Michael Ignatieff
Leader of the Liberal Party of Canada
Michael Ignatieff. Photo by Rhonda Spivak.
By Rhonda Spivak

The following are questions given to Michael Ignatieff, the leader of Canada’s Liberal Party who was in Winnipeg during an interview on April 24th, and his responses. The questions and answers are reproduced here not necessarily in the order they were asked.


SPIVAK: Do you think there should be an urban aboriginal reserve in Tuxedo [Winnipeg South]?

IGNATIEFF: I can’t comment on that directly. I need to talk to the Chiefs, I need to talk to the community leaders a bit more before I wade in there. You know there’s some issues there that I think I need to think about more before I get drawn in.


SPIVAK: What do you think of the approach of the Obama administration in dealing with Iran so far? First it tried dialogue, but now it has backed away from that ?

IGNATIEFF: I don’t think rapprochement is possible with the Ahmadinejad regime and I can’t believe that that’s the objective of the Obama policy. My sense of the Obama policy is [that it is designed to] contain the regime, isolate the regime, and deter the regime and that I think would be the core of a Canadian policy.

Now the issue is moving towards targeted sanctions, targeted in the sense that they target the core elements of the regime and try and avoid harming civilians in Iran. The thing that we have to get right is that there are a lot of people in Iran not only discontented with the A regime but seeking to move against it so if you are going to have a sanctions regime it’s got to target the regime and not cut off the legs of the civilian resistance to the regime and that’s the balance that Canadian policy and international policy has to follow. But, there can be no dealing with this regime. It just not an acceptable member of the international community

SPIVAK: How can sanctions target the regime without hurting Iranian civilians?

IGNATIEFF: I think there’s no question that we can target… the Revolutionary Guard, we can target some of the international holding companies that hold regime assets. [Liberal MP]Irwin Cotler has done wonderful work in thinking about that and marshalling international condemnation of the Iranian regime and also marshalling the instruments of international law to condemn the country for incitement to genocide. That’s been the core of Irwin’s campaign against Iran and it has my full support.


SPIVAK: What do you think about the Harper government’s defunding of KAIROS ?

[On November 30, KAIROS received notice from the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) that its project proposal for 2009-2013 had been declined, on the basis that its program did not fit CIDA priorities. In December 16, Jason Kenny Minister of Citizenship and Immigration said to the Global Forum to Counter Anti-Semitism in Jerusalem that “ We have defunded organizations, most recently, like KAIROS, who are taking a leadership role in the boycott [of Israel.]”

IGNATIEFF: I think there’s something gone badly wrong when a coalition of church groups that has a an established reputation for working in developing nations and doing good decent work is suddenly defunded by a Conservative government. I think it’s a bad decision, and we can’t understand its rationale. We think that KAIROS does good work and we would review the file again and see if whether our impression in opposition is right which is that these guys are going good work, let them get on with it.


SPIVAK: What do you think of the Harper government’s decision to stop Canada’s core funding of the United Nations Works and Relief Agency [UNWRA] in 2009. Instead of providing funds to general education or health programs by UNWRA in UNWRA’s general account, Canada specifically earmarked all Canadian funds towards food aid for Palestinian refugees.

IGNATIEFF: UNWRA has a 50-60 year record of providing for Palestinian refugees. I know that there is criticism that… they’ve lost their impartiality, they’ve become too controlled by Palestinian elements. So I ‘m aware of the criticisms of UNWRA but I would frankly want to review that decision if we were in government. I think UNWRA is a delivery mechanism for people in need, and I’d want to review that decision… I obviously don’t want don’t want Canadian money going to militants, I don’t want Canadian money supporting political extremism but equally I don’t want us to deny legitimate aid to,you know, civilians in need.

[For more on this issue of the shift in Canadian funding of UNWRA, see Rhonda Spivak’s article in the Jerusalem Post, Jan 13, 2010 reprinted here at the very bottom.]


SPIVAK: In January 2010, Canada announced it would be focusing its efforts on funding the Palestinian justice system, including building courthouses in Ramallah and elsewhere in the West Bank? What do you think of that direction in Canadian policy?

IGNATIEFF: When I was last in Jerusalem I talked to some Canadian officials who were involved in Palestinian policing and heaven knows the Palestinian justice system needs all the help it can get and its police and security systems need all the help they can get so these are long standing commitments of Canada and we would again support them provided that there are no ties to militant extremism, provided these are building capacity for legitimate Palestinian institutions.

SPIVAK: What do you think of the stated intention of the President of the Palestinian Authority Salam Fayyad to declare a Palestinian state unilaterally by the summer of 2011?

IGNATIEFF: The conditions for recognition for a Palestinian state are very complicated… I’m not going to be drawn into anticipating what Salam Fayyad may or may not do, or what the Palestinians may or may not do.

I’ve always been clear that I believe in a two state solution. I don’t believe Israel can be secure unless its got a viable Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, that can operate as a state, that has a monopoly of the means of force, that lives in peace with Israel and engages in economic partnership with Israel.

So, that’s where I think this has to end and I think that’s where this has to go, but there has to be an orderly process by which Palestinian statehood is achieved and that involves good faith negotiations with the Stare of Israel next door.


Ignatieff made the following statement which appeared in the National Post in regard to Israel Apartheid Week:

“On university campuses across the country this week, Israeli Apartheid Week will once again attempt to demonize and undermine the legitimacy of the Jewish state. It is part of a global campaign of calls for divestment, boycotts and proclamations, and it should be condemned unequivocally and absolutely.

Apartheid is defined, in international law, as a crime against humanity. Israeli Apartheid Week is a deliberate attempt to portray the Jewish state as criminal.

The activities planned for the week will single out Jewish and Israeli students. They will be made to feel ostracized and even physically threatened in the very place where freedom should be paramount — on a university campus.

Let us be clear: criticism of Israeli government policy is legitimate. Wholesale condemnation of the State of Israel and the Jewish people is not legitimate. Not now, not ever.

The very premise of Israeli Apartheid Week runs counter to our shared values of mutual respect and tolerance, regardless of nationality, race or creed. It is an attempt to heighten the tensions in our communities around the tragic conflict in the Middle East.

On behalf of the Liberal party of Canada and the Parliamentary caucus, I urge all Canadians to join with us in condemning Israeli Apartheid Week, and to reject, in principle, all forms of anti-Semitism, racism and intolerance, both within this country and around the world.”


By Rhonda Spivak, March 20, 2009

(*versions of this article below were published in the Canadian Jewish News and the Vancouver Jewish

Liberal Party Leader Michael Ignatieff says that the Iranian government must understand that the international community’s support for Israel’s existence is “backed up by credible deterrents.”

Ignatieff was referred to a recent statement made by Israel’s incoming Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the March 9,2009 edition of Newsweek. Netanyahu was asked by Newsweek whether he thought that short of military action it’s possible to halt Iran’s nuclear program. Netanyahu answered, “I think this regime is vulnerable to pressure that ought to be intensified. But none of these sanctions and other measures that are contemplated would have much of an effect if the Iranians believe that a military option is off the table.”

After referring to the above statement by Netanyahu, Ignatieff was asked if he agreed with Netanyahu. Ignatieff’s response:

“What I would say is that Iran has to understand that the international community is united on the proposition that you can’t deny the holocaust, and you can’t threaten any of your neighbors, and certainly not the Jewish state. And that means that the Iranian government has to be aware that those feelings, those views are backed up with appropriate military force…. so its backed up by credible deterrents. But I think it’s legitimate… to say no thoughtful Israeli and no thoughtful Iranian in my view wants this to come to conflict, and it would be a catastrophe for both sides. And Canada has always stood for peace. So… Canada has to stand essentially for three things: unequivocal condemnation of holocaust denying rhetoric [and] anti-Israeli rhetoric by the Iranian regime 2) commitment to credible military deterrence 3) commitment to demanding that Iran comply with the International Atomic Energy Association in respect of its domestic nuclear program; and 4) Canada has always said there are no military solutions in this region.

“At the end of the day, Iran is a great power. Israel is a legitimate democratic state. There are no ultimate military solutions to these problems. There has to be some kind of opening of the doors in which Israel and Iran eventually sit down and live in peace with each other. The alternatives are generally too horrible to contemplate. That doesn’t mean backing down form being totally clear to the Iranians, but I don’t want to encourage any saber rattling rhetoric, especially not at a moment when the President of the United States is beginning to open the door to discussion. And those discussions I’ve made clear have to include as the central item of business with the Iranians: you can’t talk to Israel this way, it’s got to stop. And if they stop, then things become possible. If not, we’ll be back in the deep freeze for a long time to come.”

Ignatieff was asked whether he would be in favour of trying to organize an explicit statement and commitment from a number of countries (West and East) regarding the safety of Israel that might be used to try to dissuade Iran from ever deploying nuclear weapons against the Jewish state. He answered:

“I think Iran is fully aware…[Israel’s] allies have made it perfectly clear that nuclear threats towards Israel are unacceptable and will be met with…uh there’s credible deterrence, lets put it that way. I don’t think the Iranian regime… is in any doubt about the determination of Israel’s allies to defend her.”

Ignatieff made a statement in the Gaurdian, in April 19, 2002, regarding the Palestinian territories. He was quoted then as saying:

“Two years ago, an American friend took me on a helicopter ride from Jerusalem to the Golan Heights over the Palestinian West Bank. He wanted to show me how vulnerable Israel was, how the Arabs only had to cross 11 km of land to reach the sea and throw the Israelis into it. I got this message but I also came away with another one. When I looked down at the West Bank, at the settlements like Crusader forts occupying the high ground, at the Israeli security cordon along the Jordan river closing off the Palestinian lands from Jordan, I knew I was not looking down at a state or the beginnings of one, but at a Bantustan, one of those pseudo-states created in dying years of apartheid to keep the African population under control.”

When asked to clarify what he meant by the above statement, Ignatieff responded:

“You know I think all my adult life [I’ve] made it clear that… it’s… illegitimate to compare Israel to apartheid South Africa and let’s be very clear why, because all citizens of Israel have equal rights. In apartheid South Africa, people were excluded from full citizenship on the basis of race. And that was denounced as a crime against humanity. So I’ve never ever in my life equated Israel and apartheid South Africa. I think what I meant in using the terminology that I used in that article in 2002 is something that I think is as evident to Israelis as it is to anybody else, which is that the only way out of the horror and the tragedy in the Middle East is a two state solution in which Israel has absolutely solid guarantees of its security and international legitimacy, and the Palestinian state is viable enough to survive. I think my choice of words was not of the best, but the point was not to equate Israel to apartheid South Africa but to say for Israel’s own security the Palestinian state that will eventually emerge in the West bank and Gaza must be viable. It’s not for me to say what viability amounts to. It’s not for me to define what the boundaries and frontiers should be. That’s between the two parties. But it ought to be viable.”

When asked if he was concerned about the clear rise of anti-Semitism in the European mainstream, Ignatieff responded:

“Well, it’s not just in Europe. I’m very concerned about the statements by Hugo Chavez of Venezuela. I’m very concerned about Durban II, the flagrant misuse of international UN bodies to promote this entirely false equation between Zionism as a kind of racism. We’ve been here with this for thirty years. So some of the phenomena of anti-Semitism is not new in Canada, and I’m aware there are Jewish communities in Canada that feel a degree of insecurity in Canada that they’ve never felt before.

“My predecessor [Mr. Dion] committed to work with… not just the Jewish community but any community that feels its security is in danger to make sure they have the means to protect and defend their schools,.. all their establishments, because the bottom line for me as a Canadian politician is that every Canadian citizen must have a right to be who they are, say who they are, affirm their identity proudly, and go about their business in security. And the general atmosphere out in the world is of increasing hostility to the Jewish people and Canada has to make a very clear statement that that’s unacceptable, that all citizens in Canada are entitled to go about their business in peace and security.”