A little over a month ago – at the conclusion of the most recent Canadian federal election – I posted an article expressing great disdain for the Jewish electorate in my hometown riding of Thornhill. I made no attempt to hide my affiliation with the Liberal Party and my disdain for the Conservatives. I did, however, lay out a relatively objective argument against the elections and the Conservatives’ tactics.
In my rants, I placed the blame squarely on my fellow Jews for electing in Peter Kent – the Conservative Candidate. Given that Thornhill is about 50% Jewish, and that Kent campaigned largely on a platform of “support” for Israel and “I’m not Susan Kadis” (herself a Jew!), it isn’t hard to see how the connection can be made. Also given that Thornhill has been solidly Liberal for all but 5 years of its lengthy history, there had to be an identifiable tipping point in the change. And I identified it as being among the Jewish electorate.
Apparently I struck a sour chord with some, as I was accused of being an offensive racist. As an ardent pluralist (and an ardent Jew!), I refuted these remarks, but basically, I let the issue slide. Clearly my argument was not meant to imply that there was some conspiracy among us Jews, rather it was a demographic observation (coupled with my admittedly Liberal philosophy) attempting to shed light on the matter of one-issue voting. Plus, I was angry – so I ramped up the rhetoric.
Well… Turns out Peter Kent is thanking the Jewish community by making one of his first public speaking appearances at a breakfast at the BAYT (the largest Orthodox shul in Canada, and a really nice community). In last week’s Jewish Tribune, the president of the BAYT’s brotherhood was quoted as saying:
“When I first heard Peter Kent speak to us at BAYT [Beth Avraham Yoseph of Toronto Congregation], I said to myself, here’s someone who understands the security challenges that Israel and the Western world are facing today and is willing to do something about it,”
This just reinforces my earlier point… it seems that by and large, the Canadian Jewish community is more concerned with one foreign policy issue than with Canadian domestic policy. As I iterated earlier, I have a great concern for this type of voting. Setting aside the fact that Canada has little to no role whatsoever in Israeli or Western security — these remarks illuminate the obsession amongst Canadian Jews with expecting the Canadian parliament to focus on one issue.
As a pluralist, I can entirely appreciate someone who aligns him or herself with Conservative values and believes in the Conservative Party’s overall agenda (something that was almost impossible to do this year given the CPC’s lack of a formally platform presented in time for Jews to vote). I would never assume to dictate what beliefs someone should uphold. But it seems that for much of the Canadian Jewish community, the qualification for getting elected is whether or not you say nice things about Israel.
There are moments when I’m actually thrilled to be living outside of Canada. This is one of them.
As a Jewish progressive, I find your post rather offensive and I think it’s wrong to make such generalizations about the Canadian Jewish community as a whole based on the result in Thornhill. In Mount Royal, Irwin Cotler won by a wide margin, as did Liberal Marc Garneau in Westmount. Martha Hall Findlay had no problem in Willowdale. And in my home riding of St. Paul’s, Carolyn Bennett won by 12,000 votes and the Tories got fewer votes than last time. Also keep in mind that Thornhill has a huge Orthodox community and they have moved very much to the right, and cast their votes largely based on the Israel issue. They are very different politically from the generally small-“l” non-Orthodox majority of North American Jews. In the US for instance Obama received 78% of the Jewish vote but McCain carried many heavily Orthodox communities such as the Five Towns, Long Island and Teaneck and Lakewood, New Jersey.
As a Jewish progressive, I’m sorry to hear that you’re offended. I wonder, though, if you are personally offended, or if you just disagree with what I’m arguing. From your posting, it sounds as though it’s the latter. Feel free to set the record straight.
Here’s what I’ve got to say:
I think it was pretty clear that I was making a general demographic observation about the Canadian Jewish Community based on anecdotal evidence. While what I wrote was certainly not a scientifically proven political poll, I’m versed enough in Jewish life in Canada to be able to identify prevailing trends. I apologize if that wasn’t clear enough (I did admit to a ramped up rhetoric…)
Your points on Quebec are fair enough, although I would argue that they are more representative of the increasingly strong anti-Harper sentiments vis-a-vis French culture in Quebec than on a strong progressively Jewish movement there.
Yes – this IS about Thornhill. This is a riding that has been solidly Liberal for all but 4 years of its history. All of a sudden, it switches… As I noted, I was looking to identify the tipping point. I think I found it. And more than that, I believe that what happened in Th0rnhill is indicative of a larger trend.
What about the cessation of Conservative synagogues in Toronto and Montreal from the USCJ? http://www.cjnews.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=14375&Itemid=86
Or how about the recent Jewish Tribune article where Rabbi Reuven Bulka of the Canadian Jewish Congress basically aligned the CJC with Conservative Party ideology?
We talk about “the Jewish vote” all the time — why then are you offended when I draw conclusions based on how Jews voted? It is exactly this voting based on the Israel issue – which you correctly identify – that I take issue with.
One last note – be careful conflating Canadian political demographics with those in America. While in America, the small “l” non-Orthodox make up the majority of Jews, it is quite the opposite in Canada. The small “l” corps (Reform/the liberal side of Conservative, and Reconstructionist Jews ) make up the MINORITY.
Let me be quite clear one last time: The Canadian Jewish community is centered in Toronto, with the offshoot of Montreal. What happens in these communities is indicative of prevailing trends. Certainly there are exceptions – you and I are proof of that. But let’s not get offended when confronting such controversial issues.
I withdraw the “offended” comment but I still am unconvinced the Jewish community in Canada now supports the Conservatives en masse. I think the Orthodox vote probably went 80%+ Tory and in Thornhill I would think that would be enough to put Kent over the top. The non-O I still think is still in the small-“l” liberal camp.
Only 14% of Toronto Jews are Orthodox, only 24% attend synagogue at least monthly and 50% don’t belong to synagogues at all, according to the demographic study “Jewish Life in Greater Toronto” by Charles Shahar (available on the UJA Toronto website), so I don’t think anywhere near the majority can be characterized as traditional or rightwing.
In the end there are over 300,000 Jews in Canada and only about 40,000 of them live in Thornhill. Certainly the Jewish demos there tilt more to the right than elsewhere, as in the Five Towns, Teaneck, etc. in the US. Just because Thornhill has a large Jewish population, doesn’t mean it’s a representative sample of the Jewish population as a whole. I’m sure the Liberals also lost a lot of non-Jewish vote there as well, given the swing in 905 and Kent was the most high-profile Tory running in the GTA.
But since we don’t have any study of Jewish voters in Canada we can only guess.