Irwin Cotler’s announcement that he won’t seek re-election in 2015 raises a couple of interesting questions. His long-time Liberal riding in Montreal has the second largest Jewish population in Canada. Will it remain Liberal? Will the voters of Mount Royal not feel compelled to vote Conservative in light of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s trip to Israel?
In a recent conversation with a friend, it seemed automatic that Pierre Trudeau’s old riding would turn Conservative. After all, Harper could not have done more or said more in support of Israel.
We talked about all the positives and then my friend said, “I tell my children it was never like this when I was young. I was never made to feel so good to be a Jew in Canada… It is such a gift, such a sea change.”
Then he paused and said he worries whether what the prime minister says is too positive, too good to be true.
And there it is. How a totally positive conversation can produce this reflective doubt, this worry. The prime minister is so overwhelmingly favourable that, as Jews, we have to sometimes pinch ourselves to make sure we heard correctly, because it is so inconsistent with virtually everything we hear around us.
We know all too well that we live at a time when the policies of the Israeli government are under constant attack from all sides and from every quarter. In many cases, it is without merit and intellectually dishonest, but it isn’t always the case. A perfectly legitimate question can be asked: How can the Israeli government talk peace and promote new settlements at the same time?
While Harper’s Knesset speech talked about a two-state solution, his silence on settlements throughout his visit seems so inconsistent. His silence makes our position, the Canadian position, on past and proposed settlements seemingly ambiguous in a part of the world where ambiguity has been a long-standing obstacle.
The Harper visit generated a lot of media attention in Canada. A lot of it was critical, but, in some instances, surprisingly positive – certainly more positive than one might have expected. The coverage also conveyed the fact not all Jews think alike.
Our community is diverse in its opinions. For example, I have a friend who won’t engage in a critical conversation about Israel on the grounds he has full faith the Israeli government does what it has to do and we in Canada have no right to question anything. I have another friend who came back from his first trip to Israel backing his pro-Palestinian views and declaring the only nice Israeli he met was a server in a restaurant.
Many critical commentators will continue to write that the prime minister sees Israel in black-and-white and there is a risk of our community becoming colour-blind to the many other shades that make up the Middle Eastern conflict. It is easy to see it the prime minister’s way, because he is such a powerful, positive, lonely voice in a universe of negatives.
It just seems there are any number of hard realities that might bring us down to earth with a thud, beginning with the Canadian government’s official position on the peace process, settlements and borders. As for what the rest of the world thinks, if we care, and one day we might have to, there is no leader in the world who thinks as Harper does, a fact that was well documented during his visit.
But, in the meantime, how could most of us not rejoice in our prime minister’s understanding and respecting Israel as much as he does. He has demonstrated, time and again, how he sincerely supports Israel as a thriving democracy and how he believes growing anti-Semitism in the world is a major concern.
His position is not about votes that will make a difference in the next election. If it were, he would not be so one-sided. Beyond a precious few ridings like Mount Royal, he actually risks losing many more votes than he stands to gain.
And, while we rejoice in his support, we should be respectful of those who don’t agree with everything the prime minister says or doesn’t say about Israel.