Most people wouldn’t associate Canada’s Jewish community with the kinds of ultra-conservative positions on abortion, the death penalty, medical marijuana, gun control, health care, LGBT acceptance and same-sex marriage held by the far-right in the United States. So I found myself scratching my head over the choice of the Jewish National Fund (JNF) of Ottawa to have former Arkansas governor and current Republican presidential-hopeful Mike Huckabee be the keynote speaker at its upcoming Negev Dinner.
Huckabee opposes same-sex marriage, has compared being LGBT to drinking alcohol and using “profanity,” and has quipped that he wished he could have said he was transgender when he was younger so he could have “showered with the girls.”
He also opposes abortion, even in cases of rape or incest, supports the death penalty, opposes both gun control and the legalization of medical marijuana, and opposes health insurance for those with pre-existing conditions.
There is little contemporary survey data on the social and political attitudes of Canadian Jews. But we can look to the 2013 Pew Research Center Survey of U.S. Jews on attitudes among American Jews as a good starting point to see where we might stand.
Seventy-eight per cent of U.S. Jews support same-sex marriage, with 82 per cent indicating “homosexuality should be accepted by society.”
Fifty-four per cent of U.S. Jews support a “bigger government offering more services” and American Jews are twice as likely to identify as liberal than as conservative, while 70 per cent identify with the Democratic Party. Considering that until Prime Minster Stephen Harper made unequivocal support for Israel an issue of the day, Canadian Jews tended to vote Liberal. So, one can surmise, that on most political and social issues, Huckabee is a far cry from the heart and soul of Jews in Canada.
Rabbi Elizabeth Bolton of Or Haneshamah, Ottawa’s Reconstructionist congregation, was one of the first people to bring the JNF-Huckabee invitation to my attention.
“To say that I was astounded when I learned of this invitation would be wildly understated. The notion that an avowed, committed spokesperson for so many values and beliefs that are antithetical to Judaism, and that fuel violence towards so many across continents, makes me question JNF’s own stated values,” said Rabbi Bolton.
A petition has begun to circulate demanding that JNF cancel its plans for Huckabee to speak at the Negev Dinner, focusing on his “degrading hatefulness towards and about transgender people,” and of his recent public support for Josh Duggar, who has “admitted to allegations that he molested multiple underage girls, including his sisters,” when he was 15.
Of all of Huckabee’s public pronouncements, it is the latter that concerns me least since Duggar was a minor at the time and since Huckabee did not attempt to explain away the terrible deeds while describing Duggar’s actions as “inexcusable.”
One could, of course, argue that JNF’s choice of speakers should be a matter strictly between the organization and its donors. There is some merit to that view. But the Negev Dinner occupies a particular place among Ottawa’s philanthropic events. The event succeeds in attracting honorary chairs not affiliated with the Jewish community (like my university president, Roseann Runte, who served as the Negev Dinner’s honorary co-chair in 2011) and, in its elegance and prestige, is the only annual Jewish event of its kind in the city.
Neither is mine an attempt to worry about how others will view the Jewish community. Seventy years after the horrors of the Holocaust, and with North American Jews being integrated within broader society as never before, we can rest assured that we need not adopt the meek ethos of “Sha! Shtil! (Shh! Quiet!). Instead, the reason we should care about who – even symbolically – represents us is because it’s the right thing to do.