Is that all there was? Given how much praise – and criticism – the Harper government’s strong support for Israel has attracted, it’s somewhat surprising that so little was said about the Jewish state in the Sept. 28 Munk Debate on foreign policy in Toronto.
The night’s only exchange on Israel, between Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, came more than halfway through the proceedings, when Harper raised the topic, ostensibly in response to comments by NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair about working with allies on issues of global concern, such as Iran.
“I fully admit that we don’t always take the position of our allies. Sometimes we take our positions based on what we believe are principles,” Harper said.
“Let me give you a clear example. This government has been perhaps the most unequivocal in the world on the fact that when it comes to the Middle East, we are not going to single out Israel. It is the one western democratic ally. Threats that are… directed at that state – [it’s] on the front line of threats directed against us. We are not going to single out the Jewish state for attack and criticism. We recognize unequivocally the right of Israel to be a Jewish state and to defend itself.”
After applause, moderator Rudyard Griffiths asked Trudeau to respond.
“The issue of Israel where we most disagree as Liberals with Mr. Harper is that he has made support for Israel a domestic political football, when all three of us support Israel, and any Canadian government will,” he said, also to applause.
And that was it – boilerplate statement against boilerplate statement. Given how support for the Jewish state has become so unnecessarily partisan, the relative quiet was refreshing.
That’s probably a good thing.
Other “Jewish” issues figured prominently, with robust discussions on refugees and citizenship, for example.
Regarding the latter, Harper bragged about having revoked the citizenship of a convicted terrorist, while Trudeau countered that the Tories have created a “two-tiered” system and that “you devalue the citizenship of every Canadian… when you break down and make it conditional for anybody.”
There’s still time: Though there’s only a week and half until the election, it’s not too late to volunteer for the party or candidate of your choice.
Throughout the campaign, the Canadian Jewish Public Affairs Committee, (CJPAC) – whose mandate is “to engage Jewish and pro-Israel Canadians in the democratic process and to foster active political participation” – has been holding volunteer training workshops in various locations in the Golden Horseshoe, as well as information events in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal. Final workshops, aimed at demystifying the volunteering process, are scheduled for Oct. 8 at Temple Anshe Shalom in Hamilton, as well as Oct. 13 at Beth Tzedec Congregation and Oct. 14 at the Lebovic Jewish Community Campus in the GTA.
The non-partisan CJPAC placed 900 volunteers in the 2011 federal election. Its officials say they don’t track gender and ages – they will only say that the highest numbers came from Ontario, home to two-thirds of Canadian Jews – and they refuse, somewhat understandably, to disclose volunteers’ party affiliations. All they’ll say about the current campaign is that they’re on track to place similar numbers with all the major parties.
On that score, it bears emphasizing that Jews should volunteer for the party in which they feel most comfortable. All the major parties support Israel, and none are in complete lockstep with “Jewish values,” which are open to relatively wide interpretation. Furthermore, potential volunteers should not be intimidated by the current polarized atmosphere in the Jewish community, where some people are trying, unfortunately, to make Israel a partisan wedge issue.
Also, they ought not assume from past comments by NDP and Liberal candidates that have surfaced over the course of the campaign that these parties, or centre-left parties in general, are hopelessly anti-Jewish or anti-Zionist. Nevertheless, perhaps the lesson here should be that pro-Israel, Jewishly literate people must become more involved in these parties so that Jewish views are understood and well-represented across the political spectrum.
Bottom line? If you want to, get involved.
This wRant was originally published as a Campaign Notebook column in the Oct. 8 edition of The Canadian Jewish News.