When Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stood in the House of Commons this month and apologized for his predecessors’ decision to turn away more than 900 Jewish refugees on the ship MS St. Louis in 1939, he also made a plea for a better, more tolerant world.
Almost all Jewish Canadians – and probably most Canadians in general – thought this was the right thing to do.
The most recent public opinion polls indicate that most Canadians think that, on balance, what Trudeau has been doing since he became prime minister three years ago is generally OK. With the collapse in public support of the New Democratic Party and the Bloc Québecois, Trudeau seems to have an edge in a two-way race against the Conservative party of Andrew Scheer.
It is hard not to imagine that the leaders of most of our allied countries aren’t a bit jealous of Trudeau’s position right now.
In the United States, the mixed messages of this month’s midterm elections – which strengthened Republican control in the Senate and saw the Democrats retake control of the House of Representatives – leaves President Donald Trump with less power than he had a few weeks ago, although it does give him a scapegoat, in the shape of a Democratic House of Representatives, which will doubtlessly invigorate his 3 a.m. tweetstorms.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel is stepping down as leader after a remarkable 13 years at the country’s helm. At times, she has seemed the adult at an international kids’ table, holding Europe together while bailing out failing economies and managing influxes of refugees, among other things. But apparently she’s had enough of the excitement.
One-time wunderkind French President Emmanuel Macron is learning that coming out of nowhere to take the top job can leave one ill-equipped for the demands it entails. His popularity, according to polls, is spiraling downward.
In far worse shape are the governments to the west and east of these European powers. In both Israel and the United Kingdom, the leaders are unsure when they go to bed what their status will be when they wake. Between the time of writing and the time of reading this page, either or both of these governments may have fallen and new elections called – or some Band-Aid solution found for propping up or rejigging the existing coalitions.
In Britain, division at the top over the conditions of British withdrawal from the European Union has led to resignations of top cabinet officials (as well as lesser cabinet officials). Dissidents are penning letters that could lead to a leadership review for Theresa May, the Conservative prime minister, by her own caucus. Even if she survives that, the inevitable vote on the Brexit plan could see her government defeated just a few weeks hence.
For Jewish Britons, this situation is particularly serious. May’s Conservative government has been struggling in popularity almost since she took the helm. The Tories faced a surprisingly strong challenge from Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party in last year’s general election, in which the Conservatives expected to glide to an easy majority and ended up having to cobble together a coalition with sectarian parties from Northern Ireland. A new Conservative leader might revive the party’s chances, though it seems impossible to see how anyone could paper over the seemingly irreparable divisions in that party between pro- and anti-Brexiteers.
The potential for a Corbyn-led Labour government is anathema to the vast majority of Jewish voters in that country. Corbyn himself has been a leading voice against Israel and in support of those who seek its destruction, including Hamas and Hezbollah, whom he has referred to as “friends.”
While extremists on the continent, like French far-right leader Marine Le Pen, do everything in their power to convince Jewish and other voters that they are not antisemitic, Corbyn seems to relish poking Jewish voters figuratively in the eye. And he is the proverbial tip of an iceberg. Websites are devoted to chronicling the extraordinary outpouring of overt antisemitism in the party he leads. One local chapter recently demurred on condemning the mass murder at the Pittsburgh synagogue, with one member complaining that there is too much focus on “antisemitism this, antisemitism that.”
In Israel, division among top cabinet officials over the response to the most recent violence from Gaza has led to the resignation of Avigdor Lieberman as defence minister, and extremely unfriendly musings from Education Minister Naftali Bennett. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s coalition government is hanging by a thread, though public opinion polls indicate that support for his Likud bloc may actually give him reason to look favourably on early elections.
An ancient Chinese curse speaks of living in “interesting times.” For the leaders of many of our closest allies, these are interesting times indeed. But they probably look enviously to Canada and realize what Jews have known for many generations: when it comes to politics, boring is good.