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SPNI Director Avinoam Ben Yitzhak and Premier Selinger sign agreement.
Photo by Beki Baumel

Canada's Ambassador to Israel Paul Hunt makes friends with a little bird.
Photo by Beki Baumel

Premier Selinger setting free a Spotted Flycatcher that was ringed by Amir Balaban, director of Jerusalem Bird Observatory.
Photo by Beki Baumel



By Rhonda Spivak, October 19, 2010

The Province of Manitoba and the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel [SPNI]  signed a ground-breaking memorandum of understanding relating to ecotourism, birding and the environment on October 13, 2010. 

 “This agreement is unique. The SPNI has never signed an agreement with a foreign government. We’re looking to preserve the wildlife, through birding. It’s a unique agreement, the first of its kind," Christine Melnick, Manitoba’s Minister of Water Stewardship,  said in a statement.

Premier of Manitoba Greg Selinger, who was in Israel on a Jewish Federation of Winnipeg mission, signed the agreement with Avinoam Ben Itzhak, the director of SPNI, which is the oldest and largest environmental group in Israel.

The agreement calls for the SPNI and the Director of Wildlife and Ecosystem Protection for Manitoba to co-operate in the areas of birding, advancement of ecological tourism, and the environment.  It also calls for Manitoba and Israel to share knowledge and co-operate on research and educational activities to preserve the environment. 

In a statement Melnick said that the SPNI  in Israel has  " wonderful partners" in Manitoba: " the Department of Tourism, the Department of Conservation, the Rural Municipality of St. Clements, Ducks Unlimited, the Manitoba Habitat and Heritage Corporation, Prairie Pathfinders, Winnipeg Trails Association and the Forks Renewal Corporation, and we have individuals also involved.”

 “This cooperation is a fine example of actualizing the concept that SPNI has long promoted – Migrating Birds Know No Boundaries. This agreement is proof that topics such as birds, environment, and nature can bring government, people and diverse interests together. On the issues of preserving wildlife, there really are no boundaries,” said Dr. Yossi Leshem in a statement. Leshem is  an Israeli expert on birds and bird migration, who was  at the signing ceremony.

Pursuant to the agreement, Manitoba and the SPNI in Israel will build teams to work together on mutual concerns of eco-tourism, Christian holy sites-tourism and birding, coordinating bird ringing, tracking migrating birds, migration research, ecological research, and preserving bird habitats.  The academic cooperation between the two jurisdictions will promote environmental education and organic agriculture and build bridges based on mutual environmental concerns. 

The agreement is the first stage in what ultimately is designed to build environmental and ecological cooperation between Canada, Israel, Jordan and the Palestine Authority.  Melnick, Paul Hunt, Canadian Ambassador to Israel, and Imad Atrash, Founder and Director of the Palestine Wildlife Society [PWS] from the Palestinian Authority were all present for the signing.The PWS was established in 1999 with headquarters in Beit Sahour, near Bethlehem in the West Bank.

In a telephone interview, Atrash told the Winnipeg Jewish Review that he hopes in the future to work with Israel and Canada in “promoting ecotourism”, and awareness of nature.

“Instead of tourists coming to the area only to see religious sites, we want to involve them with nature. We want to promote regional ecotourism…going on nature trails, bird watching and visiting natural sites…The Jordan Valley is a bird flight path. Birds coming from Europe go to Jericho, especially the raptor and the white stork. Jericho is a very hot spot so birds like it,” he said.

He also said that there are “some kinds of birds that breed in old Jerusalem.” 

Atrash said that he worked once before with an Israeli colleague “when we trained a bird ringer.” He said that the signing ceremony was “my first meeting with the Canadians” but added that plans are in the works to have both  he and  his Israeli colleague Yossi Leshem  come to Manitoba this upcoming June as part of the growing sharing of knowledge relating to birding, bird habitats and  protection of the environment.  

“Preserving biodiversity is not a local issue – it’s a global issue. Without continental and intercontinental cooperation, degradation of habitats and species that we depend upon, cannot be mitigated and halted,” said Amir Balaban, founder and Director of the Jerusalem Bird Observatory, in a statement. 

Balaban added “Canada is an enormous country, teeming with nature and wildlife, while Israel is a tiny country, crowded and lacking in natural resources. Yet each country with the challenge it faces can provide inspiration and new ideas to one another in nature conservation – and work to bring people and nature together.” 

In a telephone interview with the Winnipeg Jewish Review, Michal Levine, spokesperson for the SPNI said, “I was impressed with the Canadian optimism and concern about environmental issues. The Israeli leadership doesn’t  always prioritize environmental issues enough. Everyone is always concerned about the matsav, the political situation, here.”

Hunt, Canada's newly installed Ambassador to Israel,   who arrived in Israel just two weeks before from his previous post in Brazil, said in a statement “Canada and Israel have a tremendous relationship and it’s really exciting to be here.” Hunt  replaces former Canadian Ambassador to Israel Jon Allen who is a former Winnipegger.

Melnick, who has been to Israel four times before this trip  was visiting the Jerusalem Bird Observatory for the first time. She said in  a statement, “They do great outreach to children. They teach children about birds and the importance of conserving the environment for everyone.”

Leshem  was first introduced to Manitobans when he made a  lively presentation at the Manitoba-Israel Water Symposium in January 2010 hosted by the Jewish National Fund-KKL. Leshem. He addressed the gala dinner, described the importance of Israel's few water bodies for the global bird migration network.

 A version of this article can be found in  the Canadian Jewish news at ]

Editor's note: Just before Jon Allen, former Canadian Ambassador left Israel on completing his term , the editor of the Winnipeg Jewish Review happened to see him at the  Israel Museum in Jerusalem. Allen  said he was a  reader of this publication.

For more information about the Jerusalem Bird Observatory and  Dr. Yossi Leshem, go to

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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.