The Israeli flag flies with the Peace Tower in the background on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on April 21, 2002. The Israeli Embassy in Ottawa says it feels at risk of violence after nearly three years of pushing Global Affairs Canada to increase its security. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

Israel embassy claims Ottawa downgraded security, despite threats

OTTAWA — The Embassy of Israel in Ottawa says it feels at risk of violence after nearly three years of pushing Global Affairs Canada to increase its security.

It is exceptionally rare for embassies and consulates to go public with concerns about their security, but the Israeli Embassy provided two senior officials for an interview on the subject.

The interviews were given on the condition the two officials not be named by The Canadian Press, because staff fear hostility directed at the diplomatic mission could target individual employees.

The officials said the RCMP downgraded security for the Israeli head of mission shortly after Nimrod Barkan, the former ambassador of Israel to Canada, retired in November 2019.

The RCMP would not confirm any details, but the embassy said the force stopped providing what’s called a VIP Protection Detail, which involves round-the-clock protection of an ambassador as they move between the embassy and official residence.

Israel did not appoint an ambassador as the COVID-19 pandemic spread, leaving a chargé d’affaires to lead the embassy while Ottawa was among the most closed-down capitals on the planet.

When Israel’s current ambassador to Canada, Ronen Hoffman, began his term in December 2021, Israeli Embassy officials asked for him to have the same protection as his predecessor.

The embassy says the protocol office at Global Affairs Canada rebuffed that request in formal diplomatic notes, as did the RCMP in one meeting.

The officials said they tried in vain to request a meeting to sort out the issue with the protocol office and RCMP.

In a statement, the RCMP wrote that “it would not be appropriate to disclose specific details” of discussions with any embassy.

“The RCMP’s Protective Operations (branch) is constantly assessing and adapting its security and protective posture. This is done in a manner that is based on current and evolving threat and risk environments,” reads the statement, which was not attributed to a specific spokesperson.

Global Affairs Canada deferred to that RCMP statement.

The Israeli Embassy is located in an office tower three streets south of Parliament Hill. Its suite number only appears on some pages of its website, and the floor isn’t listed on the office tower’s directory screen.

The embassy shared social media postings of activists who oppose Israeli policies toward Palestinians, in which they show floor maps of the embassy’s location and photos of its hallway.

The staff also shared what they said was a recent voice mail, in which an unidentified voice says, “We will kill you wherever you are; we will get you.”

The unnamed officials noted a rise in antisemitic events, which has been documented by the Jewish advocacy group B’nai Brith Canada.

In April, that group reported a stark jump in violent anti-Jewish incidents, from nine in 2020 to 75 in 2021, including beatings, vandalism of synagogues and swastikas in schools.

The Embassy of Israel said it now has the same level protection as most diplomatic missions in the National Capital Region.

That amounts to police driving past the building that houses the embassy at random intervals, according to recent protocol chiefs who oversaw security for embassies in Canada.

Officials at Global Affairs Canada also hold regular calls with all embassies in Ottawa and Gatineau, which include touching base on any security concerns or coming events that may lead to large protests.

The department also gathers intelligence and receives updates from the two municipalities on permits for demonstrations outside embassies.

Global Affairs Canada sends that information along with suggestions when the department feels a diplomatic mission might merit more security, for specific days or even for permanent, round-the-clock surveillance.

The RCMP liaises with CSIS, and makes the final call on how much protection the Mounties offer.

Under the 1961 Vienna Convention, countries incur obligations to protect diplomats when they formally accept ambassadors from foreign states.

But that duty is up to interpretation, and it’s rare for Canada to offer round-the-clock protection to embassies, former protocol chiefs said, in recognition that Ottawa is a lot safer than many capitals.

The Israeli Embassy staff said that in this climate, they don’t feel safe since nobody in their delegation can instantly react to threats.

The embassy has some security officials and has considered hiring private guards, but neither have jurisdiction to demand identification from people who are acting suspicious or lingering outside the embassy.

The officials said the embassy has friendly relations with Canada, and that they are trying to resist invoking diplomatic immunity to have staff go outside their jurisdiction, such as by trying to identify people.

Last month, Moscow summoned Canada’s ambassador over frustrations with Ottawa’s handling of security concerns at their embassy.

The delegation posted security-camera footage that appears to show a Molotov cocktail being thrown over the fence in the early hours of Sept. 12, and claimed the RCMP weren’t taking the issue seriously enough.

The Russian Embassy also alleged Ottawa police looked on when demonstrators at a rally for Ukraine allegedly blocked access to consular service on Sept. 8.

Ottawa has said it’s reviewing those incidents, with neither police force getting into specifics.

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