01/24/2017 05:51 EST | Updated 01/24/2017 05:56 EST

Kellie Leitch's Campaign Says Pledge To Move Embassy In Israel Not About Trump

It would signal a sharp turn in Israel-Palestine policy.

OTTAWA – Conservative leadership candidate Kellie Leitch wants Canada to “immediately” move its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, but some Canadian Jewish groups aren’t echoing her call.

Leitch launched a webpage Monday calling on the Trudeau government to relocate the mission from Tel-Aviv.

Kellie Leitch speaks during the Conservative Party French language leadership debate on Jan. 17, 2017 in Quebec City. (Photo: Jacques Boissinot/CP)

“Kellie believes that moving the Canadian embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, Israel's capital and the home of the Knesset, is the right thing to do,” said spokesperson Richard Chiano in an email.

“[T]he embassy's presence in Tel-Aviv sends an incorrect signal about Canada's support for Israel.”

Chiano said Leitch’s position is not motivated by President Donald Trump’s controversial election promise to relocate the U.S. embassy from Tel-Aviv to Jerusalem, although “it is encouraging and helpful” that he is “in favour of the same thing”.

Moving the Canadian embassy to Jerusalem will signal a sharp turn in Israel-Palestine policy. Canada currently recognizes East Jerusalem as part of the occupied territories.

Former foreign affairs minister John Baird earned a sharp rebuke four years ago, for example, when he met Israel’s justice minister at her East Jerusalem office.

White House spokesman Sean Spicer said Monday that the Trump administration is still “at the early stages in this decision-making process.”

Trump’s ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, however, said he expects to work from Jerusalem, not from Tel Aviv, as soon as he begins his appointment, according to Israeli media.

Jewish organizations weigh in

On this side of the border, Jewish organizations were careful in their comments when asked if Canada should follow Trump’s example.

“I think that Canada, just like other American allies and other countries in the world, should be looking very, very closely [at moving the embassy],” said Michael Mostyn, CEO of B’nai Brith, in an interview.

“Hopefully, Canada will move forward to help support peace. And there’s no question that at some point in the future, embassies of the world should be relocated in Jerusalem because it won’t be controversial,”he said.

Richard Marceau, a senior political advisor with the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), said in a statement that his organization would “welcome any international recognition” that validates that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital.

U.S. President Donald Trump is shown at the White House this week.

The Trump administration will have to contend with international law if it aims to fulfill his promise, warned Rachad Antonius, a specialist on Middle East relations at the Université du Québec à Montréal.

“Neither [former Conservative prime minister Stephen] Harper nor [former U.S. president George W.] Bush wanted to move their embassies. Why? Because relocating an embassy to Jerusalem is recognizing a unified Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and that is against international law. […] It would not only be a hostile action against Palestinians and Arabs, but it would be illegal.”

The professor added that Trump could also very well decide to ignore legal experts’ advice and relocate the U.S. embassy anyway. “In the Trump administration, a lot of people are more right wing [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu himself, in terms of supporting colonization.”

Canada’s new minister of foreign affairs, Chrystia Freeland, stayed mum when asked about the subject. Her spokesperson, Chantal Gagnon, said that the White House’s decision was not official yet and that Freeland would not “speculate” on this.

Feds accused of ducking issue

Antonius accused the Trudeau government of safeguarding its political interest by avoiding the question. “If [the minister] had a little bit of courage, she would’ve said that international law applies and that we beg to differ.”

CIJA’s Marceau said Canada needs to “show coherence and consistency in the application of principles that guide its foreign policy.”

“If Canada thinks that it should abstain from recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of the State of Israel … it should also abstain from defining disputed territories as ‘occupied Palestinian territories,’” he said. “There can’t be one kind of standard in terms of prejudgment.”

Mostyn, from B’nai Brith, said the relocation of the embassies in Israel is a “necessity.”

“Sooner or later, embassies are going to be moving to Jerusalem. So the question is: how is it done in a proper way that leads to a peaceful resolution?”

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