign affairs apparatuses in their capitals and so they do not have bureaucrats overseeing their behaviour at the UN, giving them more freedom to vote as they wish.
One regret he has is that Israel did not run for a seat on the Security Council.
“I convinced the prime minister we should run because it’s a secret ballot,” he said. “Unfortunately, the diplomats in the ministry in Jerusalem convinced the prime minister that we don’t have the budget and the energy to run a successful campaign and we had to drop out at the early stage of the campaign, which for me was a big disappointment and I think it was a grave mistake.”
Over time, somewhere between 75% and 80% of country-specific condemnations at the UN have been directed at Israel.
“I call it diplomatic terrorism,” he said. “It has no connection to the reality. When you speak about human rights resolutions, you cannot ignore what’s happening in Syria, in Libya, in Yemen and blame Israel.”
Danon said the situation goes back to the very earliest era of the UN, when the Arab world rejected the Partition Resolution to create a Jewish and Arab state in the area of Palestine. To justify that rejection, and the rejection of every olive branch since, the Arab bloc has had to initiate resolutions against Israel, he said. This took off in earnest in the 1970s, with the infamous (since rescinded) “Zionism equals racism” resolution of 1975, he noted.
The UN General Assembly also engages in a sort of Groundhog Day every year, in which the same series of condemnatory resolutions against Israel is brought out and passed, year after year.
“I come from the Knesset, from the parliament,” he said. “Like every parliament in the world, once you pass a bill or a piece of legislation, you move on. That’s not the case at the UN. Every General Assembly takes the same resolutions you adopted last year and brings them back to the table.”
For all the energies expended against Israel at the UN, Danon argues little of it helps actual Palestinians.
“When you look at the outcome of those resolutions, we can agree that they are not helping the Palestinian cause,” he said. “On the contrary, it gives them empty victories so maybe they get a few headlines for a day or two and then what?… I call them feel-good resolutions, so maybe the Palestinians feel good for a day, but the Palestinian people don’t get anything.”
Danon said he also tried to raise awareness of Palestinian incitement to violence among his UN colleagues.
“Nelson Mandela once wrote that you are not born with hate, someone is teaching you to hate,” Danon said. “I focused on the Palestinian incitement, what they are teaching the kids in school, what they are showing them on Palestinian television, and I proved my case. I said, we can argue about a lot of things, but we cannot allow the Palestinians to continue with the education of hate propaganda against Jews. I showed them the textbooks of the Palestinians [and] what you can find on the internet telling Palestinian children how to stab a Jew, which knife to use and how to be effective.”
The former ambassador insisted he has nothing against humanitarian aid to Palestinians.
“On the contrary,” he said. “But make sure that the funds you are giving are not being used for terrorism and for incitement. Ask tough questions about … the results…. Instead of teaching the Palestinians and giving them the proper education, they did exactly the opposite.”
UN member-states should demand to see results from the billions of dollars poured into UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, which is a unique entity that acts as a quasi-governmental body for Palestinians. Rather than resolving the issue of refugees or other challenges facing Palestinians, Danon argues that UNRWA perpetuates the problems in order to justify and prolong its own existence.
The Palestinian refugee issue gets a great deal of international attention, he said, while the parallel number of Jewish exiles from that same era he calls “the forgotten Jewish refugees.”
“When my father’s family fled Alexandria, Egypt, in 1950, they left everything behind,” said Danon. “Nobody is coming and asking the Egyptian government to pay compensation, but at least it should be recognized and I think it’s a claim we shouldn’t abandon. We have to speak about it and make sure it will be brought up in future discussions as well.”
The Palestinian Authority’s President Mahmoud Abbas is 87 years old and Danon hesitates to predict whether the next leader will be a genuine partner for peace.
“I hope that, in the days after President Abbas, a leader will emerge that will care more about education, infrastructure, rather than coming to the UN and speaking against Israel,” he said.
Israel’s defensive actions, like those during the war with Hamas less than a year ago, can make the country unpopular, Danon admitted. While it would be nice to be liked by the world, Danon said some things are more important.
“I prefer the situation where we are today, where we are strong, independent and we have borders, we can protect our people rather than being a place where we beg for mercy from the international community,” he said.
At our press time, the people of Ukraine were waiting, as they have for weeks, to see what fate has in store for them. Vladimir Putin, the Russian despot, has been threatening to invade the country – again. Under Putin, Russia has already illegally occupied the Crimean peninsula and two enclaves in eastern Ukraine. Pro-Russian extremists are also in control in Transnistria, a breakaway entity to the west of Ukraine that the world community recognizes as part of Moldova. In the Russian countryside surrounding the parts of Ukraine that Russia has not already occupied, an estimated 190,000 Russian troops are poised to attack.
Putin’s designs on Ukraine are ostensibly about his concerns over Ukraine potentially joining NATO, which some Russians view as a step too far in the incremental loss of Russian dominance over what was once the Soviet Union and, before that, the Russian Empire. He is also motivated by his own desire for power and expanding his influence. Along with other Russian nationalists, Putin views Ukraine as more than a neighbouring country but rather an integral part of a sacred Eurasian (Russian-dominated, of course) land.
Western powers have warned and cajoled Putin, who seems to revel in tormenting his adversaries. He is almost certainly aware that no one (save, perhaps, himself) wants war. The United States, having just catastrophically escaped a military debacle in Afghanistan, has no interest in continuing their role as the world’s policeman. The leaders of France, the United Kingdom, Germany and other Western powers have warned of serious consequences if Putin follows through on what appear to be unconcealed ambitions to invade, but none of those countries will risk the lives of their young people to defend Ukrainian sovereignty. It was precisely occasions like this for which the United Nations was envisioned, but the ideals of its founders have run aground on the rocks of realpolitik.
Genuine threats of reprisals are limited to economic sanctions. Here, too, Putin knows that embargoes and other economic penalties would be devastating not only for his country but for the economies of the West. Western Europe depends on Russian oil and anything – military instability or international sanctions – could send fuel and heating costs, which are already at record highs in many places, further through the ceiling. At a certain point, that could threaten the stability of some Western governments. More worrying is the fact that Ukraine has always been, and remains, the “breadbasket” of the region. Military or economic disruptions that harm Ukraine’s ability to get products to market could lead to food shortages. The possibilities are bleak.
Canada is home to one of the Ukrainian diaspora’s largest populations. More than 1.3 million Canadians are from, or descended from, the place. A significant proportion of North America’s Jewish population, too, is from that area and an even larger proportion departed to the new world through Ukraine’s Black Sea ports.
Ukraine has somewhere between 43,000 and 200,000 Jews. Definitions of “who is a Jew” are complicated by nearly a century of enforced atheism and centuries more of rampant antisemitism. The 200,000 estimate is the number who would qualify for Israeli citizenship under the Law of Return.
According to the New York Times, synagogues have hired Israeli security guards and hired buses for rapid evacuations. The Jewish Agency is said to have evacuation plans at the ready.
For all Ukrainians, the past 100 years have been a series of tumults. Jewish Ukrainians have been especially vulnerable during these times of upheaval – and the older Jews today, and those with any sense of history, may rightly understand they have more to fear than other potential victims of a Russian invasion.
Israeli government officials have been remarkably tight-lipped on the subject, other than to urge the 12,000 Israelis in Ukraine to come home as soon as possible – reportedly only 4,000 have so far done so.
It is easy, understandable even, to suggest the time has come for Jews in Ukraine and other places where life is especially difficult, to leave for Israel or elsewhere. Certainly, we are thankful that Jews with nowhere else to go have a Jewish state ready to take them in.
But Ukraine is their home. There are hundreds of Jewish organizations and institutions in Ukraine, a place where Jewish civilization goes back 1,200 years and where a vast amount of Jewish culture emerged in the past several centuries, including important streams of Hasidism and many noted authors and artists.
As the world waits on Putin, the latest in far too long a line of Russian tyrants, we watch with a sense of helplessness, knowing that people are afraid and suffering. And we hope that those in power pull back from the brink.
A still of one of the humorous (and relatable) moments in Image of Victory, which is part of this year’s Vancouver Jewish Film Festival.
The Vancouver Jewish Film Festival opening night film is the epic Image of Victory, directed by Avi Nesher. It’s not with grandiosity that the movie leaves its mark, though there is some of that, but rather with the quiet moments of humanity it so movingly depicts.
Sombre piano music over which one can hear missiles flying, bombs exploding, wind blowing are heard as the initial credits are shown, modest white lettering on a black background, nothing showy. “There are moments when you try to make sense of your life,” begins the narrator, as black-and-white footage of a shot-out building appears, then a jeep, soldiers with rifles pointed, tanks. “You wonder if you made good use of the time God gave you on this earth. You seek someone to compare yourself to. Someone you think truly lived.”
For Egyptian journalist and filmmaker Mohamed Hassanein Heikal, that person is Mira Ben-Ari, though he doesn’t know her name or anything about her at the time. It is the image of her from decades ago that he cannot forget – battle-worn, staring down the Egyptian forces, she smiles, she takes out a gun and shoots. Cut to an older Hassanein, in his study, depressed and angry, watching the TV news about Israel and Egypt’s peace agreement, after decades of war. Was all the fighting and all the death it caused in vain? He blames himself for not having the courage to expose Egypt’s president as a traitor for making the peace deal. He idealizes Mira’s bravery and purpose, thinks back to when he was 24, and fearless – when he was assigned to document Egypt’s military operations against the soon-to-be-reestablished Jewish homeland.
Inspired by the Battle of Nitzanim in June 1948, in which the kibbutz was destroyed by Egypt, Image of Victory imagines what it might have been like on both sides of that conflict. Both Mira and Hassanein are based on real people, as are other characters in the film, and this movie is about a near-mythological event. The voiceover, the black-and-white footage, the fancy costumes of New Year’s Eve revellers in Cairo, idealistic kibbutzniks, zealous army commanders. Any one of these elements could have slipped into a larger-than-life portrayal, but director Avi Nesher shows restraint – and a valiant attempt at balance that has an air of realism, though the kibbutzniks are admittedly more developed entities.
The majority of the film takes place in chronological order, six months out from the battle. When we first see the kibbutzniks working the dusty land, they are doing so under occasional fire from the Egyptian farmers who were displaced after their landlord sold said land to the Jews. The rules of engagement are fascinating. After one altercation, the Egyptians yell to the kibbutzniks that they are all done on their side, and the Jews cease their fire so that both sides can safely collect their wounded and dead.
In the midst of the tension, life goes on in the kibbutz – there are broken hearts and newly starting relationships, there is joyous singing, dancing and piano playing, there is hard labour, there is frolicking on the beach. But underlying all the apparent normality is the hyper-reality of mortality, both because many of the residents and their recently arrived Haganah protectors are Holocaust survivors, as well as the threat of Egyptian attack. As one young soldier tells Mira, “You’d think it’s paradise if being here wasn’t risking death.”
After a brutal attack on a truck carrying supplies to the kibbutz, the Egyptian commander doesn’t want Hassanein to film the emptying of the truck of its supplies because it looks like they’re stealing. Perception is Hassanein’s constant battle – what he is being told to film and what he really wants to film. For example, during a lull in the fighting, he makes a film about two Arab villagers falling in love, which is trashed by the producer who hired him. People don’t want to watch that, yells the producer, they want war.
After the Egyptian forces are repelled by the newly declared state of Israel, Hassanein is ordered to film an Egyptian victory, so that King Farouk can save face. The enormity of the Egyptian army descends on Nitzanim, which Israel’s leaders – for ideological reasons encapsulated by the character of (real-life) commander Abba Kovner – have abandoned.
While the kibbutz’s children (including Mira’s young son) and some of the adults were evacuated or assigned to other defence tasks, the rest of the residents and soldiers were left to fend for themselves, vastly outnumbered. The real-life outcome is known: more than 30 kibbutz members and soldiers were killed, more than 100 taken prisoner. What Nesher’s film offers is an idea of the ambitions, the loves, the fears, and more, of some of those who were at the ground level, caught in a situation not entirely of their making.
The acting is phenomenal – adeptly showing the interplay of diverse characters, with their own senses of humour, their own past traumas, their own desires, their own measures of victory. The characters are more than stereotypes and the stories more nuanced than the ones we most often hear. Nesher wants us to be skeptical of national mythologies and of the media that help propel these misleading views, yet respectful of one another’s narratives, as complicated as they may be and no matter how divergent they may be from our own. It’s perhaps an impossible ask, but some ideals are worth dying for – or are they?
Image of Victory director Avi Nesher and producer Ehud Bleiberg participate in a live Q&A on March 6, 11 a.m. The Vancouver Jewish Film Festival runs March 3-13. For tickets: vjff.org.
Governor General of Canada Mary Simon welcomed Ronen Hoffman as Israel’s new ambassador to Canada during a formal presentation ceremony at Rideau Hall in Ottawa, Dec. 7, 2021. (photo from Government of Canada)
Israel’s new ambassador to Canada, Ronen Hoffman, is a hockey dad. Plus, he wants to fight terrorism and antisemitism, strengthen research and development projects between the two countries, and forge ties with Canada’s Indigenous peoples. He also needs to remember to wear his winter coat when he leaves for work.
Hoffman, 58, arrived in Ottawa in the week of Hanukkah to take up his new duties. The diplomatic post had been vacant for two years, since Nimrod Barkan stepped down in November 2019. With the instability in Israeli politics – until Naftali Bennett’s government took office in June 2021 – and the COVID pandemic hampering international travel, Hoffman wasn’t able to arrive until just a few weeks ago.
Hoffman was born to a farming family in Afula, in the Jezreel Valley. He hasn’t been to Canada since he was in his 20s, when he did some traveling after the army while working as a shaliach (emissary) to a Jewish summer camp in Atlanta, Ga. Hoffman was an aide to former Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, and was on the team negotiating the unsuccessful peace talks with Syria.
After earning his doctorate in 1999, Hoffman was elected to the Knesset in 2013 as a member of Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party. He did a stint as co-chair of the Israel-Canada Parliamentary Friendship Group. This is his first posting as an ambassador. He is a father of three; his partner is a scientist at the Weizmann Institute.
On Hoffman’s first Christmas in wintry Ottawa, he made a TikTok video showing him walking through Lansdowne Park, trying out his snowball throwing technique and doing some tobogganing. (He didn’t wear winter boots, though.)
CJN: Describe what it was like when you presented your credentials to Canada’s first Indigenous governor general, Mary Simon, on Dec. 7, 2021.
RH: Well, I have to say that it was a very moving and a wonderful ceremony. I went there with my family, which is here with me, my partner and my 4-year-old son, Tomer, and my team from the embassy. There were three other ambassadors that also presented: the ambassadors of the United States, Spain and Sri Lanka. It was an opportunity for us to get a little bond together and speak to each other. And, of course, meeting the governor general and her spouse and the people. I’m very happy that we had an opportunity to really do it, not through Zoom or through the internet, but really do it there, face to face.
CJN: Did you wear or bring or do anything that meant something meaningful to you?
RH: Yes. Can you see the little lapel pin on my jacket? Can you see these Canadian and Israeli flags here? Around it, we have an orange pin, in solidarity with the Indigenous people, also. It was just a little gesture, and I feel that’s part of what I’m going to do here. I would like to educate myself more on the First Nations communities here. I feel that there is a common ground for us to stand on, all of us, as the Jewish people, who for us the state of Israel is, in essence, a return of the Jewish people to our indigenous homeland and traditions and culture. My goal is to build bridges of dialogue, cooperation, collaboration with communities, and we really wanted to show that we care.
CJN: Would you say that you’re planning to reach out to the Assembly of First Nations and all the Indigenous groups … to try to meet them?
RH: Absolutely. I’m the Israeli ambassador to Canada, not only to Ottawa and not only to a specific province. It’s a big and wonderful and beautiful country with lovely people. And so, of course, I intend to travel throughout the country and meet as many people as I can and community members and heads of communities. It would be an important part of what I’m going to do here.
CJN: Let’s move on a little bit towards your agenda. You’re coming to Canada seven months after the war between Hamas and Israel, where Canada’s Jewish community experienced an unprecedented level of antisemitism not seen since the Second World War. First of all, were you surprised when you heard about what the Canadian Jewish community was feeling? And what is your mandate to deal with this here in Canada?
RH: I can’t say that I was surprised because, before I became an ambassador, I’ve been a lecturer. And, as a lecturer, I met with many delegations from the Jewish communities of North America, including Canada, who came to Israel. I heard a lot before the conflict in May about challenges and opportunities of the Jewish communities here, vis-à-vis other communities and vis-à-vis other minorities and governments. I’m aware of the antisemitism and I agree with you that the wave around the conflict in May has been a tremendous one, one that has been very significant when you compare it to previous waves.
I think that, as Israeli diplomats, my role as an Israeli ambassador to Canada is to help and to coordinate, to cooperate and to join forces in the combat of antisemitism and anti-Zionism and anti-Israel [sentiments]. They’re all connected to each other. Sometimes, some of the people would say, ‘Oh, some of these activists just want to show some criticism towards the government of Israel.’ It’s not that. It’s much deeper than that. Maybe now it’s not hidden anymore. They’re actually against the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state. This is antisemitism. And I think that the Jewish communities here in Canada are not alone in facing this threat and challenge: the Israelis, your brothers and sisters and families, we all face the same kind of challenge in this respect. So, of course, part of my mandate is to work hand in hand with the leaders of the Jewish communities here, and try to find ways to combat it together.
CJN: It’s a big part of your mandate. But it wasn’t number one on the list. Your number one priority for your mandate is?
RH: It is to strengthen the relationship between Israel and Canada, which have very close relations, a very close friendship, and we have shared and we still share common values and common interests. And, like Canada, Israel is committed to human rights, to justice, to the rule of law. We are liberal democracies. We also have shared interests, for example, to combat terrorism, global terrorism, to help to create more stability in our areas, in our regions and to work together vis-à-vis opportunities and challenges. That is, I would say, my number one goal here: to continue and to strengthen those bilateral relations and the close friendship that Israel has with Canada.
CJN: What concerns does the Israeli government have about Canada’s decision during the May hostilities with Hamas to give money – about $25 million – to agencies such as UNRWA that have had a very problematic history when it comes to anti-Zionist and anti-Israel and Jew-hatred materials? How does Israel feel about that?
RH: We face some organizations, international and Palestinian organizations, that call themselves organizations that care for human rights, and they kind of hide behind that high language and terms that we are all committed to. But, actually, they are terror organizations. Our concern is that our friends around the world, including Canada, would be with us, looking at those organizations, exposing the lies and getting to see exactly what they’re doing. This is a concern in our mission and a real objective as part of our diplomatic work.
CJN: OK, so back to your mandate and what you’re here for. In a news release when you presented your credentials to the governor general, you said that you want to help with start-ups, and harness Israeli know-how to help Canada solve problems. Is there any area in particular that you want to focus on? We just finished re-upping the Canada-Israel Free Trade Agreement, which was re-signed under a previous Trudeau government. What more is there to do?
RH: There’s a lot to do. Look, Israel and Canada are closely working on finalizing a research and development agreement to mutually invest in know-how in joint research projects, and innovation in several fields, such as food tech, health tech, environment, energy and climate security. And then, of course, letting start-ups and the industrial ecosystem get to know each other and to develop ties and relations. We’re working on it. And I’m optimistic here. I think that we could really enlarge our relationship and find and create more joint projects on innovation. This is, again, one of the first high priorities on my agenda.
CJN: Would you say that there’s a date when they are expecting to sign it? In 2022 or 2023?
RH: There is no specific date. But, as an ambassador, I’m going to push and I’m going to try to do it as soon as possible. And it’s just one specific agreement – I have some ideas for other agreements, as well, to start MOUs [memoranda of understanding]. Every agreement or project starts with dialogue, right? So, my idea is to create more dialogue between government to government, meaning some of the ministries in Israel that are relevant to innovation, hopefully, would speak in a structured dialogue process to some of the ministries here in Canada – for example, the ministries of energy and ministries of environment, agriculture and others. And so, we’ll set a set of several bilateral dialogues that eventually, I hope, would produce new agreements.
CJN: A lot of the research work is done at the university level, though, and that brings us to the problem where a lot of Canadian universities have faced the boycott, divestment and sanctions issue, with clubs or groups of academics trying to have the BDS policies adopted. How can the Israeli ambassador and the Israeli embassy negotiate this minefield to bring about your MOUs and this cooperation?
RH: Well, I think that there are at least two ways to go about it. One is to differentiate between the political talks around campuses and the industry of lies, and cooperate in joint research: start new projects with universities, connect universities here to universities in Israel and work together on tikkun olam, of doing something that the world would be able to benefit from. We have so many other scholars and researchers who we should work with. We should fight and combat against this BDS and all these things, but, at the same time, cooperate with our friends.
CJN: I know you were involved with Canadian parliamentarians before. How does that prepare you for this job?
RH: As a member of Knesset (2013-2015), I then chaired – from the Israeli side, of course – the Inter-Parliamentary Friendship Association with Canada, and it enabled me to meet some members of the Canadian Parliament … and host them in Israel. When they came in a delegation, it helped me to understand the political system here, better, I would say. But now, when I’m here, I have to tell you that I have so much more to learn. I knew a little bit, but I have to say I’m fascinated by the political system here and by the structure and by the Constitution and the history of it. It’s different than the political system that we have in Israel. We have a multi-political party system based on coalition. We have small political parties who have been and still are the king-makers. The power of veto in our political system, it’s different. We have a prime minister and a president, but we don’t belong to any other group of countries like the Commonwealth. It’s fascinating.
CJN: Had you ever been to Canada at all before this time?
RH: When I was a student, I was sent by the Jewish Agency to be shaliach to a JCC summer camp here in North America, in Atlanta, Ga. And, every summer after the camp, we still had the visa, that would enable us to travel for a few more weeks. So, for a few summers, I remember that, after finishing the camp, I came here to Canada and I traveled, mainly in the west, I have to say, in the Rockies and in Vancouver and British Columbia, but I remember being in Toronto and Niagara Falls.
When I was a kid, I grew up in kind of an outdoor atmosphere. My father was a farmer and I was educated with a love and appreciation for the environment and for the outdoors. I remember when I first came to Canada as a traveler, the nature, the environment, the outdoors impressed me so much. And now, as an ambassador, again, this is another thing I would like to do, to learn from you in Canada – how to appreciate the environment and the outdoors. I think that Israel can contribute, but also can learn from Canada at many levels and many aspects.
Son plays hockey
CJN: So, let’s pivot to some more fun things. I was told to ask you about your son in hockey. That is a door opener to anybody in Canada – just mention that and they’ll greet you with open arms! Are you allowed to tell me? Will your son kill you? (He now plays on the Columbia University men’s hockey team in New York.)
RH: Well, he will kill me anyway, but I’m going to tell you! I have three children. Eitan is my oldest: he’s 26 now, he’s a student at Columbia University in New York. My daughter, Tamara, is 24, and she’s also a student at Columbia University in New York. And my little son, Tomer, is 4 years old and he is here in Ottawa with me.
When Eitan, my oldest, was in elementary school in Israel, hockey just started to be introduced to Israel by friends who immigrated from Russia. But since, in Israel … there was only one [ice arena at the time,] in Metula, in the north [founded with the financial help of Canadians] … they started with roller hockey. My son started when he was in the first grade, or second, and, at some point, they started to build ice arenas for ice hockey. So, he moved from roller hockey to ice hockey.
By the time when he was 16 or 17, he was the captain of the youth national team and they were part of hockey in the Europe leagues and they competed there. And, at some point, they became number two in Europe – the Israelis who had no hockey in our tradition. I was very proud then.
And now, of course, he’s in New York … and, hopefully, he could come here. We will go together to hockey games, and he will explain to me what it’s all about, because that’s another thing I need to learn, right?
CJN: But if you are a hockey dad, you would know all this stuff, like going to the arenas with your thermos of coffee and being cold. Right? You never did that?
RH: Of course I did it. I went with him to Europe. I accompanied him and, yeah, well, I know how it feels, but I still need some explanation. The teams and who’s against who. I still need to learn.
CJN: And the European rinks are different. But what number did he wear in Israel?
CJN: Any particular reason?
RH: I don’t know how it started, but it was 88 and his last name, because I’m proud of him saying our last name. Under the number 88, Hoffman.
CJN: OK. So, unfortunately, Israel is not going to be in the hockey part of the Beijing Winter Olympics. They didn’t make it, but they’re number 34 overall in the IIHF [International Ice Hockey Federation] rankings. Are you a hockey fan at all?
RH: Not a hockey fan, for sure. But now is my opportunity; now it is my opportunity to become a real hockey fan.
CJN: All right. What is the funniest thing that’s happened to you since you came to Canada as an ambassador?
RH: OK, look, it’s not that funny, but whenever I leave home and get into the car to go somewhere, I’m still forgetting to take my coat…. I’m still used to going out with almost just a T-shirt, but it’s taking me longer than I expected to get used to winter.