Envoy says Zionists run media
Stewart Bell -National Post
Friday, January 10, 2003
Lebanon's ambassador to Ottawa is under fire for comments he made about Canada in an Arabic-language newspaper in response to the government's decision to ban Hezbollah.
In an interview with the newspaper Sada al Machric, Raymond Baaklini said Canada outlawed the terrorist group last month because of pressure from a "Zionist party" that he said "controls 90% of the Canadian media."
He also advised that Canadians travelling in the Arab world should not wear Canada T-shirts anymore, and said he had been told that "Canadian police always suspect every man with a beard and every woman with a veil."
Lebanese-Canadian and Canadian Jewish organizations said yesterday they were contacting Bill Graham, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, to protest the remarks and seek a reprimand for the ambassador.
Foreign Affairs said last night it was looking into the matter. "The translation that we received is indeed cause for concern," said Rodney Moore, a department spokesman. "We're going to be reviewing the original text."
Yesterday, the ambassador confirmed to the National Post he made the comments. He said the remarks were meant for an Arabic audience and he might have phrased them differently if he were addressing English readers.
The Dec. 31 edition of the Arabic-language newspaper asked the ambassador for his response to Canada's "unfair" policy on Hezbollah and published his reply verbatim over two pages.
"The most stubborn party benefiting from this subject is the Zionist party that exists in Canada," he was quoted as saying. "As you know this party controls 90% of the Canadian media. It takes instructions and help from many Zionist organizations either in Canada or abroad. Therefore if we don't say the Zionist movement had the number two role, it had the number one role and America comes second."
Asked what he meant by these remarks, the ambassador told the Post: "I wanted to say exactly that 90% of the mass media in Canada is controlled by Jews or Zionists, and those Jews and Zionists, they are also supported by other organizations in the States."
Canadian Jewish leaders are outraged.
"Not only are such comments insulting to Canada and to Canadian values, they are also actionable under Canadian human rights legislation and the Criminal Code, but for diplomatic immunity," said Keith Landy, president of the Canadian Jewish Congress.
"I would call upon the Canadian government and specifically Foreign Minister Graham to call in the Ambassador and to admonish him that in Canada, we take a dim view of such comments and that they are completely unacceptable."
Frank Dimant of B'nai Brith Canada called the remarks "crude" and said they were "just not acceptable public discourse in this country. His reference to Zionists controlling the media -- standard fare for the propagandists of the Middle East -- is just a rehash of age-old anti-Semitic canards."
Later in the Sada al Machric interview, the ambassador noted that Americans often wear Canada T-shirts when they travel overseas, but as a result of Ottawa's Hezbollah policy a Maple Leaf flag is no longer a welcome sign in the Middle East. "I am afraid the Canadian would have the urgency to wear a non-Canadian T-shirt in Lebanon and the Arabic world."
Mr. Dimant said the remark about T-shirts was an "implied threat" and called it intolerable.
"As such, we question whether his credentials for an ambassadorship in Ottawa should be acceptable to our government."
A spokesman for the Canadian Lebanese Human Rights Federation, which opposes the current Lebanese government, said the group would be writing to Mr. Graham to ask that the ambassador be reprimanded.
The Canadian government froze the assets of Hezbollah's military wing last year, but did not ban the group outright until December, following protests led by the Canadian Alliance and Canadian Jewish groups. B'nai Brith launched a court challenge against the government over the issue.
"We felt it was our responsibility to challenge the government's initial reluctance to ban Hezbollah in this country not just in our capacity as a Jewish human rights organization, but because like many Canadians, we do not want to see this country become a haven for terrorist groups that use murder and mayhem as political tools," Mr. Dimant said.
Canadian officials said the decision was based on Hezbollah's longstanding involvement in international terrorism. A background report prepared by Canada said Hezbollah was responsible for car bombings, hijackings and kidnapping Western, Israeli and Jewish targets.
Hezbollah, which is based in southern Lebanon, has operated in Canada for at least a decade.
Ottawa's decision angered Lebanon, where Hezbollah is viewed an Islamic resistance movement against Israel with elected members of parliament. Lebanese officials have protested the decision, but Canada is not expected to back down.
sbell@nationalpost.com Copyright 2003 National Post