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Senators criticized for meeting right-wing Israeli politician, inviting him to Canada

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Three Canadian senators are facing criticism after visiting Israel and inviting a right-wing politician to Canada.

Senate Speaker George Furey joined Conservative Senate Leader Don Plett and unaffiliated Sen. Patti LaBoucane-Benson on a trip to Israel this week.

They met with local officials including Amir Ohana, the speaker of the Israeli parliament, which announced the senators had invited him to visit Canada.

Ohana has previously caused controversy by claiming in media interviews that Muslims are prone to “cultural murderousness.” As former public safety minister, he modified Israel’s COVID-19 vaccination priority list to exclude prisoners who are Palestinian.

The advocacy group Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East criticized the senators for posting about the trip without mentioning human-rights concerns and the Israeli government’s shift toward right-wing policies.

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This year, Ottawa issued two statements raising concerns about Israel undertaking “punitive measures” such as banning the Palestinian flag, the building of illegal settlements and a divisive judicial reform.

The advocacy group wants the senators to retract Ohana’s invitation and “suspend all partnerships with Israel’s government” until it abides by international law.

LaBoucane-Benson said the trio was unable to meet with Palestinian officials but said she had called for an immediate de-escalation of recent violence and work toward long-term peace.

“We worked with consular officials in an effort to hear diverse perspectives while managing logistical and security considerations,” she wrote in an email.

“We met with current and former Israeli legislators from different parties. Unfortunately, a Palestinian politician was unable to attend a planned meeting.”

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LaBoucane-Benson noted “alarming incidents of violence” in the West Bank in recent weeks, including during their visit, against both Palestinians and Israelis.

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“Those responsible for these egregious acts — on both sides — must be held accountable, and those whose comments incite further violence must be denounced and condemned,” she wrote.

Furey and Plett’s office did not respond to requests for comment.

Shimon Fogel, head of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, said the Justice and Peace advocacy group’s characterization of Ohana and the demand to suspend diplomatic relations amounts to “ridiculous attempts at headlines” after 75 years of productive relations.

“Particular governments come and go, but the core values shared by our two democracies are deeply entrenched and have stood the test of time,” he wrote.

“When differences arise, as they have any number of times over the years, both Canada and Israel have articulated their positions and expressed concerns in a constructive way.”

He said Canada has been making the right approach in advocating for a two-state solution, “including to not single out Israel” in its public statements.

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