Cotler calls Tory leaflet on Israel 'scandalous'


Trying to divide Canadians, MP charges




The Harper government and opposition Liberals traded barbs yesterday over taxpayer-funded mailouts that argue over which party is the strongest supporter of Canada's Jewish community.

The dispute started because of a Conservative leaflet, featuring images of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, that has been mailed to homes across Canada and criticizes the Liberals for sending "confusing messages" about their views on defending Israel and fighting terrorism.

But Liberal MP and former justice minister Irwin Cotler described the mailout as a "scandalous" attempt to create a wedge issue to divide Canadians.

"This is shocking," said Cotler, following a Liberal caucus meeting. "This is the kind of thing that the Conservative Party should really apologize for. This has no place in Canadian politics."

The leaflet is among dozens of mailouts from federal politicians that annually cost millions of dollars from their parliamentary budgets.

It stated the former Liberal government had willingly participated in an international conference promoting anti-Semitism and wanted to delist Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. It also highlighted comments made by Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff, who accused Israel of a war crime for actions taken during a 2006 conflict with Hezbollah in Lebanon.

"This is totally misleading, it's false, it is with the stamp of approval of the leader (Harper) on it, and it basically tries to associate the Liberal Party with anti-Semitism," said Cotler, who is Jewish.

While Ignatieff has apologized for his comments about the 2006 conflict, Cotler said the Liberal government attended the 2001 conference at the request of Israel, which later praised Canada for denouncing racism at the event. The former justice minister also noted he was in the government when Hezbollah was listed as a terrorist organization.

Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism Minister Jason Kenney defended the leaflet, explaining it was highlighting public statements and actions by Liberals.

The Conservatives countered that Liberal MPs have used their own parliamentary budgets to send similar messages to Canadian households about Harper's views on Canada-Israel relations. One message from the Liberals noted that Harper has been repeatedly invited to Israel but has not gone. It also highlighted comments made by Conservatives in a newspaper report that they saw the Jewish community as the ticket to victory in the next election.

The Liberal leaflet also featured a quote from Ignatieff saying his party would never claim to be the only genuine defenders of Israel in Canadian politics because he wants all parties to play that role.