Last September, members of Jewish communities around Canada and the world felt great pride as Annamie Paul became the first Jewish woman of colour to take the helm of a major party.
No matter one’s political leanings, to see such an accomplished, thoughtful person elected as leader of the Green Party of Canada was a major event in the Jewish community. People were already kvelling, imagining her during the next federal leaders’ debate: a strong Black woman and a proud Jew taking on Justin Trudeau, Erin O’Toole, Jagmeet Singh and Yves-François Blanchette.
What a great example for our children and grandchildren to see that there are no limits to political leadership in Canada!
Sadly, however, from the beginning of the leadership race and into her tenure as leader, Ms. Paul faced misogyny and racism within the Green Party that identified a strong woman of colour as angry. Importantly, those comments were disavowed by Green Members of Parliament and the Leadership Council of the party as offensive and inflammatory.
However, there was silence about the antisemitism Ms. Paul faced related to her religion and perceived stance on Israel and the Palestinians.
During the leadership race, a suggestion came from a Green riding president that an independent investigator “should shadow Paul as she speaks in synagogues to observe her membership drives and fundraising.” Another recommendation was that “Canadian politicians who self-identify as Jewish should have to declare that they do not consider themselves a citizen of Israel.”
This was reminiscent of one of Paul’s opponents for leadership accusing two Jewish MPs of being more loyal to Israel than to Canada, their own party and leader. We know from history that the accusation of dual loyalty has been an antisemitic trope, leading to the most terrible persecutions.
Now, only eight months into her leadership, Paul has been blocked and bloodied — from within her own party — just a short time before a widely anticipated federal election. For some Green activists, it is more important to sabotage Paul’s leadership — even at the price of hurting their Party’s chances at the polls — rather than having as leader someone who believes that the Jewish people have the right to self-determination in their aboriginal homeland, a position widely shared in the Canadian Jewish community.
There is a clear double-standard in how Paul is being treated. And there is a growing perception within the Jewish community that the Green Party is not kosher for Jews. Less than a decade ago, its Jewish president, Paul Estrin, was forced out of leadership following his support of the right of Israel to defend itself against missile attacks.
An in-depth study of Canada’s Jewish community released in March 2019 by the University of Toronto, York University and the Environics Institute shows that support for Israel is an important part of Canadian Jews’ identity. Canadian Jews have a ‘strong connection to Israel’ and ‘a large majority express an emotional attachment to Israel’. Jews are being asked to check this part of ourselves – that Israel has a right to exist- at the door if we want to be active in the Green Party.
The treatment of Paul creates a serious question for Jews and others passionately concerned about Canadian environmental policies: Are we welcome in the Green Party?
As Canadian rabbis, we regret the need to affirm the importance of full participation of all citizens, including Jews, in the political sphere. It is not only a right, but a responsibility. It is incumbent upon all citizens of our country to constructively engage in politics, to identify areas needing improvement, and to work to make Canada better.
Antisemitism is inherent racism. The internal politics of the Green Party to thwart their Black, Jewish, female leader from actually leading tell our daughters and sons that there are some places that are not open to them, where they cannot exercise their democratic rights in safety and with respect. This is not the way forward.
It is not too late for the Federal Council of the Green Policy to reconsider the message they are sending to diverse Canadians. We hope — for the sake of us all — that they will choose a better path.
Philip Bregman, Rabbi Emeritus, Temple Sholom, Vancouver
Baruch Frydman-Kohl, Rabbi Emeritus, Beth Tzedec Congregation, Toronto
Adam Scheier, Senior Rabbi, Shaar Shomayim Congregation, Montreal