Federal Conservatives say Liberal MP Irwin Cotler is pretending to play the victim as he attempts to wring an apology for a f lyer they sent to his riding that he says accuses him of being anti-Semitic.
Quoting a conservative columnist, Tory MP Pierre Poilievre told a Commons committee on Tuesday that politicians live to be unjustly accused of something because "the opportunities to play victim are too tempting."
"I think that puts some of this into its proper context," Mr. Poilievre said.
The Conservatives sent taxpayer-funded flyers, called 10 per centers, to Jewish residents of Mr. Cotler's downtown Montreal riding. The one-page, black-and-white political ads say that Liberals "willingly participated in overtly anti-Semitic Durban 1," a 2001 conference in South Africa that saw Israel and the United States walk out over statements made against the Jewish state.
Mr. Cotler attended that conference and did not walk out. But Rabbi Michael Melchior, who led the Israeli delegation, said in a letter to the National Post on Tuesday that he requested the Canadian delegation to lead and co-ordinate the work to ensure that the final resolution did not include dangerous anti-Semitic language.
"Even to indicate that Irwin Cotler would lend his hand to anti-Semitism is a gross distortion of what happened in Durban," Mr. Melchior wrote.
Mr. Cotler, who is Jewish, told the committee that the flyers have damaged his credibility in his riding and within his religious community.
"Durban 1 has emerged for Jews as metaphor for the most virulent and lethal anti-Semitism," he said. "To identify any political party, let alone a Jewish MP, with willingly participating in such an anti-Semitic event, is the most loathsome and dangerous accusation against that party and that member."
Mr. Cotler said he had no desire to play the victim.
"I never even wanted to raise this question of privilege. I didn't want to make this an issue," he said. "What caused all this, and where it all originated, was in that false, accusatory, prejudicial flyer. We wouldn't be sitting here if an apology had been made."
The Liberal MP also objects to federal money being used to pay for what he said is election material for the Conservatives.
Mr. Polievre said the flyers merely outline "policy distinctions" between the Liberals and the Conservatives and pointed out that Mr. Cotler's name was not actually included on them.
But Mr. Cotler responded that he is the Liberal MP for Mount Royal where the flyers were distributed, and any reasonable person would infer that they referred to him.
Peter Milliken, the Speaker, has ruled that the flyers have damaged Mr. Cotler's reputation and credibility.
Yvon Godin, an NDP MP, said that even if Conservative MPs apologized in Parliament, the people who read the flyers may not be hear it.
Mr. Cotler agreed with Mr. Godin's suggestion that the Conservatives should be required to send another flyer, retracting their allegations, to the same people who were part of the first mailing.
"The Conservatives could have gotten up at any point in all this said, 'you know, we were wrong, this flyer was prejudicial,'" Mr. Cotler said after the committee meeting. "No, they continue"
(Photos: Adrian Wyld and Tom Hanson/The Canadian Press)