Despite public and private appeals to call off the event, the Jewish Defence League (JDL) went ahead with its unfortunate decision to picket a Liberal fundraiser at the Toronto home of pharmaceutical magnate and Jewish philanthropist Barry Sherman.
Before the Aug. 26 protest, Sherman was viciously attacked on social media, with trolls questioning his motives and suggesting he was furthering his business interests by buying access to power.
Mercifully, the demonstration only attracted about 30 protesters. They called Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau a traitor for supporting the nuclear deal with Iran, which they likened to the Munich Agreement between Hitler and Neville Chamberlain, a classic case of appeasement.
“It is absolutely wrong for a leading philanthropist in the Jewish community to support a man that would support the regime of Iran,” the JDL wrote on its website, a reference to Trudeau’s support for re-opening Canada’s embassy in Tehran.
Fortunately, other Jewish leaders strongly denounced the decision to hold a political protest outside the private home of a fellow Jew.
Emotions among Jews are running high in this campaign, and the community has valid reasons to support the current government. Prime Minister Stephen Harper has been a strong supporter of Israel and tough on Iran.
But Canada is a relatively small player on the world stage, and the parties’ positions on Israel, though not Iran, are at this point quite similar. Furthermore, when it comes to the Islamic Republic and the existential threat it poses to Israel, parallels with the 1930s are overdrawn, despite black-and-white rhetoric to the contrary. The Iran deal is highly problematic, but a lot can happen over its duration.
Writing in Tablet, analyst Todd Gitlin rejects Hitler/Munich analogies and likens the deal to U.S.-Soviet arms control treaties of the 1970s, which helped normalize superpower relations and emboldened Russian dissidents. Could the same happen with Iran and change the nature of the regime?
And recently, the Wall Street Journal reported on a retired Saudi Arabian general’s quixotic efforts to unite Israel and his country in a peace treaty in the face of a common enemy.
As Gitlin notes, there’s a lot of history still to be written. Or, to put it another way, push hasn’t yet come to shove, so there’s no pressing need to harden attitudes and engage in corrosive internal left-right bickering with one another.
So far, partisan debate about the deal has been less caustic in Canada than south of the border. Let’s hope it stays that way.
Which brings up a related issue: Israel is increasingly perceived as a right-wing political football and a left-right litmus test. This is partly a product of simplistic left- and centre-left thinking, but it’s also a function of conservatives in North America, Israel and elsewhere using it as a wedge issue.
Yet Zionism comes in different flavours, as a careful examination of Israel’s political scene shows, so allowing Israel to be used this way needlessly divides the Diaspora community. It’s also worth recalling that federal election exit polls in 2011 found 52 per cent of Canadian Jews voted Conservative, which means almost half the community backed other parties.
Yes, elements of the centre-left and the left tend to have a blind spot when it comes to the Jewish state and Zionism, often wrongly equating Israel with naked colonialism or worse. But it’s important to keep lines of communication open to all parties and to not alienate progressive Zionists, Jewish or otherwise, in order to help them explain Israel and Zionism to their (sometimes misguided) fellow leftists. To reduce division in the community, Jews on the right should, therefore, resist using Israel as a wedge issue.
There’s still a long time until the election, but polls suggest the economy, the Duffy Senate scandal and a growing appetite for change could put an end to Conservative rule.
If that transpires and the community is viewed warily by the other parties, what happens the day after the vote?
This wRant was originally published as a Campaign Notebook column in the Sept. 3 edition of The Canadian Jewish News.