Liberals, Conservatives battle for Jewish support in Canada
June 29, 2009 § 1 Comment
Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada, celebrating the
60th anniversary of the ethnic cleansing of Palestine.
The following is an illuminating look at Canada where a perverse race to the bottom is taking place to gain Zionist electoral support. Apparently Michael Ignatieff is trying to out-Zion that staunch supporter of Israeli crimes Stephen Harper. Quite a task: one that has Ignatieff appologising for daring to call the bombing of civilians in Qana, Lebanon, 2006, a war-crime.
By Jennifer Ditchburn, The Canadian Press:
The fact Liberal MP Anita Neville is Jewish just didn’t seem to hold as much sway with her Winnipeg community last election.
Neville watched as some of her formerly faithful Jewish supporters left for the Conservative party, impressed by its unequivocal pro-Israel stance.
It was a phenomenon felt in other Liberal ridings with significant Jewish populations. One of those ridings actually went blue.
“I have some constituents who for them, (Israel) is the only issue, and they will vote based on that issue and we were not in a good place at that time and not clear in our responses,” Neville said of the period before the 2008 campaign.
“That is not the case anymore.”
The Liberal party is now struggling to regain its cachet with Canada’s Jewish community before the next election.
Leader Michael Ignatieff gave one of his strongest pro-Israel speeches yet, to the Canadian Jewish Congress last month, pushing the party away from a moral neutrality on Middle East issues that made some in the Jewish community unhappy.
“We cannot be neutral between democracy and terror,” Ignatieff said.
But regaining lost ground won’t be easy.
One has only to look at Immigration Minister Jason Kenney’s travel schedule to see what kind of aggressive support the Tories have given to the fight against anti-Semitism, to Holocaust awareness and to Israel.
On Monday, Kenney attends the Holocaust Era Assets Conference in Prague to discuss the return of goods stolen from the Jews by the Nazis.
Later he will tour the grim fortress of Terezin, the site of a concentration camp that served as a way station for Jews on their way to death at other horrific sites.
Last week, Kenney confirmed Canada had won full membership in the Task Force on International Co-operation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance and Research.
There were other more significant gestures.
Canada was the first to boycott the UN World Conference on Racism last year, complaining of an anti-Semitic undercurrent. Other countries followed.
And it instituted a fund to support community organizations that might face vandalism or worse by racist elements.
“We were taking these positions long before we had any realistic chance of winning constituencies with a significant number of Jewish voters,” Kenney said in an interview.
“We believe we’ve taken these positions consistently and on principle. Political considerations are not really on the table.”
Still, the Conservative and Liberal policies on the Middle East are identical. Both support the road map-to-peace process, with its vision of both a strong state of Israel and state of Palestine.
Joseph Ben-Ami, a former adviser to Harper, says it’s all a question of nuance in how positions are communicated.
“Those of us in our community, we’ve sort of felt a little abandoned in the past by other governments who have not been willing to be as unequivocal and straightforward and call a spade a spade,” said Ben-Ami, president of the Canadian Centre for Policy Studies.
Even Liberals concede that Harper’s intense focus on Israel and the Jewish community seems a matter of personal conviction.
And Conservative insiders say it’s in line with the views of many grassroots conservatives as well as a strong element of Canada’s Christian community.
“It comes from a conservative world view that democracies are our friends and dictatorships do not share our common values,” says author and Conservative pundit Ezra Levant.
But there’s a partisan side to their positions that Conservatives are reluctant to discuss.
Party documents leaked to the Globe and Mail in 2007 revealed the Tories saw Jewish voters as the ticket to winning certain ridings where they were only 5,000 votes from a win.
They courted controversy by identifying Jewish voters’ addresses and sending them Rosh Hashanah cards. Fundraising letters were sent out encouraging donations to keep up the fight against anti-Semitism and for Israel.
Those tactics and Harper’s visibility in the community worked wonders in the Toronto-area Thornhill riding, where Liberal MP Susan Kadis – a Jewish Canadian – lost to Conservative Peter Kent last fall.
Kadis, who is looking at running again, says the party is trying to turn things around, starting with Ignatieff.
“Jewish Canadians can be very confident in Michael Ignatieff’s position in the right of Israel to be secure, to exist, and a two-state solution,” Kadis said.
Kadis it seems has turned the page on the difficult summer of 2006, the time of the Israeli-Hezbollah conflict in Lebanon.
Ignatieff, then a leadership candidate, caused stunning damage to the party’s traditionally strong Jewish support when he said Israel had committed war crimes when it bombed civilians in the Lebanese town of Qana.
Other Liberals who questioned the proportionality of the Israeli attacks against Hezbollah added to a perception their support for Israel was soft.
Kadis was his Toronto campaign co-chair and quit in protest. High-profile Canadians such as filmmaker Robert Lantos and corporate power couple Gerry Schwartz and Heather Reisman said they would support the Conservatives.
Liberal blogger Jason Cherniak and a group of friends resurrected an unofficial group called Liberal Friends of Israel as that storm brewed, trying to staunch the bleeding.
Ignatieff has been getting things back on track, apologizing repeatedly for his war-crimes remarks, but he faces harsh rhetoric from the Tories.
“It is all too common nowadays for politicians to claim to support Israel and the Jewish people in forums such as these,” Harper said after receiving a human-rights award last month from the Canadian Jewish Congress.
“Yet, when Israel is attacked … these same politicians are quick to condemn Israel, accuse it of war crimes, and demand that it unilaterally suspend its right to self-defence.”
Ignatieff’s response has been to take the high road.
“My party will never claim to be the only genuine defenders of Israel in Canadian politics because I don’t want my party to be alone in the defence of Israel – I want all parties to be genuine defenders of Israel.”