Toronto rolls out welcome mat for Israeli mayors
October 23, 2012 | Suri Epstein - Correspondent
A delegation of Israeli mayors was told that that they would not be welcomed in Holland and Spain if they included mayors from Judea and Samaria. In solidarity, the group of 23 mayors did not visit those countries. But, they recently completed a successful eight-day whirlwind visit to Canada, where they were welcomed with open arms.
“The two countries [Spain and Holland] didn’t want to accept us," said Moshe Rosenbaum, head of the local council of Beit El, "because they heard there were mayors from [Judea and Samaria].”
This was despite the fact that more than a quarter of the group were Arab mayors representing Arab municipalities.
“We were all united not to go,” said Avi Naim, mayor of Beit Arye in northern Samaria. “We all feel like the same family.”
“We're all in the same boat. We’re friends,” said Mayor Motti Khan of Elyachin as he hugged his smiling friend Mayor Mahmood Assi of the Arab municipality of Kfar Bara.
The delegation instead came to Canada where they completed an eight-day whirlwind visit that was considered a huge success. A reception was held in their honour at Toronto's City Hall where they were greeted by councillors James Pasternak, Joe Mihevc, Chin Lee, Mary-Margaret McMahon and Adam Vaughan.
The mayors represent municipalities with populations of up to 20,000. They come from a wide range of Israeli society, including Jews, Arabs, Druse and Bedouins. The mission was undertaken to provide opportunities for support as well as developing a framework for cooperative growth and progress.
“It was an honour to host these distinguished civic leaders at Toronto City Hall,” said Pasternak, who hosted the event. “They bring a wealth of information to the table and certainly Toronto has something to offer as well.”
While in Toronto they toured Regent Park and the Distillery District. The delegation also paid visits to Ottawa, Richmond Hill, Markham and Barrie.
Mayor Dror Aloni of Kfar Shmaryahu, said that the mayors were fascinated by Canada's organization of governmental responsibilities.
“You have three levels of authority. We found that to be a very interesting system.”
Michal Goldshtain from Israel's interior ministry has been facilitating Israeli mayor groups for 15 years.
“They meet every two months," she said. "They're all friends. Their political ideas are different but in spite of those differences they really work together.”
Mayor Khan of Elyachin concurs.
“We gather and exchange experiences and bonding and really learn from each other.”
Kochav Ha’Ir is a small municipality situated between two Arab cities, Teerah and Taibah.
“We run cooperative programs together for the Jewish and Arab children,” says Mayor Yaakov Mamam. “We work together with water and sewage. In our school we teach Arabic. We are friends.”
“There’s no limit to what we can learn from one another when it comes to the building of safe and liveable cities, towns and villages,” Pasternak said. “I hope it is the start of a growing dialogue.”
Perhaps that’s a level of tolerance that some government officials in Holland and Spain could learn from.