The violence at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. (photo by Tyler Merbler/flickr)
Elect a clown, expect a circus. That has been a recurring meme over the past four years. As the reality show that is the Donald Trump presidency staggers into its final few days, the full fruit of the president’s years of bellicosity and violent language expressed themselves at the U.S. Capitol Jan. 6. Incited by the president, who repeated his utterly baseless claims of a stolen election, thousands of people marched on the seat of America’s democracy, smashed windows, stormed the building, threatened lawmakers and defaced and desecrated the premises.
Some observers, including many Republicans, expressed shock at a turn of events that was almost entirely predictable. After years of the most irresponsible rhetoric imaginable from the so-called leader of the free world, and after two months of undermining the most sacred facet of American democracy, the peaceful transition of democratically elected administrations, violence was a surprise only to those who have not being paying attention – or who observe through ideological blinders.
It seems to be a turning point. A growing, though still far too small, number of Republicans are finally saying they have had enough of the outgoing president’s petulance and possibly criminal irresponsibility. Listening to some, it appears they were looking for an opportune moment to break with their leader, and the violence – which killed five people – provided the ideal opening.
It is not enough for apologists to pretend that these elements are in any way peripheral to Trumpism. He has encouraged, abetted and refused to condemn the most evil strains in the American body politic, from the Ku Klux Klan to Proud Boys, referring to “very fine people on both sides” at Charlottesville – when one side was white supremacists with a sprinkling of neo-Nazis and anti-democratic thugs. Faced with the destruction his words and his supporters wrought at the Capitol, Trump uttered the least a president could possibly say, calling on the rioters to go home, while also repeating the lies that led to the violence in the first place. Then he added: “We love you. You’re very special.” He just can’t help himself.
Among the insurrectionists at the Capitol were overt Nazis, including at least one wearing a shirt with “Camp Auschwitz” emblazoned on it and another with the acronym “6MWE,” meaning “six million wasn’t enough.” These are the very special people Trump loves. Jews and others who were taken in by an embassy move and other ostensibly “pro-Israel” acts should know now the fire with which they were playing.
There must be accountability. At the top, those who abetted and encouraged the worst actions of the past years should be held criminally liable, if that is the extent of their culpability. At a lesser level, those who tacitly or explicitly permitted what has happened – Republican senators, congress members and party officials – will ideally suffer at the ballot box at the next opportunity. Among ordinary people, including some in Canada who have expressed support for this extremist and white nationalist approach, we should seek introspection around how we may have been drawn into a political disease that we should have recognized for what it was – yet let proceed along a path that almost inevitably led to the loss of human life and the shattered glass at the U.S. Capitol last week.
We might also hope that leaders of other countries will look at the American case as an instruction in the dangers of oratorical brinksmanship, division and scapegoating. One of Trump’s greatest allies, Israel’s Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, is in an election (again) and it will be illuminating to see if his style softens at all. In Europe, where far-right populism is seeing a resurgence, perhaps the warning shots from Washington will inspire a little more moderation.
Barring more violence on Inauguration Day, God forbid, this chapter will soon be behind us. Joe Biden was not everyone’s first choice for president, he was more of a compromise pick. Based on decades of experience, he has been charged with picking up the pieces of a society shattered by four years of negligent and confrontational executive leadership. It doesn’t hurt that he has a grandfatherly demeanour and a history of consensus-building. While the outgoing president will not attend the swearing in – more proof that he abhors the core principles of democracy – beside Biden will be Kamala Harris, the first woman and the first Black and Asian person to assume the vice-presidency.
No humans are perfect. The Biden-Harris administration will make mistakes and we will criticize them. But we can rejoice in the arrival of a new future, led by people of goodwill, intelligence and moderation, who know the difference between right and wrong, between neo-Nazis and very fine people.
Since time immemorial, no matter what calamity occurred in the world, if there was a problem plaguing humanity, Jews were used as the convenient scapegoat.
Earlier this year, as the coronavirus pandemic spread across Europe and then throughout North America, conspiracy theorists claimed that Israel and Jews around the world were secretly involved in spreading and even engineering the deadly disease. While these conspiracies are baseless and seem almost comical at first glance, thanks to the power and ubiquity of social media, even the most bizarre falsehoods can find fertile ground and poison the minds of millions of people almost instantaneously.
Unfortunately, the pandemic continues to rage across Canada and the world and, though the claim that Jews are behind COVID-19 remains utterly fictional, that hasn’t stopped a dangerous new crop of antisemites from spreading their toxic bigotry.
Not only is Canada not immune to the age-old virus of antisemitism, but British Columbia has also been infected. As was reported in the Georgia Straight, an anti-mask activist in Vancouver, Marco Pietro, who organized and participated in a number of rallies protesting coronavirus restrictions and policies, released a Holocaust denial video on social media. The two-minute-long video features Pietro saying that the Holocaust is a myth perpetrated by fake survivors to scam money out of the wider, unsuspecting public. He also claimed that Mein Kampf – Adolf Hitler’s antisemitic manifesto – didn’t contain any objectionable material, and that the coronavirus pandemic is a plot used by Jews in a quest for control. Pietro also said that concentration-camp survivors are liars and accused “a bunch of Zionist Jews” of “setting up” Hitler.
Meanwhile, on Nov. 15, a speaker at an anti-mask rally in Vancouver condemned “satanic, talmudic” people. The Canadian Anti-Hate Network (CAHN) reported that the No More Lockdowns group (which now goes by the name “Human Rights Movement”) produced an event in Vancouver organized by antisemitic conspiracy theorist Raoul Taylor van Haastert, who has decried the “Zionist media” and stated “our WWII history is a lie.” CAHN’s report cited Vancouver neo-Nazi Brian Ruhe, who, in an antisemitic post that went viral, shared his beliefs about “Rothschild-Zionist-communist control” that is being covered up, claiming that Jews control the media.
Let there be no doubt, there’s no evidence whatsoever that the Jewish people or the state of Israel are behind the coronavirus pandemic or any of these other odious libels. Conversely, the evidence supporting the Holocaust’s veracity is so overwhelming and indisputable that, to deny its occurrence, far from being a legitimate disagreement on historical facts, is rather merely an attempt to deny the Jewish people’s collective suffering at the hand of the Nazis to further an antisemitic agenda.
Most British Columbians would rightly brush off Pietro’s and Ruhe’s words as illogical rants of mad men, but, tragically, as bothersome and as offensive as their statements are, antisemitic acts are at or near all-time highs across Canada, including in British Columbia.
Earlier this year, B’nai Brith Canada’s annual audit of antisemitism logged more than 200 such incidents in British Columbia alone, ranging from harassment to vandalism. In one such incident, for example, Camp Miriam, on Gabriola Island, was vandalized with graffiti, including a swastika and other images. The image and symbol that represented the Nazi regime that murdered six million Jews in Europe less than 100 years ago is today being used to attack young Jewish summer campers. One can only imagine the long-lasting psychological damage inflicted on young people as a result of such an incident – and multiply that by more than 200 incidents last year alone.
Such antisemitic conspiracy theories, as espoused by Pietro, Ruhe and others must be forcefully repudiated and condemned by all. Thanks to social media, even the most bizarre lie can have a worldwide impact, and that’s why it’s so critical to take a public stand against antisemitic hate and propaganda. As history has taught, while antisemitic words are bad enough, the paramount concern is that they can often morph into violence. Enough is enough.
Mike Fegelman is the executive director of HonestReporting Canada (honestreporting.ca), a nonprofit organization working to ensure fair and accurate Canadian media coverage of Israel.
After the election of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, many Jews were quick to celebrate that Harris’s husband Doug Emhoff is Jewish. Indeed, it is a win given the sharp rise in antisemitic expression and white supremacy we’ve seen in the United States, and which is bleeding over into Canada.
Jews often celebrate when someone like us makes it into a position of some influence. This time, it isn’t any particular achievement of Emhoff’s but, rather, his proximity to someone powerful.
Harris represents so many firsts: the first woman, the first person of South Asian and of Black heritage, and the first person married to a Jew to reach the vice-presidency. Her family is a positive representation of the dream of the United States, where anyone can become anything and where, crucially, diversity is a strength.
In open and free democracies, intermarriage is inevitable. If we are to live and work alongside each other, we will fall in love with each other. This isn’t a bad thing. Given how many people seem to hate Jews, it is nice that some people actually love us. I realize intermarriage is a perceived threat to Judaism; fears of assimilation are very real. And yet, Emhoff is proudly Jewish. His identity is not threatened by the multiple identities of his partner – they celebrate the many elements of who they are and where they come from.
Since the election, there have been many pieces published about how nice it is to see one’s intermarried family represented in the White House. Jewish communities have spent the past several decades trying to stop intermarriage. These efforts have failed and have even driven some Jews and their loved ones away from Judaism.
If we care about Jews and Judaism, including challenging the multiple threats we face, this kind of infighting really needs to stop. It’s time we embrace our pluralistic and diverse families, celebrate all those who wish to be and do Jewish, and recognize that there is so much in Judaism that is beautiful and meaningful, joys that can be experienced by all who are part of the wide web of Jewish families.
Rabbi Denise Handlarskilives in Toronto. She is the author of The A-Z of Intermarriage, published by New Jewish Press, and the leader of the online community Secular Synagogue.
It has been a particularly reflective and momentous week. The U.S. elected Joe Biden as its 46th president and Kamala Harris as vice-president, the first Black woman and first woman of Asian and Indian descent elected to that high office. Around the world, there were nearly audible sighs of relief and cries of jubilation as the count trickled in and it became clear that president-elect Biden had cleared the 270 Electoral College threshold, even as the counting of ballots continues and results are not certified until early in December. More solemnly, this week was the commemoration of the 82nd anniversary of Kristallnacht and of Remembrance Day. And, right at the dawn of this emotional week, we learned of the passing of Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks. Britain’s former chief rabbi, Sacks died of cancer on Shabbat at age 72.
Formally called chief rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, Sacks held the role from 1991 to 2013, during which time his scholarship in philosophy helped him elucidate Jewish theology to general audiences as a regular guest on BBC Radio. He was admired and his death lamented by leading figures in British society, not least the heir apparent to the throne, Prince Charles. He was good friends with now-retired Anglican bishop George Carey, who was the head of the Church of England, strengthening interfaith relations.
Sacks’s time in leadership was not without controversy. He has been viewed by some as too accommodating of orthodoxy and not adequately inclusive of progressive or liberal strains of Judaism. Sacks skipped the 1996 funeral of Rabbi Hugo Gryn, the leading figure in Reform Judaism, drawing rebukes from liberals. In contrast, a book Sacks authored, The Dignity of Difference, implied that all religions and streams therein are equally valid, a thesis that was deemed too ecumenical by some British Orthodox Jews. One rabbi accused him of “heresy.”
In other words, Sacks leaves behind a mixed legacy, though few among us in this generation have left such a lasting mark on contemporary Judaism. The sort of centralized religious leadership that British Jewry and others in Europe have is unfamiliar to North American Jews. But anyone in a position of responsibility in the Jewish community knows the perils of presuming to speak on behalf of all – or most – Jews. Anyone in a job like Sacks’s would draw admirers and detractors. Chief rabbi is, of course, not a political role, but it must be a profoundly political one nonetheless, to elicit an accusation of heresy.
The concept of heresy seems to have seeped from the theological into the political realm in recent years. Fanaticism and extreme loyalty have always played a part in politics. But, in the highly polarized situation we see in the United States and many other places, differences of opinion are magnified into civilizational, even existential, divisions. This certainly seemed to be the case in the U.S. elections. Not everyone likes the incumbent President Donald Trump but, to paraphrase a beer commercial, those who like him like him a lot. While Biden won the support of a vast majority of Jews, surveys suggest that somewhere between 20% and 30% of American Jews voted for Trump’s reelection, a higher vote for a Republican than in many of the last presidential elections. The vehemence of opinion on both sides – some decry Trump as antisemitic while others claim he is the most pro-Israel president ever – would be confusing to the proverbial Martian.
We are assimilating this news in a week where we reflect on the destruction of European Jewry in the Holocaust, the world wars, the bloody history of the 20th century and all the conflict and misery and bloodshed it wrought. The 21st century seems similarly full of divisions and conflicts. Political polarization in democratic countries, as well as growing authoritarian tendencies in several democracies, call for a response.
Biden ran as a unifying figure bent on restoring a sense of moderation and respect to public discourse. Whether one individual can alter the trajectory of a divided society will be seen as the president-elect navigates a narrowly divided House and Senate to shepherd his legislative vision into reality. The unexpected tightness of Republican-Democratic splits in both chambers may exacerbate his challenge. A small tail of far-left Democrats and of far-right Republicans could wag the dog that is their respective party. On the other hand, this challenge could present an opportunity, if there are those willing to fight for what is right and to compromise across the aisle when appropriate and necessary. Such a shift from the failure of bipartisanship in recent years would be monumental indeed. But it could effectively reduce the influence of extremes.
Perhaps what these disparate events illustrate is that conflict – from the cataclysmic to the mild awkwardness of politics at the Shabbat table – is innate to humans. But so is confronting conflict and difference intellectually and with open hearts. Seeking moderation and compromise has lost currency in the age of social media and 24/7 cable news. Nuance is blurred and enlightenment darkened by ideological certainty.
We should seek understanding wherever we might find it and avoid elevating mere mortals to unattainable standards or demonizing them beyond all reasonable recognition. In our spiritual and political realms, in our daily work and home life, we can all commit to some additional humility, to deeper listening and to finding wisdom wherever it might be, even in unexpected places.
It will take about two weeks to verify and count the mail-in ballots from Saturday’s B.C. provincial election. The province saw a 7,200% increase in voting by mail this year, a result of the pandemic and educational efforts to make people aware of what was perhaps the safest option for casting a ballot.
There is no doubt about the overall outcome. The New Democratic Party, under returning Premier John Horgan, won a majority government handily. The NDP increased its vote share in every part of the province and the opposition Liberals, under Andrew Wilkinson, who resigned in the aftermath, had its worst showing in almost three decades. The mail-in ballots will determine the outcome in a small number of close races, but it will not alter the big picture.
Some are complaining that two weeks is a long time for the elections branch to complete the process. However, we do not know the level of complexity involved in validating and counting the vast number of mailed votes. But it seems reasonable to take time to ensure such important work is done properly, rather than quickly.
What we should not lose sight of, regardless of what party we supported, is the small miracle of the election itself. Many or most of our ancestors came from places where free and fair elections followed by a peaceful and orderly transition of power were unfulfilled dreams. Startlingly, in what had been viewed globally as the bedrock model of democracy itself – the United States – we are bracing for one of the most uncertain moments in political history next Tuesday. Polls show that the incumbent president is headed for defeat. But polls were deeply wrong about this candidate four years ago. More importantly, there are concerns about his willingness to leave office if defeated – and even about potential intimidation of voters at the polls and violence in the aftermath of the election.
As Canadians, we should feel fortunate and grateful. As earthlings, we should wish and work for a world where all people are as free as we are to choose those who govern us and to do so with confidence, knowing that we will be physically safe and our elected officials will respect our choices.
Premier John Horgan sent Selina Robinson a message: “A mensch is a good thing, right?”
Robinson, the NDP government’s minister of municipal affairs and housing, is seeking reelection in the riding of Coquitlam-Maillardville. She sees herself as the Jewish maven around the cabinet table.
“I said yes, who called you a mensch?” Robinson recalled. “He just wanted to double-check.”
As she and other New Democrats campaign toward the Oct. 24 provincial election, Robinson and fellow cabinet member George Heyman spoke with the Jewish Independent. (In this issue, we also speak with Jewish candidates and spokespeople for other parties.)
As minister of housing, Robinson takes pride in the development of a major initiative called Homes for B.C.: A 30-Point Plan for Housing Affordability in British Columbia. Her ministry engaged with housing groups, renters, developers, economists, local government officials, planners and other thinkers. Then they convened people in a “World Café,” an engagement exercise in which people from different perspectives sit at a table and must come to agreed-upon recommendations on a topic.
“It was from that that we picked the best ideas and so it really came from all sides of the housing sector rather than pitting them against each other,” she said, acknowledging that she had to convince some to buy into the process because bureaucracy is not always amenable to novel approaches.
She cited two particular areas that she wants to “kvell about.” BC Housing, the agency that develops, manages and administers a range of subsidized housing in the province, is building housing on First Nations land.
“The feds, I don’t think, are building a lot of Indigenous housing and they’re supposed to,” she said. “No other province has stepped up to do that.… You’re a British Columbian and you need housing … if it’s land on reserve, it’s land on reserve – we’ll build housing.”
By providing housing in First Nations communities, it also helps people remain at home, rather than moving to the city, where housing is even more expensive and possibly precarious, she said.
“I’m very proud of that,” Robinson said.
The other point of pride is, Robinson admitted, “a geeky piece of legislation.” When she stepped into the role as the government’s lead on housing availability and affordability, she recognized that there is no data on what kind of housing exists and what’s needed.
“Local governments are responsible for land-use planning and deciding what kind of housing goes where – this is going to be multifamily, this is going to be single-family – but, if you were to ask them, how much do you have, how much more multifamily do you need, they couldn’t tell you, because nobody was collecting the data.”
She brought forward legislation that mandated local governments to do a housing needs assessment every five years to identify whether more housing options are needed for different age groups and types of families.
She also cited the government’s development of social housing, through the allocation of $7 billion over 10 years to build 39,000 units. So far, 25,000 units are either open, in construction or going through the municipal development process.
“My biggest worry is that the Liberals [if they are elected] will cancel all of those that are still in the development stage because they did that in 2001 when they formed government,” she said. “We’re so far behind the eight ball because they did that. I’m not saying it would have fixed everything, but, if there were another 5,000 units of housing out there, it wouldn’t be as bad as it is because there would be another 5,000 units.”
Every Friday, Robinson lights Shabbat candles and then shares a reflection on social media about her week.
“Lighting the Shabbat candles just grounds me in my identity,” she said. “I make myself take 10 minutes on a Friday at sundown to stop and to clear my head and to remind myself why I do the work. It’s not for the pay. It’s not for any of that; it’s not worth it. It’s who I am, what are my values and what’s important to me? What did I hear this week that reminds me of why this work is important?”
Robinson admitted she’s being partisan in saying that she believes NDP values are Jewish values.
“From my perspective, taking care of the world – whether it’s the environment, the people and all that’s within it – is our collective responsibility,” she said, adding with a laugh: “I think all Jews are New Democrats who just don’t know it yet.”
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George Heyman, minister of environment and climate change strategy, is seeking reelection in the riding of Vancouver-Fairview. He is a son of Holocaust refugees, who escaped the Nazis with the help of Chiune Sugihara, the Japanese diplomat in Lithuania who illegally issued visas to about 6,000 Jews, many of whose descendants now live in Vancouver.
In 2019, Heyman took a family trip to Poland, which broadened his awareness of his family’s history and where he met family members he never knew he had. The Independent will run that story in an upcoming issue.
Speaking of his record in government, Heyman expressed pride in bringing in CleanBC, which he calls “a very detailed, independently modeled set of measures to get us to our 2030 target and beyond.”
He also said the government “completely revamped the province’s Environmental Assessment Act, incorporating the principles of the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.”
Collaborating with the First Nations Leadership Council, the government adapted the legislation to bring in affected local communities at the beginning of a project, before a proponent spends millions of dollars then has to go back to the drawing board due to local concerns.
“We’ve been investing in clean technology, we’ve approved transit plans that were stalled for years that the mayors of Metro Vancouver thought were critically important,” Heyman added. “We’re going to see the Broadway [SkyTrain] line commence to relieve the tremendous congestion on the Broadway corridor, both on buses and on the roads. And we’ll be working on ultimately being able to work with UBC and the city and the federal government to extend that to UBC.”
The government, he said, updated the Residential Tenancy Act to address tenants who were being threatened with eviction for suspect renovations and that saw people getting notices of rent increases as high as 40% because of loopholes in the act.
“We closed those loopholes, we held rent increases to the cost of living unless there is a legitimate demonstrated need to do renovation and repair and it’s fair to receive some compensation rent to pay for that,” he said.
Like Robinson, Heyman cited the construction of affordable housing, as well as supportive housing, to get homeless people off the street and provide them with services they need. He said the government has created 20,000 childcare spaces in the province “with significant fee reductions for families as we work our way toward a $10-a-day program.” Increased staffing in schools, mandated by a Supreme Court decision during the previous regime, is also an accomplishment, he said, as well as adding more investments in new schools for seismic upgrades, fire safety and heating and ventilation systems.
On the opioid crisis, Heyman acknowledged a surge in deaths since the beginning of the pandemic. “While there is much more to do, we managed to flatten the level of deaths up until COVID hit,” he said.
Also parallel to the pandemic was a realization of “the terrible state of many of our long-term-care homes.”
“We saw that deteriorate under the previous government,” he said. “With COVID, we saw the results of that. We saw people dying because workers were having to go to two or three different care homes, increasing the risk of infection, simply to cobble together a living. We took measures to allow our healthcare workers to work in one institution without suffering the loss of pay and we’re also investing in more beds and more equipment for long-term-care homes.”
New Democrats have been governing in a minority situation with the support of the Green party since 2017. Horgan called the snap election on Sept. 21, facing criticism for breaking fixed election date legislation and going to the polls during a state of emergency.
Rachael Segal is media spokesperson for the BC Liberals. (photo from BC Liberals)
Facing a campaign unlike any other, with shaking hands and kissing babies prohibited by social distancing protocols, all parties needed to reimagine how they would reach voters. Rachael Segal, media spokesperson for the BC Liberals, had to figure out how to get her party’s message to British Columbians.
“We can’t have a media bus, so, as the person responsible for media relations, how I connect with media now is very different than how I would do it in a normal campaign,” she said. “I’d be on the bus, I’d be with the leader.”
Instead, the leader is often driving himself to the modest-sized events that typify the 2020 campaign. Instead of facing a phalanx of TV cameras and radio mics, party leader
Andrew Wilkinson speaks to a pooled camera, with his message then shared among the media consortium. It’s an experience all parties are dealing with. But the leaders, as well as candidates in 87 ridings across the province, still have to communicate their positions.
“Obviously, Andrew still needs to get out there and get his message out there,” said Segal. “We’re making announcements daily, just like we would on a campaign normally, they’re just different.”
Wilkinson, a medical doctor as well as a lawyer, is particularly sensitive to the health risks and safety of his team, Segal said.
Segal, who grew up in Kerrisdale, is the official campaign spokesperson for the party during the election and is second-in-command at party headquarters when in non-campaign mode. As senior director of the party, her role is a loosely defined collection of responsibilities that she describes as “basically whatever hole is there, I try and fix it.”
One of her primary responsibilities is stakeholder relations, which means meeting with particular community groups and connecting them with the leader and other members of the legislature.
“Andrew and I have done Shabbat dinners, we’ve done Rosh Hashanah meals, we’ve done tons of Jewish community events,” Segal said by way of example. She also hosts the party’s podcast and started a young professional women’s group “to try to engage the 30-to-50-year-old women demographic, which is the largest swing demographic in British Columbia.”
Segal came to the role in April 2019. She already had a long resumé in education, politics and media.
She attended Vancouver Talmud Torah elementary and Magee high school and received her undergraduate degree at the University of Victoria, where she was the first president of the Jewish student organization when Hillel House opened there. She served as national president of the Canadian Federation of Jewish Students before graduating from UVic in 2005. She then went to the University of Leicester, in the United Kingdom, for a law degree, followed by a master of laws from Osgoode Hall, in Toronto.
She worked on Parliament Hill for Conservative MPs David Sweet and Scott Reid, as well as Senator Linda Frum, and was a senior policy advisor overseeing corrections and the parole board for then-minister of public safety Steven Blaney.
While studying in Toronto, Segal worked full time as an on-air legal and policy correspondent for Sun News, until that network shut down. She worked in criminal law and then civil litigation for a time but found it not her speed and returned to media, joining Toronto’s Bell Media radio station News Talk 1010. She returned to Vancouver in 2018 and covered as maternity leave replacement for the B.C. regional director of the Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee. She joined the BC Liberal party staff three days after that position ended.
“This election is really about who British Columbians can trust to lead them through economic recovery,” said Segal. “When we think about the ballot question, that’s really what British Columbians are voting on. Who do they trust to lead them through the next stage of this pandemic from an economic perspective? We have an incredible team who are all very experienced. We have former ministers, we have doctors, we have lawyers, we have just a really diverse and interesting team of very smart people.”
Given significant turnover – seven cabinet ministers have opted not to seek reelection – Segal questioned who would be on the frontbenches of a reelected NDP government.
“The question is, what does an NDP cabinet look like in the next government and do they have the bench strength to be the best party to lead this province economically?” she said.
Segal takes seriously her position as one of the few Jewish individuals on the campaign team.
“It’s a real privilege to be able to represent the community within this political sphere and it’s something I take very not lightly,” she said.
Of her job on the campaign and her slightly less hectic role the rest of the time, she added: “My job is pretty different, wild, fun. Every day is a new adventure. It’s pretty great. And we have such an incredible team, so they make it all even better.”
Maayan Kreitzman said the Green party knew it was getting the “full package” when they tapped her as their candidate in the provincial election for the riding of Vancouver-False Creek. There are schisms in the environmental movement between those who see value in direct action protests and those who endorse electoral politics. Kreitzman backs both.
Kreitzman is a leading member of the Vancouver chapter of Extinction Rebellion, a global movement that practises civil disobedience to draw attention to the climate and ecological crisis, she said, based on “a theory of change that learns from many movements in the past that have basically put their bodies in the way of injustice.” She cited as models the U.S. civil rights movement, the Indian independence movement and the suffragists.
The group shut down the Burrard Street Bridge last year and is currently involved, with other groups, in a camp in Burnaby that is physically blocking the construction of the TMX pipeline.
But Kreitzman has harsh words for the environmental movement and its limited impacts.
“The environmental movement over the last 30 years has won some battles but we’re obviously losing the war because the climate and ecological catastrophe continues unabated essentially,” she said.
While she believes in blockades, she also believes in ballots.
“I definitely believe in both,” she said. “I think when the Green party chose me as a candidate they knew that they were getting the full package. They were getting somebody who believes in direct action, who believes in doing things that are illegal when they are ethical and the right thing to do. There are other people in the Green party that believe that, too. [Former federal Green leader] Elizabeth May got arrested on Burnaby Mountain in 2018. I’m certainly not alone in that.”
Beyond the shortcomings of the environmental movement, she excoriated the political system’s status quo.
“It’s utterly failing. It’s not fit for purpose. It has not delivered the systemic changes to our economy that we need to see in order to actually have a sustainable life and future on this planet,” she said.
Above a range of policy topics she champions, Kreitzman wants to create a citizens’ assembly on climate and ecological justice – this parliament of ordinary people selected to reflect demography “would devolve power from elected government to a more representative and radically democratic form of government.”
“Citizens’ assemblies go through a very rigorous and well-facilitated deliberative process where they have access to experts and all the best information and then they are empowered to make either decisions or recommendations, depending how their terms of reference are set up,” she explained. “The citizens’ assemblies are able to make way better, faster and more radical decisions on issues that are totally intractable for elected politicians because elected politicians operate on such short cycles and they have such perverse incentives. It’s very hard and we’ve seen how totally incapable elected politicians around the world are of making the kinds of decisions that we need in order to survive on this planet.”
Kreitzman has been thrown into politics mere days after completion of her PhD in resources, environment and sustainability at the University of British Columbia. Her research specialized in sustainable agricultural systems and, more specifically, perennial agriculture.
She was born in Vancouver to a Canadian father and an Israeli-Canadian mother, attended Vancouver Talmud Torah and Eric Hamber high school and was active in Hillel at UBC, as well as in the Graduate Students Society.
She wants to win the election – but winning isn’t everything.
“This race is not just about that,” she said. “It’s also about telling the truth and just giving a platform to a sustainability scientist, a youngish person and somebody who is willing to talk very openly about the failures of our current government systems. Not just our current government and the NDP, but our current government system and their lack of democracy, and the failures of the environmental movement itself, because neither have been effective and so far nothing has really been effective.”
While she is critical of government generally, she has harsh words for the NDP government particularly.
“This government’s record on the environment has been a total loss, it’s a complete failure,” Kreitzman said. “They’ve embraced the oil and gas industry even more than the BC Liberals have and I never thought I would say those words, that the NDP government has actually been worse for climate change and the environment than the BC Liberals have been. It’s shocking, but it’s true.”
She referenced a report from Stand.Earth, which outlines subsidies to fracking and indicates that the oil and gas industry receives four times as much in provincial government subsidies than it produces in royalties to the province.
As the candidate in Vancouver-False Creek, she is sounding the alarm that sea-level rise will make parts of the most densely populated neighbourhoods of Vancouver uninhabitable.
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Kreitzman’s colleague Scott Bernstein is running for the Greens in Vancouver-Kingsway. He sees it as an ideal opportunity to contrast NDP policy with his ideas because he is facing off against Adrian Dix, the minister of health.
Bernstein is director of policy at the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition, which is based in the faculty of health sciences at Simon Fraser University. While he has a graduate degree in environmental studies, his career has shifted to drug policy. He was a junior co-counsel on the landmark 2011 Insite case at the Supreme Court of Canada, which found that the federal government’s failure to grant an exemption allowing users to consume illicit drugs at the Vancouver safe consumption site breached the Charter of Rights because it undermined the “maintenance and promotion of public health and safety.”
He also worked at Pivot Legal Society in the Downtown Eastside and operated a private practice for a time as well, before coming to the drug coalition about three-and-a-half years ago. He has worked for George Soros’ Open Society Foundations, in New York, focusing on drug policy at the UN level and in Africa, and he spent two years with the U.S. Peace Corps in Uzbekistan.
The record-breaking recent months of opioid deaths contrasts, Bernstein said, with the response to COVID.
“There are a lot of structural problems with how the government is dealing with the overdose crisis and it really was highlighted when we had another public health crisis and, all of a sudden, we saw how the government could sort of snap to attention, dedicate funding, have information flow, have protocols and guidelines and resources available to address COVID where, in reality, the overdose crisis is now in the fifth year since it was declared a public health emergency in B.C. and we’ve never seen the response that we saw with COVID, that materialized in a few weeks,” he said. He credited retiring Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Judy Darcy as “a wonderful and caring person,” but added: “they also didn’t give her sufficient resources to deal with the problem and she doesn’t have a lot of power in the cabinet.”
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Ian Goldman, the Green candidate in Vancouver-Fairview, grew up in Toronto and moved west in 1988 to attend law school at UBC. He later did a master’s in international relations, also at UBC, and has practised immigration law in private practice since 1998.
The first-time candidate is up against George Heyman, the NDP minister of environment and climate change strategy.
“It’s unfortunate that, in my area, the NDP have really strong support in the sense that he’s not really feeling pressure, I don’t think,” Goldman said. “Hopefully, I can make him feel some pressure. That’s the most important thing for me.”
The New Democrats have taken climate change more seriously than previous Liberal governments, he said, “But I think they’re more of a status quo party. They say they’re taking it seriously but then their actions show them out to be more status quo, no serious climate action, really.”
COVID is a serious issue, he said, but it has allowed governments at all levels to push environmental issues and climate change to the back burner, he argued.
“As soon as the pandemic’s over, people will wake up and say, oh my God, we’ve got a really serious issue here again,” said Goldman. “That’s why I joined the Green party. I’ve always been interested in environmental issues. My kids and I and my wife go for a lot of outdoor trips, we go hiking, a lot of outdoor activities we do together. That’s where my interest in the environment comes from.”
He added: “If people are really serious about tackling this issue, they should at least consider the Green party.”
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Michael Barkusky, an economist and certified public accountant, is in a rematch with Andrew Wilkinson, now the leader of the Liberal party, in the riding of Vancouver-Quilchena. He acknowledged it’s an uphill battle in the Liberal stronghold.
“What I’m trying to do is strengthen the Green party in general,” he said. But it is also an opportunity to press the party leader on environmental issues.
“I think the BC Liberals need to improve their green credentials substantially to be relevant in the long term,” said Barkusky, who came to Canada from South Africa in 1980. (More about his background and career is in our story from the last election, at jewishindependent.ca/apartheid-impacted-views.) He said former premier Gordon Campbell was innovative on a range of policies, including the carbon tax. He said Campbell’s successor, Christy Clark, backtracked on Campbell’s environmental policies.
The Liberal party is, Barkusky said, a “broad church with some very conservative elements and [Wilkinson] probably can’t do a lot of things that he would do if he had a completely free hand. I think the pressure needs to be kept up on them as much as it has to be kept up on the NDP.”
As he campaigns, Barkusky said, voters tell him they think the NDP ran a good government in part because of the Green party’s influence.
“And now they [the NDP] are trying to say they’ll do a better job without us,” he said. “I can’t buy that.… Quite a lot of voters in the riding agree with me. They feel that we had good government in the last three years and they credit the Green party with being an element of it being good.”
While he disagrees with the Liberals’ promise to eliminate the provincial sales tax for a year, he said changing it could be justifiable. Reducing it from seven percent on most items, or changing the number of items it covers, is a discussion worth considering, he said. But he sees the promise as akin to the NDP’s promise in the last election to eliminate tolls on bridges.
“It’s just kind of instant popularity,” he said. “A relatively bad policy that will resonate well with a certain constituency.”
Barkusky finds it interesting that there are four Green candidates in Vancouver who are Jewish, and noted that the federal Green party just elected a Jewish woman to lead it.
“That’s a lot of tikkun olam consciousness,” he said.
Note: This article has been amended to reflect that Maayan Kreitzman is a leading member of the Vancouver chapter of Extinction Rebellion, not of the British Columbia chapter, as originally stated.
In an historic victory, Annamie Paul was elected leader of the Green party of Canada Saturday, becoming the first Black person and the first Jewish woman to lead a federal political party. How historic this news is will depend on her impact on Canadian politics, beginning with her showing in a by-election in the riding of Toronto Centre at the end of this month.
Paul will also be challenged by some in her party who have taken exception not only to her moderate, conciliatory positions toward the Israeli-Palestinian issue but to her Jewishness itself. During the campaign, she was bombarded with antisemitic trolling, some from within her party, some from outside agitators. She overcame her nearest opponent, Dimitri Lascaris, on the eighth round of voting. Lascaris, one of Canada’s most vocal anti-Israel activists, was endorsed by a range of anti-Zionist figures, including Pink Floyd co-founder Roger Waters.
Lascaris has been a lightning rod in the party and the country for anti-Israel activists. When confronted during the campaign about the overt presence of antisemitic comments, ideas and harassment directed at Paul, Lascaris redirected, saying that antisemitism exists mostly on the right of the political spectrum.
Bigotry of every form must be acknowledged and condemned regardless of where it emerges. Pretending it does not exist and accusing one’s opponents of it while ignoring its presence in one’s own movement is a deeply unprogressive approach. Paul – as well as the Jewish community and all Canadians who seek justice and equality – must be vigilant and vocal as bigots react to the increased visibility of a Black Jewish woman leader.
The Green party has a history of problematic approaches to the Middle East, including a 2016 vote to endorse the BDS movement, later rescinded after then-leader Elizabeth May threatened to quit. That incident underscored the limited power of the leader’s role in the Green party. As Paul told the Independent in a recent interview (jewishindependent.ca/paul-hopes-to-make-history), she will not have the power, as leader, to make or alter party policy. May’s gambit – threatening to quit unless a position was reversed – is a rare tool in the kit.
Paul’s varied career has included roles as a director for a conflict prevention nongovernmental organization in Brussels, as an advisor at the International Criminal Court in The Hague and as a political officer in Canada’s mission to the European Union. She was co-founder and co-director of an innovation hub for international NGOs addressing global challenges and has worked with other NGOs, such as the Climate Infrastructure Partnership and Higher Education Alliance for Refugees. She was born in Toronto to a family that immigrated from the Caribbean and she converted to Judaism under a Hillel rabbi while studying at Princeton University.
In her interview with the Independent, Paul said she admires Canada’s politics of compromise, but that the climate crisis is an exceptional event that requires single-minded determination to address.
In her victory address Saturday, to a small group observing social distancing, she suggested the voting public is ready for politicians who look and think differently.
While British Columbians are focused on provincial politics with the Oct. 24 election – and the world awaits the outcome of perhaps the most consequential U.S. election in our lifetimes on Nov. 3 – we will keep an eye on the Oct. 26 Toronto Centre by-election to see the next step in the trajectory of this new leader on the federal scene.
Left to right: Bahrain Minister of Foreign Affairs Abdullatif al-Zayani, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, United States President Donald Trump and United Arab Emirates Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed sign the Abraham Accords on Sept. 15 at the White House in Washington, D.C. (photo by Avi Ohayon/IGPO via Ashernet)
The news on erev Rosh Hashanah that U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had passed away at age 87 cast a pall over many celebrations. Some in our community shared a teaching that says that a person who dies on Rosh Hashanah is a tzaddik, a righteous person. As tributes poured in for the late jurist, it was clear that many viewed Ginsburg as a tzaddeket, irrespective of the timing of her passing. Grief over her death was joined by the inevitable political implications of a Supreme Court vacancy mere weeks before U.S. general elections.
While Ginsburg’s death, at an advanced age and after years battling successive experiences with cancer, may not have been a complete shock, it was, for many, a tragic conclusion to the Jewish year 5780. The pandemic will be the imprinted memory of this time, but a succession of other events – uncontained climate change-driven wildfires and other natural disasters, political unrest, racial violence and police brutality, plus a litany of other crises and inconveniences – will be included when the history of this year is written.
Bad times can also bring out the best in people, though, and there is an uplifting inventory of good deeds. Locally, the way the Jewish community has rallied around those in need of food, social services and support has been heartening. This local unity and kindness have been mirrored in communities worldwide.
Among the few brighter spots on the international scene has been an opening of relations between Israel and parts of the Arab world. Suddenly, or so it appeared to most casual observers, the United Arab Emirates announced it would initiate diplomatic relations with Israel. The Kingdom of Bahrain followed suit. Other countries are alleged to be considering similar paths. When the Arab League was called upon to condemn this historic shift in relations, the body opted against. With the exception of Palestinians, the commentary from most Arab countries has been positive.
This has perhaps less to do with any newfound admiration for Israel than it does self-interest in the form of economic potential in bilateral relations with the region’s economic superpower. Geopolitical self-interest is also a factor. Nothing makes friends like shared enemies and Iran, with its nuclear initiative and ambitions for regional hegemony, makes whatever complaints the Arab world had against Israel pale in comparison. To say nothing of what’s in it for Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s political ambitions or the electioneering of the U.S. president just prior to elections in that country.
Self-interest is most likely at play in another sudden development. If there wasn’t enough happening in the world, on Monday, B.C. Premier John Horgan called a snap election, a year ahead of schedule. The wisdom of holding an election during a state of emergency has been challenged by opposition leaders and others, but the governing party did significant polling on the subject and must have concluded that whatever reticence there may be on that front was canceled out by the New Democrats’ strong position in opinion polls. By the time voting ends, on Oct. 24, most British Columbians will hopefully be more focused on the issues than on the timing.
The timing, though, is another wrinkle. The law that set fixed election dates – and which Horgan, therefore, flouted by calling the vote early – also fixes the date for the third Saturday in October. While British Columbians vote in municipal elections on Saturdays, provincial (as well as federal) elections have always been on weekdays. Observant Jews will have to make accommodations and vote early. Autumn being what it is, it is theoretically possible to race to the polls after sundown and before the 8 p.m. cutoff. Less frantically, there are seven days of advance voting, an increase from six days in the 2017 election. All voters can request mail-in ballots – early reports from avid voters suggest the process is simple and takes only a couple of minutes. It is possible to pick up (call first!) and return your vote-by-mail package at an electoral district office. For people with disabilities, there is an opportunity for voting by phone.
The pandemic has created all range of challenges in our lives. Voting in the midst of it comes with its own difficulties, but, however one feels about the decision to call an early vote, the wheels are in motion. Turnout was up in 2017 to 61.2%, an improvement from the mid-50% turnout in the previous two elections. We face important decisions about the path to an economic recovery and the management of the ongoing pandemic. We must each of us make a plan to vote, and encourage friends and family to do the same. Find out more at elections.bc.ca.