In Canada, the Jews have historically voted for the Liberal Party. Be it because of “liberal values” like support for immigration, social welfare, or official Multiculturalism, the Jews have consistently supported “Canada’s natural sovereign party” in decades past.
It’s election time, and the Jewish community here in Canada, about half of whom in 2011 voted for the Conservative Party of Canada led by Stephen Harper, whose staunch, unprecedented support for Israel has made him an ally of Canada’s Jewry, are once again headed to the polls. The Liberal Party, with a chequered past of consistent inconsistencies as far as political support for Israel is concerned, is now aiming to reclaim the votes that the Conservatives won in 2011.
At this point in the election campaign, multiple all-candidates debates have been held. I try to avoid these due to the fact that the majority of attendees are actually partisans who have already made up their mind. However it is a good chance to gain some insight into the platform that the respective party brass is passing down to local candidates as to how the campaign message is tailored to the local politics of the riding. Obviously, the politics surrounding Canada’s support for Israel is easily identified as a matter of local politics in ridings where a Jewish community makes up a sizable portion of the population.
So far the candidates of the three major parties have squared off in debates in many of the “Jewish ridings”, and while the economy is usually a dominant topic of discussion, at these local debates, Israel or some other kind of Jewish issue is also debated by the candidates. I have attended one so far, and have read accounts from others, notably the debates put on by Jewish organizations.
Without fail, at each encounter, the candidate from the Liberal Party of Canada is sure to mention that they ‘stand with Israel’ and attempt to minimize the marked difference between their party’s treatment of Israel to that of the Conservatives. This is done in two basic points, which are quite banal. The talking points are centered around two main issues:
1) It is Harper who has politicized support for Israel, and thus, he has callously been using Israel as a tactical wedge for siphoning off key support from an historically Liberal-supportive ethnic group.
2) Justin Trudeau and the Liberal Party have been just as unequivocal in support for Israel, and to say otherwise is merely playing politics with an issue that is bi-partisan in nature.
The first claim deals with a pull factor. Stephen Harper has been pushing Jewish support away from the Liberals, who will tell you that this has been done with dishonourable tactics, like making it into a wedge issue. For example, last week’s B’nai Brith debate featuring candidates from Ontario’s most Jewish riding, Thornhill, the Liberal candidate Nancy Coldham went as far as saying she was “annoyed” by the misconception that them Conservative party is the only one that supports Israel.
The second claim accounts for, or more appropriately, glosses over, the push factors from the Liberals. According to the Liberal Party, support for Israel in the Liberal Party is just as strong as it is in the Conservative party, so the new wave of support for Stephen Harper’s Conservatives among Canadian Jewry is not justified.
Of course partisans tend not to talk about their party’s weaknesses, especially during an election, so it is understandable that no Liberal candidate attempting to court Jewish voters would mention Canada’s moral failing in voting against Israel at the United Nations under previous successive Liberal governments.
In fact last week at the all-candidates debate in Winnipeg South-Center, also arranged by B’nai Brith, incumbent Conservative candidate Joyce Bateman mentioned the names of three Liberal Party candidates with anti-Israel views, Borys Wrzennewskyj (who called for striking Hezbollah off of Canada’s list of designated terrorist entities in 2006), Omar Alghabra (who called Israel’s 2014 self-defense measures against Hamas “blind and cruel”), and Darshan Kang (who spoke at a pro-Hamas rally in Calgary last summer, where, after Kang’s speech, anti-Israel activists proceeded to beat up two Jewish counter-protesters across the street). Of course rather than acknowledging this problem in the Liberal Party, Bateman’s Liberal opponent could only retort with “we don’t build ourselves up by calling other people down,”, a rather facile attempt to place the blame on the incumbent Conservative for even daring to mention the Liberal Party’s growing anti-Israel bend.
The fact is that in Canada, Jews are like all other ethnic minorities (barring First Nations): we are a diaspora community. We exist as part of this country’s exceptionally vibrant social fabric which is laced with literally hundred of ethnicities who call Canada their home. However, our roots are in the East, and as a community the safety of Israel is a top priority. Jews are not single-issue voters, but the fact is when there is pain in Israel, like the pain inflicted after those three Israeli boys were abducted, it reverberates in Jewish communities across the world, even all the way over here in Canada. And now, with Israel Apartheid Week on virtually every campus, and the proliferation of the international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS) in labour unions from coast to coast, and an incidental worldwide spike in anti-Semitic incidents, this connection to Israel is heightened, as Jews the world over find themselves yet again in a precarious position politically.
The Jewish community in Canada is the diaspora community of a country that is under constant existential threat. While historically Israel has fended off multiple military threats from her neighbouring Arab countries, today’s aggression against Israel operates on a completely different plane. Today, intellectual arguments aimed at Israel constitute philosophical and political de-legitimization. It’s not Syrian bazooka attacks that are lobbed at the Jewish State. BDS is the new war Israel and Jews the world over are facing. I have written before about the Liberals and Israel, citing my own experiences interacting with Liberal party activists who have entered the anti-Israel camp. My experiences since then have only verified this.
Nation states are the primary political actors in foreign affairs, so it is only natural that affection or antipathy for a certain state on the world stage would, in a democracy, seep into partisan politics. If there was a faction in a Canadian political party that was hostile to a certain ethnicity to the point that there existed a global, multi-level organized movement to economically strangle and politically isolate that community’s country of origin, it is quite understandably obvious that support for this party would diminish in that community.
This is the Liberal Party’s situation with Jewish Canadian voters today. The incidences of candidates openly voicing delegitimizing Israel or legitimizing terrorism against Israel are no longer incidences; they forma patter that constitutes a trend. Antipathy towards Israel, the modern-day expression of Jewish self-determination and ancestral rights, has seeped into the Liberal Party of Canada. I imagine that between 2011 and now it has grown. I would not be surprised if the gap between Jewish support for the Liberal Party and the Conservative Party grows. Why aren’t the Liberals?