Rivlin Visit to Canada Highlights Importance of Progressive Support for Israel

“Antisemitism is on the rise, and a hallmark of its latest iterations is a deep-seated hatred for Israel,” said Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during an event to mark President Rivlin’s state visit this week. “That’s why a movement like BDS or the so-called Israel Apartheid week has no place in Canada. …Any movement that calls into question Israel’s right to exist or the right of the Jewish people to self-determination is promoting antisemitism.”

When leaders like Prime Minister Trudeau condemn anti-Zionism as antisemitism and refuse to bow to BDS pressure, the pro-Israel community – including those on the Left, Right, and Centre – should celebrate.

This is not the first time Trudeau has forcefully condemned anti-Zionism and the BDS movement as tainted with antisemitism. His position is consistent with those of his predecessors from across party lines who stood with Israel.

On the Conservative benches, Prime Minister Stephen Harper was rightly recognized as one of Israel’s best friends on the global stage, as demonstrated by his strong support for Israel during multiple military operations and opposition to the demonization of Israel at the UN, the Francophonie, and elsewhere. Current Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has adopted policies on Israel that signal a similar level of commitment.

On the Liberal benches, Trudeau’s position is in keeping with those of previous party leaders. This includes prime ministers Paul Martin and Lester Pearson, who once wrote: “I never had a doubt that this problem is unsolvable without recognizing a Jewish state in the Land of Israel. For me it was always the centre of the issue.”

And looking to the NDP (Canada’s social democrats), it is worth recalling the words of Tommy Douglas, widely seen as the party’s founder and father of Canadian healthcare: “Israel was like a light set upon a hill – the light of democracy in a night of darkness… The main enmity against Israel is that she has been an affront to those nations who do not treat their people and their workers as well as Israel has treated hers.”

Multi-partisan Canadian support for Israel, past and present, is worth highlighting given the global context.

Anti-Zionists have long promoted their toxic agenda within progressive activist groups, such as unions, student organizations, and liberal Protestant churches. They are growing more aggressive in trying to convert the gains they have made in these areas into mainstream progressive politics by targeting Left-of-Centre parties and elected officials. The threat that this poses to Diaspora Jewish communities should not be underestimated.

The scandal that has plagued the US Women’s March, headed by someone who openly asserts that Zionists must be excluded from the feminist movement, was a precursor for disturbing developments in the US Congress. The Democratic caucus in the House of Representatives, once solidly pro-Israel, now includes those who tap into antisemitic tropes of dual loyalty and pro-Israel (some might say Jewish) financial manipulation in politics.

The growth of anti-Zionism in labour unions in the UK was a forerunner to the election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour Leader. Corbyn has driven Jews out of what had been, for many, their political home for generations. A poll last month revealed nearly 9 in 10 British Jews believe Corbyn to be antisemitic. More than 4 in 10 would “seriously consider” leaving the UK if he wins the next election.

While Canada has not seen the same polarization that has marked American and European politics, we are not immune to it – and the seeping of antisemitism into mainstream parties that can come with it. History shows that Jews are at risk during times of political upheaval and popular disillusionment with public institutions.

While the economic and political discontent of interwar Germany is often cited as the wellspring of Nazism, this is just one example of a consistent trend. The antisemitic violence that marked Czarist Russia (and which led many Jews to become Zionists) was directly linked to broader political turmoil. For example, the 700 pogroms that resulted in the murder of more than 3,000 Jews in the Russian Pale of Settlement in 1905-06 cannot be divorced from the failed revolution against the Czar at the time.

When people seek extreme solutions to their problems, real and perceived, they turn to the politics (and politicians) of extremism. Jews, and many others, end up in peril. What is particularly alarming about antisemitism is the speed with which events can change. Previous transformations, including Germany’s descent into Nazism, were not slow evolutions. Recent events in the UK Labour Party and the US Democratic Party have dramatically altered discourse on Zionism in both countries at a shocking speed.

We must respond quickly and decisively to such threats. To be sure, this challenge exists on both sides of the political spectrum, with far Right and far Left political players alike being courted by antisemites. On the Left side of the spectrum, this usually takes the form of anti-Zionism and BDS. This is why it is reassuring to see Canada’s Prime Minister once again shut the door to these voices, for which the pro-Israel community should take note.

About the Author
Based in Ottawa, Shimon Koffler Fogel is CEO of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) - the advocacy agent of Canada's Jewish Federations.
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