Prime Minister Harper once again amazes me with how unlike the rest of the politicians he is. Where countless would hem and haw, blurring differences to gain points in today's Canada where Israel is widely (and wrongly) seen as victimizing its Arab neighbours, a Canada whose present politics is suffused (and hence corrupted) with trade in victim figures, Mr. Harper just speaks plain truth and refuses to trade. His is a commitment to moral clarity that is so refreshing, not the least because he will not pander very much to the many irrational pieties spoken in the name of Canada's pre-eminent, but nonetheless incoherent, ideology: multiculturalism, the ideology in which one is not supposed to favor a strong, western democracy and nationalism over its immiserated Other, no matter how psychotically totalitarian and murderous is the Other's ideology, as is Hezbollah's and much of the Arab world's.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper has defended his staunch support of Israel's war against Hezbollah militants, in front of a receptive audience of B'nai Brith Canada members.Well now, Mr. Ignatieff, the ball is back in your court. How exactly can the pandering in your party, including that of your campaign co-chair, Denis Coderre, to anti-Israel opinion on the question of the recent war not be construed as evidence of a more general anti-Israel opinion? Can you really feign neutrality in a war between a modern western democracy and a totalitarian terrorist organization that hides among civilians whose lives it will sacrifice with little thought, in the name of some apocalyptic fantasy ideology? You say you are a friend of Israel but that you must criticize its methods when Israel crosses some line. So how would you respond to Alan Dershowitz's clear explanation that your calling Israel guilty of war crimes is ludicrous? Let me remind you what Dershowitz says:
"When it comes to dealing with a war between Israel and a terrorist organization, this country and this government cannot and will not be neutral," Harper told the Toronto crowd.
Harper came under fire during the war for calling Israel's invasion of Lebanon a "measured response" against Hezbollah militants, who captured two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border raid in July.
"This summer, we were mercilessly attacked by the Opposition for the position we took on the Middle East," said Harper.
"I understand that with the news reports of the day, and the sound of battle, the images of destruction and the suffering of innocents, that it is sometimes difficult to see and keep the focus on what is truly at stake.
"But the fact is this: those who attacked Israel, and those who sponsored such attacks ... seek the destruction of Israel of the destruction of the Jewish people."
Harper has used his staunch support of Israel to attack the Liberal leadership candidates, whom he recently accused of taking "anti-Israel" positions.
That accusation was partly in response to a comment made by Michael Ignatieff. He argued that an Israeli strike on the Lebanese village of Qana, in which 28 civilians died, was a war crime.
Last week, B'Nai Brith called on interim Liberal Leader Bill Graham to distance his party from Michael Ignatieff's remarks.
Ignatieff has since said it would be up to international bodies to determine whether a war crime was committed. And during an impassioned speech in Toronto last Friday, Ignatieff fired back at Harper for what he called a disgraceful personal attack.
"Stephen Harper used my statement that war crimes were committed in this (Mideast) conflict to launch a personal attack on me and on my colleagues running for the Liberal leadership of Canada. Mr. Harper's comments were a disgrace, a disgrace for a man who holds an office that is supposed to represent all Canadians," he said.
"There is no basis whatever for Mr. Harper to suggest that the Liberal party is biased against Israel. The prime minister showed a profound lack of respect to the Official Opposition and a profound lack of respect to the Canadian people who elected them." Link...
Ignatieff has surely seen the videos and other indisputable evidence that Hezbollah was launching rockets from areas near the building that Israel bombed. He surely knows that Israeli intelligence was completely unaware that Lebanese civilians were hiding in the building. He cannot reasonably believe that the Israeli air force deliberately intended to kill the civilians in the building. Why then would he characterize the resulting tragedy as a "war crime?"Finally, Mr. Ignatieff, if you become Prime Minister, how do you propose to protect us from a totalitarian enemy that is growing in this world, even here in Canada? Will you just blame Israel and America and hope the crocodile eats us last? Or will you grow a spine like Harper's once the season of pandering - to what I can only honestly call the anti-Israel sentiment in your party - is over? We might argue over how general is this anti-Israel sentiment, or how specifically it is related to recent events. But to deny that some such sentiment is out there is to deny reality; and to get all self-righteous, as did all the Liberal leadership front runners, that Mr. Harper pointed to this ugly reality is childish grandstanding. Is that what we want in a Prime Minister?
There are several possible answers. The first is that he simply misspoke in the course of an interview in which he wanted to make up for his past misstatement. If that is the case, he should be accused only of carelessness. The second possible explanation has far greater implications for his candidacy to lead a great political party.
It is possible that he believes that even if the Israeli killing of Lebanese civilians was an unintended consequence of its efforts to prevent rocket attacks against its own civilians, it was still a war crime. Such a view would reflect a perverse and dangerous approach to international law that would make it nearly impossible for democracies to protect its civilians from terrorists who launch rockets from civilian population centres. It would also encourage other terrorist groups to emulate the tactic employed by Hezbollah in its recent war against Israel: to use local civilians as human shields behind whom the terrorists fire their rockets at enemy civilians. This gives the democracy only two choices: to protect its civilians by destroying the rocket launchers even if that means some civilians will inevitably be killed; or do nothing and allow its own civilians to be targeted. Faced with this choice of evils imposed by the terrorist, every democracy would chose to protect its own civilians, as Israel did.
I promised last week to say more about Bob Rae's non-policy on the Middle East. I hope to get to that soon to show that there is indeed a problem general to the Liberal party, and not just to one of its leadership candidates.