Senators spar over Mideast policy
A Canadian senator has all but accused federal Justice Minister and Mount Royal MP Irwin Cotler of running the country’s Middle East policy.
By RON CSILLAG
01 December 2005
Marcel Prud’homme, a longtime anti-Israel gadfly, rose in the Senate last week to ask "whether it is true that the real minister of foreign affairs pertaining to the Middle East, who is vetting every word of every resolution, is not the minister of foreign affairs, Mr. Pierre Pettigrew, but the honourable member from Mont Royal."
Prud’homme, an independent from Quebec appointed to the upper chamber in 1993, wondered whether Cotler, the Jewish member for the Montreal-area riding, "is responsible in cabinet for vetting every word, comma and paragraph of anything pertaining to the Middle East."
Prud’homme’s explosive query began as a tirade against Canada’s votes at a United Nations committee that considered nine Arab-sponsored resolutions condemning Israel.
On Nov. 14, Canada voted against Israel seven times, abstained once, and supported Israel once. That was the day after Prime Minister Paul Martin delivered ringing support for Israel at the United Jewish Communities General Assembly in Toronto.
But Prud’homme chided Canada for its one vote supporting Israel.
"To the embarrassment of many, Canada voted with the Federated States of Micronesia, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau, Tuvalu, United States, and Israel," he said.
"In case there is doubt, you vote in good company," Prud’homme continued. "This time, good company abstained from voting. Everyone abstained. Canada is the only country that put its neck out with these great new allies of Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau, Tuvalu and Micronesia.
"Why were we voting in that manner at the United Nations? Are there any developments I am unaware of, so I can visit these new allies of Canada and ask them what is going on?"
If Cotler is vetting Canada’s Mideast policy, "it is disturbing to know that the minister of foreign affairs has been eliminated."
At that point, Senator Jack Austin, leader of the government in the Senate, explained that Canada’s UN votes on the Middle East are "based on an attempt to be constructive... We find [the resolutions] lack fairness and balance, so we try to encourage a more innovative approach to drafting these resolutions than has been the case in the past."
Austin said it’s "no secret" that UN resolutions on Israel and the Palestinian question "have been quite polemical and are designed for political positioning rather than based on the merits of issues.
"Canada seeks to have these resolutions based on a pragmatic and reality-driven formula, which allows the parties to enhance the possibility of their dialogue."
Austin said Canada follows a policy of "offering both criticism and support of Palestinian and Israeli practices or their failures to live up to their obligations, and we are consistently strong in condemning acts of terrorism."
Recently appointed Liberal Senator Yoine Goldstein of Montreal replied that Pettigrew would be "particularly disturbed and upset" if he found out that Cotler was setting Canadian foreign policy.
Goldstein asked whether Ottawa follows the policy enunciated by Martin on several occasions that Canada is a friend and ally of Israel.
"Does the government of Canada accept the assertion by [Martin] that Canada and Israel share common values? That is what the prime minister said. Is that the policy that is followed by us in the United Nations and elsewhere?"
Austin replied that what Martin said about Canada’s relationship with Israel or the Palestinians "is the policy of Canada."
Goldstein told The CJN that Prud’homme’s questions about Cotler should not be taken seriously because they are "manifestly ridiculous."
"At least by now he should recognize that he can no longer spout this sort of thing with impunity."
© Canadian Jewish News 2005
Canadian Jewish News, Intenet Edition