Bob Rae target of anti-Semitism in recent Liberal leadership contest Joan Bryden, Canadian Press
Published: Friday, December 08, 2006
Joan Bryden, Canadian Press
OTTAWA (CP) - Bob Rae was the target of anti-Semitic attacks during the Liberal leadership contest, motivated at least in part by the fact that his wife is Jewish.
Sources close to Rae say that his wife, Arlene Perly Rae, was approached during last weekend's convention by a delegate who didn't realize she was the candidate's wife. The delegate told her not to vote for Rae "because his wife is Jewish."
Perly Rae stonily informed the delegate that she was the wife in question. The delegate beat a hasty retreat.
The incident might have been shrugged off if it had been an isolated event. But Rae team insiders contend it was part of a larger pattern of anti-Semitic smears on Rae, who finished third.
A flyer was circulated electronically among convention delegates denouncing Rae for having once delivered a speech to the Jewish National Fund, a group the flyer said was complicit in "war crimes and ethnic cleansing."
"Rae's wife is a vice-president of the CJC (Canadian Jewish Congress), a lobby group which supports Israeli apartheid," said the flyer in bold letters superimposed over a close-up of Rae's face.
"Bob Rae supports Israeli apartheid. Don't elect a leader who supports apartheid."
The Canadian Jewish Congress has condemned the flyer and blamed Khaled Mouammar, president of the Canadian Arab Federation for circulating it. The federation has, in turn, accused the CJC of making "a pitiful attempt to discredit" it and has denied producing or distributing the flyer.
Nevertheless, in a release Thursday, the federation supported the content of the flyer.
"CAF believes that Canadians have the right to know the factual information provided" in the flyer, the federation said.
It went on to say that the Jewish National Fund manages all state lands in Israel and allows only Jews to live on such land, a "practice that amounts to ethnic cleansing," and added that "Canadians have the right to know who supports the JNF in Canada."
The flyer was produced and e-mailed to all MPs by Ron Saba, editor of an obscure magazine called Montreal Planet. But The Canadian Press has obtained an e-mail from Mouammar, in which he forwarded the flyer to others. Several days before Saturday's leadership vote, it wound up being posted on a website operated by an immigrant advocacy group.
Mouammar wrote on that website that the flyer had "nothing to do with Bob Rae's and his wife's religion and ethnicity but has a lot to do with their political views."
"It is well-known that Bob Rae himself is hostile to Palestinians and Arabs," Mouammar wrote.
He added that "his wife's leadership position in the Canadian Jewish Congress (CJC) should be a matter of concern to everyone" and went on to condemn the CJC as "an ardent supporter of Israel, lam basts (sic) anyone who dares to criticize Israel and resorts to undermining human rights and civil liberties to protect Israel's war crimes."
Ed Morgan, president of the Canadian Jewish Congress, called on the Liberal party Thursday to denounce the flyer.
While it's legitimate to criticize a candidate's position on the Middle East, Morgan said there can be only one purpose in raising the fact that Rae's wife is a member of the Congress's board: "It's strictly to say that his wife is a Jew."
But the flyer wasn't the only example of anti-Semitic attacks on Rae.
On another website, operated by a Montreal-based pro-Palestinian group, Liberals were urged about a week before the leadership vote: "Do not vote for Bob Rae, we're not looking or another Zionist PM."
The group recommended that delegates vote for Gerard Kennedy, the fourth-place contender whose dramatic decision to throw his support to Stephane Dion after the second ballot clinched the victory for Dion. It said that "voting for Bob Rae is a vote for the daily massacre in Palestine (and) . . . for a new Zionist PM in Canada."
Rae could not be reached for comment Thursday but insiders say he was aghast and hurt by the attacks.
The smears have raised broader questions about the role that blocs of ethnic delegates played at the convention in securing a stunning, come-from-behind victory for Dion.
On the opening day of the leadership convention, the Muslim Canadian Congress blasted "self-styled leaders from the Muslim community" for suggesting they could direct Muslim delegates to vote en masse for the candidate of their choice.
"Muslim delegates at the convention are not a herd of cattle for sale to the highest bidder," Muslim Canadian Congress vice-president Salma Siddiqui said in a release.
Siddiqui, a supporter of frontrunner Michael Ignatieff, accused Mohamed Elmasry, head of the Canadian Islamic Congress, of trying to bargain with leadership candidates on behalf of some 200 to 300 Muslim delegates.
Heading into the convention, the CIC had interviewed the top contenders and ranked Dion and Kennedy as the "most desirable potential winners," based on their track records and stands on "vital national and international issues." Rae was next while Ignatieff ranked as the least desirable of the top four.
Elmasry said Thursday that Siddiqui's charges were "nonsense" and "an insult" to Muslim delegates, implying that they had "no brain of their own."
He said the CIC held a breakfast meeting with the top four candidates last Saturday morning, just before voting on the second ballot began, to give them all an equal chance to impress Muslim delegates. He said the council was trying to engage and educate Muslim delegates, not herd them.
Elmasry added that he assured Rae that his wife's religion "is not an issue for us."
But Tarek Fatah, a Rae supporter and member of the Muslim Canadian Congress, said appeals to "tribalism" went well beyond the Muslim delegates. He said Kennedy, despite his claim to represent party renewal, was the candidate who benefited most from the support of Muslim, Sikh, Ukrainian and Tamil blocs, who moved en masse to Dion after the second ballot.
"This is a step back," Fatah said in an interview, adding that Kennedy has "taken us back to the '30s and '40s" when Catholics and Protestants voted in blocs.
"It's tainting the political system where policies aren't being discussed but race, ethnicity and religion (are pivotal)."
Toronto MP Navdeep Bains, who is credited with moving 237 Sikh delegates from Kennedy to Dion, said Fatah's complaints are simply "sour grapes."
"Like anyone else, as a member of Parliament and as a member of the community, you try to exert as much influence as you possibly can," he said in an interview.
"That's what it really boils down to, the ability to exert influence and try to convince people about the right decision. But ultimately, the delegates made up their own minds."
Bains said the group of delegates he influenced were not only Sikhs but from a variety of ethnic backgrounds.
Kennedy could not be reached for comment.
Race and religion at the Liberal Party convention
By TAREK FATAH
The Globe and Mail
Rev. Francis Xavier is the father figure of Toronto's vibrant Tamil community. His question to Bob Rae at a meeting with Canadian Tamils a few days before the Liberal Party convention was typical of the role played by the leaders of some minority racial and religious groups in blatant efforts to wield political muscle.
The diminutive Father Xavier did not mince his words in laying out the price for the support of the 45 Tamil Canadian delegates to the Liberal convention: "Mr. Rae, I am great fan of yours and you have done a lot for the Tamil community as premier of Ontario, but will you promise to delist the Tamil Tigers from Canada's list of terrorist organizations, if you become leader of the Liberal Party and prime minister of Canada?"
Mr. Rae replied that if Tamil Canadians wanted the Tigers to be delisted, they should pressure the LTTE to do what Yasser Arafat did with the PLO and Nelson Mandela did with the ANC. "Firstly, there can be no military solution to the war in Sri Lanka and, second, if any politician promises you that he will help delist the LTTE as a terrorist organization, he is not telling the truth," he said. His response did not go down well -- and nary a Bob Rae button was to be found on the 45 Tamil Canadian delegates at the convention.
In the months leading up to the Montreal convention, several groups such as this could be found bargaining the price of their cadre of delegates. Besides supporters of the Tamil Tigers, the groups included Kurdish backers of the imprisoned Abdullah Ocalan, remnants of the pro-Khalistan Sikhs, and Islamist Muslims.
Perhaps the most influential of these groups would turn out to be the Khalistani Sikh Canadians, many from areas west of Toronto, who voted en masse for Gerard Kennedy in the convention's first and second ballots.
Bob Rae had advised the Liberal government on the public interest in an inquiry into the 1985 Air-India bombing. It would come back to haunt him. The bombing featured in some of the exchanges when Mr. Rae addressed a South Asian event in Montreal on Friday.
When Mr. Rae slammed the terrorists responsible for Canada's worst act of terrorism, he found little support in the room. "He is referring to all Sikhs as terrorists," one delegate said to a B.C. senator campaigning for Mr. Rae. "Not true," the Senator said, but the delegate simply walked away.
Another religious group, the Canadian Islamic Congress, organized by Mohamed Elmasry, sent out a mass e-mail to its members with the subject line: "More Canadian Muslims than ever before will help determine Liberal Leadership Outcome."
A religiously observant breakfast was arranged for Muslim delegates to the convention, and one Kennedy delegate organizing among the Muslim community sent out a letter to the country's mosques, asking for Muslims to vote "en masse" for one candidate. The Islamic Congress had given Mr. Kennedy an A grade, while listing other hopefuls on a scale from a B to an F.
This led to a spirited response from Ignatieff delegate Salma Siddiqui, who is a vice-president of the secular Muslim Canadian Congress. "Muslims are not a herd of cattle to be sold to the highest bidder," she responded.
Then, during the convention, the president of the Canadian Arab Federation, Khaled Mouammar forwarded a mass e-mail to Muslim delegates. The e-mail, with the subject line, "Don't elect a Leader who supports Apartheid," had a picture of Bob Rae with the following text plastered over his face:
"Rae's wife is a Vice President of the CJC, a lobby group which supports Israeli apartheid and Israel's illegal Apartheid Wall. . . . Bob Rae supports Israeli Apartheid. Don't elect a leader who supports Apartheid."
It became a popular refrain. On Friday, a group of delegates coming from a breakfast arranged by the Canadian Islamic Congress taunted me: "Is Bob Rae going to be the prime minister of Israel or the prime minister of Canada?"
Two rookie MPs, Omar Alghabra, a Muslim, and, Navdeep Bains, a Sikh, held the strings of as many as 400 delegates in the Kennedy camp. When the time came, these delegates moved as a bloc to Mr. Dion.
Stéphane Dion may not know this, but his victory came in part through a political process that feeds on racial and religious exploitation. I respect the diversity of Canada, but I want to celebrate what unites us, not what divides us into tiny tribes that can be manipulated by leaders who sell us to the highest bidder.
Why the Liberal Leadership Campaign Sucked, Part 4