Sunday, October 15, 2006

Ignatieff's Flip Flop


The big question in Canadian politics this past week has been, “What does Michael Ignatieff really believe?”

Last summer, the leading candidate for leadership of the federal Liberal Party of Canada shocked many when he said the death of 29 Lebanese civilians at Qana, due to an Israeli air strike was no big deal; that he “wasn’t losing any sleep over it” – or, for that matter, any of the other “collateral damage” in Lebanon. Then, this past week, in a French language interview, when pressed on this issue, he reversed himself, saying that in fact this very incident at Qana was a war crime. And as a profesor of internation human rights law he was certain of this. He apologized for making insensitive remarks last summer.

The official Canadian Jewish community is apoplectic. The Jewish chair of Mr Ignatieff’s campaign in Ontario resigned. The Israeli born wife of Canada’s former Justice Minister under the Liberals, announced she was quitting the Liberal Party. The Conservative Prime Minister, Mr Harper, accuse all Liberal’s of being anti Israel, and thanked Mr Ignatieff for exposing their true colours. Mr Rae, another leading candidate for the Liberal leadership, whose wife and children are Jewish, called Mr Harper a liar, and said he is and has always been pro Israel. On Saturday Mr Ignatieff announced that he had been misunderstood, and that he was making a trip to Israel in November, to meet with old friends and show support. (Rumour has it he will walk all the way from Ben Gurion Airport to the Yad VaShem Holocaust memorial on his knees.)

But the question most Canadian columnists have been asking is what does Mr Ignatieff really believe about Israel’s actions in the Lebanon war. And how could he reverse himself so totally so quickly. Is he inconsistent? Opportunistic? Not careful with his words?

The truth is that he is remarkably consistent – just a bit too honest. Given Ignatieff’s loud and public support for the war in Iraq, his stated position in favour of legalizing torture (“regulating” it, as he would have it), and his passionate support of extending and expanding Canada’s mission in Afghanistan, his true position should be clear. Ignatieff believes that Israel’s actions in Lebanon were war crimes, and he isn’t loosing any sleep over it. In other words, war crimes are just the price other people have to pay for securing “our freedoms.”

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