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Prime Minister Stephen Harper delivers a speech to the Canadian Council for Israel and Jewish Advocacy in Ottawa, in February, 2007. (Fred Chartrand/The Canadian Press)
Prime Minister Stephen Harper delivers a speech to the Canadian Council for Israel and Jewish Advocacy in Ottawa, in February, 2007. (Fred Chartrand/The Canadian Press)

Tories' hard line on criticism of Israel <br/>could spark backlash, MP says Add to ...

The Harper government risks sparking a backlash against Israel and Canada's Jewish community by taking a hard-line, with-us-or-against-us stand with groups that are critical of Israel, opposition MPs say.

The Conservatives have won points among Israel's supporters for the government's staunch backing, but Liberal MP Anita Neville, co-chair of Liberal Parliamentarians for Israel, said there is fear the government risks alienating public support with actions like cutting off funding to church-based aid group Kairos.

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"I appreciate the support of the Jewish community, unequivocally I appreciate the support of Israel. But by making it frequently into a black-and white-issue, they're setting it up as a wedge. And they're also setting it up so that people who have been long-time strong supporters of Israel are questioning issues like the de-funding of Kairos," she told reporters.

"And it's creating a backlash."

Ms. Neville raised her concerns Monday as MPs met on Parliament Hill - despite the fact that Parliament is prorogued until March - for an unofficial inquiry on anti-Semitism sponsored by the Canadian Parliamentary Coalition to Combat Antisemitism, or CPCCA.

She told Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, who is responsible for multiculturalism policies, that some of the tough words of government spokesmen could spark an "anti-Semitic response."

Mr. Kenney insisted that the government will not shy away from naming groups in Canada that promote hatred or make apologies for terrorism - and that he's proud that his department won't fund them.

"All I get is praise for Canada's efforts to deal with these sometimes difficult issues, and not to sweep them under the carpet," he told the CPCCA hearing.

The government's move to refuse new funding to Kairos, an aid organization created by a coalition of Christian churches, sparked controversy after Mr. Kenney said during a visit to Israel that Canada had "defunded organizations, most recently like Kairos, who are taking a leadership role" in boycott campaigns against Israel.

Kairos denied it has led such a boycott movement - and Mr. Kenney and International Cooperation Minister Bev Oda later insisted that Kairos was really cut off because its projects did not meet Canada's new aid priorities.

Ms. Neville, however, told reporters that she worries that people who believe Kairos does good work are questioning whether the Jewish community, or a pro-Israel government, is responsible for cutting off funding to an aid organization they believe in.

New Democrat MP Judy Wasylycia-Leis said Tory flyers that appeared to paint Liberal MPs as anti-Semitic, and the decision to cut funding to Kairos, are a setback to keeping partisanship out of the fight against anti-Semitism.

The debate reflects one that already is churning within Canada's Jewish community, and among staunch Israel supporters: that hyper-partisanship on both sides might lead to domestic division, rather than consensus.

"Both attach a lot importance to winning the confidence and support of the pro-Israel community - which I hasten to say is much broader than just the Jewish community - and that's something that we try to discourage," said Shimon Fogel, chief executive officer of the Canada-Israel Committee.

Follow on Twitter: @camrclark

 

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