Ignatieff on Anti-Semitism

Speech to the Inter-parliamentary Coalition for Combating Anti-Semitism

Michael Ignatieff, PC, MP

Leader of the Opposition

Ottawa, Ontario

November 8, 2010

Merci. Bienvenue à Ottawa.

As the Leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, I’m here to say that the cause that you are united around today does not know partisan division.

Our party is proud to endorse the London Declaration. In fact, as I read the London Declaration I thought to myself, had there been a London Declaration in 1936, the history of our would be different.

And so we are united today in the fervent hope and the determined belief that we want to make anti-Semitism nothing other than a terrible memory rather than a part of our lived present.

We’re here in Ottawa to identify a new phenomenon – the new anti- Semitism. One of the things that I never thought I would live to see as a person of proud Russian heritage, is to see the disgrace and vile Tsarist forgery: the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, circulating in the 21st century, on the Internet.

That’s one way to describe this new and hateful phenomenon.

I never thought that I would live to see a world in which you could go into a UPS depot or a FedEx depot in Yemen and send a package loaded with explosives to blow up a synagogue in Chicago.

This is the reality that we have to stand together against.  This is what we have to fight.  And we have to say whatever our origin, whatever our politics, whatever our past, whatever our religions, whatever our faith – anti-Semitism is not just a threat to the Jews, it’s a threat to every single one of us and to all humanity.

And in Canada which thinks of itself as a place of tolerance and decency, a haven in a heartless world, a refuge for those who are tormented and have escaped persecution as my family did – from the persecution of Communist Russia – we have innocence in Canada that we need very urgently to shed.

Some of my innocence on the issue of anti-Semitism was shed in September of 2006 when I went to a religious school in Montreal and with my own eyes – as some of you did I’m sure as well – saw the sight of what a firebomb does to a religious school.  You see the stain of black smoke on the walls.  You realize how close this came to horror and disaster.  It was stopped, in fact, because compassionate neighbours phoned the police and fire department to make it stop, but we came very close to something terrible.

And then a year later, again in Canada, this time in Mississauga, I had the unfortunate experience of visiting a mosque whose windows had just been broken. Canada cannot be innocent. Canada cannot be naive. Canada cannot take its tolerance in multiculturalism, its respect for others for granted.

This is a fight that we have to win every day against the forces of intolerance and injustice.

We also have another obligation as citizens of a democracy and in this Parliament of Canada which we are proud to serve, we have an obligation as democratic citizens to defend democracy.

When we look at the Middle East, we see a democracy under siege as Israel defends itself against terrorism and the Palestinian people suffer under the shadow of extremism.

The Middle East conflict both fuels and is fuelled by this vicious, modern anti-Semitism. Too many people use the conflict in the Middle East as an excuse to fuel their hatreds. There is no justification. There is no excuse for this hatred. But it seems to me mere prudence to say that eliminating anti-Semitism does require a commitment to peace.

Two states for two peoples. Justice and security for the people of Israel.  Justice and security for the people of Palestine.

But let us also be very clear – a democratic state like Canada cannot be neutral as between a democratic state and terrorist organizations. There is no honest broker between those two.

Our position must be clear – democratic states have a right to be recognized, to live in peace, they have a right to defend themselves, they have a right to the recognition of their neighbours. They have a right to live in peace and security. Canada must never equivocate on that question.

There is another issue about which we need to be very clear – that is to understand the distinctions between legitimate criticisms of the policies of the government of Israel and those criticisms which de-legitimize the state itself. Not every criticism of the government of Israel is anti-Semitic.

But there is a form of criticism of the state of Israel which passes into active de-legitimatization of a recognized democratic state.  I refer, of course, in my own country to Israel Apartheid Week. Israel is Israel. Apartheid South Africa was a crime against humanity – to conflate the two is to de-legitimize a democratic state and Canadians must stand against it.

A democratic society like Canada must always create a space where it is possible to criticize any government – including our own – including the state of Israel, but not to de-legitimize those governments.

But that is what has happened on Canadian campuses. When a protest against Israeli government policies becomes a protest against Israel’s right to exist, it crosses the line.

When Israel Apartheid Week makes it impossible for Jewish students to stand up and affirm their point of view and identity, it also crosses the line.

Et en tant que parlementaires, en tant que députés démocratiques, nous avons le droit de nous lever et de dire haut et fort, c’est inacceptable dans les campus et les universités du Canada.

Let us also be clear what our obligations entail on the international stage. We should seek to end the parade of one-sided anti-Israel resolutions at the United Nations.

We should use whatever influence we have to restore balance to the work of the United Nations’ human rights bodies. We don’t claim that Israel is perfect, but singling out one country for repeated denunciation while ignoring the human right abuses of others is a flagrant misuse of the United Nations and its principles.

Nor is it acceptable for Canada to take any part in what Irwin Cotler so famously called the “festival of hate” at Durban.

We cannot be part of international organizations and international groups which single out one state, to the exclusion of all others, for unique and single condemnation. It’s unacceptable. This poisons the wells of democratic debate on the international stage.

We must also be very clear about Iran. We must be very clear that the anti-Israel Holocaust-denying rhetoric of the president of Iran and the government of Iran, is utterly unacceptable on the international stage. Canada cannot be in the room when this occurs.

If you will allow me to say one slightly less than partisan note: To claim a defeat as a moral victory seems to me to be a mistake.

To have lost the seat on the Security Council of the United Nations is a defeat, especially if you think and realize that it is at the Security Council of the United Nations that sanctions against Iran are going to be deployed.

If Canada wishes to defend Israel against Iran, as it should, it would have been nice to be on the Security Council of the United Nations and I don’t see how we as Canadians can avoid acknowledging that fact. ¸

But what is done is done. Now Canada must stand somewhat more on the sidelines to speak out against the strategic threat that Iran presents not just to Israel but to all the states in the region. And we must add our voice to those who think that the Republican Guard should be added to the list of terrorist organizations.

Ultimately, we must defend Canada as a proud defender of the tolerance, a proud defender of the fairness, a proud defender of the justice that we have always stood for on the international stage.

When I was at a meeting on Friday night in Peel, there were a thousand Canadians in the room, and as I went from table to table as a politician does I was struck by the number of Canadians who have come here and made a home escaping from horror overseas.

I talked to a Christian group from Iraq who just had their churches firebombed in Baghdad this very week.  I talked to Ahmadiyya- Muslims who just had their mosque firebombed in Pakistan.

I have just spoken to members of the Jewish community who could cite examples of desecration in their graveyards in countries around the world.

This is very close to us. This is very intimate to us. This is very important.

Canada must stand with all of you under any government – Liberal, Conservative, or whatever the people decide.  We must stand against this form of hatred which destroys everything that we love and fight for in our home and native land.

Thank you very much.

Author: Matthew Zachary Gindin

Freelance journalist and teacher. I write regularly for the Forward, All That In Interesting, and the Jewish Independent, and have been published in Religion Dispatches, Situate Magazine, Elephant Journal, and elsewhere.

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