Remembering Shimon Peres's Connection to Winnipeg: Sol Kanee Helped Peres Procure Arms For the Fledgling State
by Rhonda Spivak, December 4, 2016
When Shimon Peres, the beloved President of Israel, passed away recently , Sid Halpern remembered that Peres had a Winnipeg connection.
As Halpern told the Winnipeg Jewish Review , it was a Winnipegger Sol Kanee, who passed away in 2007, "who had helped a young Shimon Peres, procure arms from the Canadian government for the newly born State of Israel."
As Allan Levine details in his book, Coming of Age, Peres was 28 years old and had been sent to North America to buy arms for Israel's Ministy of Defence. Peres had made a tentative deal with the Canadian government to buy two dozen artillery pieces, but was short of funds. He had asked Sam Bronfman to help him. Bronfman , who did not know a lot about military weaponry, summoned Sol Kanee to Montreal for a meeting with Peres, since he figured Kanee, a former Artillery Battallion Commander in the Canadian Army would be of much assistance in his discussion with Peres. (At the outbreak of the Second World War Kanee had enlisted in an officer's training program, was promoted to Captain in 1942, and promoted to Major in 1943 )
As Halpern notes," Sol Kanee was a very close confident of Sam Bronfman, and once he was summoned by Bronfman Kanee flew to Montreal to meet with Bronfman and Peres."
In the meeting, Peres explained that the Canadian government wanted two million dollars, which Kanee thought was too much. In addition to his military expertise, Kanee had extensive ties to the Liberal government under then Prime Minister Louis St Laurent. Kanee called Ottawa and made a meeting with his friend C.D. Howe, the federal cabinet minister responsible for arms sales. Kanee and Bronfman met Howe for lunch and Kanee managed to convince Howe to cut the price for the weapons in half, meaning that Peres now required one milli
As Allan Levine relates in his book, " Back in the car Bronfman asked Peres if he had enough money for the deal. Peres shook his head.
'Where are you going to get it [the $1 million] ? asked Bronfman.
'From you? he [Peres] told him.'Why didn't you tell me before?' Sam wanted to know.
Because then you wouldn't have gone with me," said the Israeli."
Bronfman arranged for a dinner party the next evening with 50 of the wealthiest Jews in the Montreal community, and as a result of it, Bronfman and Kanee were able to raise the required funds for Peres to obtain the artillery.
Kanee later received a parcel from Peres , a cover of some early stamps of Israel, with a note from Peres ,who would one day become a Prime Minister of Israel. The note read, "Mr. Sol Kanee, to a dear friend who keenly feels with our strivings for a strong Israel on behalf of the Ministry of Defence of Israel."
As Halpern, who befriended Kanee in the last decade of his life, says in regard to Kanee's helping Peres acquire the arms, "It's hard to imagine now, but in 1951, Israel was a fledgling State, and the United States was not its great supporter. The US was not supplying Israel with arms. The US needed oil and had to placate the Saudis. Peres developed a relationship with France , who became an arms supplier , but Peres went searching to buy arms wherever he could, and he needed the help of Sol Kanee."'
As Halpern recalls," A couple of years before Sol Kanee passed away in 2007, the Israeli Ambassador to Canada visited Winnipeg and at an event I told him about how Sol had helped Peres in 1951. The Ambassador called Peres,, who remembered the assistance Kanee provided him and again sent Sol a letter of gratitude."
Halpern notes that Kanee had always been a strong supporter of Israel, active in fundraising on its behalf and visiting the country often." In 1947, he and his his father Sam, co-chaired a campaign to raise money for Jews emigrating to Palestine. Kanee also accompanied his old friend Jimmy Gardiner, a Canadian Cabinet minister on a trip to Israel in 1953. During the 1967 Six Day War Kanee was also pivotal in organizing an emergency Campaign in Winnipeg, which raised funds for Israel.
"Kanee was really the power behind the Canadian Jewish Congress for many years," Halpern adds. "Additionally, as the defacto Chair of the World Jewish Congress executive Kanee helped open the Iron curtain for hundreds of thousands of Russian Jewry. He also successfully helped conclude reparation agreements with the German government, enabling thousands to rebuild lives so mercilessly destroyed in the Holocaust."
Kanee had innumerable public service accomplishments, but one which stood out was that he served for 17 years on the Board of Governors of the Bank of Canada, the longest sitting member in the bank's history, and also served as Chairman of the Federal Business Development Bank from 1975 to 1978.
One of Kanee's greatest leadership roles was in the building of the Asper Campus. He and Marianne and Stephen Kanee, were one of the five top initial donors to the Campus."
"Sol was also influential in helping to expedite the immigration of many Holocaust survivors using his "skills in the political arena to advantage" Halpern recalls. Halpern told a story of how Kanee had assisted a Holocaust survivor and his young family to immigrate to Canada, at a time when 'none was too many'.
"When this Holocaust survivor opened a one- man bakery, Kanee set up a lunch date for him to meet a business contact of his to help enable the man to secure the Loblaws account as a customer. He also vouched for him to enable him to purchase equipment," Halpern said
For all of his many local, Canadian, and international contributions, Halpern nominated Kanee to be inducted in the Citizens' Walk of Fame in Assiniboine Park.He was so inducted in 2009, where his sculpture now stands.