Many members of Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s delegation were “surprised” and “taken aback” that he was heckled by two Arab MKs during his address to the Knesset on Monday, a minister who is traveling with Harper said.
“A lot of us were a bit taken aback that members of a national parliament would heckle a visiting foreign leader,” Jason Kenney, Canada’s minister of employment and social development, told The Times of Israel Tuesday.
Kenney added that the Arab MKs’ conduct contrasted strikingly with the attitude of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who hosted Harper earlier on Monday in Ramallah. “I attended our meetings with President Abbas earlier in the day,” said Kenney. Abbas “was extremely gracious, offered nothing but warm words of welcome and partnership, expressed gratitude for Canada’s constructive role that we’re playing here.”
Abbas was also “asked by Canadian media to criticize us,” but “refrained from doing so,” added Kenney. “I mean if the president of the Palestinian Authority could do that, I would hope that a member of the Israeli Knesset could.”
Kenney was referring to heckling midway through Harper’s stirringly pro-Israel address to the Knesset on Monday evening. Two Arab MKs, Ahmad Tibi and Taleb Abu Arar, who had also heckled Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Likud) and opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Labor) when they spoke prior to Harper, shouted interruptions and then got up and left after the Canadian prime minister castigated those who sought to brand Israel an Apartheid state.
“Most disgracefully of all, some openly call Israel an apartheid state,” Harper said. “Think about that. Think about the twisted logic and outright malice behind that: A state, based on freedom, democracy and the rule of law, that was founded so Jews can flourish, as Jews, and seek shelter from the shadow of the worst racist experiment in history, that is condemned, and that condemnation is masked in the language of anti-racism. It is nothing short of sickening.”
The two Arab MKs shouted that Israeli Arabs faced apartheid, citing the situation of Bedouin in the Negev, and Tibi said Harper “should be sitting there, with the Likud,” and pointed to the relevant benches in the chamber. The pair then got up and left.
After the walkout, and before Harper resumed his speech, much of the Knesset rose to its feet, led by Netanyahu, and gave the Canadian leader a standing ovation.
Tibi had earlier heckled Netanyahu, claiming that his colleague Abu Arar, a Bedouin MK from Ar’arat in the Negev, did not have water or electricity in his home, because of Israeli discrimination. “There’s no water or electricity in his village,” Tibi shouted at Netanyahu. “No water, no electricity. Give him water and electricity and he’ll stop shouting.” In fact, Channel 2 News showed on Tuesday, Abu Arar, a former school teacher and head of his local council, lives in a three-story home with water, electricity, air-conditioning and a satellite dish, and his street is well lit by street lamps. Tibi acknowledged this in the Knesset on Tuesday, but said he had been speaking more generally about alleged discrimination against Negev Bedouin.
Kenney said Harper “was prepared” for possible interruptions, “because he saw what was happening with the prime minister’s [Netanyahu's] speech.” He noted, too, that Harper had plenty of experience with heckling, since “our House of Commons is as boisterous as the Knesset… Everyone here thinks you’ve got the wildest show in town” but a quick YouTube search can show “how rancorous our Question Time can be.”
Nonetheless, Canada’s parliament wouldn’t heckle a visiting foreign leader, Kenney stressed. “It only happened once, in the 1980s, when a Socialist [member of parliament] heckled Ronald Reagan. But that was really an exception.”
The interruptions did “prove a point,” however, Kenney noted. “This is the only parliament in the Middle East where that could possibly happen. I think that’s fair to say.”
(The Times of Israel’s full interview with Kenney will appear on Wednesday. The full text of Harper’s Knesset speech is here.)