The announced press conference that Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon and Israel’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Avigdor Lieberman were to have on Monday June 22, 2009 at 12 pm was cancelled in the morning, without explanation.
Instead, following his meeting with Lieberman, Cannon issued a release (Meeting of Foreign Ministers Strengthens Canada-Israel Partnership) stating that “a range of bilateral issues that support the continuing partnership between Canada and Israel, and matters of mutual concern in the Middle East” was discussed.
Cannon stressed once again “Canada’s full support for Israel’s right to defend itself and to live in peace and security with its neighbours,” and with a view to further ensuring Israelis’ security, he also pledged to keep “helping the Palestinian Authority improve its security capacity.”
However, notable by their absence from Cannon’s statement were any points pertaining to International and Humanitarian Law. This is amplified by the fact that Lieberman himself does not reside in his own country, but in the illegally occupied Palestinian Territory. Mr. Cannon failed to state:
-That all settlement construction stop as called for by the international community, including the United States; settlements are illegal and considered so by Canada ; they represent a roadblock to peace;
-That violations of Lebanese sovereignty – by sea, air and land incursions stop;
-That Israel withdraw unconditionally from Lebanese Territory as per UN resolution 1701;
-That the Gaza siege be lifted as demanded by more than 40 humanitarian organizations to allow for the basic necessities to reach civilians in Gaza;
Remarkably, there was no Canadian rebuke of Lieberman’s various heinous statements, such as
-Calling for Israel to use nuclear weapons against the Gaza Strip;
-Calling for flooding Egypt by bombing the Aswan Dam
-Suggesting that Palestinian prisoners being released by Israel should be drowned;
-that Arab members of the Knesset who meet with members of the then Hamas-led Palestinian Authority should be killed;
-Calling for the expulsion of Israeli-Palestinian citizens from Israel.
Lieberman, himself an immigrant to Israel, demonized Israeli-Palestinian citizens who have been living in the land far longer than he has. He created a right-wing party, Yisrael Beiteinu, running on the slogan “No citizenship without loyalty”, maintaining that one’s existing Israeli citizenship is conditional on swearing a loyalty oath to Israel as a Jewish state. Such linkage undermines the most basic rights in a democratic society, including the right to express and promote one’s views.
Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism described Lieberman’s campaign as “outrageous, abominable, hate-filled” and “brimming with incitement that could lead Israel to the gates of hell” (Feb. 2009), and David Harris, Executiv Director of the American Jewish Committee called Lieberman’s proposals “deeply irresponsible at best”, adding that they “threaten to chill Israeli democracy” (Feb. 27, 2009).
Now in the Knesset, Yisrael Beiteinu members continue to push forward anti-democratic legislative proposals. These proposals include the Nakba bill — which would make it a criminal offense to hold a public event commemorating Israel’s Independence Day as the Palestinian “Nakba” (catastrophe) day — and the loyalty oath bill, which would require new immigrants and 16-year-old Israelis to swear allegiance to the “State of Israel as a Jewish, Zionist and democratic state” as a precondition for obtaining an Israeli identity card.
Cannon and the Harper government have overlooked the hate-filled statements and incitement to hatred, illegal activities and violence against identifiable peoples from the elected representative of a foreign state, while citing hate rhetoric and violence as reasons for not speaking to the equally democratically elected Palestinian and Lebanese representatives.
Both Israelis and Palestinians long equally for security. It is an error to ignore that they are two sides of the same coin. Canadian official statements should reflect this reality. There are conventions and accepted international norms of behaviour which are well-known, and upon which we need to confer some modicum of authority.
The Conservative party’s belief in Israeli “exceptionalism,” along with lapses in other aspects of our foreign policy, clearly stands in opposition to Canada’s values and interests. They also diminish our stature in the world.
The government needs to remove Canada from the extreme at which it has put us, and reclaim the middle ground amongst our traditional allies.
Bahija Réghaï is a well-known human rights activist, former president of the National Council on Canada-Arab Relatons (NCCAR).
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