Goaded by polls that show an overwhelming majority of Quebeckers disapprove of the Harper government's pro-Israeli stand, Quebec politicians, including the Quebec wing of the Liberal Party of Canada, are shamelessly exploiting the Middle East conflict.
Last week, Liberal MP Denis Coderre, who is leadership contender Michael Ignatieff's top organizer in the province, Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe and Parti Québécois Leader André Boisclair marched side by side with about 15,000 demonstrators, some of whom were loudly extolling the virtues of Hezbollah, considered a terrorist organization by Canada and whose main goal is the annihilation of the state of Israel.
The demonstration in Montreal -- a city that plays host to the largest Lebanese community in Canada -- was theoretically in favour of "justice and peace" but totally slanted against Israel. Highly visible in a sea of Lebanese flags, scattered groups of marchers wore bright yellow T-shirts adorned with a picture of an AK-47 assault rifle. Some of the demonstrators waved Hezbollah flags and brandished placards that read "We are all Hezbollah" and "Long life to [Hezbollah chief Hassan] Nasrallah" or accused Stephen Harper of being a war criminal and Israel of willfully murdering women and children.
The Canadian Islamic Congress was among the organizers of the rally. But no representative Jewish group was part of the coalition of about 60 labour unions, political parties and community groups that were supposedly calling for peace in the Middle East.
Jean-Marie Gélinas, of Amitiés Québec-Israël, was devastated. "The Jewish community," he said, "is completely traumatized. A demonstration truly devoted to peace would have included Israel. It's unbelievable what our politicians are doing."
As a prelude to the rally, the coalition published a manifesto that exclusively blamed Israel for the current conflict and didn't even mention the Hezbollah attack that set off the fighting.
When a reporter asked a coalition spokesperson, community activist Lorraine Guay, whether Israel wasn't just replying to Hezbollah provocations, Ms. Guay called Israel's response a "carnage" and an "intentional scandal," adding that "one must not stigmatize Hezbollah by avoiding to make a distinction between its political and armed wings."
For Mr. Coderre, things are quite simple. In an interview on Radio-Canada TV, he brushed aside the role of Hezbollah in this conflict. "It has nothing to do with Hezbollah," he said. On the same program, Henri Massé, president of the powerful Quebec Federation of Labour, claimed that "the aggressor is Israel, period." In the days following the rally, La Presse received many letters to the editor from people furious at the demonstration's organizers. They had shown up in good faith, they said, thinking the march would be a unifying rally for peace; but when they saw and heard the hateful slogans and the pro-Hezbollah militants, they returned home in disgust.
Even Premier Jean Charest couldn't help jumping on the bandwagon, albeit in a much less incendiary way. Until the publication of a Globe and Mail/CTV poll showing that 61 per cent of Quebeckers (versus 45 per cent of Canadians) disagreed with the Prime Minister's pro-Israeli position, Mr. Charest had carefully avoided taking sides on the Middle East conflict. But, three days after the poll was published, he told a reporter that he favoured an "immediate" ceasefire -- a proposal at odds with Israel's insistence that only a strong international force in southern Lebanon could prevent further attacks by Hezbollah.
Mr. Charest's veiled criticism of Mr. Harper's position was, to say the least, illogical, coming, after all, from a man who professes that Ottawa should not intervene in provincial jurisdiction. It follows that the premiers, in turn, should respect the exclusive jurisdiction of the federal government over military issues and foreign affairs. But, of course, Mr. Charest is thinking of calling an election relatively soon, so this was just another case of partisan politics trumping moral considerations.