[18 April 2002]
By RON CSILLAG
TORONTO – A Liberal backbencher well-regarded in the Jewish community fears his fellow MPs will be used as propaganda pawns when they take part in a Palestinian-sponsored trip to the Middle East next month.
Joe Volpe, MP for Eglinton-Lawrence, which has a sizeable Jewish population, downplayed reports that the trip has caused a rift in the Liberal caucus. But he says the mission does "underline the fact that there are differences in our caucus when it comes to Israel and the Palestinians."
Last week, Volpe made headlines when he said that a decision by nine MPs, including four of his fellow Liberals, to accept a visit to the West Bank paid for by Palestine House in Toronto, was wrong. Volpe said the MPs would be used in the Palestinian propaganda war.
"I can’t believe that serious-thinking men and women wouldn’t see the dangers of being used as propaganda tools," Volpe told The CJN in an interview.
"You’re in the middle of a war. One side calls you over, and you go, at their expense. Give me a break. How can you do that? What parliamentarian would go? It’s problematic."
Volpe said it’s highly unlikely that participating MPs will get an even-handed view of the situation from their Palestinian sponsors.
He said that’s the main difference between the mission and the annual trip for Canadian parliamentarians sponsored by the Canada-Israel Committee (CIC).
"The CIC trip is an ongoing one to sensitize people. They try to give everyone a complete flavour of what’s going on. I can’t think of one occasion where an MP was denied an opportunity to go anywhere."
On one past CIC mission, two Liberal MPs visited the Palestinian territories, Volpe said.
On the Palestine House-sponsored trip, "I don’t know what [MPs] will accomplish by going into refugee camps, or where the violence is taking place. Precious little will be accomplished."
He noted that a recent high-profile trip to Palestinian areas by NDP MP Svend Robinson was "set out to ensure that the media would focus on Svend. And the media complied."
Volpe acknowledged that the invitation from Palestine House came before Israel launched its offensive in the West Bank. "But my problem is that it will actually take place, now."
He said the issue has been raised at "senior levels," including with foreign affairs minister Bill Graham and with the Prime Minister’s Office. "This is not just a caucus issue," Volpe said.
He described MPs planning to go on the trip as generally even-handed on the Middle East. But he conceded that none is known to be pro-Israel.
Fellow Liberal MP and human rights expert Irwin Cotler, the representative for Mount Royal, said he has no objection to the mission "as long as it’s organized around guidelines of fairness and openness and gives a plurality of views. I would hope members would hear all perspectives."
Participating Liberal MPs are Colleen Beaumier, Dan McTeague, Roger Gallaway, and Carolyn Parrish.
Also slated to attend are Bloc Québécois MPs Réal Ménard and Stéphane Bergeron; Alliance MP Art Hanger; Libby Davies from the NDP, and Quebec Independent Jean-Guy Carignan.
Beaumier was quoted last week as saying that she cannot be bought with a $3,000 trip to the Middle East. "That’s not my price… It’s a cheap shot," she reportedly said, while McTeague said he plans to visit the region with an open mind.