Michael Ignatieff: Candidate Called Israeli Attack on Lebanese Town a 'War Crime'

Historians in the News

Michael Ignatieff, a former Harvard professor running for the leadership of Canada's Liberal Party, is facing a political uproar over remarks in which he labeled as a "war crime" Israel's deadly bombing of the southern Lebanon town of Qana.

Ignatieff, a noted human rights scholar and the front-runner in the race to lead the party, said in a French-language radio interview Sunday that the July 30 Qana bombing, which killed 28 civilians, "was a war crime, and I should have said that."

The co-chairman of Ignatieff's Toronto campaign, Parliament member Susan Kadis, abruptly quit the campaign Wednesday, and Canadian Jewish groups sharply criticized the candidate. Israel's ambassador to Canada, Alan Baker, said Thursday that Ignatieff's statement was "upsetting and disappointing."

Kadis said Ignatieff should "have a better handle on the Middle East."

The Lebanese civilians were killed when an Israeli warplane bombed a residential building in Qana. Israel said that it did not know civilians were in the apartment building and that Hezbollah fighters had fired rockets from nearby sites. U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan rejected Israel's explanation. He noted after the bombing that an Israeli bombardment had killed more than 100 Lebanese civilians at Qana 10 years earlier and said Israel was "causing death and suffering on a wholly unacceptable scale."

The controversy is a blow to Ignatieff, who holds a narrow lead in the party race ahead of its convention at the end of next month. The party leader would become prime minister if the Liberal Party regains control of the government, which it lost to the Conservative Party in January. Ignatieff, who was born in Toronto, left his Harvard post last year to win a seat in Parliament.

To try to quell the uproar, he issued a statement Wednesday in which he said he has been "a lifelong friend of Israel." He described the Qana incident as "a terrible human tragedy where innocent civilians died in a conflict that saw unjustified tragedies on all sides." He later told reporters, "War crimes were visited on Israeli civilians; they were visited on Lebanese civilians."

Ignatieff's recent comments were made in an attempt to apologize for his remarks on Qana in August. Then, he said the bombing was made during a "dirty war" and noted he was "not losing sleep" over it.

"I showed a lack of compassion. It was a mistake," he said Sunday on the Quebec talk show.
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