None of the three panelists at an event called “Trudeau – good for the Jews?” answered the question in the negative, but there were clear divergences in their views on the new prime minister’s approach to Israel and support for the Canadian Jewish community.
Hosted May 15 by York University’s Israel and Golda Koschitzky Centre for Jewish Studies, the panel was moderated by CJN editor Yoni Goldstein and included Karen Mock, community activist, former national director of the League of Human Rights of B’nai Brith and a member of the co-ordinating committee for the left-wing, pro-Israel group JSpaceCanada; Jonathan Kay, journalist and editor-in-chief of the Walrus magazine and previously an editorial assistant on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s 2015 memoir; and Michael Taube, a CJN and syndicated columnist and a former speechwriter for prime minister Stephen Harper.
The three were asked to address the question of whether Trudeau is “good for the Jews” in whatever way they wished to interpret it.
Mock, a 2011 federal Liberal candidate in the riding of Thornhill, proclaimed herself “a life-long Liberal” and said a number of Trudeau’s policies are good for Canadian Jews insofar as they are good for all Canadians.
Trudeau’s embrace of “evidence-based decision-making” by bringing back the long-form census eliminated under Harper, his “unmuzzling of scientists,” his social justice-oriented agenda regarding treatment of aboriginal people and immigration and refugee policies all reflect the important Jewish value of “loving thy neighbour,” Mock said, adding that Trudeau can also be counted on to be a “real friend to Israel.”
The Jewish community should support the new government and give it “the chance to ensure that what happens in Canada is indeed good for us, the Jews.”
Kay remarked that he found Mock’s sentiment that “what’s good for refugees and for First Nations people is good for the Jews…kind of sentimental.”
Stressing that he’s not saying he doesn’t support the aforementioned policies, the notion that Canadian Jews will benefit from a strong social safety net is no longer particularly relevant.
“This was true 50 years ago. Then, the Jewish community had the right to self-identify on the victim side of society… But the fact is, from a socio-economic point of view, Jews are among the wealthiest people, statistically, in Canadian society,” Kay said.
With many Jews occupying positions of power in Canadian society, he said, the question of “what is good for the Jews” no longer applies to whether the government is able to protect Jews from anti-Semitism or poverty.
Instead, he said, “what’s good for the Jews has become a code for…is this good for the Zionist project?”
Since 9/11 especially, mainstream Canadian Jewish institutions and synagogues have become increasingly affiliated with a sort of “hawkish, militaristic patriotism” in response to a shared sense of threat against radical Islam and so, under Harper, staunch support of Israel became associated with criticism of liberal policies.
Despite rhetoric in the recent federal election suggesting that Trudeau is “anti-Zionist, a BDS supporter, a Naomi Klein, hard-left type,” Kay said the prime minister “takes it as a baseline that Israel is a legitimate state and our ally.”
He added: “I think the Jewish community got played by Harper in the last election. He used the Jewish community as a schism issue and Israel as a proxy issue to show how hard-ass he was on things like political Islam.”
Taube stressed that he doesn’t believe Trudeau is anti-Israel, but that it’s important to observe that his approach to Israel is markedly different from Harper’s.
He listed several incidents over the past six months since Trudeau has been in power that he claimed “would never have happened under Harper.”
These included: Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion saying he wanted to be an “honest broker” between Israel and the Palestinians – something Taube said actually means he wants to be a “neutral broker” – as well as the press release issued by Trudeau’s office to mark Holocaust Remembrance Day that failed to mention the Holocaust’s six million Jews victims and the closure of the Office of Religious Freedom.
“Yes, Jews live freely in Canadian society, but the office… was a basic symbol of how important it is to have freedom and democracy in this country,” Taube said.