Sunday, October 15, 2006

Alan Dershowitz, in this article, expresses a similar anxiety about Michael Ignatieff's opinion concerning Israel's attack at Qana. He also shares my initial affection and respect for Ignatieff and allows him the benefit of a doubt.


There are several possible answers. The first is that he simply misspoke in the course of an interview in which he wanted to make up for his past misstatement. If that is the case, he should be accused only of carelessness. The second possible explanation has far greater implications for his candidacy to lead a great political party.

It is possible that he believes that even if the Israeli killing of Lebanese civilians was an unintended consequence of its efforts to prevent rocket attacks against its own civilians, it was still a war crime. Such a view would reflect a perverse and dangerous approach to international law that would make it nearly impossible for democracies to protect its civilians from terrorists who launch rockets from civilian population centres. It would also encourage other terrorist groups to emulate the tactic employed by Hezbollah in its recent war against Israel: to use local civilians as human shields behind whom the terrorists fire their rockets at enemy civilians. This gives the democracy only two choices: to protect its civilians by destroying the rocket launchers even if that means some civilians will inevitably be killed; or do nothing and allow its own civilians to be targeted. Faced with this choice of evils imposed by the terrorist, every democracy would chose to protect its own civilians, as Israel did.

Yet there are some who would deem such legitimate self-defence to be a war crime. Most prominent among them is Canada's own Louise Arbour, a former justice of the Supreme Court of Canada and currently the United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights. Even before the war in Lebanon was over, Arbour rushed to judgment and threatened "personal criminal responsibility" against Israeli generals and political leaders for their attacks on areas in which civilians live. Her benighted view is that any shelling of cities -- regardless of the threat posed to Israeli civilians by rockets being fired from these cities -- "constitutes a foreseeable and unacceptable targeting of civilians." Let's be clear what this means: If Hezbollah (or Iran) were firing nuclear or biological weapons at a democracy from Beirut (or Tehran), the democracy would be committing a war crime if it tried to destroy the enemy rockets by pinpoint bombing, as long as there was any "foreseeable" risk to civilians. This formulation would make war criminals out of the United States, Canada, Great Britain and all the Allies during the Second World War and in the current war against terrorism.

Here is sharper criticism by Clifford Orwin directed at Ignatieff, though expressing basically the very same concerns I have and which Mr. Dershowitz delineated with such clarity:

But he did say it, and so felt called on to unsay it, by making his recent equally injudicious remark. Having earlier alienated Muslims, one erstwhile Liberal constituency, he has now atoned by offending Jews, another.

Late yesterday, Mr. Ignatieff issued a statement reaffirming his lifelong support for Israel and its right to defend itself, and describing Qana as a "terrible human tragedy." He did not clarify or allude to his recent remark about the war crime.

Is Mr. Ignatieff condemned to lurch from one wrong to another, hoping that somehow the two will make a right? Is this his sorry version of even-handedness? The usual likenings of him to George Bush are partisan, malicious and unfair. But, to quote the late Ann Richards's great line, Mr. Bush was born with a silver foot in his mouth. Will this prove Mr. Ignatieff's epitaph as well?

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