Home Perspectives Opinions What does the Liberal win mean for Jewish groups?

What does the Liberal win mean for Jewish groups?

Anthony Housefather. FILE PHOTO
Anthony Housefather. FILE PHOTO

The longest election campaign in modern Canadian history delivered more than a surprise Liberal majority – it yielded six new Jewish MPs for the winning party: Michael Levitt in Toronto’s York Centre; Anthony Housefather in Mount Royal, and Jim Carr in Winnipeg South Centre – all ridings with large Jewish populations – as well as Julie Dabrusin in Toronto-Danforth, Karina Gould in Burlington, Ont., and David Graham in Quebec’s Laurentides–Labelle riding.

The election also saw the defeat of Stephen Harper, Canada’s most vocally pro-Israel prime minister ever, as well as a loss by Joe Oliver, Canada’s first Jewish finance minister, and the retirement of respected Mount Royal Liberal MP Irwin Cotler.

The campaign was perhaps the most divisive one ever for the Jewish community. Reminiscent of the U.S. right’s disdain for President Barack Obama, some of Harper’s Jewish supporters were especially vocal – both on social media and in more traditional channels – in wildly accusing Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau of, in effect, being a front for radical Islam.

By the end, there was pushback from a number of Jewish commentators, who noted that all three major parties voiced strong support for Israel and condemned the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.

Did this motivate some Jewish voters to shift allegiances back to the Liberals, the community’s historical home, after exit polls registered 52 per cent support among Jews for the Tories in 2011?

Conservative commentator Michael Diamond and the progressive Jewish group JSpace probably don’t agree on much, but they both contend that Liberal wins in some of the “Jewish” ridings signalled that there was a shift among Jews toward the Liberals. As JSpace said in a statement, it “showed that there is a return to the progressive orientation of Jews in Canada,” or as Diamond writes in this week’s CJN, “many traditional Liberals who had moved into the Conservative fold returned to vote Liberal, believing that Trudeau would be for Israel what Harper had been.”

However, there are no hard numbers yet – in the form of exit polling or riding return breakdowns – to support this contention. In fact, anecdotal evidence might suggest otherwise.

For instance, in the country’s most “Jewish” riding, Thornhill, Conservative Peter Kent was re-elected with nearly 60 per cent of the vote, down only three percentage points from 2011 (albeit with a lower vote tally). And in Eglinton-Lawrence and York Centre, respectively, defeated Tories Oliver and Mark Adler each only lost about 1,500 votes compared to 2011, though voter turnout was higher in both ridings.

So it appears the Jewish vote for the Tories was again quite strong.

This raises another question: what do the election results mean for the community’s relations with the new government?

While mainstream Jewish advocacy groups are all nominally non-partisan, they’ve all been very supportive of Harper and Conservative policies over the years, particularly on Israel.

Nevertheless, while also thanking Harper for his support for Israel and the Jewish community, they all warmly congratulated Trudeau on his victory last week and said they looked forward to working with him.

No doubt Trudeau and his team will, and should, take them at their word.

But after a decade of sometimes appearing to cozy up to the Liberals’ political rivals, could these groups have trouble working with the new government?

That was the point JSpace tried to make when it said the election “created somewhat of a dilemma for the organized Jewish community. Some groups have put all their political capital behind the Conservative party. Now they will have to figure out how to represent the diversity of Jewish opinion to the newly elected government.”

That sentiment cuts both ways, however, since Jews once again appear to have given Harper and the Tories a fair amount of support, so their views will need to be taken into account by mainstream Jewish groups as they interact with the new government.

How they’ll try to meet that challenge and what kind of balance they’ll need, or be able, to strike are open questions.

It won’t necessarily be easy, though Jews and Jewish groups have historically had deep ties to the Liberal party, so they won’t be starting from zero.

But it wouldn’t be surprising if the Liberals were wary of the organized Jewish community, despite having courted Jews during the campaign with assurances about Israel and the BDS movement.

If that’s the case, those six new Jewish Liberal MPs could come in handy quite quickly.

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