A free-mail Conservative attack ad sent to ridings with large Jewish communities has sparked an outcry from opposition politicians.
Already under fire for their heavy use of MPs' free-mail privileges to spread strongly partisan messages, the Conservatives are using the leaflets to tell Jewish voters that their party has fought anti-Semitism abroad and supported Israel, but the Liberals have not.
The missives say the Liberals were against listing Hezbollah and Hamas as terrorist organizations and "willingly participated in the overtly anti-Semitic Durban I" conference on racism - claims which Liberal MPs called scurrilous lies.
"This is using lies in order to engage in divisive, wedge politics," said Montreal Liberal MP Irwin Cotler, a human-rights lawyer who has spent much of his career fighting anti-Semitism.
The other opposition parties, the Bloc Québécois and the NDP, joined the Liberals in labelling the Tory leaflets as a new low in Canadian politics. But Conservative Immigration Minister Jason Kenney insisted the Liberals are feigning outrage for political mischief, and are queasy about their own record.
"These are facts. They are on the record. They are uncomfortable with that," Mr. Kenney said.
Not so, Mr. Cotler insisted. It was a Liberal government that listed Hezbollah and Hamas as terrorist organizations in 2002, he noted. The Conservatives backed up their assertion that the Liberals want to take the two terror groups off that list by noting that Liberal MP Borys Wrzesnewskyj said in 2006 that de-listing Hezbollah may help negotiate peace - although Mr. Wrzesnewskyj lost his post as the party's deputy foreign affairs critic for saying it.
Mr. Cotler said he attended the first Durban anti-racism conference, which derailed into attacks against Israel and, after Israelis and Americans walked out, he stayed behind at the request of Israel's delegation to defend against anti-Semitic attacks.
"The sense that we somehow willingly participated in an overtly anti-Semitic Durban I, as if Liberals support anti-Semitism, is scandalous," Mr. Cotler said.
Mr. Kenney said the leaflet contains no accusation that Liberals are anti-Semitic. Suggestions that it goes that far are mischievous and "a bit hypocritical," he said, recalling that a Liberal cabinet minister said in 2000 that a Conservative Party predecessor, the Canadian Alliance, was "filled with racist anti-Semites, bigots and Holocaust deniers."
The Conservative flyer also states that Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff accused Israel of committing war crimes - which he did, in a 2006 interview about the Israeli bombardment of the Lebanese village of Qana - prompting an angry letter from Mr. Cotler's wife. Mr. Cotler noted he later apologized, and was a staunch supporter of Israel during Israel's military offensive in Gaza in December, 2008, and January of this year.
The Conservatives noted that Liberal MP Joe Volpe has also sent out a free mailer comparing parties' stances on Israel and the Jewish community; it argues both major parties have supported Israel.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservatives, who have taken staunchly pro-Israel stands, are trying to win over a sizable portion of Canada's Jewish vote, a group which has traditionally leaned to the Liberals.
The new leaflets were sent to several opposition-held ridings with sizable Jewish communities, including Toronto's Eglinton-Lawrence and St. Paul's, Montreal's Outremont, Mount-Royal and Westmount-Ville-Marie, and Winnipeg South Centre.