There has been much discussion - and misunderstanding - about B’nai Brith Canada’s position regarding Jocelyn Coulon, handpicked by Liberal leader St ?phane Dion to represent the party in the Sept. 17 Outremont by-election. Our outspoken calls to Dion to dismiss Coulon, in light of the candidate’s well-documented anti-Israel bias, have generated passionate debate, which reflects positively on Canadian democracy. We welcome energized, vigorous debate involving all citizens in an informed public policy process.
We take great exception, however, to those who seek to deny us the right to express our opinion, and who have attacked not our position but our reputation. Columnist Jos ?e Legault (Gazette, July 27) accused us of gratuitously branding Coulon "anti-Israel" without having done our homework.
The very opposite is true. Legault has only to perform a cursory Internet search to turn up Coulon’s voluminous writings on the Middle East. It is only after careful review of these commentaries that we came to the conclusion that his "hostile attitude toward Israel, his anti-U.S. rhetoric and his calls to end the isolation of a government controlled by Hamas, a terrorist group banned in Canada" ought to disqualify him as a Liberal candidate.
Such viewpoints leave Coulon out of step with his own party’s official Middle East policy. Of great concern to us is his open call for greater acceptance of Hamas, a group whose avowed aim is the destruction of Israel, as well as his overly na ?ve view on Iran, a dangerous human-rights-abusing regime, which he apparently feels has been the victim of "Western propaganda" and not the menace that it truly is. Among the more egregious of Coulon’s writings is this : In September 2004, he wrote that America deliberately "massacres civilians." He states that the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks have become a justification for the "massacre of Muslims in Palestine, Afghanistan, Chechnya, Pakistan and Iraq, by the Israelis, the Americans and their allies." Repeatedly, including in February 2006, February 2007, April 2007, and June 2007, Coulon has called on Canada and the West to "negotiate" with Hamas. He qualifies as absurd the ongoing refusal of the West to engage in dialogue with this terrorist group, which he labels innocuously as "troublemakers." In March, he wrote that "Islamic terrorism" is an "insignificant threat" and that Iran is a menace that can be "easily neutralized." These views are disturbing in their outright dismissal of the dangers faced by Israel’s citizens at the hands of terrorist groups and their state sponsors, which offer psychological as well as financial and operational support. The well-being of Israel and the right of its citizens to defend themselves against terrorist attacks is a matter of concern to Canada’s Jewish community and to Canadians in general. That these views emanate from an individual touted as a Liberal "star" candidate, who is reportedly being groomed to be the party’s point man on Middle East issues, is surely a matter of concern to the electorate. Surely it is within our right as a Jewish advocacy group to bring these concerns to public attention.
Legault is certainly entitled to her own opinions on this matter, but she is not entitled to dismiss our view as irresponsible simply because she disagrees with it. We are at a further loss to understand why she invoked Yves Michaud and the recent cartoon by La Presse’s Serge Chapleau as examples of false campaigns waged by B’nai Brith against the reputation of these individuals. Surely she cannot be rushing to the defence of these individuals, whose public expressions drew outcries from diverse quarters across Canada, including the Jewish community, which was after all the direct target of Michaud and Chapleau’s insensitivity and offensiveness.
Legault then leaps from taking exception to our position on Coulon to belittling our documentation of anti-Semitism in Canada, without any basis in fact. Her claim that we besmirch the good name of people without "weighing the possible consequences" is both disingenuous and astounding in light of her own baseless attack on B’nai Brith’s reputation. Moreover, she has failed in the end to mount any challenge whatsoever to the concerns raised by B’nai Brith.
As discussion surrounding Coulon’s candidacy continues, as we hope it will, we wish for civility to prevail and that it not be replaced by falsehoods and manipulations. If Quebecers are to engage in informed and meaningful political debate, they need to be aware of the facts. This is the kind of responsible activism we put into practice at B’nai Brith and we hope that Legault will not be so quick in future to cast aspersions on our reputation.
Since 1875 B’nai Brith has dedicated itself to promoting the human rights of all Canadians - including the right to freedom of expression and the full participation of all communities in the political process. Yes, Ms. Legault, words do carry consequences, and yours serve to stifle political debate, while our aim is to further it.
Mo ?se Moghrabi, a lawyer, is legal counsel to B’nai Brith Canada - Quebec Region.