I had posted on Sept. 2nd, “Canada’s Socialists vie for power; Israel divides Jews,” on what then was a close three-way Canadian election campaign, with the democratic socialist New Democratic Party (NDP) holding a narrow lead. The Conservative prime minister, Stephen Harper, was understood to be making significant inroads into the Jewish vote on the basis of a loud pro-Netanyahu, “pro-Israel” appeal.
In the end, on Oct. 19th, the Liberal party won a surprisingly strong majority mandate, under the leadership of Justin Trudeau, and the NDP fell back to its usual distant third place nationally. I asked Stephen Scheinberg, a retired history prof living in Montreal, whom I know as a supporter of Peace Now and from having participated in a Meretz USA Israel Symposium years ago, if the NDP lost because its leader, Tom Mulcaire, inexplicably tacked right on economics, by advocating a balanced budget, while Trudeau tacked left by embracing deficit spending on public works to expand the economy; and if most of the Jewish community supported Harper this time.
I would agree that Mulcair tacked right but it was explicable. The party managers felt that they could win but feared tory attacks which would label them “tax and spend”. Therefore they dressed M. in gray suits, told him to tone down his rhetoric so there would be no sign of “angry Tom” and felt Trudeau was not the competition. The Liberals skilfully went “left” showing a willingness to run deficits and promote infrastructure programmes. The Jewish vote was more divided this time. Montreal’s Mt. Royal stayed Liberal but Thornhill stayed Conservative, in Toronto. I did not see exit polls on the Jewish vote but heard much favorable Trudeau comment.I think Canadian foreign policy in the ME will be much more even handed now. Dion the new foreign minister will probably be much more sympathetic to a two state approach.
Canada the good may have returned.
I then consulted with Mira Sucharov, an associate professor of political science at Carleton University, Ottawa, whom we know as a columnist for Haaretz and a fellow supporter of Israel’s peace camp. By way of response, she directed me to her recent Haaretz column, “Liberals sweep Canadian election, ousting Harper in landslide — The Jewish specter haunting Canada’s elections.” She wrote of “pro-Israel” rhetoric appealing for Jewish votes and an unprecedented degree of harsh polarization among Canadian Jews, similar to events in the US. I quote:
. . . Once the party which had long garnered the most Jewish support, the Liberals had fallen behind the Conservatives in the previous election with 52% of Jews voting Conservative in 2011. … early indicators suggest a backlash against what had come to be known as the Harper leadership style.
At least three heavily Jewish ridings returned to Liberal from Conservative: Winnipeg South Centre; Eglinton-Lawrence; and York Centre. In Mount Royal and in Markham-Thornill, also well-known Jewish ridings, the Liberals also prevailed. …
Harper’s bid to make Israel a wedge issue failed. When he suggested in the leaders’ foreign policy debate that his government was the best supporter of Israel, Trudeau shut him down. In media interviews, both Trudeau and NDP leader Tom Mulcair spoke out forcefully against the boycott movement. Trudeau even spoke in language right out of a Jewish Federation-style playbook, calling BDS “demonization, delegitimization and double standards,” adding, “that’s just not what we are as a country.”
Still, there remains the fundamental question of whether Harper’s Israel policies were any different from those of his predecessors. Bernie Farber, former head of Canadian Jewish Congress, pointed out that…, “Harper changed not one comma” on Canada’s official policy.
. . . Reading through Canada’s official policy one might think one was perhaps reading the Arab Peace Initiative. Canada doesn’t recognize Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem; Canada believes that a just solution to the Palestinian refugee problem must take heed of international law, including UN Resolution 194; Canada declares that Israeli settlements are a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention.
Most would agree, though, that there was something different in Harper’s approach to Israel: its [combative pro-Israel] tone. …
And then there are the spillover effects to the Jewish community of the Harper legacy. Farber points to mainstream Jewish organizations “tilting very strongly to the right since Harper became prime minister,” adding that “there’s a polarization I’ve never seen before in the Canadian Jewish community.” The mutual name-calling, the narrowing of open discourse, what Jewish tradition calls sinat chinam (baseless hatred) have all been intensifying.
It’s a dynamic that has frequently affected me in my Jewish communal life over the last several years, most recently when I was told in advance of a scheduled community project meeting that a fellow member of the Jewish community refused to have me in his home because of my columns. …