Professor Henry Srebrnik

Professor Henry Srebrnik

Thursday, March 27, 2003

Canadian Jews should rethink alliances.

Henry Srebrnik, Canadian Jewish News

Let me share with CJN readers an anecdote that, I believe, speaks to the tunnel vision we Jews in Canada exhibit politically. In the winter of 2000, while on vacation in Florida, I was criticizing the Liberal party’s attitudes towards the Middle East to my mother in a small fruit store in Hallandale. I suggested that we should not remain forever the captives of one political party. This was, remember, before Sept. 11, 2001.

A Jewish woman from Montreal, standing near us, overheard me and told me she was a “proud Liberal.” She continued, in a rather belligerent tone, “Well, who else would you support? Preston Manning? He’s a dictator!”

As we know, not long afterward, Manning put his leadership of the Reform party, which he had founded, on the line and lost it. So much for being a dictator.

For reasons that the readers of the CJN are familiar with, and therefore do not bear reiterating, the vast majority of Jews in North America have, for the past century, been overwhelmingly and consistently liberal in their political outlook, typically providing electoral support to the Liberal party here in Canada and to the Democratic party in the United States.

However, due to the increasing identification of large segments of the liberal left with the anti-Israel movement, one that has been gaining strength since the second Palestinian intifadah began in 2000, studies in the United States show that many American Jews have been moving into the Republican party, which is perceived as being more pro-Israel and also more willing to confront Saddam Hussein and remove him from power.

In Canada, the Liberals are, if anything, far less favourable to the Jewish state, and more agnostic on the question of military action against Iraq, than are the Democrats in the United States, yet Canadian Jews seem politically paralyzed, unable to contemplate the notion of voting for those who are more robust in defending Israel and opposing Saddam. We also have few counterparts to the high-profile neo-conservative intellectuals who play such a prominent role in America’s political conversation.

It is true that Jews have traditionally been wary of Christian fundamentalists, but the religious right wields much greater influence over policy formulation in the Republican party than it does among Canadian conservatives, and yet this is proving less of an impediment to Jewish political realignment south of the border.

So what accounts for this curious state of affairs? Why do we as a community exhibit such political inertia and remain captives of the ruling party? Why are we so easily frightened by those politicians who benefit from this state of affairs into accepting the prevailing dogmas about what constitutes “legitimate” political orthodoxy in this country, thus rendering the opposition parties beyond the ideological pale? Why are we unable to think “outside the box?”

Is it perhaps because Jews in Canada are overwhelmingly concentrated in Ontario and Quebec, where the Canadian Alliance and Progressive Conservatives have little appeal?

Do Jews in this country feel less secure and thus less willing to “rock the boat” by defying current political convention?

This is a defining moment for our community. Israel is in greater danger now than at any time in its history and this is no time for Jews to be timid. In World War II, those on the far left (during the period Stalin was allied with Hitler) took a “plague on both their houses” approach, defining it as an “imperialist” war pitting an equally evil western alliance against the Axis powers, while those on the right opposed to fighting Hitler called it a “Jews’ war.”

Neither was willing to stand up to the Nazis before it was too late and sadly, as we all know, it turned out to be a war against the Jews. Will history repeat itself, with anti-Zionism the new version of political anti-Semitism and Israel the intended victim?

In an article published in the Globe and Mail on Feb. 24, Preston Manning, wrote that “George W. Bush and Tony Blair, whether you agree with them or not, are proposing action with respect to Iraq on a scale commensurate with the problem.” Canada too, he continued, “needs a government that doesn’t think small when it comes to matters of war and peace.”

The Tory leader, Joe Clark, was in Washington the last weekend in February, meeting with State Department officials, and said the erosion in Canadian-American ties was quite evident, thanks to Prime Minister Jean Chr├ętien’s confusing and ambivalent Iraq policy over the past three months.

Given this reality, should we continue putting all our political eggs in one basket? Is this really a healthy state of affairs for our community?

Is it a wonder that, in comparison with decades past, we are now taken for granted and are much diminished in our political clout? We Jews, like all other Canadians, need to heed the message of all political parties.