Liberal candidate Anthony Housefather, the incumbent in the Montreal-area riding of Mount Royal, defended a West Island Liberal candidate who the Conservatives accused of having an anti-Semitic past.
That accusation was revisited by Conservative candidate David Tordjman during a lively debate organized by B’nai Brith Canada on Sept. 24.
They were referring to Sameer Zuberi, who is running in the riding of Pierrefonds-Dollard. The Conservative party is characterizing him as having been a “radical activist” when he was a Concordia Student Union vice-president in the early 2000s. It alleges that he “helped lead the charge” against Hillel, which saw the Jewish club’s funding suspended in 2002.
“I have yet to see one anti-Semitic thing (Zuberi) has said. It’s not fair. He does not support BDS at all,” said Housefather at the debate, which was held at the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue.
Tordjman argued that Zuberi’s candidacy is symptomatic of the Liberal party having “within its ranks people who are anti-Israel, anti-Zionist … who deny the existence of Israel.”
A significant part of the exchange centred on who is the stronger supporter of Israel and is combatting anti-Semitism more vigorously. Both Housefather and Tordjman portrayed themselves as devoted to defending Israel.
Canada’s “support for Israel pales in comparison to the Harper years,” said Tordjman, who let it be known that his father had worked for the Mossad in Morocco.
He also pointed to Hassan Guillet, the former St-Léonard-St-Michel candidate who the Liberals dropped on Aug. 30, after B’nai Brith revealed comments he made that it views as anti-Semitic and anti-Israel.
Tordjman noted that Guillet’s bid for the nomination was approved by the Liberal party months before, with full knowledge of his social media and other public remarks.
Tordjman went so far as to allege that Filomena Tassi, the minister for seniors, said that “Jewish people plotted to kill Jesus.”
He said the government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau continues to fund UNRWA and NGOs that “promote hate” toward Israel, while abstaining from a United Nations resolution that denied Jerusalem was Israel’s capital. “What cost is Canada willing to pay for a seat on the Security Council?” he asked.
Tordjman said Nikki Haley, who was the U.S. ambassador to the UN at the time, was “upset that Canada did not stand up and do the right thing.”
Housefather challenged Tordjman to produce that quote, saying that he does “not believe it exists on the public record.”
Housefather asserted that no MP has spoken out more forcefully and consistently on BDS and “the tyrannical regime of Iran” than he has. He pointed to a 20-minute speech he made in the House of Commons in 2016, in which he condemned the delegitimization of Israel and make it clear that it is a form of anti-Semitism.
However, he warned against making Israel and other issues close to the Jewish community into “wedge” issues. They should be bipartisan concerns, as the Liberals and Conservatives inevitably succeed one another, Housefather noted.
Tordjman suggested the Liberal motion on BDS that was passed in 2016 had lukewarm support in caucus. He said 25 per cent of Liberal MPs were not present for the vote, three voted against it and 10 abstained, while all the Conservatives voted for it.
Housefather took credit for influencing the government to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of anti-Semitism in June, as well as how Canada votes on UN resolutions concerning Israel.
Over the past four years, Housefather said that, in 87 per cent of cases, Canada voted against anti-Israel resolutions, while the Harper government’s record was 61 per cent.
On Bill 21, Tordjman, who described himself as “a visible religious Jew,” said the law’s fate should be left to the courts. He added that “challenging Quebec on the notwithstanding clause” would “not advance dialogue” with the province.
Housefather, on the other hand, said he “was the first MP from Quebec to say how egregious this law was.… It violates Section 2 of the Canadian Charter, which protects what people wear on the job.”
He said Trudeau has “left the door open for an intervention at the appellate level” by his government, while there are Conservative Quebec MPs who support the secularism law, including the province’s lieutenant, Alain Reyes.
Tordjman shot back that “the Liberal party is just pandering right now.… I don’t believe they will do it.” To which Housefather responded by saying that the Conservatives are pandering to Quebec nationalists by holding back.
B’nai Brith regional director Harvey Levine said the NDP and Bloc Québécois candidates in Mount Royal declined an invitation to take part in the debate. Green candidate Clement Badra had been scheduled, but was a late scratch due to illness, he said.
B’nai Brith did not invite the People’s Party of Canada, but its standard-bearer in the riding, Zachary Lozoff, was permitted to have an information table at the back of the room and to speak to attendees.
The debate was moderated by Dan Spector, a Global News photojournalist.