Fear media circus after controversy
Group says MPs can go after race

by SUSAN DELACOURT, OTTAWA BUREAU CHIEF

OTTAWA—Michael Ignatieff’s plan to make peace in Israel — leadership-campaign peace, that is — won’t happen next month as planned.

The Canada-Israel Committee, fearing a media circus over Ignatieff and the Liberal leadership, has postponed its plans to take some MPs to the Middle East next month. The former Harvard professor and MP for Etobicoke-Lakeshore is still welcome to go, CIC insists, but after the Liberal leadership is over.

Ignatieff had vowed to take up the CIC’s invitation to Israel to show his goodwill toward the country after landing in controversy for talking about alleged Israeli “war crimes” last summer.

The controversy has not really died down yet, either — it was a highlight of the Liberal leadership debate on Sunday, when rival Bob Rae attacked Ignatieff for the campaign misstep.

Yesterday, CIC spokesperson Alicia Richler said it was becoming apparent that the purpose of the trip was threatening to get lost in Liberal leadership politics.

“We were concerned … that the trip had become a very politicized trip,” Richler said. “We felt that the goal of that trip, which was to bring members of Parliament together, to go to Israel, to learn more about Israel, was not what it was anymore.”

Some Liberals had found it odd in the first place that Ignatieff would want to go to Israel in the middle of November, given that the leadership vote takes place on the first weekend of December. In essence, he would have been leaving the country at the very time when he would normally be consolidating his support and looking for coalitions and allies in other Liberal leadership camps.

He is expected to have about one-third of the convention’s support on the first ballot, but needs to have more than 50 per cent to win.

Ignatieff, in a statement, said yesterday he was disappointed that the CIC had postponed the trip to 2007.

“We have advised the CIC that I will be honoured to join them on the rescheduled trip,” the statement said. “I look forward to representing Canada, along with other Canadian leaders, in discussions with Israeli and Palestinian leadership about Canada’s role in the region and long term solutions for peace.”

CIC’s postponement can also be read as a sign of continuing unease in the Jewish community about how the Middle East issue has become a political football in the Liberal leadership battle.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has been stoking that political divide, condemning the Liberals as “anti-Israel.” Rae, Ignatieff and others responded by calling that attack a “disgrace.”