The new blood libel

OTTAWA – Israel’s ambassador to Canada says it’s shocking his country was labelled a practitioner of torture in a training manual prepared for Canadian diplomats.

Alan Baker said Sunday he contacted Foreign Affairs officials in Ottawa as soon as he learned of the matter and demanded that Israel be deleted from the list of suspected human rights abusers.

“I was considerably surprised and even shocked, because it’s simply not true,” Baker said in an interview.

“Israel doesn’t engage in torture, it’s prohibited by Israeli law. Whoever had written this manual simply didn’t know, or was misguided, or didn’t understand.”

— “Israeli envoy slams torture claim as minister Bernier backtracks“,
Canadian Press, January 20th, 2008.

Welcome to the inner thoughts of the Canadian foreign service, Ambassador Baker.  Personally I would tend to discount the “didn’t know” and “didn’t understand” theories and focus on the “misguided”.  The bureaucracy rarely works in ways that may be considered rational by the average civilian.  In my own experience, the civil service is perfectly prepared to avoid any semblance of logic, rationality or objectivity.

I have seen senior bureaucrats choose survival of fiefdoms over integrity of data, personal opinions migrate into government policy, and more or less explicit disregard for the laws of the land.  The individuals who made these choices did not set out to be evil, they merely (and mistakenly) conflated personal prerogatives with the public good.  An error which is hardly unique to the civil service, of course.

Fortunately there are sane heads in the person of the Minister and, notably, his Opposition critic.

Liberal foreign affairs critic Bob Rae saw the flap as a “question of competence” on the part of the Conservative government.

He noted the issue of whether the U.S. employs torture in fighting terrorism has been hotly debated south of the border and has found its way into the current presidential campaign.

Nevertheless, said Rae, “the idea that you would equate the government of the United States with the government of Iran with respect to the treatment of prisoners is a little hard to fathom.”

With respect to the Honourable Mr. Rae, it may be hard to fathom, but it is not at all unexpected from certain quarters.  The position of the scare quotes is highly instructive.


Well-known terrorists like Yasser Arafat seem to have survived Israeli incarceration without torture or lasting harm.  Unfortunately, as Kateland points out, Israelis have no such consideration from Palestinians.

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