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Joly calls out Israel judiciary reform and 'unilateral actions' that undermine peace

OTTAWA — Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly is pushing Israel to drop its reform of the country's judiciary after two months of mass protests.
Israeli mounted police officers disperse demonstrators blocking a highway during a protest against plans by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government to overhaul the judicial system in Tel Aviv, Israel, Thursday, March 16, 2023. Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly is pushing Israel to drop its reform of the country's judiciary after two months of mass protests. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Oded Balilty

OTTAWA — Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly is pushing Israel to drop its reform of the country's judiciary after two months of mass protests.

Joly spoke Thursday with her Israeli counterpart Eli Cohen by phone, and Ottawa's official readout says that "Joly underscored Canada's support of democracy, the rule of law and the institutions that uphold them."

A Global Affairs Canada source familiar with the conversation says Joly specifically noted that Ottawa is keeping a close eye on Israel's judicial reform.

"She also conveyed that Canada views dialogue and consensus-building as critical tools in driving change that is supported by the people," the source said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has so far rejected compromises aimed at resolving the standoff over his plans to overhaul the country’s legal system by allowing the country's parliament to overturn Supreme Court decisions.

The proposed change, which has been rebuked by U.S. President Joe Biden, would concentrate power for Netanyahu's parliamentary coalition, which he argues is necessary to counter what he deems to be excessive reach by unelected judges.

Former attorney general Avichai Mandelblit recently accused Netanyahu of proposing the reform in order to thwart an ongoing criminal trial in which he faces corruption charges.

The country's figurehead president, Isaac Herzog, has warned Israel is "within touching distance" of an abyss, and that civil war is possible. And Israel's former prime minister Ehud Olmert urged world leaders Thursday to shun Netanyahu.

Ottawa's readout says Joly also called out "unilateral actions that jeopardize efforts for peace," such as Israel's expansion of settlements that are illegal under international law.

"Joly voiced Canada's deep concerns over the recent escalation of violence in Israel and the West Bank and stressed the need to engage in meaningful actions to restore calm and ease tensions," the readout states.

For decades, Canada has advocated for a two-state solution that would see the creation of a state of Palestine alongside Israel.

A series of Palestinian attacks last spring have led to a year of violent clashes and Israeli raids in the West Bank, while right-wing Israelis continue to expand settlements into occupied territory.

Last week in Ottawa, Norwegian Foreign Minister Anniken Huitfeldt said the conflict is at the worst it has been in three decades, and said many developing countries find it hypocritical for states to condemn Russia's invasion of Ukraine without calling out Israeli settlements.

"They focus a lot on double standards," she said. "We need to be very firm when it comes to occupation everywhere."

Earlier this month, pro-Palestine activists criticized three Canadian senators for inviting a right-wing politician to Canada during their visit to Israel.

Amir Ohana, the speaker of the Israeli parliament, has previously caused controversy by claiming in media interviews that Muslims are prone to "cultural murderousness." As former public safety minister, he modified Israel's COVID-19 vaccination priority list to exclude prisoners who are Palestinian.

Senate Speaker George Furey and Conservative Senate Leader Don Plett would not comment on the criticism, but unaffiliated Sen. Patti LaBoucane-Benson said the group urged Israelis to work toward peace.

"We worked with consular officials in an effort to hear diverse perspectives while managing logistical and security considerations," she said in a statement to The Canadian Press at the time, adding the trio intended to meet with Palestinian officials but were not able to do so.

On Thursday, Israel had its own criticism of Canadian policies.

Ottawa's readout noted that Joly and her counterpart also discussed "security threats by the Iranian regime." Israel was more specific.

While Israel has not published its own readout of the call, Cohen wrote on Twitter that the two discussed Hezbollah as well as Iran's nuclear capabilities, and that he urged her to list the country's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terror group.

The force, which is part of Iran's military, is responsible for much of the regime's violent meddling abroad and part of an ongoing crackdown on human-rights activists within Iran.

The Liberals have resisted listing the entire corps as a terrorist organization, arguing it would punish those conscripted into the force for non-combat roles. Instead, the Trudeau government barred more than 10,000 former IRGC members from entering Canada.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 17, 2023.

— With files from The Associated Press.

Dylan Robertson, The Canadian Press

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