As the Canadian federal election approaches, Canadian Jews are faced with a serious dilemma. While Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the Conservative party have consistently voiced strong support for Israel and have backed up this rhetoric in their voting pattern at the UN, the Liberals and NDP have taken more equivocal stances. Although these two parties officially support Israel’s right to exist and its right to defend itself, their support on other related issues is inconsistent at best, and some of their candidates have even voiced outright anti-Israel positions.
The dilemma is: what’s a Jew to do? With global anti-Semitism on the rise and with many European countries taking increasingly anti-Israel positions, the well-being of the Jewish State is one of the top concerns for many Canadian Jews who have a strong connection to their homeland. A number of Jews take the position that, with the Conservatives as the only party that wholly and consistently takes a moral stance on Israel and the Middle East, how can any principled Canadian Jew justify voting for any other party? This approach has the benefit of validating the Conservatives’ pro-Israel position and ensuring that there is a dominant Jewish voice in one of Canada’s leading parties.
I vehemently disagree with this approach.
While it may seem intuitive to simply vote for the party that best supports Israel, this approach has long-term negative consequences. Today, support for Israel is incorrectly viewed as a “right-wing” issue, and the recent shift of Jewish Canadians towards voting predominantly for the Conservatives promotes this misconception and further entrenches anti-Israelism as a leftist cause. The irony of this is palpable: supporting the self-determination of an indigenous people in their homeland, defending a historically-oppressed minority group, and standing up for a democratic country grounded in Western liberal values is quite possibly the most left-wing cause there is. If there were more Jews on the left to speak out in favour of Israel to their leftist peers, perhaps support for Israel wouldn’t be as much of a partisan issue as it is today.
An exit poll from the 2011 federal election found that 52% of Jewish voters supported the Conservatives, 24% supported the Liberals, and 16% supported the NDP — a major shift from the much more balanced voting preferences among Jews prior to Harper’s reign. This becomes a self-reinforcing cycle: the Conservative party, with an increasingly strong Jewish voice, maintains its pro-Israel stance, while the Liberals and the NDP, with a rapidly diminishing Jewish voice, become progressively more anti-Israel. In the upcoming election, with the NDP and the Liberals giving Harper a run for his money, putting all of our eggs in one basket may reveal itself to have been a poor choice.
U.S. politics are instructive on this matter. For decades, U.S. support for Israel has been a bi-partisan issue: both the Democratic and Republican parties strongly support Israel as part of their basic platforms (although Republican support is definitely stronger). Because of this bi-partisan support, Israel has rarely been a vote-swaying issue for American Jews, and neither political party can effectively take advantage of Jewish voters by leveraging support for Israel (although the Republicans certainly do try). This system is possible because there are strong Jewish and pro-Israel voices on both sides of the political spectrum. Lawyer and Harvard professor Alan Dershowitz — one of the most well-known, prolific, and outspoken supporters of Israel in the entire world — frequently describes himself as a “liberal Democrat”, and his efforts have done much to promote bi-partisan support for Israel in the U.S.
If Canadian Jews want a broader support base for Israel across the political spectrum, we need to stop voting solely for the party that best supports Israel. Instead, we each need to start voting for the party that we sincerely believe will benefit Canada the most as a whole, and to make our pro-Israel voices heard as much as possible within whichever party we vote for. We need to have a strong base of Jewish voices in each of the major Canadian political parties – Conservative, Liberal, and NDP — if we want to work towards a system of tri-partisan support for Israel in Canada. Since all of the parties’ platforms have at least a very basic level of support for Israel, we’re already in a decent position. It’s time to broaden that support.
So to Canadian Jews, I implore you: vote on your principles. Vote on the economy, vote on the environment, vote on immigration, vote on tax policy, crime policy, fiscal management, Aboriginal issues — whatever matters to you. But whatever you do, and whoever you vote for, make sure your Jewish voice is heard.