Liberal leadership hopeful Michael Ignatieff on Wednesday defended comments he made on the Israeli bombings this summer in Lebanon, saying he intended the criticism as the "truest form of friendship."
Mr. Ignatieff called the bombings in Qana this August a "war crime" on during a television broadcast Sunday, which has raised the ire of Jewish groups in Canada and was enough for Liberal MP Susan Kadis, co-chair of his Toronto campaign, to withdraw her support for his leadership bid.
"Michael is an intelligent person and I would think that he would have a better handle on the Middle East given his years of experience," Ms. Kadis said in a statement Wednesday. "I find his comments very troubling given that fact that the Israeli response came in light of the unprovoked brazen kidnappings by Hezbollah of Israeli soldiers."
On the popular Quebec program, Mr. Ignatieff first apologized for an earlier dismissal of the bombings - he told The Toronto Star in August that he was "not losing sleep" over the event, which claimed the lives of dozens of civilians in Lebanon.
He then went on to say during the program: "I was a professor of human rights, and I am also a professor of the laws of war, and what happened in Qana was a war crime, and I should have said that. That's clear."
But Ms. Kadis said the Israeli attack was intended to root out a recognized terrorist group who were "raining down thousands of missiles" on Israel.
Mr. Ignatieff defended his comments Wednesday, calling the bombings a "terrible human tragedy," but that he did not support any military solutions in the troubled region.
"I have lived in Israel, taught in Israel, and have been a lifelong friend of Israel. If my friendship on occasion involves criticism, it is because this is the truest form of friendship," he said. "I strongly supported Israel's right to respond to Hezbollah's provocation and to send the terrorist militia a very clear message that kidnapping soldiers and firing rockets on Israel will never be tolerated."
He also said in a conflict between a terrorist militia and a democratic state, Canada must always side with the democratic state.
"The only long-term solution is a two-state solution between Israel and Palestine, with an independent Lebanon, in which Israel can live peacefully without threat of attack from its neighbours, who must recognize Israel's right to exist," he said.
Shimon Fogel, chief executive of the Canada-Israel Committee, who said while he was "deeply concerned by the comments Mr. Ignatieff made, he was happy that Mr. Ignatieff recognized Israel as a democratic state. However, Mr. Fogel said Mr. Ignatieff failed to address the war crimes statements directly, which CIC had asked him to do "unambiguously" in a letter sent to his office Wednesday.
"We are gratified that he gave expressions of support for what he called the democratic state of Israel and his condemnation of the terrorist organization that provoked the whole conflict, but his statement simply doesn't address what we had asked him to look at," Mr. Fogel said.
"If it was not his intention to say Israel committed war crimes, we want him in both official languages to say so," Mr. Fogel said, adding that Mr. Ignatieff's explanation failed to do so or even mention the words war crime.