Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s tapping Dion for this key post comes as something of a surprise, because fellow veteran Montreal MP Marc Garneau of Westmount-Notre Dame de Grâce, a vocal supporter of Israel, had been foreign affairs critic. Dion, who led the party from 2006 to 2008, handled the intergovernmental affairs and heritage portfolios.
It was in the city (now borough) of St. Laurent in 2004 where a Jewish elementary school, United Talmud Torahs (UTT), was firebombed by a Lebanese-born Muslim teenager in retaliation, he said, for Israel’s killing of a Hamas leader.
Dion, then a cabinet minister, came to the school that morning to denounce the hate crime, which was later judged to be an act of terrorism. However, he had to backpedal on a comment to the effect that it was regrettable that this happened when not all Jews support the policies of then-Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon.
He clarified that, “No matter what one’s opinion of the Sharon government’s actions, violence is never an acceptable response. When I said, ‘Why link all Canadian Jews with the policy of a government?’ it was in the context of expressing my admiration for the pluralism of opinions among the Jews of Canada and elsewhere.”
At the 2006 party convention where he was selected leader, Dion in his speech ridiculed the new “very right-wing” Conservative government for modelling Canadian foreign policy on that of the United States.
“Today we have… a prime minister who is mirroring the style of his hero to the point that [then-] president [George W.] Bush should be getting royalties from Mr. Harper’s speeches.”
He had been critical of former prime minister Stephen Harper’s support of Israel during its conflict with Hezbollah that summer, calling for a more even-handed approach and an immediate ceasefire.
During that war, Dion wrote in a Globe and Mail article: “When one believes a friend to be mistaken, one should say so,” and he suggested that the Lebanese civilian casualties and “breadth of destruction” may increase support for Hezbollah and weaken the Lebanese state without strengthening Israel’s security.
Dion stood by those opinions in a conference call with the Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee. He also said Canada should send humanitarian aid to the Palestinian Authority (PA), then ruled by Hamas, through “third parties.”I have one word for Stephane Dion and his obvious Zionhass, and its one my Yiddish-speaking late Bubby (who fled to Canada with her family in the wake of the second great pogrom in her hometown, Kishinev) might have used: Feh!; her father, my great-grandfather, the Kishinev delegate to the third Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland in 1899, would likely have used the same mot juste.