Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper received several standing ovations and rounds of applause from MKs across the political spectrum when he spoke at the Knesset on Monday, but officials on the Zionist Left said Tuesday that they were disappointed by the speech.
Harper received praise after the address from right-wing MKs. Economy Minister Naftali Bennett (Bayit Yehudi) called him a brother. Deputy defense minister Danny Danon said he was glad Harper did not run against him for head of the Likud central committee.
Many MKs on the Left said they were also very happy with the speech. But Meretz leader Zehava Gal-On complained that Harper sounded like the spokesman of Israel’s Foreign Ministry.
“I thought Harper had a terrific, empathetic speech,” Gal- On said. “Who doesn’t love hearing how wonderful your country is? I just thought there was a lot he should have said. I felt his head is in the sand and he hasn’t seen what’s really happening here.”
The subjects Gal-On said she hoped in vain that Harper would address included “the occupation, the lack of freedom of movement in the West Bank and human rights of Israeli Arabs,” among other issues.
“From what he said you might think everything here is perfect, but it’s not,” Gal-On said. “For me, what stood out from the speech was what was missing, not what he said.”
Peace Now head Yariv Oppenheimer said he wished Harper would have spoken about Israel’s presence in the West Bank and the status of the Palestinians.
“As a proud Israeli, it’s always good to hear a speech of a friend of Israel, and I agree with all the good things he said about our country,” Oppenheimer said. “But I believe a real friend can criticize and say what’s not okay.
He seemed to ignore the elephant in the room. My concern is that the speech strengthened the incorrect right-wing opinion that the problem [the world has with Israel] is not the occupation, but Israel existing at all.”
Unlike the two Arab MKs who heckled Harper, Oppenheimer said he agreed with the Canadian prime minister that Israel is not an apartheid state.
“I think if Israel continues controlling all the territories it can become closer to apartheid than the opposite,” he said. “I hope the situation will change, though as time goes on, I am more concerned that the current situation will become permanent. What the Right is proposing would make us into apartheid.”
Labor MK Hilik Bar, who heads the Knesset’s two-state lobby, said he saw nothing wrong in the speech, and Gal-On was wrong to criticize it.
“Harper gave one of the most friendly speeches for Israel ever,” Bar said. “It was so important to hear him strengthen the existence of Israel as a Jewish, democratic state. I wish every Israeli, including Gal-On, would have heard and respected the speech. It is wrong to protest a leader who supports Israel and the Jewish people.”