Rights and Democracy: Memory lane

On April 14, 2008, Michael Ignatieff visited Holy Blossom Temple in Toronto to apologize for his belated, muddled, hastily retracted comments from the 2006 Liberal leadership campaign about the bombing of Qana, a Lebanese village, by the Israeli air force.

At the time, in 2006, Ignatieff made no public comment for weeks after the first flareup of the Israel-Hezbollah war, before saying on Tout le monde en parle that “what happened in Qana was a war crime.” Later, he appeared on another show to insist that he hadn’t called the war crime either Israeli or Lebanese, becoming the first known proponent of the theory of virgin-birth war crimes. Compounding confusion on confusion didn’t seem to help. For a while he was promising to visit the Middle East on a fact-finding mission, before announcing his invitation was rescinded so he needn’t go. It was a huge mess.

In 2008 he began wiping the slate clean in preparation for another leadership run. He wrote a long article in the New York Times magazine apologizing for his earlier support of the Iraq war, and he visited Holy Blossom Temple to try to get the Qana business behind him.

There he is in the photo above, which accompanied this Toronto Star account of the event. The man with him is Aurel Braun, the University of Toronto law political science professor. The Star story says Braun spoke before Ignatieff and laid out the threats to the state of Israel. In this account, Braun mocks Ignatieff for having praised the authors of the book The Israel Lobby, whom Braun compares to Barack Obama’s then-nemesis, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. In this account Braun presses Ignatieff on the idea of “disproportionate response” by the Israelis to enemy attack.

So Michael Ignatieff had a really difficult night at a very public event with Aurel Braun. The sort of night he would, one imagines, very much hope would be the last he’d face on these issues. Seven months later Ignatieff was leader of the Liberal Party of Canada. And four months after that, the Harper government appointed Aurel Braun as board chairman of Rights and Democracy. In the wake of the recent unpleasantness, Ignatieff called last week for an independent inquiry into the goings-on at Rights and Democracy. But if he doesn’t push very hard on the issue, nobody should be too surprised.

Looking for more?

Get the Best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.