Benjamin Rubin

Swan Song to Canada’s Jewish Golden Age

NDP members of Canada’s Parliament appropriate the keffiyeh for their vote. Screenshot photo by B. Rubin

As a Jew, I am watching in dismay as Hamas seems to be winning the war that Hamas unilaterally instigated on October 7 by its horrific assault. Hamas, which committed the actual war crimes of intentional killing, rape and torture of civilians, taking civilian hostages for ransom, and purposefully embedding military personnel and weapons within and below civilian homes, schools and even hospitals, has, with a brilliant campaign of disinformation, fine-tuned for a short-attention-span world of instant communication, and fanned by vehement supporters in the West, diverted public outrage away from Hamas’ actual war crimes, and directed it against Israel’s difficult military response. Hamas’ religiously motivated leaders are willing to put their own civilian population in harm’s way. Indeed, Hamas’ primary military strategy is to have as many Palestinian civilians as possible killed, or suffering, in order to turn public opinion against Israel, and to induce those in the West who support Hamas’ side of the war (such as Canada’s left-wing New Democratic Party) to put forward resolutions calling for a ceasefire, an arms embargo against Israel and official recognition of the State of Palestine, as the NDP did in Canada’s House of Commons on March 18.

But as a Canadian citizen, I am also watching with dismay as Canada’s rightly celebrated multicultural tolerance and civic norms are being violated by mob violence against Jewish schools, community centres and synagogues, by vandalism against Jewish owned businesses and university Hillel clubs, and by cancellation of speakers, theatrical productions and even a Jewish film festival.  All the while the federal political leadership under Trudeau’s Liberal Party – the party which in the 1970s instigated and championed Canada’s policy of multiculturalism – turns a blind eye to these worrying developments in Canadian society, if not actually supporting (or even, by some members of the Liberal caucus) encouraging them.

Current Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau responded in February 2022 to a truckers’ convoy and Ottawa street blockade protesting government Covid restrictions by invoking the Emergencies Act, freezing protesters’ bank accounts and granting police emergency powers to quell the protest. Justin Trudeau’s authoritarian response (since adjudicated improper by a Canadian court) was an echo of his father Pierre Trudeau’s invocation of the War Measures Act in October 1970, when the terrorist FLQ (Front de Liberation du Quebec) kidnapped and murdered Quebec Cabinet Minister Pierre LaPorte.  But the truckers’ 2022 protests were against Trudeau Jr. and his government, not against Jews.

In early 2022, Justin Trudeau even seized on a single instance of a swastika waved at the trucker’s convoy to castigate a Jewish Conservative MP, Melissa Lantsman, a daughter of Holocaust survivors who expressed sympathy to the trucker convoy and who opposed invocation of the Emergencies Act, as MPs who “stand with people who wave swastikas”.

Two years later, when anti-Israel street protests are rife with comparisons of Israelis to Nazis, and signs equating the Star of David to the swastika, Trudeau has not accused any of the MPs, including those in his own caucus, who express sympathy to the anti-Israel protests, as MPs who “stand with people who wave swastikas”.

Interestingly, Trudeau was not the first Liberal Prime Minister afraid of certain categories of street protests (though not of others).

In 1938, Liberal Prime Minister Mackenzie King feared “riots in the streets” if he let in Jews trying to escape Nazi Germany. A year before his government denied access to the 904 Jews aboard the MS St. Louis who fled Germany for North America, King wrote in his private diary:

“We must nevertheless seek to keep this part of the Continent free from unrest and from too great an intermixture of foreign strains of blood, as much the same thing as lies at the basis of the Oriental problem. I fear we would have riots if we agreed to a policy that admitted numbers of Jews.”  [Excerpt from King’s private diary, 29 March 1938.]

In the 1930s, other than at Toronto’s Christie Pits, there were no “riots in the streets” by White Anglo-Saxon Protestants in English Canada, although there certainly were antisemitic land covenants written into deeds of cottage properties forbidding their sale to members of the Jewish race, and there were strict quotas on Jews for admissions to medical school or hospital residencies, and no Jewish judges were appointed.  In the 1930s there were also no “riots in the streets” even among the then staunchly Catholic and frankly antisemitic Quebecois, where Jews were denounced in the Catholic and popular press, and the “Achat Chez Nous” movement was led by Church and nationalist leaders to institute a boycott of all Jewish businesses in Quebec.

But today there are “riots in the streets” of English Toronto and French Montreal. However they are not by staunch Protestants or Catholics, who object to the existence of Jewish immigrants in the Dominion of Canada, but mostly by Canadians of the Mohammedan persuasion, part of the 2 million Muslims – now five times the size of Canada’s Jewish community of 400,000 – who object to the existence of Jews in the State of Israel.  For now, these are relatively small riots, not as bad as the marches for Palestine that are a regular part of a weekend in London. As renowned English author Howard Jacobson writes, “Every Saturday in England is now Vilify Israel Shabbes. I meet the marches half-way by not calling them Hate Marches. I’d like them to meet me half-way by not calling themselves Peace Marches.”

But the “riot in the street” that most upset me personally was by a small anti-Israel mob in front of Toronto’s Mount Sinai hospital.  I’m not sure what upset me most about that, a video of which can be seen here:

Maybe it’s because Mount Sinai was founded by Jews in the 1920s to provide residencies for Jewish doctors unable to work at Canadian hospitals. Maybe because Toronto’s Jewish-founded hospital, now open to all Canadians, is named Mount Sinai, where the Law of Moses was given, and where the newly liberated people of Israel entered into a covenant with God. Or maybe, on a smaller scale, because in 1957, during Canada’s Jewish golden age, it was at Toronto’s Mt. Sinai hospital where I was born.

But I think what disturbed me, as a Canadian, about the video of the nighttime mob in front of Toronto’s Mt. Sinai, was not the young man scrambling up to plant a Palestinian flag over the entrance. It was the sound of the woman’s voice screaming intifada, while the video camera is focused on the politely Canadian sign on University Avenue that states: HOSPITAL Quiet.


On March 18, 2024, Canada’s House of Commons voted to pass a non-binding motion on the current Israel-Hamas War. It was originally brought forward by Jagmeet Singh’s New Democratic Party (NDP), Canada’s left-wing party.  Although the NDP placed fourth in the last election in 2021, their 25 Parliamentary seats are critical to support the minority government of Justin Trudeau’s Liberals, with 156 seats, 14 short of the 170 needed to govern.

The original NDP motion called to “recognize the State of Palestine”, suspend “all trade in military goods and technology with Israel”, and for an immediate unconditional ceasefire.  March 18 was designated a day when Opposition parties in Parliament can put forward a motion. Although the NDP signed a “confidence-and-supply” agreement with the Liberals, the NDP is still technically an “Opposition” party. As such, Trudeau’s Liberals could have simply heard the motion, and voted against it.

Instead, based on last minute negotiations between the NDP and the Liberals that extended the parliamentary session for two hours, the House of Commons passed a softened version of the New Democrat motion that, after last-minute amendments brought in by the Liberals, no longer called for the federal government to officially recognize Palestinian statehood. It was done in such haste that the amended motion was not even initially translated into French, as required.

Softening the NDP’s original language, one of the 14 amendments called for the government to work toward “the establishment of the State of Palestine as part of a negotiated two-state solution,” and ceasing the further EXPORT of arms to Israel (thus allowing Canada to continue to IMPORT Israeli military technology, which it does).

The vote on the non-binding motion   – initially set to take place at 7:30 pm – caused confusion in the House of Commons. Late that evening, Liberals moved to amend the NDP motion by replacing clauses entailing recognition and alluding to genocide – points that the NDP emphasized, that deviated from Canada’s long-standing position, and which particularly angered most of Canada’s Jewish community.

Other changes included referring to Hamas as a terrorist organization, affirming that Israel has a right to defend itself, and demanding that Hamas release all hostages and lay down its arms.

In the end, the motion passed 204 – 117, with only the Conservative caucus, three Liberal MPs (Anthony Housefather, Marco Mendicino, and Ben Carr), and Kevin Vuong (Independent), voting against it. Three Jewish Liberal MPs voted in favour: Julie Dabrusin (from a heavily Muslim riding), Karina Gould, Government Leader in the House of Commons, and even Ya’ara Saks, the Jewish-Israeli MP and Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, who a week prior had appeared in a photo with Canada’s Foreign Minister Melanie Joly and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, smiling and shaking hands.

Though all but three of Trudeau’s Liberal MPs voted in favour of the amended motion, Liberal MP Anthony Housefather (Mount Royal) not only voted against it, but spoke out forcefully against it, in a speech that has gone viral.  Although Housefather’s March 18 speech is seen as a courageous call, bravely speaking truth to power, and a heartfelt cri de coeur, I also see it as a swan song of Canada’s Liberal Jewish Golden Age.

I set out the text for you to read and judge for yourself.

Liberal MP Anthony Housefather (Mount Royal):

Mr. Speaker, I am a Canadian, I am a Jew, and I am a Zionist.

I am proud to have been born in this country. I am proud that my family came here in the 19th century and helped build this country. My family members fought in World War I and World War II. We are part of Canada and lucky to be so.

I’ve represented Canada in swimming internationally. I’ve represented Canada as a parliamentarian, and there’s no place in the world I want to be other than in Canada.

The Jewish community of which I am part is a religious community that has existed for thousands of years. But we’re also a people. And since we’ve been here in 1760, have helped build this country. We got enormous opportunities, more than we’ve received anywhere else in history. But we’ve also, in academia, in law, in medicine, in physics, and science, and sports, and journalism, we have helped build this country.

And 95% of Canadian Jews are Zionists. Zionism means we believe that we have a right to have one Jewish State in our ancestral homeland. Jews are indigenous to Israel, and we have had a history where Jews have faced persecution in every country in the world. We were expelled from England in 1290. We were expelled from Spain and Portugal in the 1490s. We faced the Crusades where people were killed, we were put in ghettos throughout Europe. We faced the Holocaust. Jews were expelled from Arab lands in the ‘40s, ‘50s, ‘60s, and ‘70s, and we needed one place where every Jew in the world knew if things went wrong in their country, that they could go. And that is Israel, and that’s what Zionism means.

So when I get horrible – horrible – threats and emails, saying I’m a dirty Zionist instead of a dirty Jew – that’s what Zionism means. So at all these demonstrations around the country outside of synagogues, and outside of Jewish schools, and outside of Jewish community centers where people are screaming about how horrible Zionists are – well I am a Zionist and I’m not embarrassed or ashamed of being a Zionist.

And Canadian Jews should not have to live through what we’re living through right now. My community is terrified. We are being intimidated over and over by people protesting outside of Jewish buildings. Canadian Jews have no control over what happens in the State of Israel, yet for some reason Jewish buildings across this country are being targeted. In my own riding, at the Jewish Community offices, where the Jewish public library and the Holocaust Museum are located, demonstrators went on private property, surrounded the building, blocked access to the building and blocked anyone from leaving for over three hours. This is happening all over the place, and the demonstrators, while they are perfectly allowed and right to demonstrate wherever they want, they cannot go on private property, and they can’t block other people from exercising their right to free speech. If I can’t enter a building because I can’t hear a speaker, and they block me and they yell at me and they scream at me and stop me from going in, well then, their rights are infringing on my rights, and police need to step in and act as police, and all leaders across this country need to tell them to do so because this is not fair anymore.

It is too much.

And Jewish Canadians just don’t deserve this. On campuses across this country Jewish students have told me horrible stories from British Columbia to Newfoundland about being intimidated on campus, about walking into dormitories, and having anti-Israel slogans through the walls. They walk into a building, and they’re asked, “Are you a Zionist or not?” And if they’re a Zionist, supposedly they’re not allowed into their dorm.

This is not Canada. This is not the country that I know and love, and nobody should be forced to feel this way, which is then how I get to this motion: because the Jewish community right now is demoralized and intimidated.

This motion creates one winner and one loser. Most Canadian Muslims will vastly support this motion. And they’re feeling lots of pain right now in watching the events that are happening in Gaza. But Canadian Jews, if this motion is adopted, will feel tremendous pain because the way this motion is constructed, it is clearly creating a false equivalency of the State of Israel and the terrorist organization Hamas. And in the event that we want this war to end, Hamas can easily lay down arms and surrender and return the hostages and stop using citizens of Gaza as human shields.

And essentially, while I appreciate my colleagues in the NDP, this motion as some other colleagues have said, rewards Hamas. We for generations in Canada, under successive Liberal and Conservative governments, have said that the way to recognize a Palestinian state which we all want, living in peace side-by-side with Israel, and in dignity, and offering dignity to both peoples, should come when the two states – the two parties – negotiate their borders and the Palestinians elect a government to govern that territory.

The West Bank is governed by Fatah, which has been in power without an election for 20 years. Mr. Abbas was elected in 2004. And on the other side, in Gaza, you have a terrorist organization, Hamas, that has not held elections since 2007, and is recognized by Canada as being a terrorist organization.

So, Hamas launched the deadliest attack on Israel, the deadliest pogrom against Jews since the Holocaust, and we’re changing our foreign policy to reward Hamas and say, “Good for you terrorists! You attacked a sovereign state, killed lots of people, including babies and women and everyone else, and raped and pillaged, and brought people back as hostages, who have now been there for almost five months, and yeah let’s recognize that state that we’ve never recognized before.”

What a great idea for other places in the world where terrorism ferments. Who would love this? Iran. Iran would love this, because Iran is the people in the Middle East that are fermenting terrorism everywhere, whether it’s Hezbollah in the North, or Hamas in the South, they are supporting this and they are loving every minute as the world tears itself apart to criticize Israel instead of focusing on Iran and its regime.

And when you talk about arms sales, Mr. Speaker, let’s first recognize that the American government supplies billions of dollars of arms to Israel. Canada, and the Canadian Government, don’t sell arms to Israel directly. We have provided for many years only non-lethal weapons, because nobody’s applied for lethal weapon permits. These non-lethal weapons are going to a friend and ally, Israel, at a time of war.

Imagine what the world would look like if all the countries in the world – which I presume is the principle of the motion – say we will not ship arms or even non-lethal weapons to Israel, while Hamas and Hezbollah will continue to get their weapons from Iran, through Egypt, and through Lebanon. So Israel, while it has missiles launched at it from Hezbollah in the North, and Hamas in the South, will be unable to fight back, and be bereft of weapons. That, Mr. Speaker, is a false equivalency that we’re now making between Hamas – a terrorist organization – and Israel. And I don’t think that this motion goes toward furthering anything toward peace. In fact it’s doing the opposite: it’s telling our friend and ally that they’re being treated in a different way than a terrorist organization, which is benefiting from weapons being shipped to it.

I had the opportunity, with the Member from Calgary Nose Hill, and the Member from Eglington-Lawrence, and the member from Thornhill, and the Member for Winnipeg (I wish I could remember the name of the riding) Charleswood – St. James – Assiniboia – Headingley, to visit Israel.

We saw the wreck of the destruction of Hamas. We visited a kibbutz where we saw buildings burned, and people who had been burned to death in their safe rooms. We saw blood splattered all over the place, houses ransacked. We heard from people who had been terrorized. And you have to understand, Mr. Speaker, Israel feels that if they don’t destroy the terrorist group Hamas, there will be another pogrom that kills more Israelis tomorrow, or the next week, or the next month.

So I understand how horrible it is to see the situation in Gaza. I understand how the world looks at it with revulsion to see people dying. But we also have to understand that a democratic nation has been on many occasions attacked, wars started against it, and now, all sides in Israel feel they need to fight back.

And so, Mr. Speaker, I stand with Israel, our democratic ally, our friend.

And we, when a time of war is when you look at countries and you say, “Do you stand with our ally or not?”

Mr. Speaker, Canada should be standing with Israel.

Canada should be defending the right of Israel to fight back against a terrorist organization, and we should not be passing motions that make the terrorist organization equivalent to a democratic state.   Thank you.

About the Author
Benjamin Rubin was Chair of Limmud Toronto 2018, elected to Zionist Congress, and VP of Canada-Israel Chamber of Commerce. Under his pen name eBenBrandeis, he composes YouTube poems, translated from Hebrew a pre-war Pinsk biography, edited and published a book of contemporary Jewish humour, and created, a Zionist conceptual art project. Since retiring from the practice of law, he and his wife split their time between Toronto and Tel Mond. He has an abiding interest in Israeli contemporary music, the Golden Age of Hebrew poets from Andalusia, and the Muslim-Christian-Jewish convivencia of Spain. Writer, producer and director of the Zoom teleplay series, “Golden Age Travel”, about 12th century Hebrew poet and Arabic Jewish philosopher, Yehuda HaLevi, travelling through time. Episodes of the series have been performed online at Limmud Festivals in Toronto, Boston, Seattle and Winnipeg. GAT episode VI, "Berlin 28, Paris 38, Jerusalem 61" was premiered at Limmud Toronto November 2021.
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