Minister of Tourism Stas Misezhnikov of Yisrael Beiteinu has called on Pope Benedict to cancel a planned visit in early May with Sakhnin mayor Mazen Ghanaim, whom he labeled “a terror supporter and warmonger."
"This is a terror supporter and warmonger [who] acts against the national interests of the state in which he serves as mayor, and I call on the Holy See to abstain from meeting with him," Misezhnikov said in a statement.
The pope’s planned visit to the Galilee city “is in complete contradiction with the purpose of the Pope's visit: a state-religious visit designed to promote peace and dialogue between peoples and religions,” the ministry statement continued. The papal visit is being promoted under the slogan Pilgrimage to the Holy Land - A Bridge for Peace.
Mayor Ghanaim headed an anti-Israeli protest of more than 20,000 Arabs earlier this year against the Operation Cast Lead counterterrorist campaign. The Tourism Minister’s said that during the protest, Mayor Ghanaim said he supports the Gaza population's “struggling against this cruel and oppressive occupation,” according to a ministry spokesman.
"He said, 'long live shahids, long live Palestine with its capital in Jerusalem'... [and] 'this brutal occupation should be stopped.'" spokesman Amnon Lieberman charged. He added that that the mayor is “breaking the rules” by receiving a salary from the same country he is supposed to serve.
Mayor Ghanaim was quoted at the time as saying that the Israeli military was "committing crimes in Gaza before the eyes of the international community", but he also called on terrorists to stop firing rockets into Israel.
Tourism Minister Misezhnikov met with papal representatives Wednesday to prepare for the visit to Israel.
Ra'am-Ta'al Knesset Member Ahmed Tibi charged that Misezhnikov’s statement was "incitement from the Yisrael Beiteinu camp against a mayor that was elected democratically.” He called on "the Vatican and the international community [to] isolate the fascist Jewish party's representative."