Jewish issues and candidates made headlines last week and became the subject of some distasteful political rhetoric on the campaign trail.
In Alberta, a 21-year-old hijab-wearing university student resigned Aug. 18 as the Liberal candidate in the Tory stronghold of Calgary Nose Hill a day after conservative activists publicized noxious tweets from her past.
Ala Buzreba apologized for the posts, including one from 2011 in which she told a supporter of Israel his mother should have aborted him with a coat hanger. She said she made the comments “a long time ago, as a teenager, but that is no excuse.”
One wonders how her party managed to miss Buzreba’s outbursts when it vetted her candidacy, but more troubling was Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau’s initial response to them. Instead of simply condemning her remarks, he initially defended Buzreba. “Ala has unreservedly apologized for her comments, and I think it’s important to point out that she was a teenager and that we all make mistakes,” he said.
Meanwhile, York Centre Conservative MP Mark Adler became mired in a controversy that began when Walrus editor Jonathan Kay tweeted a picture of a 20-foot-high campaign poster outside Adler’s re-election office that noted Adler is the son of a Holocaust survivor.
The Twittersphere quickly erupted in righteous indignation, and by the next day, Adler was being widely accused of exploiting the Shoah for political gain.
It must be said there’s nothing inherently wrong with candidates citing their backgrounds to give voters a sense of what makes them tick. It may have been in poor taste to splash the factoid on a 20-foot sign, but Adler’s personal history likely helps him connect with a key voting bloc in his riding, which is about 20 per cent Jewish and home to many Holocaust survivors.
A more glaring faux pas was his claim to be the first child of a survivor to be elected to Parliament, which, The CJN reported, turned out to be false.
There’s nothing wrong with making this statement, either, though it would have been wise to verify it beforehand. In this case, former Quebec Liberal MP Raymonde Folco’s biography – she’s both a child survivor and the daughter of survivors – is a matter of public record. A quick Google search would have revealed the distinction is hers.
Yet Adler left the statement on his website for two weeks while ignoring The CJN’s requests for comment. His campaign manager disingenuously told the National Post that since Folco “never spoke publicly about her background,” the claim “was an honest mistake.”
But the prize for hypocrisy here may belong to York Centre NDP hopeful Hal Berman, however. He tweeted, “@MarkAdler Shame on you using #Holocaust for political gain. #yorkcentre deserves better,” while his own bio says he “was born in Montreal, where his grandparents and mother arrived to start a new life after the Holocaust.” He can’t have it both ways.
Finally, in the nastiest news of the week, the Jewish Defence League (JDL) said it plans to picket a private fundraiser for Trudeau and York Centre Liberal candidate Michael Levitt Aug. 26 at the home of Jewish pharmaceutical magnate Barry Sherman.
Such behaviour is beyond the pale, even for the JDL, but as of this writing, saner heads have not prevailed, and the group intends to go ahead with this divisive bit of political theatre.
The JDL announcement followed what became a public email exchange between Sherman and Gabe Erem, former CEO of Lifestyles magazine, in which Erem declined Sherman’s fundraiser invitation because of the anti-Israel views of both Trudeau’s brother and Mississauga Centre Liberal candidate Omar Alghabra.
“I would be betraying the memory of the Six Million… if I supported your favoured candidate in his quest for power in this wonderful country,” Erem wrote, in a clearly inappropriate use of the Holocaust in political discourse.
In the midst of all this came word the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, the Canadian Jewish Public Affairs Committee and local Jewish federations in Toronto and Vancouver will be co-hosting evenings “of discussion, awareness and education” about the Jewish community and the federal election.
Perhaps the first topic covered should be civility. We could use a strong dose of that right about now.
This wRant was originally published as a Campaign Notebook column in the Aug. 27 Canadian Jewish News.