Canadian PM: Liberal leadership hopefuls 'anti-Israeli'

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Michael Ignatieff, the frontrunner in the Liberal leadership race, said that Israel committed a war crime when it bombarded the Lebanese village of Qana in July.

"This is consistent with the anti-Israeli position that has been taken with virtually all of the candidates of the Liberal leadership, and I don't think it's helpful or useful," said Harper, who has refused to back down from his comment. "I think we all remember last summer when the Liberals were making all these anti-Israeli comments."

Harper told reporters that the only two of the eight Liberal leadership candidates who had distanced themselves from such remarks at the time were Joe Volpe and Scott Brison.

Ignatieff said yesterday that "it would be up to international bodies to determine whether Israel had committed war crimes at Qana." He also said he thought both sides in the conflict were guilty of crimes against civilians and that it was "disgraceful for Harper to suggest the Liberals were anti-Israeli".

"Canadians deserve a Prime Minister that helps Canadians from all communities to find a common language in which we can speak about difficult issues together," Ignatieff said. "All communities in Canada have a right to contribute to the public debate about where Canada's national interest lies but no community has the right to determine what can and cannot be said." "And no Prime Minister has the right to say that anyone who voices criticism of Israel is an enemy of Israel."

Liberal MP Ariela Cotler, whose husband Irwin Cotler is supporting Bob Rae's campaign, announced that she has quit the party over Ignatieff's assertion that Israel committed war crimes. Ignatieff lacks "moral integrity" and accused him of "sacrificing the truth for personal political gains in the upcoming leadership election." She said she "and many of her friends" are no longer planning to attend the Liberals' December leadership convention in Montreal, Ariela Cotler said on Friday, in a letter to the editor in the National Post.

Ignatieff's comment last week has also cost him the co-chair of his Toronto campaign, MP Susan Kadis, who withdrew her support from his leadership bid on Wednesday.

Canadian Jewish groups criticized the candidate for his comments. Israel's ambassador to Canada, Alan Baker, said Thursday that Ignatieff's statement was "upsetting and disappointing."

Bob Rae, commenting on the PM's remarks, said it is dangerous "to suggest there is a pro-Israel party in Canada and an anti-Israel party in Canada."

"It's untrue. It's a big lie. It's a big smear. And it isn't going to work on me. And if he thinks he can get away with it, he's sadly mistaken," Mr. Rae said. "It's just a basically thoughtless, deeply divisive thing to say, and I think it's something we have to put a stop to right now. That's it. We cannot carry on politics in this country like this. It will not work. It divides Canadians. It's something for which he should be thoroughly embarrassed."

Stéphane Dion, one of the leadership candidates, said the Prime Minister insulted everyone who wanted to see a ceasefire in the fighting between Israel and Lebanon.

"He is insulting all the people that legitimately thought that the solution was a ceasefire. And these people are not anti-Israel. The vast majority of them, they thought that the best way to help a friend was to request a ceasefire," Mr. Dion said. "I will not allow the Prime Minister to distort what was said in so shameful a way."

Gerard Kennedy, another leadership candidate, described Mr. Harper's "brand of politics as creating divisions within the country and diminishing Canada's reputation" abroad. He said it was unfair and unacceptable to brand the Liberal Party as anti-Israel, and damaging to the quality of public life in the country.

Mr. Ignatieff said his initial comments on Qana were "ripped flagrantly out of context."

Mr. Ignatieff said he's accepted a Jewish group's invitation to visit the Middle East next month to discuss longterm peace solutions, and will meet with the Israeli prime minister as well as Palestinian leaders.