JERUSALEM (JTA) – Israel geared up for a visit by Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper as Canadian media decried the up to 200-member delegation traveling at taxpayer expense.
“Today, for the first time, a great friend of the State of Israel, and a great friend of mine, is visiting Israel, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday at the start of the weekly Cabinet meeting.
“Canada is a faithful friend of the State of Israel. Under Stephen Harper’s leadership, it has taken a moral and steadfast position against attempts to delegitimize the State of Israel. Prime Minister Harper has expressed a clear, brave and moral stand regarding the truth and in regard to the standards that the international community needs to adopt regarding the State of Israel and the conflict here. I think that this is worthy of praise and I welcome him on behalf of the Government and people of Israel,” Netanyahu said.
Harper was scheduled to arrive in Israel later on Sunday for a four-day visit.
Meanwhile, the Ottawa Globe and Mail called Harper’s trip to Israel “one of the largest Canadian delegations mounted for a foreign visit.” The delegation is reported to number 150 to 200, and includes six Cabinet ministers, lawmakers, political staff and diplomats, as well as business people and leaders of Jewish community groups and other non-governmental organizations.
About 30 of the business and community leaders will travel on Harper’s official airplane, and others will fly commercially. Most will stay at hotels paid for by the government, the newspaper reported.
“It is a significant delegation. This is an important trip, and it’s one that’s generated a lot of interest,” Jason MacDonald, the Harper’s communications director, said at a news briefing Friday.
It is Harper’s first visit to Israel. He was elected in 2006.
The Canadian government also paid for private participants in other large prime ministerial delegations, including on visits to China and India, according to the newspaper.
During his visit, Harper will address the Knesset, the first Canadian prime minister to do so. He is also scheduled to visit Yad Vashem, tour Christian holy sites in northern Israel, and receive an honorary doctorate from Tel Aviv University and meet with students.