TORONTO - While delegates to last week's Canadian Jewish Congress national plenary couldn't have been more delighted with Stockwell Day's rousingly pro-Israel speech, in which he pinned much of the blame for Middle East violence squarely on Palestinians, the remarks have also had the following effects:
They managed to further alienate him from some of his remaining supporters; they raised the ire of the government, which accused him of seriously deviating from, and possibly undermining, Canada's longstanding policy of neutrality in the Mideast conflict; and they have led to calls for his resignation from Canadian-Arab groups (one of which has threatened to sue him for inciting hatred against Arabs).
At a news conference in London, Ont., on Saturday, angry representatives of Arab and Muslim groups called for Day's ouster.
"He is not fit to be the leader of the Opposition," said Munir El-Kassem of the Canadian Islamic Congress. "A national leader is expected to unite all segments of society, not to instigate racial hatred and intolerance."
In his call for Day to step down, El-Kassem was joined by Atif Kubursi, president of the National Council of Arab-Canada Relations, which earlier had threatened to sue Day over his remarks to the CJC.
"Mr. Day is not entitled to foment strife amongst communities," said Kubursi. "He is not entitled to build his faltering leadership on a maligned people."
Those comments came a day after the Canadian Alliance leader tried to soften his remarks.
Day rose in the House of Commons on Friday to state: "The Canadian Alliance supports the right of the State of Israel to exist within safe and secure borders, and the right of Palestinian people to negotiate for self-government through the peace process. We condemn any terrorism on any side of this complicated conflict.
"I want to assure all Canadians that this remains my position, the position of our party, and reflects my speech earlier this week."
Day also wrote a letter to the National Council of Canada-Arab Relations, but stopped short of an apology - the only thing the council says would preclude a lawsuit against Day.
CJC was quick with a defence for Day.
Legal threats against the Opposition leader are "an attempt to put a chill in those politicians who feel unconstrained about voicing their honestly held views," said CJC president Keith Landy. "It's unfortunate that Day even went so far as to seemingly back off from his earlier statement. Had nothing to apologize for."
And if Day is sued, "we'll do our best to ensure he has the best legal counsel."
Jewish officials were thrilled at Day's hard-hitting 30-minute speech on May 7, which was supportive of Israel beyond anyone's expectations.
Referring to mortar attacks against Israeli targets, Day said to applause: "It is certainly not plausible that these attacks are occurring without at least the knowledge or the tacit approval of some in the Palestinian police and their superiors. These are facts.
"We know," he continued, "that paramilitary organizations, including the Hezbollah, Hamas and Arafat's own militia, the Tanzim, continue to train and participate in attacks, not against Israeli military forces, but against Israeli civilian targets, and even against dissident Palestinians themselves."
See also Mr. Day Speaks the Truth
©2001 - Canadian Jewish News