MONTREAL – The Jewish community should stop fighting the battles of the last federal election and accept that a Liberal government is in power, Mount Royal Liberal MP Anthony Housefather advised a Montreal Jewish audience on Feb. 8.
He said the community should be respectful in its dealings with the government and avoid labelling it as anti-Israel or anti-Semitic, which is false and counter-productive.
“Impugning the government because of one word in a press release has to end, because it is not effective… Stopping the rhetoric is how we will achieve the most,” Housefather said at a meeting organized by the Canadian Institute for Jewish Research, described by founder Frederick Krantz as an independent pro-Israel think-tank now in its 28th year.
Housefather said it would also be wise for Jews to show the government they care about other issues in addition to Israel, which they do.
He insisted the government has “enormous sensitivity” to Israel and Jewish concerns, noting that the Prime Minister’s Office approved his attendance at a meeting of the International Council of Jewish Parliamentarians, held in Israel in December, the cost of which was paid for by that organization.
The experience showed Housefather that, besides the United States, Canada’s current government is “more favourable to Israel” than any of the countries the other parliamentarians represented, and that includes in combating the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign.
He noted that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has repeatedly denounced BDS, including labelling goods from the West Bank, because he believes it’s “wrong to single out Israel when there are dozens of countries occupying disputed territories.”
Housefather stressed that he wishes to be a forceful voice in his caucus for the concerns of the Jewish community. Although there are “at least” seven Jewish MPs – all Liberals – he, along with Michael Levitt of Toronto and Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr of Winnipeg, are probably the most “connected” to the community, he said.
In that regard, Housefather sees one of his most pressing tasks as speaking up about the danger Iran continues to pose to the world.
The normally unflappable Housefather was taken aback by the hostile reaction of a couple of audience members to his defence of Canada’s lifting of certain economic sanctions against Iran and signalling that it wishes to resume ties with the country.
He called it “insulting” when one man shouted “bulls–t“ as he spoke.
Housefather said he was “skeptical” about the nuclear deal, but that Canada must now “go with the world” and abide by the agreement.
He said he will raise awareness about Iran’s funding of terrorism abroad, as well as its vow to destroy Israel, its Holocaust denial and its atrocious domestic human rights record.
“Iran is clearly an enemy of Israel and the Jewish People,” he said.
But, Housefather also said, “It is right for us to engage [with Iran]. We gain nothing by ignoring it… We would be penalizing Canadian companies. [The French company] Airbus can sell planes to Iran, but Bombardier can’t. It doesn’t make any sense.”
In response to a question from audience member Nathan Elberg about the tone of Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion’s pronouncements on Israel – which Elberg said couches support for the Jewish state in “demands” – Housefather said the Jewish community is “misinterpreting” what the minister said.
In his private discussions with Dion, Housefather said he has found no “equivocation” on Israel and that Dion had no intention of drawing a “moral equivalence” between Palestinian terrorism and Israeli government action.
Housefather said he has suggested that foreign affairs and others departments run communiqués by him first to avoid any wording that could be misunderstood by the Jewish community or that is insensitive.
Elberg also expressed concern about the appointment of new Toronto-area MP Omar Alghabra, whom the Conservatives have accused of having expressed anti-Israel sentiments in the past, as a parliamentary secretary to Dion.
Housefather answered that Alghabra is one of three such secretaries to Dion and that his only responsibility is consular relations.
“His influence [on policy] is limited. I looked into the allegations against him, and most are false… all were before 2004,” Housefather said.
“CIJA [the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs} met him, and he affirmed his support for the government policy on Israel.”
Audience member Machla Abramovitz raised concern about the effectiveness of the vetting of the 25,000 Syrian refugees Canada is committed to admitting.
Housefather explained why he is satisfied with the multi-step process and the conditions Canada has put in place, such as not accepting single men.
“We, as a people, know how necessary it is to bring in refugees… The last thing we want is another St. Louis,” he said, referring to the ship transporting hundreds of Jewish refugees in the eve of World War II that was sent back to Europe.