Open mouth. Insert foot. Repeat as necessary.
Michael Ignatieff is not a happy man. This may have something to do with the fact that he’s had a very rough week.
On monday, Ignatieff was criticized for not attending a leadership debate. On Tuesday, Ignatieff accused Israel of war crimes. On Thursday, Prime Minister Stephen Harper used Ignatieff’s comments to (perhaps unwisely) label the candidates in the Liberal leadership campaign as “Anti-Israel”. On Friday, Ignatieff responded to Harper, but also lashed out at the media.
“Yesterday, Stephen Harper used my statement that war crimes were committed in this (Mideast) conflict to launch a personal attack on me and on my colleagues running for the Liberal leadership of Canada,” Ignatieff complained. “Mr. Harper's comments were a disgrace, a disgrace for a man who holds an office that is supposed to represent all Canadians.”
“There is no basis whatever for Mr. Harper to suggest that the Liberal party is biased against Israel.,” Ignatieff insisted. “The prime minister showed a profound lack of respect to the Official Opposition and a profound lack of respect to the Canadian people who elected them."
"Being a friend means speaking honestly and this week I did that, I spoke honestly about this summer's terrible conflict," he said. "It was a conflict provoked by Hezbollah and its backers to lure Israel into a wide war, it was a conflict in which Israel exercised its right to respond and to send a terrorist militia a clear message that its actions cannot and would not be tolerated."
However, on October 10, in a Radio-Canada interview, Ignatieff said, "I was a professor of human rights, and I am also a professor of the laws of war, and what happened in Qana was a war crime."
So, to recap, on Tuesday, Israel is a war criminal. On Friday, Hezbollah are war criminals.
In any conventional sense of the term, this would be a huge flip-flop.
On Thursday, Stephen Harper described Ignatieff’s previous accusations as “consistent with the anti-Israeli position that has been taken by virtually of the candidates for the Liberal leadership.” However, on Friday he noted that Joe Volpe and Scott Brison were exceptions to his assertions.
Now, what Harper said was inflammatory, but was it accurate?
Ignatieff’s aforementioned comments on Israel, and subsequent flip-flop on the issue, demonstrate that he is merely doing what he can to exploit the Israeli issue for political gain.
Gerard Kennedy issued the standard promises to recognize Israel’s right to exist and defend itself, but his supporters have been more vocal, accusing Israel of conducting ‘state terrorism’.
"We don't want to see any more terrorism, whether the terrorism of suicide bombers or launching rockets or state terrorism. This is state terrorism," said Kennedy supporter Boris Wrzesnewskyj.
Even more interesting are the comments of Kennedy supporter Thomas Hubert, who advocated eliminating all “Zionists” from the Liberal party. "The Liberal Party is stronger without these violent Zionists in our party. I am glad for them to cease influencing our foreign policy so we are free to promote Canadian values of peace. It amazes me that this community is so absurdly selfish. The only issue that matters to them is the defence of a "state" that survives on the blood of innocent people. Shameful.”
Harper has already admitted that Stephan Dion is not anti-Israel.
But as it relates to Bob Rae, Harper may be a little bit off. In a 2002 opinion article entitled “Parting Company with the NDP”, Rae (who is of Jewish descent) criticized what he believed to be a strong anti-Israel bias in the NDP.
On his website, www.Bobrae.ca, Rae even issued the following statement, “The issue is not simply Israel's right to defend itself - it is how to police a border, how to reduce tension, how to create the preconditions for dialogue. Israel has a right to live in peace within secure, internationally recognized borders. At the moment this clearly requires the presence of peace monitors. Lebanon cannot and will not do it and has called for a UN presence on its soil to assist in this. The UN must respond."
"Canada's further efforts need to focus on the refusal of both Hezbollah and Hamas to recognize Israel's right to exist. These radical groups, clearly fuelled by money and other assistance from Iran and Syria, point to the biggest obstacle to peace: an inability to accept Israel as a legitimate country in the region. Ideologies that cannot accept the presence of other people, with different religions, languages, and loyalties, are a profound threat to the peace of the world."
That is not, by any means, an anti-Israel statement.
For Harper, the leader of the federal Conservative party, commenting on the statements of the leading candidate for the Liberal leadership is perfectly legitimate. However, Harper needs to keep one important fact in mind.
In Canada, conservatives do not win on rhetoric. They have to win on facts.
Labelling all the candidates for the Liberal leadership as “anti-Israel” takes an issue that should be discussed in terms of fact, and transforms it into a rhetorical issue.
He should, at the very least, avoid making comments he can’t defend. As it pertains to two of the four frontrunners for the Liberal leadership, Harper can’t defend these comments.
However, in the cases of Ignatieff and Kennedy, defending their own comments (and those of their supporters) is a matter they should be good deal more concerned with. As the frontrunner, Ignatieff needs to be doubly concerned.