Have you hugged a Jew today?
Couldn’t hurt, on any day, given some worrisome trends in Canada – though less here than in Europe – to demonize both Jews and Israel, particularly via the rubric of anti-Zionism, which anybody with half a brain recognizes for what it is: The same old anti-Semitism tarted up in sleazy pedantic finery.
But yesterday, at the Beth Emeth Bais Yehuda synagogue in North York, the most astonishing thing happened. Leaders of Canada’s political parties got all gushy and goopy, practically falling over one another to show they love Jews – and Israel – best.
How gratifying this must have been for those assembled, and a wider constituency that has found itself besieged anew, bewildered and alarmed by the increasing brazenness of Jew-bashing in this country, a toxic debate that finds fertile soil in the political sludge of the Middle East.
There was Prime Minister Stephen Harper using the occasion to announce a new bill that would allow victims to sue perpetrators and sponsors of terrorism – whether individuals, organizations or foreign states – through Canadian courts, civilly.
And there was Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff, sounding rather ticked that the Tories had thus pre-empted a private member’s bill on that very issue, which justice critic Irwin Cotler had planned to introduce in the Commons.
Jack Layton had no such bill in his back pocket – perhaps left it in his other pants – but was adamant that New Democrats stood four-square with the Canadian Jewish Congress as human-rights advocates, whilst denying that new-wave anti-Semitism is a phenomenon of the modern left.
The Green party’s Elizabeth May extolled Israel as “an exemplar of democracy” in the Middle East, while claiming violence in the region is fuelled by “petro-dollars to petro-dictators.” The Bloc called in sick and was excused.
Of course, this was the 29th plenary assembly of the CJC and none of the invited speakers would dare wrangle with their hosts on the details. But beyond the core consensus of a two-state solution in the Middle East, it’s always the details that kibosh any proposals for ending the Palestinian conflict, securing Israel’s security, or civilizing the discussion.
Harper was there to accept the prestigious Saul Hayes Human Rights award, named for a former CJC executive director, the first time it’s been given to a sitting PM. The standing ovation lasted for several minutes. While traditionally tilting Liberal, many Canadian Jews now embrace Harper as Israel’s staunchest defender.
“I am troubled, very troubled, by the degree in which opposition to the government of Israel has become, in some circles, an intellectual cover for anti-Semitic discourse,” Harper said, to rousing cheers.
“It is all too common nowadays for people to claim to support Israel and the Jewish people. Yet when Israel is attacked for the umpteenth time, because its enemies refuse to accept the right of the Jewish state to exist, these same people are quick to condemn Israel and accuse it of war crimes and to demand that it unilaterally suspend its right to self-defence.
“You will not hear that kind of double-talk from our government – ever.”
While certainly not all Jewish Canadians support Israel’s conduct, the Harper government has been widely praised for being among the first to cut aid to the Palestians following the election of terrorist-designated Hamas, withdraw from Durban II and refuse to sign a francophone nation summit anti-Israel resolution.
Ignatieff yesterday conceded no ground to Harper’s Tories on steadfastness with Israel.
First he teed off on Iran, “a dreadful regime that uses a great religion and then poisons the wellspring of generosity in that great religion with statements inspired by hatred. This is a state seeking weapons of mass destruction. This is a member of the UN denying another member of the UN the right to exist. Canada cannot be silent when one state denies another state their right to exist. Canada cannot be silent when a president of a state denies the Holocaust. And we cannot be in the room when the president of a state engages in vicious lies. Denial of the Holocaust is an unacceptable moral disgrace.”
Ignatieff reminded that his father was a Canadian diplomat who served on the UN committee that recommended partitioning Palestine – “a plan accepted by Jews, but rejected by the Arab world. Too much violence has followed.”
Five months ago, Ignatieff drew intense criticism for refusing to assail Israel’s protracted military assault on Gaza, in response to incessant rocketing of Israeli towns. “I was proud to stand with Israel, my party was proud to stand with Israel, during that hour of trial.”
As an elected politician, Ignatieff added, he is required to represent and listen to all factions. “But it does not mean agreeing with everyone and there are some lines I cannot cross. I cannot be neutral between a member of the UN and a terrorist organization. I cannot be neutral between democracy and terror. I cannot be neutral with historical facts. I cannot meet groups or appear on platforms with groups that have links or connections to terror.
“I cannot say one thing in a synagogue and another in a mosque.”
But Ignatieff, sensing electoral drifts ahead, warned against exploitation of solidarity with Israel as a partisan political wedge.
“It is reckless, reckless, for leaders to try to score points by branding one another as anti-Israel, to try to claim votes by claiming a monopoly on support for Israel. The true interests of Israel will not be served if Israel becomes a domestic political football in this country.”
Sounded a lot like third-and-long yesterday, though.