Masthead graphic based on a painting by Gudrun Thriemer.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Ted Byfield, "Grits wander away from Jewish supporters," Calgary Sun, August 6, 2006.

If the Liberals are in the course of trading in the strong support they have so long received from the Canadian Jewish community, on the vague expectation of replacement support from new Muslim immigrants, they are making a serious mistake.

Yet, this seems to be the path they're taking -- or rather, wandering down -- and last week they saw the first evidence of the consequences.

Heather Reisman, boss of Indigo Books and chairwoman of the Liberal party's national policy committee in the 1980s, announced she's leaving the party to support Stephen Harper and the Tories.

Her announcement followed a similar statement by film producer Robert Lantos that he is taking off his "life-long Liberal hat."

Ms. Reisman e-mailed a friend: "I'm right there alongside Robert. After a lifetime of being a Liberal, I have made the switch. It feels strange, but it is totally and unequivocally right."

Her husband Gerry Schwartz, who heads the giant Onex Corporation, another senior Liberal and confidant of ex-prime minister Paul Martin, will doubtless do the same.

Both his name and his wife's were among eight who signed an ad in a Cornwall, Ont., daily newspaper, welcoming the Tory caucus meeting there and congratulating Harper for "standing by Israel."

Meanwhile, yet another senior Liberal, Senator Gerry Grafstein, publicly criticized Liberal House leader Bill Graham for his attack on Harper over his pro-Israel policy.

Harper has reversed Canada's 50-year record as a neutral "broker" in the Middle East, Graham had complained, a criticism in which Liberal leadership candidate Michael Ignatieff concurred. But neutrality on Israel, Grafstein declared, is not Canada's historical record.

Though two of the party's leadership candidates -- Joe Volpe and Scott Brison -- have declared for Israel, the rest are "all over the place," says Grafstein.

With Harper taking such a clear and resolute position in Israel's favour, the effect is to demonstrate the Liberals generally as anti-Israel and pro-Hezbollah. This is already costing them the traditional allegiance of Canadian Jews.

The Liberal party appears to have stumbled, rather than marched, into this situation.

It began by assailing Harper as "walking lockstep" with U.S. President George W. Bush, hoping to capture what it discerns as a powerful anti-American sentiment in the Canadian electorate. But the issue in which Harper is most closely "locked" to Bush is in his support for Israel.

When it became evident opposing the Americans meant opposing Israel, Jewish people in Canada began wondering why they were backing the Liberal party.

The boast of a Muslim spokeswoman after the 2004 election that determined Muslim support for the Liberals had won them three Toronto constituencies will have done nothing to reassure them or to sustain Jewish loyalty to the party.

But it did a great deal to strengthen Tory support for Israel.

What, after all, do the Tories have to lose?

If the Muslims are working as hard as they say to elect Liberals, then surely the Tories should work the other side of the street.

It is politically sound, but it is morally sound, as well.

Israel is the only democracy in that sector of the world.

As the current conflict erupted, it had two choices. It could counter-attack, inevitably causing civilian casualties, or it could sit back and be gradually destroyed.

It chose the former.

Do the Liberals actually object to this?

In other words, could a vote for the Liberals be portrayed as a vote for their friends, the Hezbollah?

That would make for an interesting election campaign.

The Tories appear to be aware of something else.

Most of the "New Canadians" pouring into the country from the Third World are not Muslim, but Christian, some of them trying to escape Islamic persecution or terrorism in their homelands.

So, by favouring Israel, the Tories may, by no means, be writing off the whole immigrant vote.

Some commentators equate the present Liberal uncertainty with the devastation the Liberal party underwent in the 1950s, after it was hit with the Diefenbaker phenomenon.

Many said then the party was finished. But very soon, it rose again to become the country's dominant political force for the rest of the century.

I remember those days.

To the Liberals of that era, blowing away their Jewish support would have been unthinkable.

Now, they're doing it.

It seems bizarre.
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