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Prime Minister Stephen Harper takes part in a menorah lighting ceremony on Parliament Hill on December 19, 2006. (FRED CHARTRAND)
Prime Minister Stephen Harper takes part in a menorah lighting ceremony on Parliament Hill on December 19, 2006. (FRED CHARTRAND)

Gerald Caplan

Stephen Harper and the Jewish question Add to ...

Old Jewish joke: Rabbi tells a survivor that the pogroms against Jews are proof we are God's Chosen People. Survivor says: "Do me a favour, Rabbi. Tell God to choose some one else next time."

This is kind of how I feel about the way Stephen Harper's government has been so blatantly wooing Canadian Jews. What do these guys want from us anyway?

It's little remembered that during the 1990s, Jewish neocons in the United States forged a perverse political alliance with right-wing Protestant evangelicals. Many of the latter were bigots and anti-Semites who believe that at end time Jews would be cast into eternal hell and damnation if they didn't convert to Christianity. But to reach that thrilling apocalypse, biblical prophecy apparently demands a Jewish state in the Middle East. So these evangelicals became fanatical supporters of Israel against the Palestinians - at least in the short run. The neocons fully understood all this.

Personally, it seemed to me that with allies like Pat Robertson and the rest of the kookamongas, Jews didn't need enemies. But as neocon pioneer Norman Podhoretz helpfully explained, support for Israel trumped everything else, even anti-Semitism and a belief in the final Holocaust of the Jewish people. And for both neocons and the Harper government, any criticism of any Israeli government constitutes anti-Semitism. Never mind that there are few harsher critics of their government than Israelis themselves.

My collection of exotica about this matter also includes a Canadian government pamphlet, one of those notorious taxpayer-funded 10-per-centers, mailed to my home by some Conservative MP named LaVar Payne. The cover has a photo of Harper holding a menorah with the flag of Israel prominent in the background, and the bold words, "Committed to Canada's Jewish Community." The message begins: "When it comes to fighting anti-Semitism, the Conservative government will not compromise."

The photo was taken when Harper was given the 2009 Simon Wiesenthal International Leadership Award. This was a low point in the history of the controversial Wiesenthal organization, honouring a Prime Minister who has brought civil political discourse in Canada to a new low and who shamelessly plays the anti-Semitism card as a partisan political wedge issue.

As for my government standing on guard for me, I'd be more grateful if I knew from whom I actually needed to be protected. By any conceivable standard, we Canadian Jews are surely among the most privileged, most secure, most successful, most influential minorities in Canada and indeed in the entire world. We don't have a powerful Christian right-wing that is openly prejudiced, as in the United States, and the anti-Semitic incidents that do occasionally happen, while deplorable, are almost invariably caused by kids, crackpot white supremacists or marginalized thugs.

The B'Nai Brith annually publishes the number of anti-Semitic incidents that are reported to it, but these reports are never checked out or confirmed. And whatever those numbers, the vast majority of Canadians Jews know perfectly well that they now live their entire lives completely untouched by anti-Semitism. Indeed, perhaps the most politically correct stand in Canada today is the race by political and community leaders to immediately denounce even the slightest hint of anti-Semitism, however unproved or trivial. You could say they compete to see who will win the anti-anti-Semitic championship.

Folks, trust me it wasn't always this way.

Last week, the Harper government vetoed CIDA funding for a fine NGO called KAIROS, Canada's pre-eminent faith-based human rights organization. Eleven Christian organizations run KAIROS. You would think that the Harper government, whose Christian piety is worn pretty close to their sleeves, would be among KAIROS's great admirers, doing the Lord's work by fighting injustice around the world.

And yet when asked why KAIROS had its funding proposal peremptorily turned down for the first time, John Baird, the government's rabid pit bull, replied that his party, then not in government, had opposed anti-Semitism at a human-rights conference in Durban, South Africa, back in 2001. This same curious little factoid appears in my government brochure as well. Those of course were the good old days when the Reform Party's generous representation of creationists, misogynists, gay-baiters, choice-deniers and other proud members of the Cashew Coalition had not yet had their lips sewn together.

Like every self-respecting NGO, KAIROS supports causes that the Harper government disdains. Presumably, though, the government doesn't intend to de-fund every group that cares about global warming or the exploitation by plundering Canadian mining companies of impoverished Congolese workers. But who really knows?

I think Baird's bizarre answer points to an even more unforgivable sin perpetrated by KAIROS. The organization cares a great deal about justice in the Middle East. So they oppose the illegal Israeli occupation of the West Bank and support Palestinians who have peacefully protested against illicit Israeli policies and practices. But for the Harperites, whose ignorance about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict seems to be a matter of principle, this "one-sided" stance may have been the last straw.

Why is this Conservative government so determined to woo Jewish support? Why is it so reflexive, so mindless, in its support for Israel? Given their single-minded pursuit of ethnic voters, politics seems a more plausible explanation than conviction. Yet Jews constitute only 1 per cent of the Canadian population and are a factor in only a tiny number of seats. Most Jews vote Liberal and while some have defected to the Conservatives over Israel, most still will. So the unseemly Conservative embrace just doesn't add up.

That's why I'm with that survivor at the top of this piece. I'm always happier when people aren't paying us so much attention. Thanks, Conservatives, but no thanks. Do me a favors and embrace someone else.

 

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