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The Birth of Michael Ignatieff as a Politician

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By Sam Mokel. Sunday evening I had an eye opening experience. I attended a dialogue entitled “Canada and Israel - A Personal Perspective on the Ties that Bind” between Mr. Michael Ignatieff and Professor Aurel Braun from the U of T presented by the Holy Blossom Temple and Canadian Coalition for Democracies (CCD). This was my first time attending an event sponsored by any of these two organizations or focused and formatted entirely for an audience made up mainly of members of the Canadian Jewish community. I was really looking forward to learning from two reputed scholars and meeting and exchanging ideas with members of the community.

Mr. Alastair Gordon, the president of CCD gave the opening remarks. I was expecting an introduction of the speakers and a briefing on the state of democracy in the Middle East and how Israel is the only democratic state in the region and needs our support. Instead he launched into an attack on the Canadian government, politicians, the CBC, the UN … for criticizing Israel. He went as far as making an absolute statement on how it is utterly unacceptable to criticize Israel on any issue whatsoever and regardless of the circumstances: “The only ethical and even-handed policy on these anti-Israel resolutions is to vote NO on each and every one, until such time as resolutions are applied to all nations pro rata to their wrongdoing.” It was not clear what other nations he meant and how applying UN resolutions on them is related to Israel occupying Palestinian and Arab territory and confiscating personally owned and inhabited lands to build settlements or why giving Israel a carte blanche would serve world peace and justice.

It was horrifying to hear Mr. Gordon speak about a complicated issue from such a narrow perspective and with such absolute morale authority and virtue.

Professor Braun then took to the stage explaining how grassroots movements in the Middle East represent a grave danger to the Jewish people going as far as concluding that “Despite the claim of these two terror movements that they seek only some territorial adjustment, their goal is the extermination of the Israeli people.” This is such a far reaching and dangerous conclusion laying the ground for Israel to do whatever it takes and use whatever means it can muster to prevent “the extermination of its people”. Professor Braun refers to some alleged Hamas document as the basis of his conclusion. I wonder what happened to scholarly examination of facts and documents before reaching scientifically valid conclusions. I wonder if Professor Braun would endorse someone reaching conclusions about how to treat the Jewish people based on the evidence in “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion”.

I have personally never heard a Hamas, or Hizbollah, or Iranian leader calling for the extermination of the Israeli people. I have heard them call for the dismantling of the Israeli state as an imported apartheid political entity and replacing it with a democratic state open to Jews, Muslims and Christians just as it has always been. There is a fundamental difference between changing the political make up of a state and exterminating a people. Anyone who mixes the two ideas together and sees them as the same is not doing service to the Israeli people or to the advancement of peace or democracy and his motives are at best questionable.

The biggest surprise of the evening was Mr. Ignatieff’s position on the Middle East conflict and Israel’s action.  Mr. Ignatieff’s main objective of the evening was to convince his audience that he is truly sorry for stating that Israel had committed a war crime by deliberately attacking civilians in Qana during the Summer 2006 war and that he will never say such a critical thing again. The audience was not buying Mr. Ignatieff’s apology as he came across as unsure and uncoordinated. To show that he is serious about his newfound enlightenment he went as far as to endorse any information no matter where it came from as long as it vindicates Israel from the war crime act. Here is a man who used to be the darling of the Human Rights intellectuals refusing to label the deliberate targeting and killing of civilians as war crime and quotes the results of “IDF investigation into the matter has concluded …” and that “the other side systematically altered evidence about Qana to put Israel in a bad light…” I wonder what else the IDF investigation into its own crimes would have yielded or what is there for the Lebanese to alter about the torn bodies of civilians in a building that had a white flag on it. I would like to hear Mr. Ignatieff’s views on how the UN altered the evidence related to the Israeli bombing of its observers post during the war despite repeated calls to stop firing.

This argument about the Lebanese altering evidence has been heard so many times before. Many of you may remember a few photos that circulated on the Internet and news channels during the summer war showing Israeli children near the border signing rockets and ammunitions before being fired by the IDF into Lebanon. Their autographs read something like “To Lebanese Children with Love …”   A few months later I was having a discussion with a TV personality well known for its support for Israel and a Rabbi from Montreal who were adamant that Hezbollah had doctored those pictures and that Israel and its civilized population is not apable of doing such a horrible thing as to instigate children to write hate massages, and that the Israeli system is setup up in a way that would not allow such an event to happen during the war.

After the discussion I emailed a news article from the Jerusalem Post published July 23rd showing the photos and trying to explain what had happened. Here is one small excerpt from that article.

“Questions over the photos’ authenticity have been put to rest by authorities that were present during the incident, which occurred on July 17 near the northern border. The mostly local children had been brought to see the shells by their parents. Although it remains unclear who encouraged them to write the messages, their colorful scribbles, including a Star of David, hearts, and “From Israel, with Love,” have appeared in dozens of blogs, or on-line journals, and on-line photo hosting sites.”

Mr. Ignatieff apparently has forgotten how the events unfolded during the summer of 2006. He said “Hezbollah was raining rockets down on northern Israeli towns and had taken Israeli soldiers hostage. Like any state Israel has the right to defend itself.” I wonder how a former journalist could allow himself the luxury of re-arranging the flow of events. After the firefight on the border and the capture of two and killing of eight Israeli soldiers by Hezbollah, the front was quite for a few hours and then Israel started raining rockets on Lebanese villages and towns killing tens of civilians caught by surprise. Hoping Israel may have satisfied its appetite for revenge after a few hours of shelling, Hezbollah held its fire for over 6 hours before responding by launching its own counter attacks.

Another very disturbing statement by Mr. Ignatieff was made during the question answer period. He stated as a matter of fact that Hezbollah was using Christians as human shields during the war. No one ever in Lebanon has made such accusations. Either Mr. Ignatieff is privy to some very highly classified information or he is playing a sectarian card. What’s particularly disturbing about this statement is its potential to incite religious hatred between Muslims and Christians and make Christians in Canada look at Hezbollah as targeting their religion.

In his bid to explain why it is not possible to hold Israel to the same morale standards as Canada or the rest of the civilized world, Mr. Ignatieff talked about a trip he took to Northern Israel on the Lebanese border where he spoke to a settler there who told him “Michael, you’ve got to understand how difficult it is to be up here…”. One wonders what a settler is doing up there in the first place, confiscating someone’s land, carrying arms to protect himself from the owners of the land and then complaining that it is difficult up here and therefore no one should hold him to the same morale standards as other human beings. He spoke of “traveling north to the border with Lebanon, to see for myself the Hezbollah flags across the border.” Why would a Canadian politician be so disturbed by a Yellow Lebanese party flag? Is he seeing the conflict from an Israeli eye only? Or from an independent Canadian eye trying to learn and help?  Did he make the trip on the Lebanese side to the Southern border to see for himself the devastation that that Israeli settler and his weaponry have caused? How does he think a Lebanese feels seeing Israeli flags across the border and IDF soldiers in fortified positions and settlers openly carrying arms? Throughout the question period, Mr. Ignatieff peppered his answers by quotes from IDF operatives he had met during his various trips to Israel as though they were words from the Gospel forgetting that these are the same soldiers who rained millions of cluster bombs all over South Lebanon hours before the war ended with the apparently sole aim of maiming and killing children and civilians.

On the wider Middle East conflict, Mr. Ignatieff demanded that “Arab nations equally must end 60 years of rejection and acknowledge Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state.” What does he call the Arab league proposal of 2002 for mutual recognition? Was that not an offer to recognize Israel’s right to exist? If that was not recognition than how does he propose recognition should look like?

Mr. Ignatieff concluded with “It is the national interest of Canada that must guide my actions as an elected representative…speak for Canada and stand up for democrats everywhere.” So true and noble are these words but yet they ring hollow as Mr. Ignatieff chose to put the short term interests of Israel way ahead of Canada’s and its democratic values by consistently adopting Israel’s enemies as Canada’s enemies when the fact is that Hezbollah and Hamas have won fair democratic elections and have never threatened the national interests of Canada.  Not once did Mr. Ignatieff or any of the speakers mention the occupation of the West Bank or the blockade of Gaza as a potential reason for violence or frustration among Palestinians. Are these the views of the Liberal party now?

During the question period a gentleman introduced himself as an Iranian Jew tried to express his views by saying that he thinks there is a lot of misinformation being presented by the audience and the speakers about Iran and the Muslims in general and that he had never heard that Iran’s President or Muslims want to kill all the Jews and had never experienced abuse while in Iran and that the conflict is territorial and political in nature. He was standing in the back of the room and was able to say that much before Mr. Alastair Gordon who was sitting in the front came hurrying to the back. While Mr. Gordon was approaching the speaking gentleman I winked at my neighbour and whispered “you wanna bet he is going to cut him off!” Sure enough, Mr. Gordon approached the gentleman and tapped him on the shoulder and said something to him. The Iranian Jew looked flabbergasted, smiled in despair and gave the microphone to the line keeper girl. Mr. Igantieff was witnessing this and so were others. How ironic a conclusion for an event sponsored by an organization that bill itself as the Canadian Coalition for Democracies?

Criticizing Israel is not an option. That was made clear and endorsed by Mr. Igantieff in a public forum. I wonder if this is the official position of the Liberal party of Canada.

I left the event that evening very worried. I was worried about what’s happening to the Liberal Party of Canada and about the selective practice of democracy. But I was mostly worried about the future of Israel and the Middle East and its people. Instead of Israel’s friends encouraging it to take steps towards enabling a dignified existence for the Palestinian and Lebanese people and make peace with its neighbours, they keep pushing for ever more uncompromising positions. They are pushing Israel and its people against a wall.

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