September 29, 2016 - 8:00 PM
OTTAWA - Justin Trudeau's air force plane — bearing Israel's ambassador, Jewish community representatives and a few political foes to the funeral for Shimon Peres — likely arrived Thursday in Jerusalem well before Stephen Harper's commercial flight.
That echoes the fact Trudeau first visited Israel in 2008, months before he was even an MP. Harper was prime minister when he arrived in 2014, declaring in a memorable address to the Israeli parliament: "Through fire and water, Canada will stand with you."
Harper's support may have been more vocal, but Trudeau's has been no less unwavering, advocates for Israel say.
Trudeau is leading a Canadian delegation that includes former prime minister Jean Chretien, interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose and Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion to attend the funeral of Peres, the former Israeli prime minister and president who died Wednesday at 93.
Also in tow was Rafael Barak, Israel's ambassador to Canada, and representatives of Canadian advocacy groups like the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, B'Nai Brith Canada and the Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee.
Trudeau also invited Harper, who opted to fly commercial.
"Prime minister Harper was known for being very vocal about his support for Israel. But from a foreign policy perspective and a government policy perspective … the Trudeau government has proven to be a great friend of Israel as well," said CIJA spokesman Martin Sampson.
In February 2008, eight months before he was first elected to the House of Commons, Trudeau travelled with a very small delegation, sponsored by Sampson's centre. The entourage included Montreal businessman Stephen Bronfman, who would go on to become his leading political fundraiser.
"It was trip that made an enormous impression on Mr. Trudeau," Sampson said. "I believe it's part of the reason he has remained so supportive of Israel."
Bronfman's grandfather, Samuel, who built his family's Montreal business empire, helped Peres broker a deal for surplus Canadian artillery in the 1950s. In the years to come, Peres would become close to successive prime ministers, including Pierre Trudeau and Brian Mulroney, as well as Harper.
Jasmin Habib, an Israeli-born political science professor at the University of Waterloo, said the large entourage that Trudeau assembled for Peres's funeral shows the high regard in which Canada's current prime minister holds the Jewish state.
"It's a continuation of what the policy was and has been for the last 20 years, certainly," she said.
Prior to their departure, Chretien called Peres a friend, "a great guy" and "a great public servant."
"When I quit, he gave me hell; (he) said, 'Winners never quit,' and he never quit," Chretien said.
Dion said Trudeau wanted the Canadian delegation to be non-partisan.
"The whole country of Canada is supporting the whole country of Israel and the prime minister wanted that to be very clear," Dion said.
Ambrose echoed Dion's message of unity ahead, calling Israel "a beacon of pluralism and democracy in a very difficult part of the world."
"All the more important for all of us, no matter what political party we come from, to attend these kind of events and honour a legacy like Shimon Peres."
Peres served two terms as Israeli prime minister and was also the country's president. He shared the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize with Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat for negotiating the short lived Oslo Accords peace deal.
Other world figures planning to attend the funeral include U.S. President Barack Obama, former U.S. president Bill Clinton, Prince Charles and the presidents of France, Germany and Poland.
NDP Leader Tom Mulcair was also invited, but declined due to a family commitment.
News from © The Canadian Press , 2016