Stephen Harper says Canada will stand against "anti-Israel rhetoric" at international organizations like the United Nations as long as he is prime minister — "whatever the cost."

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Prime Minister Stephen Harper delivers a speech on Monday at the annual conference of the Canadian Parliamentary Coalition for Combating Anti-Semitism in Ottawa. ((Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press) )

The prime minister, speaking Monday at the start of an annual conference on combating anti-Semitism in Ottawa, said he's "got bruises to show" for speaking out in the international community against enemies of Israel.

Although he did not give specifics, Harper was likely referring to Canada's failed bid for a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council last month. He also insisted there are "a lot more votes" in being anti-Israel than in "taking a stand."

Critics of the Conservative government have cited Harper's unwavering support of Israel during its ongoing conflict with the Palestinians as a possible reason for Canada's failure to gain a Security Council seat for the first time since the international body's creation.

But Harper said the "evolving phenomenon" of anti-Semitism targets the Jewish people by portraying Israel as "the source of injustice and conflict in the world, and uses perversely the language of human rights to do so." 

"We must be relentless in exposing this new anti-Semitism for what it is," Harper said.

Israel, like any country, may be subjected to fair criticism, he said. But Harper told the audience that Canada must oppose what he called the "three Ds" — demonization, double standards and delegitimization.

"And like any free country Israel subjects itself to such criticism, healthy, necessary, democratic debate," he said. "But when Israel, the only country in the world whose very existence is under attack, is consistently and conspicuously singled out for condemnation, I believe we are morally obligated to take a stand."

Ignatieff targets Iran, UN seat loss

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Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff, in a speech to the conference, says Canada 'has an innocence that we very urgently need to shed' on the global reach of anti-Semitism. ((CBC))

Harper said history has shown it is critical to fight anti-Semitism because those who threaten the existence of the Jewish people are ultimately a threat to everyone.

The Ottawa conference, organized by the Canadian Parliamentary Coalition for Combating Anti-Semitism, later heard from Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff, who said the "vicious modern anti-Semitism" is a "threat to all humanity."

In his address, Ignatieff singled out Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's "utterly unacceptable" comments and threats toward Israel. He said Canada must stand against the "strategic threat" Iran presents not just to Israel, but to the entire Middle East.

The Opposition leader also levelled criticism at Harper for Canada's failure to win a temporary seat on the UN Security Council, saying it was not a "moral victory" to lose out on a position from which Canada could have defended Israel on the international stage.

"If Canada wishes to defend Israel against Iran, as it should, it would have been nice to be on the UN Security Council," Ignatieff said.

Canada, Ignatieff added, "has an innocence that we very urgently need to shed" on the global reach of anti-Semitism. Anti-Semitism fuels fire-bombings of religious schools within Canada's own borders, as well as the mail bombs recently shipped from Yemen, Ignatieff said.

The Liberal leader also condemned the "one-sided parade" of anti-Israel condemnations at the UN, as well as those who use the ongoing Mideast conflict as an "excuse to fuel their hatred."

In 2006, Ignatieff sparked controversy by saying he was "not losing sleep" over an Israeli air attack in the southern Lebanese village of Qana during the 34-day conflict between Israeli forces and Hezbollah guerillas.

Ignatieff, then a candidate for his party's leadership, subsequently called the incident a war crime, then clarified his remarks by saying he was a lifelong supporter of the state of Israel and it was up to international bodies to determine war crimes.