Friday, January 23, 2009

Obama, Ignatieff And Israel

There is a curious dynamic at play, that is see regularly on the blogs. When I look at Barack Obama and Michael Ignatieff, I see two leaders with much in common. In fact, single issue diversions aside, in totality, the two men sit reasonably close on the political spectrum. Obama a center-left Democrat in American is very much the equivalent of a centrist Liberal in Canada. With that simple fact in mind, I find it strange that some regularly slam Ignatieff, but also elevate Obama to near sainthood.

I would like to use Israel an example of duplicity, when it comes to criticism and praise. I believe people were right to criticize Ignatieff for his timid position on Gaza, and I did a few posts of my own, highlighting the problems I had with the "official" Liberal position. Serious people acknowledge the complex political dynamics, the past problems for Ignatieff during the Lebanon conflict, but our position was still utterly disappointing. I still see the Liberal position as entirely dedicated to a two-state solution, a resolution on settlements and refugees, a sense of the human suffering, the potential for an even handed perspective. We "blew it" on the Gaza offensive, but that doesn't translate to complete failure on the peace process as a whole- I have faith that Ignatieff and the Liberals will articulate a comprehensive compromise position in the end, this adventure aside.

If one looks at Obama's statements on Gaza yesterday, and couple them with his past statements on Israel, you will find NARY a difference between what he argued and the position of the Ignatieff Liberals. In fact, reviewing the Liberal press release on Gaza, and comparing it with the text of Obama's presentation, the two views are mirror images. And yet, nobody is criticizing Obama, in fact we hear accolades, which is bizarre, given the reaction to Ignatieff.

Barack Obama, on the justification for the Israeli offensive into Gaza:
Let me be clear: America is committed to Israel's security. And we will always support Israel's right to defend itself against legitimate threats.

For years, Hamas has launched thousands of rockets at innocent Israeli citizens. No democracy can tolerate such danger to its people, nor should the international community, and neither should the Palestinian people themselves, whose interests are only set back by acts of terror.

Michael Ignatieff on the justification for the Israeli offensive in Gaza:
The Liberal Party of Canada unequivocally condemns the rocket attacks launched by Hamas against Israeli civilians and calls for an immediate end to these attacks. We affirm Israel's right to defend itself against such attacks, and also its right to exist in peace and security.
Both leaders firmly support Israeli action against these rocket attacks, the offensive was valid.

Obama did recognize the suffering of Palestinians:
I was deeply concerned by the loss of Palestinian and Israeli life in recent days and by the substantial suffering and humanitarian needs in Gaza. Our hearts go out to Palestinian civilians who are in need of immediate food, clean water, and basic medical care, and who've faced suffocating poverty for far too long.

We regret the loss of life sustained on all sides of the conflict. We call on all parties to end these hostilities, mindful that a durable ceasefire will be necessary to prevent continued civilian casualties and lasting damage to essential civilian infrastructure.

The international community has a responsibility to ensure that the cost of conflict is not borne by the innocent and Canada must stand ready to assist and ensure that basic humanitarian assistance reaches those who need it.
Loss of life, on both sides. The need for humanitarian assistance. Our thoughts, our hearts.

This comment from CBC's Neil MacDonald, reviewing Obama's speech yesterday:
"Obama also made it clear, that the United States stands first and foremost behind Israel and it's security needs. Where that conflict is concerned at least, the new President positions are strikingly similar to those of his predecessor."

Neil MacDonald CBC

MacDonald is probably also drawing on Obama's past speeches, including one in June, wherein he took Jerusalem off the table, widely criticized by Palestinians. The very pro-Israeli rhetoric was praised by Prime Minister Olmert. The democratically elected Hamas nothing more than a "terrorist organization". As for yesterday's speech, it was slammed by Hamas, lauded in the Israeli press.

My point? Obama is no different than Ignatieff on the latest conflict, if anything a historical review of past statements, the American President maybe to the right (oh, the horror). Barack Obama is bending over backwards to appease the pro-Israel crowd in America, he's been doing it for quite some time, if you're paying attention. Yes, Obama is ready to send envoys and I don't doubt for one second his Presidency will be considerably more effective in helping to achieve a lasting peace. However, that long term view is exactly the same as that of Ignatieff, there is no difference in philosophy. The position of both men, on this current over-reaction in Gaza is decidedly disappointing, so if one is to vilify Ignatieff, then surely Obama deserves some fire.

You can't give Obama a pass, and then attack Ignatieff, for holding the same view. If one is going to be intellectually consistent, then Obama deserves criticism, maybe we can call him "Obama the bloody" for the ridiculous posters amongst us. The sad reality, all of our leaders are to careful, the language so vetted, it's rendered useless, when it comes to Israel. Obama failed to call out Israel for the Gaza operation, in fact he used the rocket attacks for justification. No talk of war crimes, no talk of the United Nations, no talk of disproportionate response, only the rationale for the operation.

I will continue to watch, as future events unfold, the great disconnect in perspective, between two men who are far more similar than some are prepared to accept. The uneven reactions to the Gaza conflict, a terrific example of double standards, based on personal bias, rather than an even reading of black and white facts.


Greg said...

You can't give Obama a pass, and then attack Ignatieff, for holding the same view.

I won't. Obama has already chosen a side in the Middle East conflict and that is a dead end. Oh, we will hear lots of pretty words from Obama during the next 4 to 8 years, but nothing will change as long as he continues to pretend that one side is virtuous and the other side is evil.

Steve V said...


Well, that's the thing isn't it? Pretty words about Palestinians suffering, but Obama completely justified the attacks in Gaza, with absolutely no criticism of the actions.

I still have some optimism that Obama, and his team, will be much more effective in pushing a peace deal, his private negotiations might be more even handed than the public presentation.

Jennifer Smith said...

Point taken. Although to be fair, I'm not sure I've seen a lot of Ignatieff critics specifically praising Obama on his statements regarding Israel and Gaza. Frankly, I was just happy to hear a U.S. president talk about the Middle East without using the word "evil" for a change.

The thing is, everything is relative. Canadians are supposed to be more progressive than Americans. Our far right has never been as far right as in the U.S., and even our most centrist Liberals look like crazy Dennis Kucinich radicals to the average American. So to say that Ignatieff isn't so bad because he's in line with Obama on most issues doesn't reassure me much.

I love the guy, but if Obama had run for Prime Minister instead of President, I would never have voted for him.

Steve V said...


Not praising, but there does seem a lack of criticism too. I would also say, the views of the most powerful man in the world, are far more relevant than the position of an opposition party in Canada.

pogge said...

You write as if there are specific people who have condemned Ignatieff's position on this issue while, at the same time, praising Obama's. But you don't name any. So who are you talking about?

Personally I think Obama's position sucks but I haven't bothered to comment for two reasons (aside from being away on business):

1. I already knew what Obama's position would be and I already thought it sucked. There's no element of surprise here. (And actually I disagree with your characterization of Obama as a centre-left Democrat. In many ways I think he's a conservative Democrat.)

2. Obama doesn't represent me and has no reason to listen to me. Ignatieff is a Canadian politician who wants to represent me so I'm more likely to speak out when I'm unhappy with him. Theoretically my disapproval should put some pressure on him where it puts none on an American president.

bigcitylib said...

Note that Obama has apparently been talking about cutting back on Israeli loan guarentees, which practice has served as a means of pressuring Israel on various issues in the past.

You can argue that, as opposition leader, Ignaetieff is boxed in (between pressure groups)in a way he wouldn't be as PM. Were he to become PM, he might (one hopes) act in a somewhat more constructive manner on this file, in the way Obama seems to be doing.

Steve V said...


I've noticed posts trashing Ignatieff, specifically on this score, blogs that also include enormous praise for the messiah down south. All I'm saying, these two men are identical, so if Iggy is evil, then blushing at the other guy, or just ignoring his position, doesn't quite jive.

BTW, my characterization of Obama is entirely correct, and I'll use his voting record as the proof. Conservative Dem, what are you looking at?


I read that too. It's sort of what I mean by "private" negotiation tactics, as opposed to this public appeasement.

Jason Cherniak said...

They are also both taking the same position as Bill Clinton and Paul Martin. I think people who disagree should seriously consider why so many progressive political leaders take this view after reviewing all the facts and evidence.

olaf said...


I will continue to watch, as future events unfold, the great disconnect in perspective, between two men who are far more similar than some are prepared to accept.

You make a fair point. Even more glaring, however, is the point I've been making for months: Obama and Harper, policy wise, have even more in common than Obama and Ignatieff (say, on the environment, or on the preference for civil unions, or two tier health care, on foreign policy, or what have you). In many policy areas, Obama's to the right of both Harper and Ignatieff. Yet, to Canadian progressives, Obama's the saviour and Harper's the evil neo-con war mongering devil incarnate. If you can recognize this disconnect with regards to Ignatieff, why can't you with regards to Harper? Or can you and you're just not making a big deal about it?

As you're doing here with Israel/Palestine, I'm talking policy, of course, so please don't bother going through the regular schpeel about their different personalities. I get that.

Steve V said...

"I think people who disagree should seriously consider why so many progressive political leaders take this view after reviewing all the facts and evidence."

Actually Jason, it's a function of the Israeli lobby, and EVERYBODY knows it.

And, you'll note all the "progressive" leaders in Europe that don't share the view.

Steve V said...

"If you can recognize this disconnect with regards to Ignatieff, why can't you with regards to Harper?"

Olaf, come on now. Harper had much more in common with Bush than Obama. On the environment? I don't believe I've heard one iota about "inspirational targets" or using nefarious benchmark years, or "intensity", or "so called" global warming. No comparison, the generality of models aside.

Steve V said...


Again, I'll do the same thing I did earlier. If you actually want to make a flimsy connection, I suggest a review of the voting record, and if it shows any resemblance to Harper, please get back to me. It won't. Now, do the same with Bush, and, well, you know. Try it will Howard in Australia too ;)

olaf said...


You asked for it.

Steve V said...


If you want to draw the comparison, that's your prerogative (who knows, you might even believe it). Frankly, the argument doesn't carry much weight, but knock yourself out :)

LeDaro said...

Steve, I will go along with your argument if you can tell me that Iggy and Obama have same position on torture.

“To defeat evil, we may have to traffic in evils: indefinite detention of suspects, coercive interrogations, targeted assassinations, even pre-emptive war". Michael Ignatieff 2004.

Obama is dead-set against torture and he is more for diplomacy. Iggy believes what Bush believed including Bush dogma of pre-emptive strikes.

If Obama fails to go for peace in the Middle East then I will be the first one to criticize him. So far he is going for diplomacy and peace.

Steve V said...


You're just finding a diversion position to make a silly argument. I never said they are clones, but YOU have a picture of Israeli collaborators on your blog, which omits Obama, despite his position being EXACTLY the same as the people on heap scorn on. I believe your post is on Gaza right, Olmert right? Then quit playing games about other issues, and address the nonsense of putting Iggy up there like a butcher, and IN THE SAME POST, trying to say that Obama is so much different, on that issue. He isn't. Case closed. K?

LeDaro said...

Steve, I did not call you names. When you call people “silly” then it is clear that you’re losing the argument. I do not think Obama and Iggy are on the same page. Iggy being for Iraq war for torture and imperialism -on and on it goes. Obama is for none of that. I am liberal at heart and I will like Iggy to show some sense and may be I can support him. But given his books and columns in the past he is nothing more than a crazy, unstable professor.

As I said on my blog I never worship any personality (Obamamania) including Obama. When he screws up I will be the first one to criticize him. Same way I am doing with Iggy.

olaf said...


That was weak. You didn't argue against a single one of my points, you just casually dismissed it because it doesn't "carry much weight". That's what people do when they have no rebuttal.

Obama and Harper both want a cap and trade system, Ignatieff doesn't. Obama and Harper both want(ed) civil unions, Ignatieff would say that violates charter rights. Obama and Harper both want(ed) a two tier health care system, Ignatieff would call that unCanadian. Obama and Harper both want(ed) troops in Afghanistan, the Liberals wanted out. Obama and Harper are both strong supporters of Israel, as is Ignatieff. Obama and Harper both want middle class tax cuts, Ignatieff is opposed. The list goes on. Do you dispute these points?

The only area of major consequence that I can think of where Obama was actually to the left of Harper, was on the Iraq war. But guess who was in line with Harper? Ignatieff.

I challenge you to make a list of the things that Ignatieff and Obama agree on, things that make them "far more similar" than people are prepared to accept - I bet its shorter. Wait, I bet you don't even try.

You're hooped on this one, for sure.

Steve V said...

"When you call people “silly” then it is clear that you’re losing the argument."

Sorry, that's the way I see it. And, AGAIN, you are introducing all this other garbage, when the only issue at hand is your post on GAZA, wherein you vilify Iggy, but then say Obama is different. He isn't, and I tire of playing this shell game with you. Your post speaks for itself, despite all the diversions you introduce here. Obama supported the Israeli offensive in Gaza. Period.

Anonymous said...

I guess LeDaro has lost alot of arguments in the past three weeks.

He resorts to calling people names all the time.

Check his responses to "THe Doctor" who he calls the Doctor of Death.

LeDaro: People in glass houses shouldn't throw stones!

Anonymous said...

Obama and Iggy have almost the identical position on Gaza.

I applaud both.

We must recognize Hamas' culpability in fostering hate and rockets at a sovereign country.

Hiding behind civilians, especially women and children, only adds to their crime.

It is tragic that civilians were killed but the blame ultimately lies with hamas.

LeDaro said...

Steve, when you misbehave then you have no argument. You misbehaved on my blog and here too.

So good bye and good luck. When you grow up then may be we can debate again.

Anonymous said...

anonymous: it is a longstanding principle of Western jurisprudence that someone who is the proximate cause of a crime cannot claim innocence simply because of the influence of another party.

Israel has no lawful excuse for the carnage it caused, except of course in your biblical view of justice.

Steve V said...

"That's what people do when they have no rebuttal."

Or, when you don't care :) Comparing Obama to Harper is nonsensical, so if my non response is a victory for you, okay you win. It's all a game to you anyways.


"when you misbehave then you have no argument."

When you can't deal with the issue at hand, you introduce garbage as diversion. And what of GAZA DELARO???????? Exactly. Silly.

Steve V said...

"Hiding behind civilians, especially women and children, only adds to their crime."

Or shelling United Nations shelters, full of women and children.

Oemissions said...

Other than a few bloggers here, and now at Liberals online, I heard zilch from Ignatieff or any of those close to him in the Liberal Party saying something about the terrible suffering happening in GAZA. Other than David Orchard, it took some Jewish Voices for Peace and a women's sit in in Canada to make a verbal protest against Israel's actions.And, ofcourse, several thousand marching in rallies.
I wonder how many letters were sent to Mr. Ignatieff regarding the issue of Gaza?
How many people got responses from him? I certainly didn't and I probably wrote twice or more.
Where is the grass roots approach? The discussion?
I am not interested in comparing
Obama and Ignatieff.
I am not a big supporter of "Leaders"
I support the meeting of minds.
On this Gaza issue, which was important, for foreign policy and human rights, I give Ignatieff an "F".
I really wonder: on whose behalf is he speaking?

RuralSandi said...

Obama is taking a different approach, well not so new - actually nothing he says or does is new.

George Mitchell is the new envoy to the Middle East - a terrific negotiator and they said on CNN last night that Mitchell's mother was Lebonese. Who did Bush have - Condi??? She failed completely as a Sec of State.

The Liberals have a Foreign Affairs critis who apparently is a terrific negotiator - Bob Rae.

Harper has McKay, whoops Bernier, whoops Cannon - none of them with any foreign affairs experience.

So, I suspect that if the Liberals were the government....things would be very different.

LeDaro is on a I hate Iggy mission - day after day after day and if you don't agree you get insulted and closed off by him - put him on your "ignore" button.

When is the next Israeli election? Olmert - he's on corruption charges....why the hell is he still leader?

Steve V said...


Those are fair criticisms for sure. Ignatieff did speak to the suffering, the problem, it was always an afterthought to complete support for the invasion.


I agree, that Obama is taking a different approach, and has sent some strong signals. I suspect, and this isn't really a compliment, we will see a return to the Clinton approach. At least within that administration, there was a more honest attempt, although it never went far enough. Whatever, it is 100 times better than the simplistic view of the world articulated by the Bush administration.

Anonymous said...

Two points:

1. One of Obama's biggest claims to fame was that he was an opponent of the Iraq War from the start while Iggy was busy being a cheerleader for the war and writing articles about the virtues of Torture.

2. I think that given that Iggy is operating within the realm of Canadian politics where the political spectrum is light years to the left of the US - he should be held to a higher standard. Canada (up until very recently) made some pretence to trying to strike a balance in its Middle East policy - that was certainly the policy under Chretien and to a lesser extent Martin. Iggy seems to have decided that on foreign policy - he has more in common with Harper than he does with Chretien!

The US has been 100% pro-Israel for the past 30 years - that is a given, so for Obama to take a position like even Chretien took on the middle east would unleash a political earthquake in the US.

Steve V said...


Iraq, completely irrelevant to this post.

As for Obama and the "political earthquake", Ignatieff's position is the same sort of appeasement. I would argue both are pandering, Ignatieff's really more to do with is past musing on Qana, wanting to avoid the same criticisms.

Anonymous said...

Steve: Don't be disingenuous. You criticize folks for pointing out other areas that Iggy and Obama differ by saying that you are only talking about Gaza but YOU were the one to say that they were IDENTICAL and you talked about where they both fall on the political spectrum, so you yourself were making the comparison beyond their respective stances on Gaza.

You also know that the relationship between a President and his/her party members in Congress is different than the one between a parliamentary leader and their caucus. Congressional dems have a much greater ability to set an independent message track should they choose. Iggy took the LPC to a place that they have not been traditionally. Inthe past, there has been a bit more daylight between the positions of the 'Israel-can never do anything wrong ever' lobby and LPC policy.

I agree with Pogge that the political realities and traditions of both countries play into the expectations we have of both leaders. You can't compare the two and our responses to them in a vacuum. The analysis will have to be done with consideration to the political context they and we find ourselves in.

Finally, Iggy for me is no centrist in the context of the Canadian political tradition. I read him as right of centre, much closer to an old school Progressive Conservative leader. Since the arrival of the Reform Canadian politics have shifted to the right and the other parties have moved accordingly. CPC close to Repubs, Libs closer to Prog Cons and NDP closer to old school Trudeau liberalism.

Steve V said...

"Don't be disingenuous. You criticize folks for pointing out other areas that Iggy and Obama differ by saying that you are only talking about Gaza but YOU were the one to say that they were IDENTICAL and you talked about where they both fall on the political spectrum"

You can point to specific areas to argue no affinity, but I am offering my opinion in totality. OVERALL, I believe the two are close on the political spectrum. My chief argument here, on the issue of Gaza, the disconnect in criticism. I see nothing disingenious, nor do I see Iggy as right of center in the least.

"You can't compare the two"

None of this new found inability to compare seemed relevant when it was Bush-Harper. Interesting that, not to mention DISINGENIOUS.

Anonymous said...

Well perhaps I should have said you can't compare the two without the contexts of their specific political realities. I am not one who has ever said that Harper and Bush are identical. Because there are differences. In fact I have always thought that Harper was closer to Reagan than Bush (that is still no complement coming from me).

Anyway, MY point was that you were be disingenuous to say they are OVERALL identical but than mocking those who point out many specific policy positions that differ. Or who argue that the response of Canadian progressives to both men is not consistent. It won't be consistent because as Jennifer said, Canadian (or world progressives) are happy with Obama BECAUSE he is the president. Like Jennifer I don't know whether Obama would get my support if he had the same policies and positions and were running in Canada.

Steve V said...

"but than mocking those who point out many specific policy positions that differ."

I'm going to mock anybody that puts up a picture with Iggy, Harper and Olmert all together on Gaza, and in the same post actually tries to paint Obama as different. Obama isn't, I've given the quotes, and that's the fact jack. Everything else is distraction from this central point, and I feel no need to play games, when it's a pretty simple, concise point I've made. Say whatever you want, I'm quite comfortable in my position, and introducing all these other "issues' really doesn't address my post on GAZA. You are just doing more of the same here, and frankly it's starting to bore me too tears. Carry on, I have...

Anonymous said...

Wow others really nailed get incredibly petulant when folks don't agree with you. Fair enough. Clearly discussion isn't on your agenda only pontification.

Anonymous said...

Obama and Iggy are the same on Gaza-Israel.

Makes me very proud to be a Liberal.

Steve V said...

"Wow others really nailed get incredibly petulant when folks don't agree with you. Fair enough. Clearly discussion isn't on your agenda only pontification."

Yawn. One word, GAZA.

olaf said...


You can point to specific areas to argue no affinity, but I am offering my opinion in totality. OVERALL, I believe the two are close on the political spectrum.

Not to beat a dead horse, but but why you think this OVERALL? Obviously, it's not just because of Gaza. Is your opinion based on a kind of gut feeling or do you have examples of other similarities?