February 25, 2014 1:46 pm
Updated: February 25, 2014 3:52 pm

Conservative MP Adler won’t comment on allegedly banning Irwin Cotler from event in Israel

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OTTAWA – Conservative MP Mark Adler refused to take questions and pressed a phone against his ear when asked why he barred Liberal MP Irwin Cotler from an event in Israel.

After giving a presentation about his private members’ bill Tuesday, which Adler told a committee preaches openness and transparency for officers of Parliament, the MP for York Centre in North Toronto ignored questions and told reporters he was talking to a constituent.

“I’m on a call,” he said.

“Absolutely, absolutely,” he said into the phone. “I would suspect we should do that.”

Trailed by media, he left the room without taking questions. He was repeatedly asked about the incident and did not deny it.

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WATCH: Conservative MP Mark Adler in Jerusalem pleas with one of the prime minister’s aides to be allowed in the restricted area to have his photo taken.

Sources told Global News that Adler approached Cotler and told him he was not welcome and had “no business” at the reception for about 250 people co-hosted by Adler and Israeli charity Colel Chabad.

Some members of Canada’s Jewish community aren’t happy about it.

“To tell a person of that stature that somehow an event of Canadian Jewry is closed to them, it’s just totally wrong,” said Toronto Rabbi Chaim Strauchler, who was part of the Canadian delegation and heard about the incident but did not witness it.

“I don’t care what colour your party is. When we’re in a foreign country, we’re all Canadians.”

Liberal MP Dominic LeBlanc said the incident shows Adler thought of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s trip as “a Conservative junket” to Israel.

“Mr. Adler should explain to people why he viewed Mr. Harper’s trip to Israel as a Conservative junket to impress Conservative donors or to raise money in his particular riding in Toronto, or to kick out a Parliamentary colleague from a charity event who frankly I think has a higher standing in public opinion than Mr. Adler will ever have,” LeBlanc said Tuesday.

“I think Mr. Harper must be embarrassed by Mr. Adler’s behaviour. And if Mr. Adler if he won’t apologize to Mr. Cotler, should probably apologize to his boss.”

Harper’s office moved to distance itself from Adler.

Spokesman Jason MacDonald said in an email the event was not part of the prime minister’s official program, “nor was it an event that the Prime Minister’s Office had any role in.”

The incident allegedly occurred at an opening-night reception for the Canadian delegation on Sunday Jan. 19.

Cotler was not part of Harper’s delegation but was in Israel for a conference and stayed on his own dime, his office said. The MP for Mount Royal in Montreal was also invited to the University of Tel Aviv, where Harper received a honourary doctorate, and the Knesset when Harper addressed Parliament.

He was staying at the hotel where Adler’s event was held and was outside the room in the hallway when a member of Adler’s staff, followed by Adler, allegedly told him he couldn’t come in.

Cotler was in Geneva Tuesday, after delivering the keynote opening address to the Geneva Forum for Democracy and Human Rights.

“He has no comment on this or any other matter that would detract or deflect away from his ongoing advocacy on behalf of political prisoners abroad or from his human rights initiatives here in Parliament,” a spokesman for Cotler’s office said in an email.

Strauchler used the Hebrew term “sinat chinam,” which translates to groundless or senseless hatred, to describe the incident.

“One of the classic examples of this senseless hatred is an example of a story going back 2,000 years of an individual who was excluded from an event. This is not the way we should act,” he said.

“Irwin Cotler is one of the most distinguished members of our community.”

Frank Dimant, CEO of B’nai Brith Canada, said he heard about the incident from a rabbi.

“My immediate reaction was surprise,” Dimant said. “Surprise on two levels – one, that Irwin was there; and second, that he was not given permission to come in the room.”

Dimant said he felt Cotler should have been allowed in.

“It was inappropriate to deny someone like Irwin, who pretty much knew all of us in the room.”

Rabbi Zalman Duchman, who represents the American arm of the organization that co-sponsored the event, said as far as he knew, nobody was denied entry.

“It’s totally against who we are and what we stand for,” he said.

Ottawa Rabbi Chaim Mendelsohn, who was at the event, added Cotler would “be welcome at any Chabad-organized function anywhere in the world.”

Adler later caused a stir on the trip when he was caught on video asking one of Harper’s staff members if he could get the “million-dollar shot” – a photo with the prime minister in front of the Western Wall.

He later said the request was a joke.

Earlier this month, Cotler announced he would not be running in the next election. The former Liberal justice minister, who was first elected in 1999, has worked as an international human rights lawyer and served as Nelson Mandela’s counsel when he was in prison.

He also spearheaded the first-ever national justice initiative against racism and hate.

© 2014 Shaw Media

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