Ahmad Tibi (right), member of Knesset, the Israeli parliament, attends the funeral of George Habash, founder of the radical Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) in Amman January 28, 2008. Muhammad Hamed/Reuters
An Arab-Israeli legislator who stormed out during Prime Minister Stephen Harper's speech to the Knesset on Monday says he did so as a form of protest against Harper's bias.
Speaking to Evan Solomon, host of CBC News Network's Power & Politics, Ahmad Tibi said Harper's speech was "biased" and that he described Israel in "a very unbalanced way."
"We are 20 per cent of the population, we are suffering discrimination," Tibi told Solomon.
"That democracy of Israel is a selective democracy, ethnic democracy. Canada is a democracy and people are equal without relation to their ethnic background. Here, there's a problem with that," he said.
Tibi is a deputy speaker of Knesset and leader of the Arab Movement for Change, or Ta'al.
Canada's foreign policy toward Israel is "biased, non-balanced, and that's why Canada has a very marginal role in the Middle East," Tibi said.
He and colleague Abu Arar walked out, Tibi said, "to say that we are very much unsatisfied with the remarks and the policy of Prime Minister Harper. It is very diplomatic. It's a protest which is legitimate in any parliament."
'Confiscating, occupying lands'
Harper was speaking out against what he says is a more subtle form of anti-Semitism than what the world saw ahead of the Holocaust.
"Some civil-society leaders today call for a boycott of Israel.… Most disgracefully of all, some openly call Israel an apartheid state. Think about that. Think about the twisted logic and outright malice behind that," Harper said.
"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," he said. "That is condemned, and that condemnation is masked in the language of anti-racism. It is nothing short of sickening."
Tibi said Harper didn't mention the Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Canada officially opposes Israeli control over territories occupied in 1967, although Harper has refrained from criticizing Israel for its policy.
"When you are controlling, discriminating, confiscating, occupying lands from one side and putting them in the corner without any basic rights, you are by this way ruling and committing apartheid in the occupied Palestinian Territories," Tibi said.
"If he is talking about freedom, why [is he] totally neglecting the absence of freedom of the Palestinians under occupation? It is a double-standard. These words are moral double-standard from the prime minister of Canada."
Reuven Rivlin, a member of the governing Likud Party and former Speaker of the Knesset, said Tibi has the right to speak his mind because he lives in a democracy in Israel.
"Sometimes it's annoying a lot of members of [the] Knesset," Rivlin said in an interview with Solomon.
"I believe that he, Mr. Tibi, was elected to [the] Knesset as much as I was elected to [the] Knesset. But he has to respect the rule of law and to respect the rule of majority."
Support for Jewish state 'very, very important'
Rivlin said it's important to host the Canadian prime minister, whom he referred to as one of Israel's friends. Rivlin said Canadian support for a Jewish state is "very, very important for the Israeli people."
Tibi also took issue with the idea that debating boycotts of Israeli products and using the term apartheid is anti-Semitic.
"Do you accept at any case to be under occupation and then somebody will tell you that it is absolute democracy? It is not. We are living day by day here. Palestinians under occupation are living day by day, and saying that the occupied territory is apartheid has no relation at any case with anti-Semitism," he said.
"What's the connection? If you are criticizing the policy of the state of Israel, immediately you are categorized as anti-Semitic. This is a twisted logic of Mr. Harper."
The Knesset has people from all sides and with all views, Rivlin said.
"In Israel, in spite of all differences of opinion and in spite of the idea that we are sometimes thinking that Mr. Tibi can incite against the state of Israel, he has the ability and he has the right to say his words in the Israeli parliament without any fear.
Not just a Jewish state, Tibi says
Tibi argued that with one-fifth of Israel's population made up of Arab-Israelis, Israel does not belong only to the Jewish population.
"We are citizens of this state. We are indigenous people," Tibi said.
"Israel should be defined as a state of its own nationalities. There are two nationalities in Israel. One is [the] Jewish majority, one is [the] Arab-Palestinian minority. We are not transparent. We are not nonsense, nobody. We are community, we are minority and we are a national minority. Saying that Israel is the Jewish state is neglecting our existence, our very existence and our narrative, and I will not accept that."
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