Three Canadian senators face criticism after visiting Israel and inviting a right-wing politician to Canada.
Senate Speaker George Furey joined Conservative Senate Leader Don Plett and unaffiliated Senator Patti LaBoucane-Benson on a trip to Israel this week.
They met with local officials, including Amir Ohana, the speaker of Israel’s parliament, who announced that the senators had invited him to visit Canada.
Ohana has previously sparked controversy by claiming in media interviews that Muslims are subject to “cultural murder”. As a former public security minister, he changed Israel’s COVID-19 vaccination priority list to exclude Palestinian prisoners.
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The advocacy group Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East criticized the senators for publishing articles about the trip without mentioning human rights concerns and the Israeli government’s shift towards right-wing policies.
This year, Ottawa issued two statements expressing concern about Israel’s taking of “punitive measures” such as banning the Palestinian flag, building illegal settlements and divisive judicial reform.
The advocacy group wants senators to withdraw Ohana’s invitation and “suspend all partnerships with the Israeli government” until it abides by international law.
LaBoucane-Benson said the trio were unable to meet with Palestinian officials, but said she had called for an immediate de-escalation of recent violence and to work for long-term peace.
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“We worked with consular officials with the goal of hearing diverse perspectives while managing logistical and security considerations,” she wrote in an email.
“We met with current and former Israeli lawmakers from different parties. Unfortunately, a Palestinian politician was unable to attend a scheduled meeting.
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LaBoucane-Benson noted “alarming incidents of violence” in the West Bank in recent weeks, including during their visit, against Palestinians and Israelis.
“Those responsible for these egregious acts – on both sides – must be held accountable, and those whose comments incite further violence must be exposed and condemned,” she wrote.
Furey and Plett’s office did not respond to requests for comment.
Shimon Fogel, head of the Center for Israel and Jewish Affairs, said Ohana’s characterization by advocacy group Justice and Peace and the demand to suspend diplomatic ties amounted to “ridiculous attempts to grab headlines” after 75 years of productive relationships.
“Particular governments come and go, but the core values shared by our two democracies run deep and have stood the test of time,” he wrote.
“When differences arise, as they have repeatedly over the years, Canada and Israel have articulated their positions and voiced their concerns constructively.”
He said Canada took the right approach in advocating for a two-state solution, “including not isolating Israel” in its public statements.
© 2023 The Canadian Press
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