Thursday, August 24, 2006

Cherniak and His So-called Liberal Party Values

Liberal party member and blogger Jason Cherniak took quite a self-righteous stand after it was announced that the party's deputy foreign affairs critic, Borys Wrzesnewskyj, had resigned over comments he made last week about how to deal with Hezbollah.

Cherniak enthusiastically backed the call by MP Carolyn Bennett for Wrzesnewskyj to bow out. Bennett and Cherniak were particularly offeneded by Wrzesnewskyj's use of the phrase 'state terrorism' to describe Israel's actions against the population of Lebanon during the war.

So, what exactly is 'state terrorism'? Here's one way to look at it:

State terrorism, like terrorism, is controversial and there is no generally accepted definition. Often acts that critics describe as terror, supporters defend as legitimate defense against perceived threats. Generally, the definition of terrorism does not extend to states in direct and open military conflict, if the actions of their armed forces are within the laws of war.

The laws of war are very specific:

Some of the central principles underlying laws of war are:

* That wars should be limited to achieving the political goals that started the war (e.g., territorial control) and should not include unnecessary destruction
* That wars should be brought to an end as quickly as possible
* That people and property that do not contribute to the war effort be protected against unnecessary destruction and hardship

To this end, laws of war are intended to mitigate the evils of war by:

* Protecting both combatants and noncombatants from unnecessary suffering;
* Safeguarding certain fundamental human rights of persons who fall into the hands of the enemy, particularly prisoners of war, the wounded and sick, and civilians; and
* Facilitating the restoration of peace.

That, of course, is a very facile summary and documents like the Geneva Conventions provide greater guidance and specifics.

There has been much public debate about whether Israel committed war crimes. Amnesty International has released a report containing violations of those laws of war by Israel (clearly identifiable war crimes) and has called for an independent UN investigation of Israel and Hezbollah's actions during the conflict. The ICRC and Human Rights Watch (whose members have been very forceful in condemning Israel's actions) have also launched their own investigations.

Therefore, the fact that the IDF was accused by Wrzesnewskyj of participating in 'state terrorism' is not something that ought to be given short shrift by anyone - regardless of what they believe about Israel's right to defend itself. It's a serious charge that merits objective inquiry. Anyone concerned about the state of Israel and its future needs to take a serious look at its actions. Simply being offended by the thought that it may have been involved in state terrorism is not good enough. It's incumbent on people who care about the country's future to be as honest as possible about all of its affairs - lawful and unlawful. Denying something out of hand does not make it go away.

Now, as to Cherniak's views about Liberal party 'values', while defending his stance backing the call for Wrzesnewskyj's resignation, he wrote this:

Clearly, it is those who attacked my position that do not represent the values of the Liberal Party. I hope this serves as evidence to Liberal Jews that they do still belong in the Liberal family.

First of all, those "Liberal Jews" who were offended by the Liberal party's correct reaction to Harper's distorted view that Israel's response to the kidnappings of two of its soldiers was 'measured' and 'justified' and left the party as a result made their choice based on their agreement with Harper's beliefs. Perhaps they'll be more comfortable with the Conservatives. No loss there. The Liberal party should not change its opposition to Harper's opinions just to suit them - or anyone. But, for Cherniak to then assert that 'Liberal Jews' can now rest assured that the party is in line with their views simply because it forced Wrzesnewskyj to resign is another thing.

Cherniak believes that his call for Wrzesnewskyj's ouster reflects Liberal party values. If those values include stifling dissent and responding in a knee-jerk fashion because it's politically expedient in order to put an end to a controversy (which it didn't), then he's right and Liberal leaders are just acting out of fear and embarassment - not actually exemplary values there.

If Liberal values mean turfing someone from a position in the party despite the fact that his expression of wanting a dialogue with Hezbollah actually reflects an earlier, obviously party-approved Liberal party statement on the situation, then Cherniak is seriously misguided or uneducated about his party's position:

From the Liberal Party of Canada web site:

Since its creation in 1948, Canadians have been committed to the existence of an Israeli state. We have also recognized that terrorist organizations like Hezbollah, which use tactics that the global community must condemn, present a threat to the existence of Israel and to a lasting peace in the Middle East. Israel must have the right to defend itself against an enemy implacably opposed to its existence, but the right of self-defence is always subject to international law. In the end, however, there must be moderators who can make a dialogue possible.

On a 2002 visit to Jerusalem undertaken as part of my duties as Canada’s foreign minister, I had the privilege of meeting with Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and then Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres. I will never forget his words, which to me embody the potential that our nation has to improve the situation in the Middle East. He told me “you don’t make peace with your friends, only with your enemies.”

It is vital for middle-power nations such as Canada to pursue a fair-minded and balanced foreign policy because it preserves our ability to act as an appropriate intermediary, helping to make peace between enemies, rather than simply validating the positions held by any one party. It is only by acting in this way that we can truly help our friends.
In framing our foreign policy, it is the responsibility of Canada’s leaders to ensure that our policies do not contribute to the import of hatred and violence that plague other regions of the world into Canada’s domestic political context. We have an obligation to all Canadians – particularly those that have come to Canada to seek a more peaceful life – to govern our words and actions to ensure we do not fan the flames of intolerance, here at home, and around the globe.

(That was obviously written by Bill Graham, who was the Foreign Affairs Minister in 2002.)

So, answer this for me Cherniak: which Liberal party values are you standing up for, exactly? And, are you sure they're your party's values or are they just your own?

The point was to put my opinion out there and stand by my beliefs. If Jews do not stand up against outrageous accusations that Israel practices "state terrorism", then who will?

You call them 'outrageous'. Much of the world community begs to differ, including many of your fellow Jews, Cherniak. Read Ha'aretz on a daily basis. I do.

If you want to counter accusations, present facts, not biased hyperbole. Stop deluding yourself by believing you speak for all Jews or the Liberal party. You don't.

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