Let Ignatieff speak his mind

In August, Liberal leadership candidate Michael Ignatieff was interviewed on Radio-Canada’s Tout le monde en parle, where he discussed the war between Lebanon and Israel.

During the interview, Ignatieff said he wasn’t “losing sleep” over civilian deaths in Lebanon. The comment went largely unnoticed, but suddenly reappeared when Igatieff was interviewed on Tout le monde on Oct. 8 and asked to clarify his August comment.

“I showed a lack of compassion,” he said in French. “It was a mistake. And when you make a mistake, even off the cuff, one must admit it.”

“I was a professor of human rights. I am also a professor of rights in war. And what happened in Qana was a war crime. And I should have said that, that's clear.”

What followed after Ignatieff denounced as a “war crime” Israel’s missile strike on the Lebanese village, in which 28 civilians died, could only happen in today’s political world:

Susan Kadis, MP for Thornhill—a Toronto riding with a large Jewish population—withdrew her support for Ignatieff’s campaign. She was the co-chair for his Toronto-area campaign; Prime Minister Stephen Harper accused most of the Liberal leadership candidates of exhibiting an anti-Israel bias;

Ariela Cotler, the wife of Liberal MP Irwin Cotler and a prominent Jewish community leader, said she tore up her Liberal membership card because of Ignatieff’s remarks;

Ignatieff, while not retracting his comment, later said war crimes were “committed on both sides” of the war. Last Friday he said he would visit Israel next month.

Whether or not Ignatieff is the right person to lead the Liberal party (and possibly the country) isn’t the point of rehashing last week’s hoopla; the problem is the knee-jerk reaction that arises after a public figure speaks critically about Israel and the Middle East or any other major international conflict.

Ignatieff should be able to criticize Israel’s bombing in Qana without fearing for his political life —especially since President Olmert later apologized for the civilian deaths, and human rights groups called the bombing a war crime.

What’s more, anyone who makes an intelligent criticism about Israel shouldn’t fear being labeled an anti-Semite. The rush to shower hate upon Ignatieff is counter-productive to speaking openly about a complicated international issue.

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