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Discussion: How the political shift among Jewish voters plays in Canada

The following is a transcript from a live Q&A with Globe columnist Jeffrey Simpson.

  • Jewish Canadians are changing their political allegiance.

    Before the Harper Conservatives took office, the majority of Canadian Jews voted Liberal. But an Ipsos Reid exit poll of voters in the last federal election found that 52 per cent of Jewish voters supported the Conservatives, 24 per cent voted for the LIberals and 16 per cent for the NDP. As The Globe's Jeffrey Simpson writes, "If remotely accurate, the exit poll reflects an enormous shift in voter preference among Canadian Jews." Click here for the full article.

    Why are are Jewish Canadians shifting right? Are Liberals not "pro-Israel" enough? Here's the discussion:
  • Hi everyone -- we'll begin in about 15 minutes. Please submit your comments.
  • Welcome, everyone. The first question for Mr. Simpson: Your column explores the recent shift from Liberal to Conservative among Jewish Canadians. Why now? Mulroney was staunchly pro-Israel and voters stuck with the Liberals.

  • The biggest change has been within Israel itself. There has been a circling of the wagons around the policies of Prime Minister Netanyahu with regard to the Palestinian question, and that circling, or hardening if you will, has been reflected in a follow-on response by the Jewish diaspora. Some years ago, opinion in Israel was more divided than now; Labor politicians and Likud fought over the issue, and there were various splinter parties in Israel that offered their perspectives. The hardening has many explanations: more security behind the wall the israelis have cosntructed; fatigue with the whole issue; a belief that the Palestinians will never accept a deal. In any event, the attitudinal change in israel has been mirrored in Canada and, from what one reads, in the United States.
    by Jeffrey Simpson edited by Lara Pingue 9/28/2011 6:05:22 PM
  • Many readers are asking why the Jewish vote even matters -- they say they make up such a small part of the Canadian population. Why does it matter?
  • While we're waiting on the answer, here are a couple comments from readers....
  • There are only about 350,000 Jews in Canada. I'm not sure how many can or even do vote. Perhaps 100,000 actually vote. A pretty small number of total votes, why is the Jewish vote so important to dwell on?
  • As I suggested, I don't think this was largely a political calculation by Mr. Harper. He and his colleagues, especially Jason Kenny, see this as a moral issue with Israel in white and the other countries in black. Take this week. Foreign Affairs Minister Baird gives an utterly one-sided view in a speech at the UN; the next day Israel announces new settlements. This action is condemned by the United States and the European Union. Canada says nothing. I would say that Canada under Harper has the mos one-sided, pro-Israel position of any country in the world.
  • Here's another point of view from our reader, OC.....
  • New immigrants often begin life in Canada at a working class level. As generations pass, the ethnic communities become more established and more wealthy. Perhaps the shift to the Conservatives (and to the Republicans south of the border) is an inevitable shift of a population from poor, working class environment to a wealthier one, which sees the Conservatives as more protective of their wealth and position.
  • Well, I am Jewish Canadian but an immigrant. Since I became a Canadian in 1984, I never voted liberal, never. I was put off by Trudeau's multiculturalism , his behavior as the philosopher king, and by the Liberals' so-called "evenhanded" policies toward Israel, which means generally sympathy for the Arabs. I also do not like the fact that I saw the Liberals as throwing tax money at all, as their support for false "human rights laws which infringe on freedom of speech.

    So in my case at least it doesn't make any change. I am happy the rest of the communit votes like I did.
  • Answering an earlier question about which country -- Canada or U.S. -- is more pro-Israel: It depends what you mean. Both governments are pro-Israel; all Canadian governments have been since the creation of the state. No government has been as overtly pro-Israel and so tone deaf to the Palestinians as the Harper government. As for public opinion, various studies, including polls commissioned by Jewish organizations in Canada have consistently shown that Israel (not Canadian Jews) is unpopular.
  • Will the Harper government's uncritical support of Israel impact Canada's greater worldwide interests?
  • With respect, the question is not properly phrased. ALL Canadian governments have supported Israel; Liberal and Conservative. None have been so insensitive to the other side of the Palestinian-Israeli position; none has intervened in international forums as often to support whatever Israel prefers. Has this attitude has an impact on Canada's worldwide interests? It already has. Canada, for the first time, lost an election to the Security Council. Many were the reasonos why, but prominent among them was this shift in Canada's attitude towards the Israeli-Palestinian question. It cost us perhaps as many as 25 votes. We are now completely irrelevant in the region when it comes to being heard, since we have nothing to say that is not a reflection of Israel's latest position. in fairness, Canada never had much of a voice in the region; now it has none.
  • Do you think Jason Kenny is motivated to support Israel based largely on his Christian religious beliefs?
  • I would say that his religious beliefs influence how he sees the issue. Kenny sees various foreign policy issues in rather moralistic terms, and this one of them. I can't probe his soul beyond that. I would observe that there are elements of fundamentalism in the Harper Conservative approach top some issues; crime being one example, where evidence means nothing, and even-handedness is seen as weakness.
    The trouble occurs when the interests of Israel and those of Canada do not coincide, at which point we are marginalized abroad and those who support everything Israel does in Canada begin to marginalize themselves in Canada. This can happen to any group. i remember when the Tamils came in large numbers to Parliament Hill urging the Canadian government to change its position on the sri Lanka conflict to align it with that of the Tamils. Fortunately, no political party took that bait, because to have done so would have eliminated Canada's long-standing efforts to play a constructive role in bringing the Singlahese and Tamils together.
  • Will the demographics of immigration to Canada start to have an influence on the debate regarding Israel? When do the Muslims of Canada start to exert some kind of political influence on the debate?
  • The Jewish population as a share of Canada's overall population is not growing, although within it the ultra-Orthodox component is growing. It is obviously losing relative population share to Muslims. By the way, just as I took care in my column to say there is no such thing as the "Jewish vote," so there is no such thing a the Muslim vote. The Muslim vote is divided into speakers of many languages and dialects, religious tendencies (Shia, Sunni, Isahmailis etc.) They are organizationally divided, too. On the question of the Middle East, they can also be divided, although they tend overwhelmingly to be sympathetic to the Palestinian cause. If the israeli-Palestinian question becomes a vote-driver in the Muslim communities, as it has become in the Jewish communities apparently, then the Muslim voters will out-number the Jewish ones. Jewish leaders are well aware of this demographic reality, and they are concerned about it.
  • A number of interesting insight has been pouring in from readers who have explained why they vote the way they do. Here are some highlights....
  • I am a Jew who supports Israel and does not vote Conservative. I do this because of two reasons: 1) the Liberal party does, in fact, support both peace and the existence of Israel; and 2) I don't like what the Conservative party is doing in Canada. As important as Israel is to the Jewish community in Canada, I find it stunning how many people I know vote Tory SOLELY based on Israel. It's almost like they forget it's a Canadian election and not an Israeli one.
  • I think there's been an overall shift in Canada towards Conservative positions, that have little to do with our foreign policy. People understand that we can't keep spending ourselves into massive debt. That criminals can't be coddled. And that families are the basis of our society.
  • There are certain events that the Jewish community has remembered with regards to the Liberal Party and their support for Israel. One was Jean Chretien's attendance at a conference in Lebanon which also included a Hezbollah leader. And most recently Michael Ignatieff's claim that Israel was guilty of 'war crimes' during the Israel/Lebanon war.
  • As someone whos is part of Canada's Jewish community, I can say that the Conservatives strong support for Israel is what drove them to the Conservatives... Not their wealth.
  • Jewish voters are moving right because in today's world Israel is facing so much political opposition with the rise of social media and the arab spring, that they feel they need to have a government that stands strong with Israel and fights for its rights politically
  • One final question for Mr. Simpson....
  • Mr. Simpson - if the majority of Canadians view the state of Israel in a negative light, what can ordinary Canadians do to: a) let the world know that the official government position does not reflect the view of the majority; and b) work for a more even-handed approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?
  • Vote against the government, I guess, in four years time. Don't expect anything to change in the Harper government's approach. It is deeply rooted.
  • Unfortunately, we're running out of time for the live chat. Thanks to Mr. Simpson for his thoughts, and to Globe readers for sending in your questions and comments. Apologies for not having the capacity to post all of them.
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