JERUSALEM Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper told Israel's parliament on Monday any comparison between the Jewish state and apartheid South Africa was "sickening", drawing a standing ovation - and an angry walkout by two Arab legislators.
Visiting at a time when even members of the government have raised fears of a boycott of Israeli goods if talks with Palestinians do not progress, Harper said some critics of Israel were indulging in a "new anti-Semitism".
"Most disgracefully of all, some openly call Israel an apartheid state," Harper told the Knesset in Jerusalem after meeting Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank.
"Think about the twisted logic and outright malice ... It is nothing short of sickening. But this is the face of the new anti-Semitism," he said, prompting applause from the floor and heckles from two Arab-Israeli lawmakers, who then stormed out.
Israel's 20 percent population of Arab citizens often say they are discriminated against and Israel has been accused by the Palestinians of employing an apartheid policy toward them.
Most countries deem Israeli settlements in territories captured in 1967 illegal and international boycott campaigns against products made in Israeli enclaves in the occupied West Bank have rattled Israeli politicians.
Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni said on local television at the weekend that Israel could face the sort of isolation imposed on apartheid South Africa.
Harper in his speech echoed remarks by Israeli leaders who last week said the stance some Western countries were taking in the conflict was "hypocritical" and imbalanced.
Canada has long backed Israel on the diplomatic stage, voting in 2012 against a Palestinian U.N. bid to win statehood and in the same year cutting ties with Iran.
Palestinian official Nabil Shaath, in an op-ed published in the Canadian Globe and Mail on Monday, voiced disappointment over what Palestinians see as Harper's pro-Israel tilt.
"Mr. Harper will be able to say that he visited Mr. Abbas. But ... nobody else is asking to meet Mr. Harper. This would not have been the case with a Canadian leader only a few years ago, and it is a shame that it has become the case today."
Netanyahu, who hosted a dinner for Harper and his wife on Sunday, hailed what he said was the Canadian's "brave and moral stand regarding the truth and in regard to the standards that the international community needs to adopt."
(Writing by Maayan Lubell; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Robin Pomeroy)