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Opinion As Tories press for Jewish support, Jewish voters are pushing back

Benjamin Shinewald is a former chief executive officer of the Canadian Jewish Congress.

For the first time since the Conservatives began to target Canada's Jewish community with the party's pro-Israel bombast, there is sustained, grassroots push-back.

In Montreal, a volunteer for Conservative candidate Robert Libman pointed to the mezuzah on the doorpost of a Jewish home and told the homeowner to "remember what you are." The voter was so appalled that he penned a scornful opinion piece in the Montreal Gazette.

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In Toronto, Tory candidate Mark Adler noted incorrectly on his website that he was "the first child of a Holocaust survivor to ever be elected as an MP." He then reinforced his lineage on a huge campaign billboard. Ridicule ensued, the website was corrected and the billboard was changed.

In Winnipeg, at a B'nai Brith-hosted election debate, Conservative candidate Joyce Bateman began listing Liberals she considered to be enemies of Israel, and the horrified audience responded with calls of "Shame!"

Canadian Jews increasingly believe that the Conservatives' policy on Israel was never entirely about Israel. Rather, it was about driving a wedge into their community and cementing those on the Conservative side of the divide into Stephen Harper's political base.

However, other than voting against some dreadful anti-Israel UN resolutions, the Harper government's policy on Israel is awfully critical. The government's official stance says Jewish settlements in the West Bank "constitute a serious obstacle to achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace"; Canada "opposes Israel's construction of the [anti-terrorism] barrier inside the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which are occupied territories"; and Canada "does not recognize Israel's unilateral annexation of East Jerusalem."

But that strong disapproval has been overshadowed by the Conservatives' equally strong, pro-Israel rhetoric. In a classic example of political doublespeak, Mr. Harper told the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, in June, 2014, that, "through fire and water, Canada will stand with you." That line is now a repeated Conservative talking point.

While such extravagant pronouncements are welcomed by prominent – and largely unrepresentative – Jewish organizations, increasing numbers of rank-and-file Canadian Jews sense zealotry and cringe. Moreover, many committed Zionists are deeply opposed to Israel's current Likud-led government and find Mr. Harper's unrestrained embrace of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to be off-putting. Others find meaning as Jews through issues such as poverty reduction, climate change and refugees – all weakness for the Tories. And the divisive niqab debate sits uneasily with many Canadian Jews.

Of course, large numbers of Canadian Jews remain resolutely Conservative. Yet, the Tory message is wearing on some. And, like all Canadians, Jewish voters are generally motivated by a complex bundle of political imperatives, not just one.

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Neglected in the past, Jews now wonder if they are being used. As a result, many "Jewish ridings" are no longer Tory strongholds. In the Toronto riding of Eglinton-Lawrence, the Conservatives are worried Liberal Marco Mendicino will defeat Joe Oliver, which would be only the third time since Confederation that an incumbent finance minister would lose his seat. It would be a stunning rebuke for the country's most senior Jewish politician.

Political change turned "Jewish ridings" into Tory strongholds. This year, a different kind of political change is putting those ridings back into play.

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