A View from the Bleachers: Election campaign was short on substance

A View from the Bleachers: Election campaign was short on substance

By Rabbi Steven Garten

The recent federal election offered something for everyone. The left-leaning voter was offered affirmation that Canada was a progressive country as the total seats accrued by the progressive parties totalled 216, a clear majority in Parliament. In addition, the progressive parties could take pride in accumulating the majority of votes cast. Those citizens who consider themselves Conservatives could take comfort in knowing that the Liberal Party was denied a majority in the House of Commons and that the Conservative Party accumulated the most votes of any single party. Every voter had something to kvell about or kvetch about. A perfect Canadian election.

While the results may have brought comfort to many, the campaign did not. It was a campaign short on substance and long on polemics and hubris. In the end, only those motivated enough to read party platforms were offered a glimpse into the policies which might serve as the underpinnings of a governing party. One of the most notable absences among the public discourse was almost any conversation about the State of Israel or the Middle East in general. Though each party might have offered some glimpse at their approach in private meetings with the leadership of the Canadian Jewish community, publicly the topic was virtually absent from the discourse. One could hypothesize about why a Canadian federal election was silent on a fairly significant foreign policy issue, but the reality was the campaign also ignored our country’s relationship with China, Russia and even the United States. How a 40 day campaign could ignore the “bully” to the south is incomprehensible.

While our political leaders were mute on the subject of Israel those individuals running for the Democratic U.S. presidential nomination were not. Senator Elizabeth Warren, who at this writing is among the leaders in the polls to be the nominee, recently declared, “Everything is on the table.” She was answering a question about the United States response to the Israeli government’s stated policy of increasing settlements on the West Bank and annexation into Israel of the West Bank settlements.

“Right now, Netanyahu says he’s going to take Israel in a direction which is counter to U.S. policy,” said Warren. “The policy of the United States is to support a two-state solution. If Israel continues in this direction then everything is on the table regarding our response, including military and foreign aid.”

Warren joins Senator Bernie Sanders and South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg as candidates questioning the long standing U.S. policy of large amounts military and foreign aid to Israel. There’s obviously a sizable possibility that this is all hollow rhetoric from the candidates, but it is part of a notable shift nonetheless. In addition to public opinion moving away from unanimous support for Israel, there have been recent legislative attempts to hold Israel accountable for its human rights abuses.

These are worrisome trends. Many of the reasons for American support have not disappeared. Israel is still the only democracy in the Middle East. Israel is still the only committed ally of the United States. Israel has been a model of economic development and innovation that could offer developing countries models for self-development. It has, until recently, been a country devoted to the rule of law and justice above all.

The bipartisan support for Israel has weakened ever since Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chose to publicly embarrass president Barack Obama by not only opposing the Iran nuclear treaty, which was his right to do, but by speaking in the U.S. Congress against it. By choosing to side with the Republican Party over and against the president of the United States, Netanyahu made the State of Israel a partisan issue. However, now we have a glimpse into what the ever-changing reality of American politics and the geopolitical landscape of the Middle East could mean for those who have unquestioned support for Israel. One should not forget that the current U.S. president raised the notion of dual loyalty, even if it was contained in a typical Trump tweet.

While we might have been happy or disappointed that only one our federal leaders spoke about moving the Canadian Embassy to Jerusalem, we might have wished that some political leader condemned the expanding settlements, or the blockade of Gaza, or rallied against the ongoing terrorism from Gaza and the expanding power of Hezbollah and Hamas. However, if we look southward to see what happens when Israel becomes part of the game of politics, we might be glad – for both Israel and our own personal security – that boring Canadian political campaigns remain boring.