Mulcair the mensch

By Gil Troy, Canadian Jewish News, 5-19-11

As Liberals reel from their stunning electoral defeat and Conservatives rejoice, Israel’s supporters in Canada can find reassurance in two important outcomes from the recent federal election.

First, the re-election of Prime Minister Stephen Harper is sweet vindication. Harper has been a steadfast friend of Israel, defending and embodying the democratic values uniting Israel and Canada. Claims that Harper and his party would suffer at the polls for befriending the Jewish state proved as empty as the charge that Canada was not elected to the UN Security Council as punishment for voting for Israel.

The second piece of good news is that, as the NDP gets used to becoming the loyal opposition, the NDP deputy leader and designated coach for its unseasoned rookie MPs is Thomas Mulcair, a thoughtful, reasonable progressive who refuses to join the pile-on against Israel.

I had the privilege of hearing Mulcair address the Ottawa Conference on Combating Antisemitism last fall. Amid a tsunami of speeches, Mulcair’s stood out. It was short, elegant, eloquent and effective. Although I will only quote from a CBC blog description because the conference was under Chatham House Rule, Mulcair impressed me in three ways.

First, he struck me as someone who believes in democracy and the rule of law, refusing to sacrifice core ideals to follow one trend or another. Second, he was embarrassed, as a member of the McGill community, having graduated from McGill Law School, that McGill hosts Israeli Apartheid Week. His indignation reflected an awareness that those who claim to be “only” anti-Zionist are usually antisemitic, too, as well as a deep commitment to preserving universities as safe, open, tolerant places for thinking students.

Third, he described an ugly moment in an anti-Israel demonstration when protesters wanted to attack a Jewish-owned business. This move reflected what he called the “any Jew will do” mob mentality of picking on all Jews because of a disagreement with some Israeli policy – demonstrating the underlying antisemitism perverting so much of the anti-Israel movement.

A year earlier, when a local synagogue was defaced with swastikas in his riding, Mulcair again stood tall. He declared the act of hatred “particularly disgusting in the case of a congregation that includes several Holocaust survivors.” He quoted Martin Luther King’s teaching that “he who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really co-operating with it.”

And in that spirit, when his NDP colleague and fellow deputy leader Libby Davies supported the anti-Israel boycott movement, Mulcair confronted her swiftly and directly. Davies is a long-time critic of Israel who mocks Canada’s “so-called friendship with Israel.” She has no problem speaking at a rally whose chants call for another intifadah or being photographed at that rally in front of a poster making the false comparison between Israel and South African apartheid.

“No member of our caucus, whatever other title they have, is allowed to invent their own policy,” Mulcair proclaimed when Davies endorsed boycotts. “We take decisions together, parties formulate policies together, and to say that you’re personally in favour of boycott, divestment and sanctions for the only democracy in the Middle East is, as far as I’m concerned, grossly unacceptable.”

I have no idea where Mulcair stands regarding Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or Israel’s ultimate borders, and I don’t care. We need a broad pro-Israel coalition that fights blatant antisemitism and the antisemitism masquerading as “only” anti-Zionism.

We need a broad pro-Israel coalition uniting people from left to right who defend Israel’s right to exist and fight the demonization of Israel and Zionism. We need a broad pro-Israel coalition standing for core democratic rights and the understanding that Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East, the only stable country following rule of law, the only steady source of civil liberties for Arabs and Jews, and the Mideast’s only true friend to Canada.

And we need to honour steadfast friends such as Mulcair, hoping that as he coaches his young, newly elected NDP MPs, he points out some of the hypocritical trends that some fellow progressives succumb to, while reminding them of the enduring liberal rights and democratic ideals that make Canada and Israel among the few functioning democracies in the world – whatever mistakes they may make, whatever imperfections they may have.

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1 Comment

  1. pafmurray

     /  December 26, 2011

    I never thought that I would ever join the NDP but I will so that I can vote for Thomas Mulcair as leader:o)

    Reply

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