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An Open Letter to Michael Ignatieff, April 24th, 2008

Bruce Katz | 03.05.2008 00:00 | Palestine | London | World

An open letter to Michael Ignatieff on his speech delivered at Holy Blossom Temple in Toronto in which Mr. Ignatieff apologized for having stated that Israel's 2006 attack on the United Nations observation post at Qana was a war crime.

An Open Letter to Michael Ignatieff, April 24th, 2008

by Bruce Katz

Bruce Katz is a founding member and current Co-President of Palestinian and Jewish Unity/ Palestiniens et Juifs Unis (PAJU), a member of the executive committee of the Coalition for Justice and Peace in Palestine, and a member of Independant Jewish Voices.

L'État est le plus froid des monstres froids. Il ment froidement; et voici le mensonge qui s'échappe de sa bouche: Moi l'État, je suis le peuple.*
-Friedrich Nietzsche

Dear Mr. Ignatieff,

I would put it to you that the above-cited quotation from Nietzsche is as sharp an observation as can be made on the nature of the State when the latter is made the vehicle of sophistry and cynicism by those who seek power not as a means to an end (that being the betterment of society) but rather as an end in itself. I would also put the case to you that Nietzsche's appreciation of the State incarnates the nature of Zionism's use of the State of Israel as the personification of world Jewry; that as a nationalist ideology which inherits the notion of ethno-cultural purity from Johann Gottfried Von Herder's romantic notion of the nation-state, Zionism succeeded in absorbing Judaism into the idea of the State, thereby secularizing and ethnicizing Judaism while emptying it of its messianic, transcendant nature and its strict moral code which issues from precepts of the Torah and the Mosaic Code. In other words, in order to create the New Hebrew Man ( le nouvel homme hébreu ) as Yakov Rabkin coins the term in his book, Au nom de la Torah, une histoire de l'opposition juive au sionisme, it was first necessary to evacuate the transcendant nature of Judaic normative principles in order to substitute the State for the God of the Israelites. The State, however, cannot itself be Judaism, and no amount of sophistry will make it so.

The worship of the State as a religious object is quite simply idolatry, the worship of the Golden Calf, and in the case of the State of Israel, its worship should be called Israelism and not Judaism. To claim that they are one and the same is a falsehood; to claim that the State of Israel is the embodiment of all the world's Jews is not only a lie, but a dangerous one, for you see, Mr. Ignatieff, if the State of Israel is guilty of crimes inflicted upon a neighbouring people – and it is – and if the extrapolation is made that this State guilty of grievous war crimes also embodies world Jewry, then all Jews are made to share a collective guilt with this State, though many Jews oppose that State's criminal actions. This results in a growing anti-Jewish sentiment caused not by an extant anti-semtitism which is everywhere prevalent, but caused by the actions of that State. That is why I continue to say that the gravest danger posed to the security of Jews everywhere is the present segregationist policy of the government of Israel – reminiscent of Jim Crow laws in the U.S. and the apartheid system of South Africa in the past – all of which underscores the need for Jews to distance themselves from the hegemony of the State of Israel by making a conscious distinction between Israelism and Judaism. I offer this as a preface to the rest of my letter to you, Mr. Ignatieff, which I have written subsequent to your visit to Toronto's Holy Blossom Temple this past April, 2008, at the invitation of the Canadian Coalition for Democracies, an event at which you «apologized » for the « error » you had made when, in 2006, you described Israel's attack on the United Nations observation post at Qana as a « war crime ».

I mention in passing that you made the comment on a popular Quebec French-language program at a point in time when you wished to curry favour with popular sentiment in Quebec which was strongly critical of Israel's attack on Lebanon (Quebecers' attitudes toward the Lebanese conflict in 2006 are further proof of the Quebec population's endorsement of the rule of law and its move to pluralism). I remind you that some time after that initial attack, Israel's Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, admitted that the attack on Hezbollah had been planned before the latter attacked an Israeli patrol and took two of the Israeli soldiers captive.

In effect, I do not know what your real views on the Israeli attack on Lebanon were or even if you had any real views at that point other than that of Henri IV's famous dictum: «Paris is worth a mass», to which you appear to have been converted easily enough. In any case, it does not seem to me that your concern for human rights which you share with your colleague, Mr. Cotler, Liberal critic for the question of Human Rights, can be separated, in your case, from the needs of realpolitik such as it may be reflected by the latest poll, whatever that may happen to be.

In your address at Holy Blossom Temple, Mr. Ignatieff, you stated that an « IDF investigation into the matter » - the « matter » being the attack at Qana – has concluded that « the other side systematically altered evidence about Qana to put Israel in a bad light. » Come now, Mr. Ignatieff, do you really think that the Israel Defence Forces would launch their own investigation to condemn their own actions? Are you familiar with many military forces that undertake their own investigations to confirm their own possible wrong-doing? Are you implying that the United Nations altered evidence relating to Israel's attack on its observation post? Did the U.N. invent the repeated calls that it made to the Israeli military to stop the bombing of the U.N. post at Qana?

You claimed, Mr. Ignatieff, that Hezbollah precipitated the Lebanese conflict of 2006 by « raining rockets down on northern Israeli towns and had taken Israeli soldiers hostage. Like any state, Israel has the right to defend itself. » If memory serves me correctly, the conflict began with an exchange of fire at the border and the killing of eight Israeli soldiers and the capture of two other soldiers. After several hours of relative tranquility, Israel launched rockets against Lebanese villages killing numerous civilians taken by surprise. After a number of hours following Israel's rocket attack, Hezbollah launched its own rockets against Israeli towns.

I do not condone attacks against any civilian population; unlike yourself, I include Israel's unwarranted attack against Lebanese civilians among these heinous crimes. To pretend that Israel suffered anywhere near the loss of civilian life and damage to infrastructure as that suffered by Lebanon and the Palestinians in Gaza borders calumny. To reinvent the order of historical events so as to please one's audience is something less than forthright.

You said in your speech that « Israel should be held to the same standards of conduct, in relation to human rights and the laws of war, as any other state, neither more nor less.» A worthy statement, indeed! When has your party, the Liberal Party of Canada, applied that principle in its foreign policy agenda? It was a Liberal government in 2004 that abstained from voting at the United Nations on the question of Israel's separation wall which was ruled as being in violation of international law by the International Court of Justice. When the Harper government cut aid to Gaza after a fully democratic election held under the noses of international observers, did your party protest? What position has your party taken on Israel's total blockade of Gaza which has caused and continues to cause unmentionable suffering to the Palestinians there? When has the Liberal Party insisted on the application of U.N. Resolution 242 calling upon Israel to move its troops back to the Green Line and end its illegal occupation of Palestinian territories, thereby dismantling its settlements as part of that process? What have you and your party said about the continuing and fervent construction of more Israeli settlements on confiscated Palestinian land subsequent to the Annapolis round of «negotiations » (which was simply an exercise in public relations)? You talk about a two-state solution, but what kind of Palestinian state are you talking about – a Bantustan state of loosely connected Palestinian reservations built on the seven or eight per cent of Britsh–mandate Palestine still left to the Palestinians? Do you really think that mere rhetoric can be a substitute for real peace negotiations based on the principles of justice and equity?

What of the plight of the Palestinians, Mr. Ignatieff. You, a great humanist, a defender of human rights, yet with nothing to say about the Occupation? Nothing to say about the absolutely dehumanizing conditions in which the Palestinians live, particularly in Gaza. Nothing to say about that, Mr. Ignatieff? Nothing to say about a racial law which prevents Palestinians and Israeli citizens from marrying for reasons of demography, nothing to say about by-pass roads built for the use of Jews only? What of your colleagues, respectively critic for human rights and critic for external affairs, Mr. Cotler and Mr. Rae (hard-core Zionists both)? Have they nothing to say as well? Your party , along with the Conservative Party of Canada, has played the race card targeting Canadian Arabs and Muslims for purposes of political expediency in this age of the « war on terror.»

Permit me to quote from an article written by a member of the Canadian-Arab community who was present at the Holy Blossom Temple to hear you speak. Mr Sam Mokbel writes ( « The Birth of Michael Ignatieff as a Politician »):
«Another very disturbing statement by Mr. Ignatieff was made during
the question-answer period. He stated as a matter of fact that Hezbollah
was using Christians as human shields during the war. No one ever in
Lebanon has made such accusations. Either Mr. Ignatieff is privy to
some very highly classified information or he is playing a sectarian
card. What's particularly disturbing about this statement is its potential
to incite religious hatred between Muslims and Christians and make Christian
in Canada look at Hezbollah as targeting their religion.»

Hezbollah is far from angelic, I grant, but I have no knowledge of Hezbollah targeting Christians in the way which you claimed, as described by Mr. Mokbel. If you are privy to such information why not share it with the public? What Mr. Mokbel calls a « sectarian card,» I would call the «race card». Apparently, the Liberal Party of Canada is not above using it.

Further on in his article, Mr. Mokbel makes reference to a gentleman present in the audience that evening who introduced himself as an Iranian Jew, and who « tried to express his views by saying that he thinks there is a lot of misinformation being presented by the audience and the speakers about Iran and the Muslims in general . . ». According to Mr. Mokbel, a certain Alistair Gordon moved to the back of the room, tapped the Iranian Jew on the shoulder and said something to him, at which the Iranian gentleman handed the microphone over, cut off in mid-speech. Hardly an exercise in democracy by an organization which calls itself the Canadian Coalition for Democracies!

Mr. Mokbel ends his article with a caveat:

«I left the event that evening very worried. I was worried about what's
happening to the Liberal Party of Canada and about the selective
practise of democracy. But I was mostly worried about the future of
Israel and the Middle East and its people. Instead of Israel's friends
encouraging it to take steps towards enabling a dignified existence
for the Palestinian people and Lebanese people and make peace with
its neighbours, they keep pushing for ever more uncompromising positions.
They are pushing Israel and its people against a wall.»

Mr. Mokbel expressed his concern not for states as such, but for the welfare and security of the peoples living in the region, be they Israelis, Palestinians, Lebanese or other. You, on the other hand, Mr. Ignatieff, expressed concern for the political interests of your own party. In effect, your rather complacent offering made at the altar of political correctness was made for purposes of electioneering as was clear enough by your call to Canadian Jews not to vote « en masse » for the Conservative Party of Canada in the next elections. If that was the crux of your visit to Holy Blossom Temple, you need not worry. Canadian Jews will not vote en masse for the Conservative Party no matter what a spate of extremely well-heeled individuals who claim to speak for all the Jews of Canada may say. Jews here will no more vote en masse for Stephen Harper than the American Jewish electorate voted for George W. Bush in the last U.S. presidential election. If you remember correctly, the same bevy of neo-conservatives as those who claim to speak for all Jews here in Canada boldly stated that American Jews would vote Republican en masse because of George W. Bush's policy on the Middle East. Statistics showed subsequently, however, that seventy-five per cent of the American Jewish electorate voted for Democrat, John Kerry. There is no tradition among Canadian Jews of voting for parties with a pronounced right-wing agenda.

The problem is that there is no substantial difference between the domestic and foreign policies of the Liberal Party of Canada and the Conservative Party of Canada, and I would put the case to you that were your party given power tomorrow, there would be virtually no difference in the way a Liberal government would govern from the actual direction of the present Conservative government. Take the question of Lebanon. Was your party's position on the 2006 conflict pointedly different from that of the Conservative government? I think not. Did you or your party stand against the recent amended Security Certificate legislation which is essentially an assault on the very principle of habeas corpus? Only two Liberals opposed it. I salute them. You were not one of the two, Mr. Ignatieff.

It was your former leader, Mr. Martin, who moved Canadian troops in Afghanistan southward into the heavy fighting for a cause originally inspired not by any real wish to democratize Afghanistan but for the real objective of exploiting the enormous oil and natural gas reserves in the basin of the Caspian Sea which could not be moved southward through Iran for political reasons, but could be moved through Turkmenistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan to the sea by pipeline from where a multinational oil company like Texas-based Unocal could service the Asian market (Hamid Karzai was an advisor to Unocal). That has failed miserably, but our troops are still there. Correct me if I am wrong, Mr. Ignatieff, but did you not shake Mr. Harper's hand on the floor of the House of Commons as you congratulated him on committing Canadian troops to more action on the ground in Afghanistan?

I could say a good deal more about the dearth of any real political vision in this country and why I think that Canada has become a vassal state in an empire which is in sharp decline, but it would not register with you or your party. Winston Churchill once remarked something to the effect that the difference between a statesman and a politcian is that the politician worries about the next election while the statesman worries about the next generation. Hence the problem with the Liberal Party of Canada: it is chock-full of politicians, but has no statesman.

Cordially yours,
Bruce Katz

* The State is the coldest of cold monsters. It lies coldly, and here is the lie which issues from its lips: I, the State, am the people.
- Friedric Nietzsche

Bruce Katz


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