This is one export Canadians hoped America would keep.
Michael Ignatieff, the front runner in the current race for the leadership of the Liberal Party of Canada, showed his true colors recently when he called the Israeli bombing of Lebanese village of Qana last July 30 that caused 28 civilian deaths “a war crime.” Ignatieff was a professor of human rights and the laws of war at Harvard from 2000 to 2005.
The former Havard professor made this disturbing comment on a talk show in Quebec, where he contradicted his original position on the deplorable bombing that occurred during the recent Israeli-Hezbollah war in Lebanon. Ignatieff apologized on the show for having said last August he was not “losing any sleep” over the incident, initially showing support for the Israeli air strike targeting Hezbollah rocket launching sites deliberately located near the civilian-occupied building. Numerous children also perished in the tragic event.
Ignatieff called his August comments “a mistake” that showed “a lack of compassion.” But the good professor did not stop there and went on to take a swipe at Israel.
“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, and I should have said that. That’s clear,” said the Toronto Member of Parliament, who hopes to replace Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper in the next election.
Well, there you have it. What is clear is that Ignatieff has abandoned his lofty human rights principles, for which he was paid a nice salary at Harvard, for the crass purpose of pandering for votes. The Liberal leadership hopeful made his anti-Israel comments in Quebec where the Liberals are battling two other parties of the center-left, the Bloc Quebecois and the New Democratic Party, for the anti-American and anti-Zionist vote. Quebec, a former Liberal stronghold, is an important province. It contains the second highest number of seats after Ontario and could be pivotal to the Liberals’ forming the next government. It should also be noted that every Liberal party leader in Canadian history has become prime minister.
What is also clear is that Ignatieff, who has spent most of the last thirty years of his life outside of Canada, needs to reread some of his own lessons regarding the laws of war. Commentators have pointed out a war crime requires intent. Obviously, the Israelis did not intend to attack and kill civilians that day, a fact even a Harvard professor should be able to discern. And the real villain of the Qana bombing, the learned academic should instantly recognize, was Hezbollah.
This terrorist organization was deliberately launching its rockets against Israel throughout the war from built-up civilian areas, so that any defensive Israeli reaction would probably involve civilian casualties. Therefore, even if the Israelis achieved their military goal and destroyed the rocket launchers, they would still lose the public relations battle because of possible civilian casualties. Qana is an excellent example of this. The Viet Cong also employed similar tactics against American forces in the Vietnam War.
Besides the Quebec vote, Ignatieff may also have been trying to score points with
Canada’s growing Muslim constituency with his anti-Israel position. There are now about 600,000 Muslims in Canada, while the Jewish population in America’s northern neighbor is 400,000. Mohamed Elmrasy, head of the Canadian Islamic Congress and a university professor himself, immediately came out in favor of Ignatieff’s “war crime” comment, saying “we appreciate that stand coming from him.” According to the National Post, a Canadian national newspaper, only last month Elmrasy wanted anyone for the next Liberal leader except Ignatieff. How quickly times change!
“He’s taking the time to find out the facts, and, based on that, he’s correcting his position,’ said Elmrasy.
What really needs to be mentioned is Elmrasy’s position on suicide bombings. On a Canadian television program in 2004, the CIC head stunned viewers when he said all adult Israelis are legitimate targets of suicide bombers, since “they are part of the Israeli army.”
But Ignatieff’s unwarranted comments have not gone unpunished - even in his own party. His Ontario organizer for his leadership candidacy resigned. Ariel Cotler, the wife of a former prominent Liberal justice minister, also gave up her party membership, saying all the Liberal Party leadership candidates are guilty of putting Israel and Hezbollah on the same footing. Moreover, voters in Canada’s Jewish community are now reconsidering their traditional support of the Liberal Party. The Canada-Israel Committee has also postponed a briefing trip to Israel for Ignatieff and other MPs until after the December 1-2 leadership convention due to the comments’ political fallout.
While Ignatieff has backtracked on his remarks, the big winner of the Toronto MP’s gaffe will be Prime Minister Harper, who heads a minority Conservative government. His moral clarity appeals to many Canadians. In contrast to Ignatieff and the Liberals, Harper came down squarely on Israel’s side in last summer’s war in Lebanon.
“When it comes to dealing with a war between Israel and a terrorist organization, this country and this government cannot and will never be neutral,” he said.
And probably the only thing Canadians wouldn’t be neutral about in this case is re-exporting Ignatieff back to Harvard.
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