Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee
Ignatieff apologizes for Israeli war crime comment; Deputy Liberal leader reaches out to Jewish community to make amends for ’06

The Toronto Star
Mon 14 Apr 2008
Page: A13
Section: News
Byline: Linda Diebel

Deputy Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff came to Holy Blossom Temple last night to apologize for having said as a leadership candidate that Israel had committed a "war crime."

After being introduced as "a potential future prime minister of Canada," Ignatieff described the 2006 episode as "the most painful experience of my short political career, and it was an error."

He said he’s been reaching out to parts of the Jewish community to establish a dialogue since making the comment during an appearance on a Quebec talk show, Tout le monde en parle.

At last night’s lecture sponsored by the Canadian Coalition for Democracies, Ignatieff stressed he doesn’t believe recent "strange" media reports the Jewish community is going to vote en masse for the Conservatives in the next federal election. The Etobicoke-Lakeshore MP doesn’t believe there is a homogeneous Jewish community in Canada.

Ignatieff is still touted as a successor to leader Stephane Dion’s problematic tenure, although he has stressed his loyalty.

Last night, he cited his own bona fides with Israel, talking about his father George’s history as a diplomat at the United Nations and his own as a former journalist and human rights professor.

"My personal ties run deep," he said, pointing out he had written a book about "liberal Zionist" Isaiah Berlin, the person who, "next to my father, I love most dearly and (who had) the greatest effect on my thinking."

In defending the Liberal record, Ignatieff said: "I tell you, Liberals stand with you, they always have and they always will." Ignatieff added that Jewish Canadians could count on a Dion government.

"All hell immediately broke loose" after his 2006 remark, said Ignatieff, which accurately describes the reaction to his comment about Israel’s bombing of the Lebanese village of Qana and the deaths of dozens of civilians during the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah conflict.

The remark, he said, led to charges of "intellectual anti-Semitism" and cost him personally. It also cost allies in the Liberal party, although he said he scoffed at Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s assertion it was another example of Liberal indifference to Israel.

"Politicians can’t expect to hold the trust of citizens unless they own up to things we’ve done wrong," he said.

Ignatieff suggested, instead of using the term "war crime," he might better have noted Israel "may have failed to comply with the Geneva Convention of the laws of war."

Or, he said, he might have said Israel "has the right to defend itself but had to avoid civilian casualties."

Coalition president Alistair Gordon – who suggested Ignatieff could be a future prime minister – said all political parties should support Israel, "a modern, tolerant free society born from the ashes of the Holocaust."

Before Ignatieff spoke, University of Toronto professor Aural Braun laid out the threats to the state of Israel from terrorist groups like Hamas and Hezbollah who "have as their goal the extermination of the Israeli people."