Canadian PM Stephen Harper: ‘Delighted to be in Israel’
JERUSALEM – Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his wife Laureen arrived in Israel on an official four-day visit on Sunday morning (Jan. 19). Accompanied by an entourage of 208 people, Harper and his wife were greeted by Israeli children with flowers at Ben Gurion Airport.
Harper’s first stop in the Holy Land was the Mount of Olives, where he looked out at Jerusalem and the Temple Mount from the east.
Harper’s delegation includes Canadian cabinet ministers, MPs, business executives, press and 21 rabbis.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warmly welcomed the Canadian leader on Sunday, calling him a “great friend of Israel and the Jewish people.”
“This world is often cynical and hypocritical and you have shown great moral leadership,” Prime Minister Netanyahu told Harper during his welcoming remarks. “When it comes to fighting terrorism, you know that there cannot be any politically correct double talk but only unequivocal condemnation and united international action.”
Harper, who is on his first-ever trip to Israel, responded saying that he and his wife were “delighted” to be in Israel. He also added that his delegation, which included Canadians from across the political spectrum, had been looking forward to this trip for some time.
On Monday, the Canadian Prime Minister will become the first sitting Canadian prime minister to address the Knesset, after he visits in Ramallah with PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, as well as Christian holy sites in Jerusalem.
During Harper’s remarks on Sunday, the Canadian PM was careful not to say too much before his main address on Monday. Instead, Harper kept his remarks on a more personal note, explaining that the two people missing from his trip were his children, Ben and Rachel, who had to stay in Canada to complete their high school exams. They had asked their father to write a note to their teachers excusing them from the tests so that they could join the family trip to Israel. But Harper, injecting some humor explained to Netanyahu, that he had told his kids “that it would not be good for me to tell their teachers that they were ill only for them to turn up on national television — on a vacation.”
The Canadian leader and the Israeli Prime Minister are good personal friends and speak regularly. Harper has backed Israel in every one of its military operations since 2006. He recently described the Jewish state at a JNF dinner in December as a “light of freedom and democracy in what is otherwise a region of darkness.”