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Canadian Jews Criticize Chretien While Rabbi’s Group Gives Him Award

Canadian Jews are blasting the prime minister of Canada at the same time as he is being honored by a group led by a prominent American rabbi.

The Canadian Jewish Congress has blasted Jean Chretien for comments suggesting a measure of American culpability for the Sept. 11 attacks.

It also blasted his silence after pro-Palestinian rioters stopped former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from speaking at a Montreal university Sept. 9.

“You cannot exercise your powers to the point of humiliation for the others,” Chretien said last month in a CBC interview on the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. “That is what the Western world — not only the Americans, the Western world — has to realize,” because residents of the developing world “are human beings too.”

Chretien’s office later insisted that his statement had been misconstrued.

Chretien was referring to “the need for all Western, developed countries to reflect on the long-term consequences of the growing divide between rich and poor nations, a divide which has clearly been used by fanatics to fan resentment toward the developed world,” his press office stated.

The comments — and Chretien’s failure to speak out on the anti-Israel riot at Concordia University on Sept. 9 — drew the ire of the Canadian Jewish Congress.

The CJC’s national president, Keith Landy, wrote Chretien on Sept. 13 to “articulate our dismay over your published comments attributing Western and American attitudes and actions as contributing factors to the horrific terrorist attacks last Sept. 11.

“I am also deeply disappointed that you did not publicly denounce the travesty at Concordia University,” Landy wrote.

Chretien reportedly apologized privately to Netanyahu. Still, Landy wrote, “the public at large deserved an open condemnation of this flagrant breach of fundamental Canadian values, let alone the law, from our political leadership.”

On Monday, Landy told JTA that Chretien had not responded to his letter.

That was almost a week after Chretien accepted a World Statesman Award at an Oct. 1 gala of the Appeal of Conscience Foundation in New York.

At the dinner, Chretien spoke out strongly against terrorism, calling it an “assault against civilized human values” and the “ultimate moral wrong.”

The CJC was unaware that a rabbi headed the Appeal of Conscience Foundation, but CJC staff assumed the selection was made prior to Chretien’s comments about Sept.11.

Indeed Chretien was nominated for the award in November 2001 and approved last January.

Rabbi Arthur Schneier, the Appeal of Conscience Foundation’s president, said a committee of trustees had chosen Chretien because of his commitment to “freedom, democracy and tolerance.”

Chretien has shown leadership on development issues in Africa, Canada sent troops to join the U.S. war in Afghanistan and Canada has enjoyed a long tradition of friendship and cooperation with the United States, Schneier said.

As for the Concordia incident, Schneier said, “As a Holocaust survivor, I believe that any kind of manifestation” of anti-Semitism “needs to be nipped in the bud.”

But Schneier would not say whether he believes Chretien had an obligation to speak out on the issue or not.

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