How quickly can a superhero lose his cape? Well, for one Canadian politician, it can happen in a matter of seconds with just a few premature and ill-considered words.
Stockwell Day, the leader of Canada's official opposition Canadian Alliance Party, quickly fell from the graces of the country's Muslim and Arab communities when he openly criticized Chretien for supporting the recent United Nations resolution condemning violence against Palestinians.
Day, whose party stands on a platform of religion and family values, enjoyed strong support from Canada's Muslim community for his social conservative views on abortion, homosexuality and support for equally funded private schools. The response from Canada's estimated 550,000 Muslims was unprecedented. Indeed, a number of people who never before gave any thought of politics took out membership in the newly formed party. Unlike any other Canadian politician before him, Day was able to garner a great deal of support from the Canadian Muslims, who actively worked to recruit members and candidates to run on the Alliance ticket in the upcoming elections. Day was seen as a hero, a knight in shining armor to those disillusioned with other political parties.
But that support quickly deteriorated shortly after his support for Israel was made public. On October 7, the Canadian government supported the Malaysian-sponsored United Nations Security Council Resolution 1322, which called on Israel to use restraint in dealing with Palestinian protesters. The resolution pushed forward by several European countries also called for an international inquiry into the cause of the violence. The U.S. agreed not to veto in exchange for U.S. amendments and the council passed the watered down resolution 14 to 0.
Day and his foreign affairs critic, Monte Solberg, issued the following statements against the Canadian government position:
"I am disappointed that the Chretien government appears to be openly taking sides in this crisis by passing Resolution 1322," said Day. "The resolution is clearly slanted with an anti-Israeli bias. I am not sure we will further the cause of peace if we as a nation join in the finger pointing, rather than working with both sides co-operatively."
Since then, Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy and the Liberal party have come under attack by the pro-Israel lobby in the country as well as Jewish Liberal Member of Parliament (MP) Irwin Cotler, a strong supporter of Israel.
Cotler, in a knee-jerk reaction typical of most pro-Israeli Jews said, "This kind of resolution, which singled out Israel for discriminatory and differential treatment and appeared to exonerate the Palestinians for their violence, would tend to encourage those who violently oppose the peace process as well as those who still seek the destruction of Israel."
It is tragic that Cotler, a professor of human rights laws and a leading figure in the field of international human rights law, would conveniently forget Geneva conventions and UN resolutions condemning Israel for previous human rights violations.
The pressure is mounting on the Liberals to rescind the resolution. In fact, Day and Cotler were joined in their chorus by the pro-Israeli lobby mouthpiece, the National Post. The Post, owned by media baron Conrad Black and Israel Asper, has run article after article criticizing Canadian support of the resolution. An Oct. 13th article titled "Is the Jewish love affair with Liberals over?" warned Axworthy to ease up on Israel or risk losing Jewish support. The same day the Post published an editorial with the heading "Support Israel", saying, "It is not too late for Lloyd Axworthy, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, to rewrite the final chapter of his career before he retires...If the UN does not amend its anti-Israel resolution, Canada must rescind its vote."
Not everyone has bought in to the half-truths of the pro-Israel lobby. New Democratic Party foreign critic, Svend Robinson, issued a statement supporting the government position and calling on the government to insist on an international inquiry into the situation, as called for by the UN Security Council resolution as well as Amnesty International.
Moreover, five Liberal MP's, Mark Assad, Yvon Charbonneau, Sarkis Assadourian, Colleen Beaumier and Joe Fontana, issued a joint statement against Cotler's opposition to Canada's support of the UN resolution. And a sixth MP, Jim Karygiannis, who addressed pro-Palestinian demonstrators of more than 3,000 in front of the Israeli consulate in downtown Toronto over the weekend, said during an interview with iviews.com that "Cotler should go and see what is happening before commenting, he should not speak before having all the facts."
The decision to support Israel was a very big miscalculation on the part of Day and his advisors. His attempt to win the Jewish vote in Canada will cost him in the long run. Reports estimate the size of the Jewish community in the country to be around 400,000 to 450,000. This compares to about 300,000 Arabs, both Muslims and Christians, according to figures from the Canadian Arab Federation.
Day and his advisors appear to have not taken into Consideration a few key variables in forming their policy. Day did not consider the fact the Canadian Jews have established roots in other political parties and are not likely to vote as a bloc in support of the Alliance. Additionally Muslims, who are eager to join the political process, are growing at a much faster rate than the Jewish community. Day and his advisors also failed to take into consideration that the issue of Jerusalem and the plight of the Palestinians would unite both Muslims and the Christian Arab population at the polls.
A number of Muslim community leaders held an hour-long conference call with Day and the Canadian Alliance over the weekend. Day reportedly agreed to take Muslims into confidence before making future policy decisions affecting Muslims and agreed to work not only for peace, but also for peace with justice in the Middle East.
It may have been wiser for Day to remain silent on the issue initially. Yes, sometimes silence does pay. But now is not the time to remain silent. Day must repair the damage done and reach out to the community. Day must come out with a public statement to right the wrong.
(Faisal Kutty is a Toroto based lawyer and a regular contributor to iviews.com.)