by Zalman Amit
14 October 2006
There is no question that the item that dominated the news programs of the
Canadian national networks in the past few days was: Did Israel commit war
crimes, and if so, what is the price of admitting it?'
First some background:
The current ultra Conservative Government in Canada is a Minority
government. Ergo, elections are going to take place, at most, in a matter
of months. At the same time, the Main current opposition party (but the
historically traditional Canadian ruling party), the Liberals, are in the
final throws of electing a new leader. The leading candidate, at this
moment, is Michael Ignatieff, a Canadian Harvard professor for the past 30
years. Quite typical to our times, Ignatieff, who portrays himself as a
left of Center thinker, did not, nevertheless, hesitate to adopt a rather Right
Wing positions that seemed to have emanated from his long term residence
in the US. For example, He supported the War in Iraq, the Canadian
involvement in Afghanistan and more recently supported the Conservative Government Quest to extend the Military mission in Afghanistan to 2009.
On the other hand, the Conservative Government adopted, right from its
inception, a strong, Bush type, Pro-Israel position, a Pro-Bush Position
and a blatantly reactionary social agenda.
The Jewish Community in Canada (approx. 250.000 persons) was and perhaps
still is a staunch supporter of the Liberal party.
Like in the US, the popularity ratings of the Conservatives, while
initially rather high, started to decline, in part, due to the involvement in
Afghanistan (very unpopular among Canadians), the blind support for the
very unpopular Bush, but also because of several statements in support of
Israel's campaign in Lebanon. The most noteworthy comment by the
prime-Minister was that the bloody destruction of Lebanon which was
criticized by, just about, the entire world (except for the US and
Australia) was actually a measured response. In this context, one must
note that in the bombing campaign in the initial phase of the war, an entire
Canadian family of eight people was killed. This did not seem to bother
the Prime Minister; however, the almost immediate drop in his rating forced
him to issue a very diluted and very partial retraction. Again, it is of
particular importance to remember that most of the support losses for the
Conservatives were in Quebec where criticism of the war in Afghanistan and
the Canadian support for Israel were very high.
It is also worth remembering that because of the peculiar nature of Canadian elections, it is virtually impossible to win an election without some solid support in Quebec.
The Opposition Liberals, sensing an opportunity for the upcoming
elections, began to, increasingly, criticize the Canadian Afghani mission as well as very gingerly adopt a somewhat critical position of Israel's Conduct in
Lebanon. This resulted in a loud and even vicious howl from the
establishment leadership of the Jewish Community. The most noteworthy
event was the announcement by the leading figures of the Jewish Community,
Heather Reisman and Gerry Schwartz (previously staunch supporters of the Liberal Party) that they are leaving the Liberal party and moving their support to the Conservatives. The Reisman-Schwartz couple are among the wealthiest
people in Canada and even though, Canadian law restricts the amounts that
can be donated to Political parties, the announcement of the 'Switch' came
as a mini-shock.
Back to Ignatieff and the Liberals:
This mini-shock may be the reason for the utterly stupid statement made by
Ignatieff immediately following the killing in Kufr Qana where 28 innocent
civilians were killed by the Israelis. When asked about it, Ignatieff
responded in a Dan Halutz fashion and said that he 'didn't lose sleep
The reaction of the Arab/Muslim community (outnumbering the Jewish
community by a margin of about 12-15%) was swift and immediate.
Last weekend, Ignatieff was interviewed in a very popular Quebec (French)
program. The interviewer asked him about his statement concerning the
killing in Qana. Ignatieff responded by saying that it was a horrible
error which he deeply regrets in no small measure because it was clear that, in
fact, Israel committed a war-crime in Qana.
This comment by Ignatieff climbed immediately to the top of the news and
was received with a shocked sense of amazement. The fact that Ignatieff
managed to antagonize both the Muslims and the Jews at the same time left the
pundits shaking their heads. Even more so, the fact that he dared
antagonize the all powerful Jewish community seemed to have defied belief. The
pundits began to, openly, speculate about whether Ignatieff completely destroyed his chances of being elected Liberal leader (and of possibly being the next Canadian Prime-Minister) and about the size of the exodus of Jews from the Liberal party. Indeed, two notable events took place almost immediately.
A Liberal parliament member hitherto the co-Chair of Ignatieff's own
Leadership campaign announced that she is resigning as Ignatieff's
co-chair. In addition, Ariela Kotler (Begin's ex-personal secretary), the wife of the ex-Justice Minister (Irwin Kotler) in the last Liberal Government
announced, in a letter to a newspaper, that she is leaving the Liberal Party. Wow.
Ignatieff, sensing that he is in a most precarious position tried to do
the impossible, the stand by his position and support Israel at the same time.
That was received in Quebec by a loud laughter. When the noise did not
abate, Ignatieff announced this morning that he accepted an invitation to
visit Israel next month where he hopes to learn more about what is going
on. Pathetic? Indeed. (Ed. Note: This trip was apparently cancelled.)
Ignatieff may in fact have booby trapped his future as a political leader
in Canada (I certainly hope so). However, the apparent power and position of
the Jewish community has left many political observers shaking their
The fact that the community blatantly took a position based exclusively on
support for Israel without any concern for critical internal and external
Canadian issues, is something that is not likely to pass without paying a
price. The fact that a community that is seen to wield that much power
(despite its absolute small size) feels sure enough of itself to seemingly
place a foreign country's interests above those of their own country will
clearly come back to haunt the community. This is particularly so since
the size of the Jewish community is gradually declining over the years while
the size of the Muslim community is increasing rapidly.
Moreover, the ability of the Muslim community to impact election results by an increasingly effective strategic voting pattern, is something that the spin doctors are only now starting to focus on.
In conclusion, whether Ignatieff is still in the leadership race or not is
besides the point. The fact that his removal from the contest because of a
comment he made about Israel clearlyl points to the power of the Jewish
Lobby in Canada. Traditionally, lobbies in Canada are much more limited in
their ability to influence. Should the Jewish Lobby be successful in its
attempt to affect the Canadian political process, it may be very relevant
to the recent discussions about the American Jewish Lobby following the now famous article by W & M.
Zalman Amit is a founding member of ACJC - Alliance of Concerned Jews of Canada, and Professor Emeritus in Psychology at Concordia Univeersity, Montreal.