09/18/2013 12:30 EDT

Israeli Bird Centre To Be Built In Stephen Harper's Honour


When it comes to Canada's relationship with Israel, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has long maintained that birds of a feather must flock together.

Now, it seems Harper's years of unflinching support will be commemorated in a truly unique way.

The Toronto Star's Tonda MacCharles reports the Canadian arm of the Jewish National Fund is raising funds to build a migratory bird interpretive centre — the "Stephen J. Harper Hula Valley Bird Sanctuary and Education Centre" — in Israel.

Harper has agreed to lend his name to the project, which will be built in a nature park in a northern valley, the paper reports.

"The prime minister has a strong love of animals: cats, dogs, pandas," Josh Cooper, chief executive officer of the JNF Canada, told the Star. "It plays off his whole love of animals."

The JNF will pay tribute to Harper at a dinner in Toronto on December 1. On its website, the group credits Harper — "an extraordinary world leader" — with restoring Canada's voice on the world stage.

"Under the direction of Prime Minister Harper, Canada is now a leader in the international fight against anti-semitism and raising awareness of the heinous crimes of the Holocaust," the site states. "At the UN, Canada stands tall as a nation of principle by defending the freedom and dignity of all people."

But there are at least two reasons why this tribute may be seen by some as for the birds.

First, while Harper's love of cats, pandas and puppies has been well-documented, he hasn't exactly expressed a fondness for birds over the years.

But Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq did announce Tuesday that the government will introduce an emergency protection order for the endangered sage grouse, a bird native to the southern Prairies.

And secondly, Harper has never actually been to Israel, as pointed out in August by Stephen Bronfman, the new chief fundraiser of the Liberal Party.

Bronfman, a member of the billionaire family behind the Seagram liquor empire and prominent figure in the Jewish community, suggested at the Liberal caucus retreat that Justin Trudeau is actually closer to Israel than Harper, iPolitics' Elizabeth Thompson reported.

"I took Justin there five years ago and he was referring at the end of the trip to Israel as we. So I thought that was pretty good," Bronfman said.

Conservatives have aggressively courted the support — and donations — of the Jewish community for years.

Harper and Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird have made a number of bold moves to show support for Israel.

In 2006, Harper infuriated many in Canada's Arab community when he called Israel's controversial bombing of Lebanon "measured."

Last fall, Canada was one of just nine nations — including Israel and the United States — to vote against granting Palestine status as a non-member observer state at the United Nations.

And in April, Baird sparked controversy by visiting Israel's justice minister in her East Jerusalem office. The meeting took place across the Green Line in disputed territory. The land is considered as occupied by considered occupied land by both Palestinians and the UN.

In 2010, Harper vowed to defend Israel at "whatever the cost" and said he was willing to suffer political backlash in the interest of standing up for an ally.

"History shows us, and the ideology of the anti-Israel mob tell us all too well, that those who threaten the existence of the Jewish people are in the longer term a threat to all of us," he said.

Last holiday season, Harper hosted a menorah lighting ceremony at 24 Sussex with several rabbis. He said the move marked the first time a prime minister's home had been open for a Hannukah celebration.

With files from The Canadian Press

Also on HuffPost

Photo gallery Stephen Harper Loves Animals See Gallery