Canadian Envoy to Israel leaves post for UN Job

Special to The CJR

Canada is without an ambassador to Israel for the time being.

Deborah Lyons, who served as Canada’s envoy to the Jewish state since 2016, retired from the civil service and on March 24, was named Special Representative to the Head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan.

The UN describes the office as a political mission “established at the request of the Government of Afghanistan to assist it and the people of Afghanistan in laying the foundations for sustainable peace and development.”

Lyons succeeds Tadamichi Yamamoto of Japan in the UN role.

A career diplomat, Lyons was Canadian ambassador to Afghanistan prior to her Israel posting. Four years ago, she replaced Canada’s ambassador to Israel at the time, Vivian Bercovici.

A lawyer, Bercovici served as Canada’s representative in Israel from January 2014, appointed by former Prime Minister Stephen Harper, until her dismissal in June 2016, and was known for her strident views. She later sued the Canadian government, alleging she had been mistreated as ambassador and was owed pension funds.

Lyons joined the Foreign Affairs department in 1999 and was posted to Tokyo and Washington. In Ottawa, she held positions with the Department of Natural Resources, the Privy Council Office and the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency.

In contrast to Bercovici’s, Lyons’ tenure in Tel Aviv was low-key. It included the modernization last year of the Canada-Israel Free Trade Agreement.

Lyons was “one of the most successful and prominent Canadian ambassadors to Israel, ever,” enthused David Weinberg, director of the Israel office at the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs.

Weinberg said Lyons “indefatigably sought to advance the Canada-Israel relationship in the fields of trade, technology and scientific cooperation, and culture. Her constant refrain was that ‘Israel sizzles with creativity and ingenuity,’ a message that she repeated to hundreds of Canadian business and tech executives across her almost-four-year diplomatic tenure in Israel.”

Lyons often said, “There is no other diplomatic post in Canada’s foreign service more exciting than the role of ambassador in Israel,” related Weinberg.

The ambassador managed the visit to Israel of then-Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland in November 2018, and undertook several cross-Canada tours to promote academic and business ties with and tourism to Israel.

Lyons effectively articulated Israel’s strategic concerns, mainly about Iran and its proxies, to Ottawa, Weinberg told the CJR.

“She was an active participant in behind-the-scenes diplomatic dialogues regarding the Palestinians involving the UN Special Mideast Envoy and her American and European diplomatic colleagues. Her role was particularly important when Hamas protestors first confronted Israeli troops on the Gaza border in March 2018, a deadly confrontation that led to some tension between Ottawa and Jerusalem.”

Once a replacement Canadian ambassador to Israel is made, “it will be announced via news release and available on the Global Affairs Canada website,” Global Affairs spokesperson Angela Savard told The CJR.