At a big event organized last January by the Jewish community in Toronto, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne announced she would lead a delegation to Israel. She said she wanted to promote “political, economic and cultural ties” . If she wants to get a balanced view of Israeli history, politics and culture, I have several suggestions for her team to consider. including in her itinerary. She leaves on May 15th, so there might be time to adjust her agenda. Read more.
As Premier of Ontario, Kathleen Wynne has made trade promotion a priority. She has already made trips to China, Canada’s #2 trading partner and to India (#14).
Her upcoming trip to Israel is promoted as a “business trip”, and she will be accompanied by a significant Toronto business delegation, but she is probably thinking electoral politics as much as commerce. After all, Canada’s two-way trade with Israel is actually very small, coming well after countries like Norway and Peru.
A clue to the motivation for the trip is included in the Premier’s press release, in which she notes that “Over 60 per cent of Canada’s Israel-born immigrants live in Ontario. The province is also home to about 200,000 people of Jewish faith.”
Her trip to Israel has provoked controversy since it was first discussed. Back in 2015, Joanne Naiman, a Jewish professor at Ryerson University had pleaded in an op ed for Wynne not to visit Israel. Independent Jewish Voices Canada denounced the trip which “whitewashes Israeli criminality“. Some other Palestinian human rights groups have opposed the trip as a violation of the BDS strategy of boycotting Israel.
Despite the opposition, it now seems unlikely that the trip will be cancelled. We know some things about her itinerary, but not everything. Undoubtedly, she will visit the Israeli Parliament (or Knesset), Yad Vashem (the holocaust museum), Tel Aviv, and she will probably make a quick stop in the West Bank as well.
Perhaps there might still be time to fine tune her agenda. This could be a terrific opportunity for the Premier, and those in her delegation, to get a deeper understanding of the history, culture and politics of the region.
Here are five suggestions for her staff:
- While she is at the Israeli Knesset, Premier Wynne should request a meeting with the leader of the Arab opposition in parliament, Ayman Odeh. Ask him about his party’s perspective and vision for Israel. He will no doubt agree that Israel has a flourishing democracy for its Jewish citizens. But he will patiently explain that for its Arab citizens, Israeli democracy is extremely limited. Premier Wynne will probably be shocked by the extent of legal discrimination against non-Jews in the areas of housing, employment, education, etc.
- When she is at the Israeli Holocaust Museum (Yad Vashem), she should ask for a Palestinian guide to show her around Dir Yassin, the site of a massacre of Palestinians carried out by Zionist militias almost exactly 68 years ago. The Dir Yassin massacre was key to the Israeli takeover of West Jerusalem in 1948. It is plainly visible from the back of the Holocaust Museum
- On her way to Tel Aviv, Premier Wynne should request a tour of “Canada Park,” a flagship project of the Jewish National Fund of Canada, and financially supported by all Ontario and Canadian taxpayers through JNF-Canada’s tax-free charitable status. Canada Park is a mere few hundred metres off the Jerusalem- Tel Aviv highway. She is likely to be embarrassed to learn that Canadian taxpayer money has been used to hide the remains of a Palestinian village destroyed by Israel in 1967.
- While she is in the West Bank, she should ask to visit a refugee camp, and talk to some refugees. There are 750,000 Palestinian refugees in the West Bank, in 19 different camps. They were expelled from their homes and villages when Israel was created in 1948. In 2014, Pope Francis made a very public visit to Dheisheh refugee camp in Bethlehem. I’m sure they would be very happy to tell her their stories.
- Visit Nazareth the largest Arab city in Israel, and then visit Nazareth Ilit, the Jewish city that surrounds and overlooks Nazareth. Even a quick trip through both places would be enough to raise questions in her mind about whether Jews and non-Jews get equal treatment in Israel.
Ms. Wynne is an experienced and thoughtful politician. There is every reason to believe that she has a genuine concern for human rights and social justice. Being exposed to any of these additional realities will allow her to better assess whether her Israeli guides are giving her a complete and realistic vision of Israel’s politics, culture and history.
What do you think? Do you think this trip is really about business? What would you suggest the Premier visit? Any and all comments welcome as long as they are respectful.