Candidates square off over who best supports Canadian Judaism, Israel, and who can best handle Iran
As the 2008 federal election campaign grinds on, it's inevitable that various candidates will make their pitch to various ethnic and religious voting blocs.
In some cases, that could serve to backfire.
But for Liberal Mount Royal MP Irwin Cotler, his recent efforts have been little more than going back to the well from which he has so often drank.
Cotler has recently been involved with a petition to have Iranian president Mahmould Ahmadinejad charged with "inciting genocide".
Speaking at the conference against state-sponsored genocide in Washington organized as a prelude to Ahmadinejad's recent address to the UN, Cotler insisted "The crime of incitement to genocide has already been committed. Iran has paved the way to genocide, and genocide has already begun in [the sense of] incitement."
Cotler insisted that the charges alone could go a long way toward legitimizing Ahmandinejad. “The very process of initiating these remedies will embolden the progressive forces in Iran," he announced.
Cotler also aptly pointed out that those who incite genocide are as bad as those who actually commit it. “[Ahmadinejad] should be treated with the opprobrium of a genocidaire,” he concluded.
Some may be eager to dismiss Cotler's advocacy on behalf of Judaism to be empty partisan pandering. But to suggest so they would have to know very little about Cotler's past.
The genocide petition against Ahmadinejad isn't merely a flavour of the week gambit for Cotler. He has proven his dedication to preventing genocide and prosecuting those who commit it throughout his entire legal career, both before and after entering his politics.
His book Justice Delayed remains the landmark work on Nazi war criminals hiding in Canada.
The plentiful political capital that Cotler enjoys in Canada's Jewish community has been richly and rightly earned.
Yet not all of Canada's leaders have supported Cotler's advocacy on behalf of Israel. Liberal leader Stephane Dion recently accused former Foreign Affairs miniser (now Minister of Defense) Peter MacKay of obstructing Cotler's efforts.
"The [Liberal party] has supported Irwin’s initiative to hold President Ahmadinejad to account before the UN Security Council or a duly constituted international tribunal for the crime of genocidal incitement as required by the 1948 genocide convention," Dion told a Jewish audience in Winnipeg. “I do not understand why Conservative MPs have attempted to block Irwin’s motion in support of this initiative that he brought forward at Parliament’s human rights subcommittee,”
"Peter MacKay, then the foreign minister, rejected this initiative as a worthless gesture because [he said] it probably won’t work," Dion continued. "I don’t know how he came to that determination, but when it comes to international law, I think I’ll trust Irwin Cotler’s opinion over Peter MacKay’s."
Of course, MacKay actually has a point to this end. The UN has never been known for its sympathies toward Israel, and has often been hijacked by various Middle Eastern regimes for denouncing Israeli treatment of Palestinians. Ironically, they've historically often done this while these very regimes treat Palestinians -- and other minorities within their domain, including Jews -- no better, and often worse.
For his own part, Cotler credits Prime Minister Stephen Harper -- a fellow recipient recipient of B'Nai Brith's Presidential Gold Medal -- for his supportive words, but suggests he has yet to act on them. “The Prime Minister has done excellent work in his statements with regard to Israel, but words are not as important as deeds,” Cotler recently told an all-party discussion panel.
Which is fair enough. While Harper has made his support of Israel widely and well known, one could hardly mistake them for action.
Yet the same is the case with Cotler's most recent initiative. Without any means to ensure that Mahmoud Ahmaedinejad appears before the International Criminal Court to face charges, Cotler's petition is, itself, little more than empty words.
Andrea Paine, the Conservative candidate in Lac St Louis, defended the government's rejection of Cotler's petition as being in line with Israel's stance on the matter.
“We were not sure what the position of the Israeli government actually would be. We were also concerned that if the bill passed, the pro-Palestinians would spin that into a victory for themselves,” she insisted. “We were being cautious and waiting to follow Israel’s lead.”
Israel, however, for its own part, supports the push to file charges against Ahmadinejad.
Also on the discussion panel was NDP Outremont MP Thomas Mulcair, who insisted that his party doesn't harbour elements hostile to Israel.
“Some do have slightly different takes on issues, but what is important is the position we take at the end of the day as a party, and I am extremely comfortable defending them today,” Mulcair insisted.
Certainly, they clearly do. Perhaps it's better left up to individuals to judge whether or not those positions are anti-Israel or not.
One thing is for certain: while virtually any issue related to Israel is bound to be controversy, Canada cannot strive to be a leader on the global stage while shying away from sticky topics -- particularly one so central to international relations as that of Israel.
It's on that note that it's actually quite comforting to see Israel treated as an issue in the 2008 federal election. At the very least, it makes the proceedings of this federal election a little less insular than they otherwise would tend to be.
In the end, the prize will be not merely a shiny bauble from B'Nai Brith, but Canada's relevance, credibility and leadership on the world stage.