Canadian Jewish Voting and Israel 04.04.13
Frank Dimant, CEO of B’nai Brith Canada and a newly minted writer for the Huffington Post, published his first opinion piece on 4 April in the form of a question: "Will the Jewish Community Choose Trudeau Over Harper?" It is not a real question for a number of reasons, but primarily because the Jewish community is not a voting monolith. It never has been. When I attended Harbord Collegiate years ago, in my row of seats there was my politically unaligned self in the first seat (my name began with an A) and a communist sitting behind me. Behind him sat a supporter of the CCF and behind that a Liberal Party and then a Conservative Party supporter. We were all Jewish. This high school during the 1950s was 95% Jewish. All those behind me went on to become practicing physicians. Their political ideologies and voting patterns probably also started to converge.
By the end of the twentieth century, the pattern of a wide diversity among the Jewish electorate had dissipated and the largest majority of Jews in Canada voted for the Liberal Party, although fracture lines had begun to show in both the Pierre Trudeau government and the Jean Chretien government from 1993 to 2003 that succeeded the Conservative interregnum government of Brian Mulroney. However, Joe Clark in 1979-80 with his stumbled initiative on moving the Canadian embassy to Jerusalem and Brian Mulroney in spite of his very strong support for Israel were never able to take advantage of those cracks to develop a significant opening for Tories to broaden their support from Jews. The Tory party under Mulroney was still too much of a mismatched collection of prairie traditional conservatives, Ontario Red and Big Business Tories and soft Quebec nationalists. Chretien’s Liberal government had supported a two-state solution and Israel’s right to exist within secure borders but opposed expanding Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza as well as the building of the security fence on West Bank territory and in East Jerusalem. The Liberals always condemned Palestinian terrorism but then offset this by criticizing Israeli retaliation as disproportionate or excessive. Further, at the UN, when Howard’s government in Australia (and the USA) backed Israel, Canada either abstained or voted for UN resolutions critical of Israel.
The crack then became an actual gap as Jewish voters began to slip away and no longer voted for Liberals at rates 20% higher than the average other minority group; the rate, though still overwhelming in its support for the Liberal Party, had slipped to just 10% above as Frank Dimant well understands for he co-edited the 2001 volume with Ruth Klein, From Immigration to Integration, The Canadian Jewish Experience: A Millennium Edition in which David Goldberg initially pointed to this slight shift in his essay, "The Post-Statehood Relationship: A Growing Friendship". Ezra Levant had already asked in 2000, "Is the Jewish love affair with the Liberals over?" in the National Post (13 October).
Canada had just voted on 7 October 2000 to condemn Israel at the United Nations by using its seat on the UN Security Council to endorse Resolution 1322 that condemned Israel’s "excessive use of force" against Palestinians; there was not even a balancing criticism of Palestinian terrorism. This was just the pinnacle of 10 out of 12 resolutions that Canada supported and the USA and Israel opposed to maintain Canada’s ostensible role as a "neutral" party, including resolutions that condemned Israel for violating the rights of the Palestinian people, condemning the settlements in the Golan, Gaza, the West Bank and even East Jerusalem as illegal, endorsing Palestinian refugee rights to their property and income without any balancing statement about Jewish refugees from Arab lands. To still the Jewish backlash, Chretien wrote a letter to the Jewish community that regretted the consternation caused by the UN vote but not the vote itself. Further, he did not suggest any change in policy direction. This is strong evidence suggesting that Frank is wrong in claiming that the Liberal establishment did everything it could to maintain its Jewish adherents. In the Jewish rally in Montreal in support of Israel, Irwin Cotler, a former president of the Canadian Jewish Congress and Justice Minister, had to vocally criticize the members of his own government. In Toronto, Elinor Caplan did not show her face and the large rally loudly booed the Liberals. The opening for the Tories was clear.
As everywhere else in the west, the propensity to vote centre-left became strained as the delegitimization campaign against Israel heated up in the twenty-first century, as the second intifada and wars in Lebanon and Gaza took place in which many civilians were killed, and as conservatives in Canada, the United States and Europe demonstrated stronger support for Israel. The Jewish community voting pattern began to demonstratively shift as conservative parties increasingly attracted more votes, especially from members of the organized Jewish community for whom Israel ranks extremely high in their self-identification. Stockwell Day began to make inroads as head of the Canadian Alliance Party as Frank Dimant acted to promote links between evangelical Christian supporters of Israel and Jewish groups. These challenges were recognized. (Dennis Stairs (2003) "Challenges and opportunities for Canadian foreign policy in the Paul Martin era," International Journal LVIII:4, Autumn, 481-506) The Martin government had regrouped and voted against rather than abstaining on UNGA resolutions condemning Israel for violence and its occupation of Gaza and the West Bank and began a pattern of openly opposing one-sided resolutions that hampered the peace process.
Once the Conservative government was elected in 2006 in spite of a movement by the Liberal Party away from the Chretien bias that had shifted against Israel, the Stephen Harper government began to attract more Jewish supporters. Harper expressed the strongest support for Israel even among conservative parties in the west. Everything else being equal, the Harper government should have pulled the most Jewish voters to become supporters of the Conservative party of Canada if Israel had been the only defining issue. Initially, the movement of Jewish voters to the right continued at a very slow pace even after Canada took a number of very prominent positions on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict that favoured Israel — beginning with suspending aid to the Palestinian Authority (Canada was the first country in the West to do so) when Hamas obtained a majority in March of 2006 and unequivocally defending Israel’s reprisals in Lebanon when Harper was in Europe for the G-8 and Israel attacked Lebanon after Hezbollah kidnapped two Israeli soldiers in July of 2006. Even though the Israeli 34 day massive attack that killed more than a thousand Lebanese and displaced a million, and even though 50,000 Canadian citizens were in Lebanon that Canada had to evacuate, and even though eight members of a Montreal Canadian-Lebanese family were among the casualties, Harper defended Israeli military actions as "measured".
The shift, though still relatively lethargic, had become noticeable as prominent Jewish Liberals announced that they had torn up their Liberal Party cards and joined the conservatives – the film producer, Robert Lantos, was a prominent example. At the same time, in August 2006, Heather Reisman, Gerald Schwartz, and other Jewish Liberal plutocrats published an open letter praising Harper for his brave stand. Heather Reisman subsequently cancelled her membership in the Liberal Party and joined the Conservatives. Michael Ignatieff made the biggest political gaffe of his short political life and his many other gaffes by accusing Israel of war crimes.
When Harper was re-elected with another minority government, Canada was the first country to withdraw from Durban II in January of 2008. On 8 May 2008, Stephen Harper insisted on Canada’s unshakable support of Israel; those who threaten the Jewish state were also threatening Canada. Ezra Levant with his acerbic pen on 23 November 2009 mocked the small group of non-notable notable Liberals who criticized Harper for practicing divisive policies over Israel. At the beginning of 2009, Steven Harper’s government publicly supported Israel’s military response to the rocket attacks from Gaza and was the lone dissenter on the UN Human Rights Committee’s criticisms of Israel’s actions. In the same year, the Harper government withdrew its financial support for Kairos presumably but not ostensibly because of its political bias against Israel. Peter Kent, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs on the 31st anniversary of the Islamic Revolution in Iran in February of 2010, reiterated Harper’s stated alignment with Israel and said as much directly to Riad Malki, the Palestinian Authority’s Foreign Minister, on a visit to Ramallah in September of that same year, much to the consternation of the Palestinian Authority. Probably as a result of this stand, the next month Canada lost its bid for a seat on the Security Council even though Canada had received assurances that 135 countries would back the Canadian bid. (Cf. Paul C. Merkley (2012) "Reversing the Poles: How the Pro-Israeli Policy of Canada’s Conservative Government May Be Moving Jewish Voters from Left to Right," Jewish Political Studies Review 23:1-2, 13 April; see also Donald Barry (2010) "Canada and the Middle East Today: Electoral Politics and Foreign Policy," Arab Studies Quarterly, October, 191)
The cracks were widening. The indications could not be missed. In the September 2007 by-election, Jewish support for the Liberal Party in Montreal’s Outremont riding collapsed. In March 2008, in Vancouver Quadra with a small but significant Jewish constituency, the Liberal candidate barely won and Jewish Liberals openly said that they had switched their voting pattern. In the 2008 elections, the Conservative outreach to various ethnic urban ridings the Conservatives won 18 of 80 ridings. On 2 May 2011, the Tories leapfrogged ahead. The Harper government got its majority. The government had attracted significant support from ethnic groups. For the first time ever, a majority of Jews (52%) voted for the Conservatives. Irwin Cotler who was first elected in Montreal with 92% support was barely re-elected. A tectonic shift had taken place. (Cf. Jeffrey Simpson (2011) "How the political shift among Jewish voters plays in Canada," The Globe and Mail, 28 September 2011 who agrees that, "Mr. Harper’s position is driven by profound personal conviction rather than political calculation.") However, it is incorrect to say that, "In the past two years, Jewish public opinion has rallied heavily behind the Conservative Party." There has indeed been a tectonic shift in Canadian politics but Jews voted for the Tories by a bare majority.
Frank Dimant’s article presumed a monolithic Jewish community while contradicting that assumption in the body of the essay. The article did not probe voting pattern shifts and their explanation. Jews, like other voters, share the same concerns with the state of the economy, social policy or a perception (incorrect) of rampant crime. Instead, Frank focused only on political appeals in terms of Israel, but rather than suggesting that they were opportunistically motivated, he insisted, correctly in my mind, that they were principled. But he also claimed that the elites in the Jewish community were in bed with the Liberal Party of Canada when, in fact, the plutocrats had begun to desert the Liberal Party in 2006. The opinion piece insists that a shift took place from the Liberals to the Tories because of a grass roots revolt. The reality is that, by his own admission, the shift was advocated by Frank Dimant much earlier and predicted by Ezra Levant even earlier. Further, Frank cannot be exactly characterized as grass roots however convenient a posture in serving as a contrarian to the historic dominant propensity of the Jewish community.
However, Frank was correct on another matter. The beginning of the realignment of some of the elites and others in the Jewish community took place because, under the leadership of Stockwell Day of the Alliance Party, then a small opposition party separate from the Tories, had a record of the strongest pro-Israel support though its own supporters came from rural and small town voters in Ontario and the West where there were very few Jewish voters to be garnered. Initially the shift built slowly. It accelerated when the Jewish voters became convinced that the Tory positions on Israel were sincere and deeply felt and not just politically opportune appeals. The fact that this shift was accompanied by serious errors from the other side certainly helped overcome old voting habits.
Frank insists that the mandate of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) that replaced the Canadian Jewish Congress, the Canadian Zionist Federation, the United Israel Appeal and the Federations – a mandate never publicly professed – was to keep Jews voting Liberal. It is hard to criticize a mandate that was never expressed let alone give credibility to its existence, or even the larger even more conspiratorial claim (one that was certainly not expressed) that the mandate included a policy of discouraging any dissent within the Jewish community. Significant elite shifts of the financiers of CIJA – which B’Nai Brith stayed away from – to the Tories belies Frank’s claims and suggests another possible spur behind Dimant’s blatant animosity and conspiracy theories. One of the ironies in reading Frank is one is surprised to find that he shares with strong supporters of the Palestinian cause that the Jews are led by an elite cabal with an inordinate political and financial influence. (See the various writings of Kristin Szremski who is the director of media and communications for the American Muslims for Palestine.)
Frank insists that "Jewish public opinion has rallied heavily behind the Conservative Party". Although the shift was tectonic in terms of Canadian politics, it was still just a bare majority. Harper attracted the strongly identified and socially conservative Jews but the urban secular Jews had shifted to the New Democrats in significant numbers. Frank claims that this shift will be counteracted by a concentrated effort to realign the Jewish agenda with the Liberal Party, not Liberal Party policy with the organized Jewish community agenda, by focusing on other issues than Israel. The purpose of these set of claims is not offered to raise the consciousness within the Jewish community that their elite leadership is leading them astray as one might suspect, but a warning tothe Conservative Party not to take Jewish community support for granted and to understand the dynamics at play within the heavily-politicized atmosphere that prevails in the Jewish community. Before the Conservative Party accepts his advice, I advise the members to critically examine Frank’s claims.
Frank is right that he and B’nai Brith Canada led an open campaign to shift Jews from voting Liberal to voting Conservative. Second, as I tried to demonstrate, there has been a shift in voting patterns among Jews and it has been significant. Most Jews in the nineties voted for the Liberal Party and did so disproportionally to their share of the population and, as in the United States, contrary to what might be expected given their incomes. Further, even when Brian Mulroney was Prime Minister and was a strong supporter of Israel, the majority of Jews voted Liberal. The shift took place in the twenty-first century, proceded gradually as Frank Dimant wrote and in the 2011 election became a rout. But as stated above, in the 2011 elections, the Ipsos Reid poll claimed that for the first time, a majority of Jews (52%) voted for Stephen Harper; 24% voted Liberal and 16% supported the NDP. (The enormous data set from that poll has been donated tothe Laurier Institute for the Study of Public Opinion and Policy at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario.)
Why did it happen? Not because, as Frank Dimant would lead one to believe, a Jewish elite is trying persistently to lead the Jewish community to a Liberal Madagascar rather than the promised land of a Likud-led Israel, but because of persistent and internally divisive Liberal policies while the Harper Tories have been clear and consistent and sincere strong supporters of Israel even before it was to their political advantage. Further, the Tories have abandoned their white rural base as their exclusive foundation and have successfully infiltrated most of the ethnic communities. In the case of their appeal to mainstream Jews, it is not clear that it is to their political advantage since there are now three times as many Muslims in Canada as Jews and Tories did worst in garnering Muslim votes than the Liberals. Only 12% of Muslims voted Conservative; 46% voted Liberal and 38% NDP.
At the meeting of the Canadian Political Science Association in June of 2012, Patrick Kelly and Professor Livianna Tossutti presented a paper that asked "How the Liberal Party of Canada Lost its Electoral Dominance in Canada’s Immigrant Communities?" Harper in discussions with Tom Flanagan had stated at the beginning of the twenty-first century that Conservatives could not get a majority unless they attracted significant numbers of immigrant voters. TheTory vote was rooted in older men and women, traditional occupations and the Protestant churches and could also be correlated with higher income groups with some notable exceptions. However, at the turn of this century, half of the constituencies had at least 10% of its electorate who were immigrants. In one-third, 20% were immigrants. In one-fifth, 30% were immigrants. The Liberals had successfully branded themselves as the party of diversity and multiculturalism. Harper set out deliberately to challenge that branding. Stockwell Day had not succeeded because he was too closely identified with traditional community conservatives of an evangelical Christian persuasion. Harper bracketed that sort of appeal to stress economic conservatism plus more generally shared conservative values promoted by family-centred policies – child care allowances and support for traditional marriage, the latter receding as time went on and gay marriage established itself as family-centred. Nevertheless, if you have a non-traditional living arrangement, are secular, work in the arts or a helping profession, are young and female and an environmental activist, you will almost certainly not vote Tory and most likely vote NDP.