Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee
Keynote Address to the 29th Annual Plenary of the Canadian Jewish Congress

Thank you. Good afternoon.
 
Vice Prime Minister Shalom, Ambassador Ziv, Consul General Gissin, fellow parliamentarians, friends:
 
When I get an introduction like that from Irwin Cotler, I can’t wait to hear what I have to say.
 
Thank you, Irwin, for those kind words.
 
And thank you all for the opportunity to address you this afternoon.
 
I’m honoured to be here—to help celebrate 90 years of the Canadian Jewish Congress.
 
Mazel tov. Kol HaKavod.
 
Since its foundation, the CJC has always stood up for the Jewish community—and for all Canadians.
 
At the first plenary, in Montreal in March 1919, 209 delegates and more than 2000 spectators created the Jewish Immigrant Aid Society, to help newcomers find their feet in Canada.
 
Throughout the 1930’s, the CJC campaigned against discriminatory immigration restrictions that barred families seeking escape from Europe.
 
And when war came, the CJC recruited Jewish servicemen to fight in Europe.
 
At a recent Holocaust commemoration in Ottawa, the most moving moment for me was when these veterans trooped their colours into the hall. True Canadian heroes.
 
In the 1950’s, the CJC rallied to defend Hungarian Jews seeking escape from Communism.
 
In the 1970’s, the CJC fought to secure the freedom of Soviet Jewry. “Let them live or let them leave” was your motto.
 
The CJC has served the Jewish people with distinction.
 
It has also served Canada.
 
The CJC’s briefs and submissions helped to shape the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. 
 
Minority rights, mobility rights and gender equality are all causes the CJC has made its own.
 
In the 1980s, the CJC had official standing at the Deschênes Commission on War Criminals. With Irwin Cotler as lead counsel, this organization led the struggle against impunity in this country.
 
Last week, for the first time ever, a Canadian court handed down a guilty verdict on a war crimes charge. Desiré Munyaneza was found guilty of crimes committed during the Rwandan genocide in 1994.
 
And the Justice Minister who initially brought those charges was Irwin Cotler.
 
CJC’s advocacy has changed our country for the better.
 
You’ve been a model and mentor to other inter-religious and multicultural groups.
 
Vous êtes la plus ancienne organisation canadienne de défense des droits humains.
 
Vous avez montré le chemin à tous les défenseurs des droits de l’homme de notre société. Bravo!
 
You’ve set an example, as one of Canada’s oldest human rights organizations.
 
On behalf of all Canadians, thank you.
 
On many issues of international justice, you have been the conscience of the country.
 
In Sudan—in Darfur—when the world hesitated to call those crimes by their rightful name, Canadian Jews have called it by its true name: “genocide.”
 
As Jewish Canadians, your witness on Darfur is a symbol of a larger principle of human solidarity: the best way to protect your own rights is to speak up for the rights of others.
 
Great challenges lie ahead.
 
Iran is one such challenge.

A great people imprisoned by a dreadful regime.
 
A great religion whose wellsprings of generosity are poisoned by state-inspired hatred.
 
A state seeking weapons of mass destruction.
 
A member of the United Nations denying another member the right to exist. 
 
Canada cannot be silent when one state denies another state’s right to exist.
 
Canada cannot be silent when the President of a state denies the Holocaust.
 
These statements and actions make normal relations with Iran impossible.
 
Canada must tell Iran that it cannot be a member of the family of nations unless it ceases to threaten other nations and unless it acknowledges plain historical facts.
 
Holocaust denial is a moral disgrace.
 
This month we celebrated the 60th anniversary of Canada’s diplomatic relationship with the State of Israel.
 
Our ties of family and friendship run deep.
 
We must continue to cultivate our relationship with Israel, with its people and with its world-leading scientists, researchers, and industries.
 
And we must stand with Israel in times of trial.
 
More than six decades ago, in 1947, my father was a Canadian diplomat on the UN Special Committee on Palestine—which recommended a partition plan accepted by Jews but rejected by the Arab world.
 
Too much violence has followed. Too much death and hatred.
 
Four months ago, Canada stood by Israel as she defended her civilians against indiscriminate rocket attacks, during the war with Hamas.
 
Canada’s objective now is the same as it was in my father’s time—
 
We seek a peaceful, two-state solution.
 
We seek a future where Arab and Jewish children grow up as neighbours, not as enemies.
 
Last week I met Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority.
 
I told him that Canadians of all parties stand ready to help a Palestinian state with humanitarian aid, technical assistance, and governance reform.
 
But there was a big “if”:
 
Canada can only help if Israel’s right to exist is guaranteed by all the governments in the region, and if she is forever safe from terror.
 
In the international arena, Canada cannot take part in international forums —like Durban II—that brand Zionism as racism.
 
We cannot approve resolutions in the UN that single out any nation for discriminatory condemnation.
 
My party’s position on these questions is clear.
 
But our chief duty—as citizens and as elected officials—lies at home.
 
It is a remarkable fact that the most powerful divisions in Canadian society often spring from conflicts far away from our shores.
 
The Middle East conflict is one of these, though it is only one.
 
In a multicultural society, we all have a responsibility to prevent conflicts overseas from dividing us at home.
 
How must we react?
 
As a Member of Parliament, I don’t get to choose whom I represent.
 
We have to represent all Canadians. We have a duty to accord equal respect to each community who make up our multicultural fabric. 
 
Equal respect means listening to everyone with consideration. It does not mean agreeing with everyone. It does not mean being neutral.  There are some lines we cannot cross.  
 
We cannot be neutral between a legitimate member of the United Nations and a terrorist organization.
 
We cannot be neutral between democracy and terror.
 
We cannot be neutral when plain historical facts are denied.
 
We cannot meet groups or appear on platforms with groups that have links or connections to terror.
 
Here are some additional rules.
 
We cannot say one thing in a synagogue and another in a mosque. Equality of respect means an obligation to be consistent.
 
We must also choose our words with care—and I’ve not always done so.
 
Our first duty as elected officials is to unite Canadians rather than divide.
 
As public officials, we need to do our part to define what is legitimate and illegitimate in our public debate about the Middle East.
 
Criticism of Israel is legitimate. Attempting to describe its very existence as a crime against humanity is not. That’s why my Party denounced Israel-Apartheid week.
 
Il est légitime de critiquer Israël. Mais il n’est pas légitime de vouloir qualifier son existence de crime contre l’humanité
 
Criticism of Israel is legitimate. Intimidating those who defend Israel on campuses is not.
 
Freedom of opinion ceases where intimidation and coercion begin.
 
Attacks on places of worship and study are never legitimate.
 
Several years ago my Party committed to providing $75 million for security upgrades to religious schools, community centres, and places of worship.
 
In September 2006, I visited an orthodox religious school in Montreal that had been firebombed.
 
The rabbi showed me the burn marks on the walls. I pledged to defend the school. The wise rabbi thanked me and added: “You know, the interesting thing is that it was the neighbours—and he pointed across the street—who raised the alarm.”
 
That, we agreed, is the best protection.
 
Every community needs to reach out, to cherish good neighbours and to cultivate good friends.
 
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict provokes passionate disagreement among Canadians—but it should never be allowed to damage academic freedom, nor should it divide Canadian communities.
 
I see no good reason why we should turn the Middle East conflict into a partisan political wedge.
 
Make no mistake, I’m proud of the Liberal MPs who have worked tirelessly in support of Israel and the Jewish community, and against anti-Semitism.
 
I’m proud that my Party contributed such a strong delegation to the London Conference on Combating Anti-Semitism in February.
 
But it is beyond reckless for political leaders to try to score points by branding one another as “anti-Israel”—to try to win votes by claiming a monopoly on supporting Israel.
 
My Party will never claim to be the only genuine defenders of Israel in Canadian politics—because I don’t want my Party to be alone in the defence of Israel.
 
I want all parties to be genuine defenders of Israel.
 
If we take care not to deepen the distrust between communities, then we can find consensus around the objective of peace.
 
That is the purpose of Canadian leadership. That is the potential of Canadian leadership.
 
And that is the faith we must keep.
 
Thank you.
 
 
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