The Ontario New Democrat and Progressive Conservative candidates for the riding of Thornhill traded barbed words at a local candidates’ debate on May 24, over how each would address the growing number of anti-Semitic attacks in the community.
The incumbent, PC candidate Gila Martow, nodded to the federal government providing security funding for synagogues and Jewish daycares as a possible framework for protecting pro-Israel speakers and groups on university campuses; while Ezra Tanen, the NDP candidate, urged the Jewish community to instead engage with anti-Israel protestors, including those who champion the BDS movement.
“The top-down approach from universities just doesn’t work,” said Tanen, referring to university administrators who clamp down on anti-Israel and BDS protests.
“We need to build partnerships with various faiths on campus. Oftentimes, BDS supporters don’t know much about Israel.… They support it, just because it’s this anti-establishment, grassroots fight against a big, bad enemy. We need to engage these people.”
Martow countered that it’s the government’s job to set a tone on anti-Semitic incidents, which “unfortunately rise each year.”
“The BDS movement is an unfair, biased tactic designed to delegitimize the State of Israel,” she said. “There’s anti-Semitic overtones to the whole movement.”
Tanen argued that Ontario PC Leader Doug Ford has no plan to combat anti-Semitism on campus, while praising the NDP for running a diverse group of candidates, including Zionists like himself.
Martow hit back at Tanen, questioning the legitimacy of his status as a pro-Israel voice within the NDP and noting previous incidents of anti-Israeli sentiment among party members.
“The NDP are not neutral,” Martow said. “They’ve invited protesters to Queen’s Park to cause commotions. Five members of your party are self-declared anti-Zionists and have said derogatory things about Israel – and that’s problematic.”
Her point was met with raucous applause from the audience.
“I would love Zionists in the NDP,” she continued. “Unfortunately, there are anti-Zionists in your party. My question to you is: When are you interacting with them? When are you sitting them down and getting them to denounce BDS?”
Candidates also fielded audience questions, including concerns over lengthy strikes at York University in recent years.
The BDS movement is an unfair, biased tactic designed to delegitimize the State of Israel.
– Gila Martow
Tanen said the NDP would avoid enacting back-to-work legislation, denouncing it as a short-term solution to a reoccurring problem.
“Back to work undermines the union,” he said. “It’s up to the government to work with the unions in creating good, long-term deals.”
Martow dismissed Tanen’s point.
“So what I’m hearing is that to have good relations with the unions, you have to always cave to the unions,” she replied.
The NDP “will never have fair and balanced negotiations with the union, because you would never support back-to-work,” continued Martow. “It’s a bargaining chip and you’ve just shown your hand.”
The Liberal candidate for the riding, Sabi Ahsan, said the NDP’s refusal to use back-to-work legislation would only prolong the ongoing strike at York.
“All I can say is that the Liberals are committed to (finding a deal),” said Ahsan. “Students should not be used as pawns in this game.”
Martow suggested the Liberals could have won the NDP’s support for back-to-work legislation, if they hadn’t waited until the day before the legislature was prorogued for the election to introduce the bill.
“I hope all students recognize they were used as pawns,” she said.
Approximately 100 members of the community attended the debate, which was held at Chabad Flamingo in Thornhill, Ont., and hosted by B’nai Brith Canada.
The debate format included five pre-arranged topics that were put forward by B’nai Brith, including: hate crimes, the cost of post-secondary education, affordable housing, campus anti-Semitism and disability rights.