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By BERNIE BELLAN

It occurred to me, after reading Alex Arenson’s diatribe against President Obama (available only in the print edition) that Jewish right-wingers are in the ascendancy - at least when it comes to the media (although very likely when it comes to voting trends as well).


To explain how Alex has begun writing for this paper, quite some time ago he suggested to me that he might like to pen a column - but it was quite a while before he actually sent me something. I rather like his style, although I agree with very little that he has to say.
Still, the idea of Canadian Jews finding themselves firmly in the Conservative camp - along with being small-c conservatives generally, is something of which I’ve been aware ever since Prime Minister Harper made a deliberate effort to target Jewish voters. I suppose the turning point came during Israel’s war with Hezbollah in 2009 when Harper came out full score in defense of Israel’s position, while both the Liberals under Michael Ignatieff and the NDP under Jack Layton equivocated - at best.
But, as we draw closer to a fall election, whether Jews will continue to cast their support for Conservative candidates - and turn away once again from their traditional allegiance to the Liberals, remains a tantalizing question.

Here in Winnipeg we are watching a fascinating race developing in Winnipeg South Centre between Liberal Jim Carr and the incumbent M.P., Conservative Joyce Bateman. I confess that I really like both of them Heck, I used to be Joyce’s mailman back in the day. How much closer connection can one have to someone when you can see what kind of mail they get?
As for Jim, I was once his student when he taught a course on Canadian politics, although that course wasn’t for credit. I’ve always kidded Jim that it helps to have the initials “J.C.”, following in the footsteps of Jean Chretien and Jesus Christ - just to name two other prominent J.C.’s.
 I had a conversation recently with a prominent Jewish Conservative organizer who claimed that Bateman is well ahead of Carr in the polls. When I wondered about the accuracy of that observation - only because I’ve heard the opposite from Liberals in the area, it made me realize even more firmly how much of a minority position I hold among Jews when it comes to Stephen Harper.
Frankly, there isn’t much I like about Harper. I’m a small-l liberal, and Harper’s consistent whittling away at many of the pillars of democratic society - such as the restrictions he placed on government scientists from speaking out on any issues, his neutralization of the parliamentary budget officer and similar attacks on almost anyone who might offer criticism of his government, along with a host of other acts intended to limit democratic norms within Canada’s tradition of parliamentary democracy, keep me from joining the ranks of Jews who say: “I may have voted Liberal in the past but Harper is Israel’s best friend in the world, so we’ve got to vote for him.”

Now that Israel has what is undoubtedly its most right-wing government ever, what  are liberal Jews like me going to do when it comes to supporting Israel? I like to think that I can continue to show support for Israel, notwithstanding its having become a semi-theocracy, what with right wing religious parties holding the balance of power in Netanyahu’s coalition government.
But the idea of “haredi” parties being able to exercise control over so many aspects of Israeli life, from conversions to marriages, and the fact that young haredi men are now apparently able to avoid the draft once again (as if the threat to draft haredi boys into the army ever materialized into a substantial practice), makes me cringe. Why on earth, I wonder, would anyone who isn’t fervently orthodox ever think of making aliyah any more?

Speaking of right-wing symbols, how about that Omar Khadr? It occurs to me that Khadr has become a sort of touchstone for the Harper government and symbolizes their steadfast “war on terror” in ways that are so cynical, yet so Machiavellianly clever. Now, who in their right mind could show any sympathy for the Khadr family as a whole? If there is any one example of Canada’s misguided immigration policies under the Liberals, the Khadr family is it. I note that they’d been laying extremely low the entire time that Omar Khadr’s release under parole was being contemplated. I’m sure that the Conservatives would love nothing more than to have one of those nutcase Khadrs spouting off about how lovely it is to be a martyr for Islam and how awful a country Canada is.
Yet here we have young Omar, whose voice we’ve now had the opportunity to hear for the very first time. Who knows what’s really going on in his mind? As my review of a book (“The Fertile Soil of Jihad”, on page 7 of this issue) about Muslim convicts in American prisoners who have gone on to be jihadists upon their release from prison shows, it is very possible that Omar Khadr is pulling off one elaborate con on all of us.
On the other hand, a few years ago I wrote a review of a fascinating book titled “Son of Hamas”, which told the story of the son of one of the highest-ranking Hamas officials who became an agent for the Shin Bet. In that case though the turning point came when Mosab Hassan Yousef, the protagonist of that story, found salvation through Christianity rather than Islam.
I suppose that what we’d all like to hear from Omar Khadr is a firm denunciation of Islamic extremism in order for us to truly accept him back into society. That isn’t likely to happen and unless it does, Khadr - and his family (especially that unbelievably stupid mother of his) will remain a symbol of everything Canadians fear about Muslims.

To return to the question of conservative parties being ascendant (and the Alberta election is clearly an aberration, what with two conservative parties splitting the vote instead of the more typical scenario wherein two left-wing parties split the vote, as is the case federally in Canada), the politics of fear certainly seem to be proving successful wherever they are bandied about.
Whether it’s here in Canada, where Harper is capitalizing on the rather nebulous threat that ISIS (or is it ISIL or Islamic State?) poses to Canada, along with his continued “get tough on crime” pitch to woo just enough voters away from the Liberals and NDP to win yet another election, or Israel, where Netanyahu was able to scare enough voters with warnings about “Arabs being bused to the polls” to gain the most votes in that country’s election, it’s voters’ fears of the aliens living within their midst that seems to be very persuasive.
There really is no good counter to that kind of fear-mongering. As Jews, we’ve often been in the position of serving as the aliens to be feared, so we should understand full well how effective that kind of approach to the deep-seated fears of voters can be. This is not to suggest that the threat of Islamic extremism or Arab hostility to a Jewish state shouldn’t be taken seriously. Rather, it should be kept in a proper perspective - and we should know when we’re being bamboozled by cynical politicians who’ve realized they’ve latched on to a winning issue predicated on fear of the unknown. When I see Netanyahu and Harper engaging in such keen mutual admiration - and proving so successful politically, I can’t help but think that what they most admire about each other is their cynical disregard for democratic norms.
But, as I said, liberals like me are apparently in the minority, so all we can do is watch as what were once two liberal societies - Canada’s and Israel’s, drift ever rightward.

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