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Harper accuses Liberals of being anti-Israel
Description: OTTAWA and TORONTO -- Prime Minister Stephen Harper yesterday accused the Liberal Party of an anti-Israeli bias, charging that Michael Ignatieff's comment that Israel committed a war crime against Lebanon this summer reflects the leanings of most Lib
Date: 12 October 2006
Author: Campbell Clark and Michael Valpy
Source: Globe and Mail
OTTAWA and TORONTO -- Prime Minister Stephen Harper yesterday accused the Liberal Party of an anti-Israeli bias, charging that Michael Ignatieff's comment that Israel committed a war crime against Lebanon this summer reflects the leanings of most Liberal leadership candidates.

All the major contenders for the Liberal leadership quickly criticized Mr. Harper for lobbing "insults" and "lies." Beyond the anti-Conservative solidarity, murmurs were growing within the party about whether Mr. Ignatieff's style might prove a liability if he leads the Liberals in an election.

"This is consistent with the anti-Israeli position that has been taken by virtually all of the candidates for the Liberal leadership," the Prime Minister said about Mr. Ignatieff's remarks that an Israeli strike on the Lebanese village of Qana that killed 28 civilians was a war crime. "I don't think it's helpful or useful."

Mr. Harper's comments exploit concerns expressed by many in the Jewish community that the Liberal Party did not back Israel strongly enough in this summer's conflict -- and the perception that the Conservatives have emerged as Israel's defender in Canada.

A visibly angry Bob Rae, noting that his wife and children are Jewish, said he has been associated with the Jewish community his entire life and likened Mr. Harper's comments to accusing an opponent of being anti-Catholic. He 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 to 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."

Another contender, Stéphane Dion, 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."

While the controversy began with questions over whether Mr. Ignatieff went too far (it cost him the backing of Toronto MP Susan Kadis), it turned yesterday to accusations that Mr. Harper had stooped to shameful smears. While the Middle East emerges as a political issue in Canada from time to time, rarely have there been allegations of outright bias.

Liberal leadership candidate Gerard Kennedy 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 declined a request for an interview yesterday, but issued a statement accusing Mr. Harper of "playing crass politics."

"The Liberal Party has always been a friend of Israel and I will always stand shoulder to shoulder with Israel and the Canadian Jewish community to defend Israel's right to respond when it is attacked by terrorists or when its neighbours wrongfully deny its right to exist," he said.

Mr. Ignatieff's campaign has taken a hit over his remarks, however, and the incident has raised new questions about whether he has a tendency to trip into controversy that could cost the Liberal Party if he led them in a general election.

On Sunday, Mr. Ignatieff said on a French-language talk show that he regretted a remark made in August that he was not "losing sleep" over civilian deaths in Lebanon.

"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," he said.

On Wednesday, Mr. Ignatieff said both sides in the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah militants were responsible for war crimes.

Jewish groups have criticized the remark, and yesterday, B'nai Brith Canada's executive vice-president, Frank Dimant, called on Liberal Leader Bill Graham to denounce the comment "to ensure that anti-Israel rhetoric does not become part and parcel of the leadership campaign."

Some said Mr. Ignatieff's comments were especially offensive because he cited his credentials as an international human-rights expert as he uttered them.

University of British Columbia war-crimes expert Michael Byers, author of the book War Law, said that while Mr. Ignatieff is not a lawyer or expert on the technicalities of the laws of war, he is knowledgeable about international humanitarian law and is a respected authority in the related field of ethics in conflicts. Mr. Ignatieff's campaign continued to receive complaints about his remarks yesterday.

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