For the first time in its history, Israel will go to the polls because the Knesset Israelis elected in April could not form a government.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu crowed after the election results came in that his Likud had defied critics and won a comparatively easy reelection. The number of small right-wing parties in the Knesset made it impossible for the opposition Blue and White bloc to assemble the 61 seats needed for a bare minimum majority coalition, leaving Netanyahu a free hand to form another government. Or so it seemed to everyone.
But there’s right-wing and then there’s right-wing. As in any country, a range of issues and interests combine to make up political parties and movements. While they may be in sync on a whole range of economic, social, internal and foreign policy issues, the one thing that unified Likud and its ostensible allies among the smaller right-wing parties was animosity toward the left, which Netanyahu demonized during the campaign – even accusing the veteran military figures who lead Blue and White of being too far left. The leftist bogeyman Netanyahu was conjuring is, at this point in Israeli history, largely fictitious. The Labour party, once the dominant force in the country, suffered its worst showing ever, finishing with less than 5% of the vote.
What divides the right-wing parties are a few issues of core principle. The ultra-Orthodox parties are right-wing and prefer Netanyahu as prime minister. But they want special considerations for religious institutions maintained and strengthened. Nationalist parties, like Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu party, are right-wing, but secular, and Lieberman would not budge on his assertion that there should be no compromise on a new law – promulgated under his watch as Netanyahu’s minister of defence – that yeshivah men not be automatically excused from conscription. The five seats Lieberman’s party won in April were the lynchpin for a fifth Netanyahu government – and the notoriously combustible Lieberman ultimately kiboshed the government and the 21st Knesset.
Some commentators suggest principle was less a factor in Lieberman’s choice than personal pique. The two men were once the closest of allies – and nothing is more bitter than a family fight. A number of policy issues have frayed the relationship. For example, as defence minister, Lieberman publicly excoriated his boss for what he characterized as letting Hamas off the hook too easily in the most recent flare-up of cross-border violence from Gaza. Lieberman, it appears, would have preferred a far more punishing response, though he has a history of making dire threats on which he does not follow up. He once brazenly gave Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh 48 hours to live if he did not return an Israeli hostage and the bodies of dead Israeli soldiers. The gambit failed. The millionaire Haniyah remains very much alive, luxuriating in a waterfront palace he built with a 20% tax on all goods traveling through the tunnels between Egypt and Gaza. Lieberman meanwhile continues with similar bellicosity to stoke his base, primarily older Israelis with roots in the Soviet Union.
Whether Lieberman’s dashing of Netanyahu’s plans was an ego issue or a strategy to improve his party’s weak showing in April, or whether it was, in fact, a matter of principle, doesn’t matter much now that new elections have been slated for September.
Most of Israel’s 2019 will have been eaten up by election campaigns and, unless the electorate has a swift change of heart – or the criminal charges hanging over Netanyahu’s head shift the discourse – the results in September may be very similar to those of April. Then what?
Ehud Barak, a former prime minister who has been both ally and opponent to Netanyahu, posited last week that, whatever the outcome in September, Netanyahu is finished. While there are anonymous sources inside Likud suggesting the leader may be ousted after the next election, the fact is that Netanyahu’s career has been declared dead several times before, but he has defied prognosticators and triumphed. Not for nothing is his nickname “the Magician.”
In 2015, the federal New Democratic Party nixed Paul Manly’s hopes to run for Parliament, barring his candidacy because his anti-Israel politics were deemed too extreme. Manly joined the Green party and, this month, won a federal by-election in Nanaimo-Ladysmith. As only the second Green federally elected, Manly now makes up 50% of the federal Green party caucus.
By-elections are notoriously poor predictors of voter intentions in general elections. Manly’s win could go down as a footnote in history – or it could be a harbinger of tectonic change in Canadian politics. Little should be extrapolated from a single by-election outcome, but neither should we ignore the fact that the by-election win by Deborah Grey of the Reform Party, in 1989, represented the beginning of a new epoch in Canadian politics. The Reform party in the West and the Bloc Québecois in Québec gobbled up the Progressive Conservative party – and the New Democrats’ share of the vote.
Just days before the Nanaimo by-election, the Green party also made inroads in the Prince Edward Island provincial election, forming the official opposition. Just as a by-election is not a good measure of federal voters’ intentions, neither is a modest success in the micro-province of P.E.I. What both these outcomes do suggest is that a larger number of Canadians than ever before are considering casting a ballot for the Greens.
The outcome in Nanaimo-Ladysmith should send chills down the spines of Liberal and NDP organizers. Both parties saw their vote share collapse while the Greens leapfrogged and the Conservatives held their own.
Conventional wisdom says that the Green party should take more votes away from the NDP than from any other party. However, many 2015 Liberal voters are over their Trudeaumania and millions of Canadians are looking for a place to park their votes. The party would get a significant boost if Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott, two women who embody the country’s disappointment in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his sunny ways, opt to run under the Green banner, as has been rumoured.
Jagmeet Singh, who managed to win his own by-election last year, can hardly find any silver lining in recent results. With the Liberals, who arguably ran to the left of the NDP last time, hemorrhaging support, the NDP should be sitting pretty. They are not.
Six months out from the general election, Conservative leader Andrew Scheer is the only party leader who should be pleased with the current landscape.
What this all means is not completely clear. Under Thomas Mulcair’s leadership, the NDP was dragged back to a more moderate middle after a period when it had seemed to go a bit off the rails, notably on the issue of Israel and Palestine. How the party addresses that and other contentious issues in the coming years will be determined significantly by the makeup of their caucus after the October elections. It was after their last terrible drubbing, in 1993, that the NDP fell under the sway of anti-Israel extremists. With just nine seats in parliament, and Svend Robinson as the most vocal and visible MP, the party became a hotbed of anti-Zionist activism. (Robinson is seeking a comeback in the riding of Burnaby North-Seymour.)
Under Mulcair’s leadership, a number of former New Democrats, like Manly, shifted over to the Green party. Elizabeth May, the party leader, and, until this month its only MP, doesn’t seem certain of where she stands on the issue. When her party’s convention passed a wildly unbalanced attack on Israel, she threatened to resign unless it was rescinded or watered down. Since then, she herself has made some contentious comments about Israel.
In the NDP and in the Green party, there are a small number of courageous Jewish and non-Jewish Zionists trying to lead their parties to a common-sense position on Middle East matters. Too often, these individuals are ridiculed in our own community when they should be commended for promoting a balanced, reasonable approach to the issue regardless of political persuasion.
Nevertheless, given the emerging landscape, if the Greens and New Democrats do not form some kind of electoral alliance – and if the Liberals do not pull themselves out of their largely self-inflicted pit of unpopularity – Canada is likely to be in for a long run of Conservative government. In that case, the nuance of Israel-Palestine policy on the left will be a moot point.
ממשלת קנדה מתכוננת במלוא המרץ לבחירות הכלליות שייערכו בחודש אוקטובר הקרוב. הממשלה מעוניינת למנוע מעורבות חיצונית כפי שקרתה במערכת הבחירות האחרונות בארה”ב. הממשלה בוחנת את האפשרויות שונות בהן: חקיקה חדשה שתחזק את הפיקוח על הרשתות החברתיות המובילות.
הממשלה הקנדית צופה שקרוב לוודאי יהיה ניסיון של התערבות חיצונית בבחירות הפדרליות שייערכו באוקטובר. ולכן היא שוקלת להגביר את הרגולציה כדי לפקח משמעותית על חברות הרשתות החברתיות. זאת כדי להבטיח חסימה עד כמה שאפשר של התערבות גורמים זרים שמחוץ למדינה, בהליך הצבעה. כך מסרה לאחרונה השרה אחראית על טוהר הבחירות של קנדה, קרינה גולד.
השרה גולד אמרה את הדברים לאחר פרסום דוח מיוחד של סוכנויות ביטחון הקנדיות השונות על פעילות של מדינות אחרות, ברשתות אינטרנט, כדי להתערב בהליך הבחירות במדינה. “להערכתנו יש סיכוי גבוה שהמצביע הקנדי ייתקל במעורבות של גורמים זרים שונים ברשתות האינטרנט, בהקשר של הבחירות הפדרליות באוקטובר השנה”, כך נכתב בדוח של סוכנויות הביטחון. “עם זאת המעורבות בבחירות כאן צפויה להיות בהיקף קטן יותר, לעומת המעורבות הרוסית בבחירות לנשיאות בארצות הברית לפני כשנתיים וחצי”. אגב הדוח לא ציין מי הן המדינות שעשויות לנסות ולהתערב בבחירות של קנדה.
השרה גולד ציינה במסיבת עיתונאים שקיימה באוטווה הבירה: “הבחירות בקנדה הן מטרה לאלו שמעוניינים לערער את יסודות הדמוקרטיה שלנו”. גולד יצאה בדברי ביקורת ישירים נגד ענקי התקשורת השולטים במדיה החברתית: גוגל, טוויטר ופייסבוק. וזאת על כך שהם לא מספקים מידע לממשלת קנדה, כפי שהם סיפקו לממשלות אירופה השונות בחודשים הארונים, על מאמציהם לעצור התערבות זרה בבחירות. “אין לנו שום התקדמות עם גוגל, טוויטר ופייסבוק בנושא זה. החברות מסרבות לעדכן באופן סדיר את הרגולטורים בקנדה, על הפעילות שלהן למניעת התערבות זרה בבחירות הקרובות. שיהיה ברור: החברות צריכות לקחת את הנושא ביותר רצינות”, הוסיפה עוד השרה גולד.
ראש מחלקת המדיניות הציבורית של פייסבוק בקנדה, קווין צ’אם, אמר לאמצעי תקשורת המקומית את הדברים הבאים: “פייסבוק מתכננת להציג חוקים חדשים עבור פרסומות פוליטיות בתשלום”. הוא הדגיש כי פייסבוק עושה כל מאמץ לחסום התערבות זרה בבחירות הקרובות בקנדה. ראש מחלקת המדיניות הממשלתית של גוגל בקנדה, קולין מקיי, אמר את הדברים הבאים: “נציגי גוגל מיוזמתם נפגשו כבר מספר פעמים עם מספר רשויות ממשלתיות כדי לדון בשקיפות, אבטחת מידע וכן אבטחת סייבר”.
השרה גולד מסרה עוד כי ממשלת קנדה בוחנת כיום את שלל החוקים שלה כדי לראות כיצד ניתן להשתמש בהם, כדי לנקוט בכל האמצעים נגד חברות הרשתות החברתיות, כדי למנוע התערבות זרה בבחירות כאן. הממשלה שוקלת אף להתקין חקיקה חדשה בנושא. בנוסף קנדה בוחנת את הצעדים שנוקטות מדינות אחרות בעולם כלפי הרשתות החברתיות. למשל בריטניה שהכריזה על הקמת גוף רגולטורי טשר מפקח על הרשתות החברתיות. ואילו אוסטרליה עומת זאת שינתה את החוקים במדינה כך שבין היתר, מנהלים של רשתות חברתיות עשויים להישלח לכלא, אם הם לא יסירו תוכן אלים מהרשתות החברתיות עליהם הם אחראים.
לסיכום הנושא אמרה השרה הקנדית גולד: “הרשתות החברתיות הצליחו עד כה להימנע מלשאת באחריות לגבי מה שמתרחש בפלטפורמות שלהם. זאת כידוע כבר זמן רב מדי. הממשלה הליברלית הקנדית החליטה כעת לשנות את הגישה כלפי חברות הרשתות החברתיות. בעבר חזרנו אחריהן ומשכנו אותן לכאן כדי לפתוח מרכזי הנדסה ומסחר, ובייחוד בתחום הבינה המלאכותית”.
“עמדתה של קנדה נותרה ללא שינוי ואנו נמשיך לתמוך בפתרון של שתי המדינות במזרח התיכון”. כך אמר בפרלמנט, ראש ממשלת קנדה, ג’סטין טרודו. דבריו נאמרו על רקע תוצאות הבחירות בישראל, שעל פי הן שוב נבחר לרשות הממשלה, בנימין נתניהו. ראש ממשלת ישראל החדש-ישן הודיע ערב הבחירות, כדי לרכוש לעצמו עוד קולות מהימין, כי ממשלתו החדשה תכריז של סיפוח שטחים באזורי יהודה ושומרון. נתניהו אמר: “אנו דנים בהחלת הריבונות על מעלה אדומים וגם בדברים אחרים. לאחר ההכרה האמריקנית בריבונות ישראל ברמת הגולן, קיימים גם דיונים על סיפוח אזורים ביהודה ושומרון. אני הולך להכיל ריבונות אבל אני לא מבדיל בין גושי ההתיישבות לנקודות היישוב הבודדות. כל נקודת ישוב כזאת היא ישראלית ויש לנו אחריות כממשלת ישראל. כל אחד מבין שהקדנציה הבאה שלנו תהיה גורלית לשני הכיוונים – האם נוכל להבטיח את הביטחון שלנו ועל השטח החיוני של יהודה ושומרון שהוא פי עשרים גדול מעזה”.
לאור תוצאות הבחירות בישראל שאל חבר הפרלמנט הקנדי מטעם המפלגה הדמוקרטית החדשה, גיא קארון, את ראש הממשלה טרודו: “בינימין נתניהו ימשיך בתפקידו כראש הממשלה. בהבטחה של הרגע האחרון הוא הודיע כי יספח התנחלויות בגדה המערבית. אם ממשלת ישראל תעמוד בהבטחתה זו, עשויות להיות לכך משמעויות חמורות על היציבות באזור. עמדתה של קנדה עד היום היתה ברורה שאין ההתנחלויות חוקיות. ומועצת הביטחון של האומות המאוחדות מסכימה עם כך. האם ראש הממשלה יאשר כי קנדה תתייחס לסיפוחם של שטחים אלה כבלתי חוקיים ותפעל בהתאם בנושא?”
טרודו אמר בתגובה לשאלתו של קראון: “עמדתנו נותרה ללא שינוי. אנו תומכים בפתרון שתי המדינות ישראל לצד פלסטין במזרח התיכון. הפתרון הזה אמור להיות מושג באמצעות משא ומתן בין שני הצדדים. פעולות חד צדדיות כגון התנחלויות, אינן לגטימיות ואינן מסייעות בפתרון המצב במזרח התיכון”.
פרופסור קורן שהסתבך בקנדה קיבל תפקיד בכיר בקופת מכבי
פרופסורר גידי קורן, שניהל מעבדה לגילוי שימוש בסמים ובאלכוהול בבית החולים “סיק קידס” בטורונטו והסתבך, מונה לתפקיד מדען בכיר במכון המחקר של קופת החולים “מכבי”. יש שלא מבינים מדוע.
פרופסור קורן נחשב למומחה בעל שם עולמי בפרמקולוגיה, אך הוא הסתבך בפרשייה שהסעירה את קנדה, והובילה לבחינה מחודשת של כמה ממחקריו. וכן לוויתור על רישיון הרפואה שלו במחוז אונטריו. קורן החליט להסביר ראשונה את גרסתו למקרים החמורים ששמו נקשר בהם.
הפרופסור הפך לאחד החוקרים הבולטים בתחום בדיקת שיער לגילוי שימוש בסמים או באלכוהול. הוא הקים את מעבדת “מאת’ריסק” בבית החולים, שהייתה היחידה שהשתמשה בטכניקה הזו. שׁירותי הרווחה הקנדיים נעזרו בבדיקות שלה במשך כמעט שלושה עשורים. שנים עברו עד שוועדות חקירה קבעו כי ערכות הבדיקה שבהן השתמשו במעבדה היו לא תקינות. באותה עת בתי המשפט הסתמכו על הבדיקות שאמורות היו לספק מידע ראשוני – כקביעה חד-משמעית, על מנת להפריד ילדים ממשפחותיהם.
קורן טוען להגנתו: “הבדיקות שעשינו במעבדה לא גרמו לאף ילד לעזוב את ביתו. התפקיד שלי היה לבדוק שהילדים האלה נמצאים באזור בטוח. זאת הייתה מטרת העבודה. יש טעויות בכל מערכת והטיעון שילדים הורחקו מבתיהם זו עלילת דם. בישראל התחילו אותה קבוצה מאוד שמאלנית של רופאים לזכויות אזרח. ובעקבות כך הגשתי קובלנה פלילית. בית המשפט שעסק בסוגיה מצא בין השאר שבשום מקרה לא קרה שילד ניזוק מבדיקה זו או אחרת”.
Binyamin Netanyahu appears comfortably ensconced in the Israeli prime minister’s office after last week’s elections. While his Likud bloc effectively tied for seats with the upstart Blue and White party, the smattering of smaller parties are mostly of the nationalist, religious and right-wing bent, meaning Netanyahu will have a fifth term as leader. If he hangs on until July, he will surpass David Ben-Gurion as Israel’s longest-serving prime minister.
The likelihood that he will reach that mark seems good. He faces probable criminal charges but that does not necessarily mean the end of his career. Rumours are rife that he is considering a legal escape hatch that would permit him to remain in office even if indicted or, more likely, make it illegal to indict a sitting prime minister. In most democracies, at most times in recent history, such a move would be seen as intolerably corrupt. Times change.
The leaders of democracies today are blazing new trails. The words and actions of the U.S. president confound our capacity for incredulity. Jaw-dropping statements of contempt, bigotry, juvenile pique and lies emanate from his mouth (and Twitter fingers) faster than the outrage can follow. Across Europe, far-right extremist parties are rising, as they did in elections in Finland on the weekend. In Britain, which is convulsing from self-induced Brexit trauma, the leftist Labour party is engulfed in an antisemitism crisis. Positions and statements that would have been unthinkable in the civil discourse of recent decades are suddenly at the centre of public discourse in democracies everywhere.
Israel is no exception. During the recent election campaign, candidates expressed erstwhile unspeakable ideas, including a scheme to ethnically cleanse the West Bank of Arabs and annex the land to Israel. The advocate of that idea was soundly defeated – the Knesset democratically cleansed of his ideology when the party failed to reach the 3.25% minimum vote to enter parliament.
But Netanyahu himself floated some astonishing trial balloons during the campaign. He mooted annexing West Bank settlement blocs into Israel – a concept that is not ludicrously beyond the pale since, if a negotiated settlement ever emerges, it will likely include such a move in exchange for traded land. But he also suggested annexing settlements that are not adjacent to or contiguous with Israel’s recognized boundaries. Such an idea would create a patchwork in the West Bank along the lines that would make an independent Palestine unworkable. The fact that the incumbent prime minister opened this political Pandora’s box is evidence of a new willingness to play with potential fire.
That foot play with extremists is not limited to domestic affairs. If an Israeli Rip Van Winkle fell asleep a couple of decades ago and woke up to Israel’s current diplomatic situation, he would be confused and possibly delighted. If that Van Winkle shared our worldview – an apparently old-fashioned belief in pluralistic, inclusive, universal humanitarian values – he would quickly conclude that the prima facie bonanza of goodwill has a rotting core.
As former Israeli ambassador to the United Nations Ron Prosor said Sunday night (see cover story), Israel has open lines of communication with countries that for decades steadfastly rejected its very existence. Likewise, Israel has excellent relations with some of the most populous and powerful countries in the world – India, China, Russia, Brazil and, in different but important ways, a refreshed, familial relationship with the current U.S. administration.
Israel has superb relations with these countries, and with the Philippines, as well as with Hungary and other eastern European states that have traditionally been problematic for the Jewish state. That seemingly good news is tempered by the fact that these good relations are not based on conventional diplomatic alliances. To a large extent – especially in the cases of Hungary, the Philippines, Brazil, Russia and the reinvigorated bonhomie between the leaders of Israel and the United States – these close relations are based on a shared strain of politics that fill us with more nervousness than naches.
These relationships are less between Israel and Brazil or the Philippines or Hungary or Russia than a bromance between Netanyahu and Jair Bolsonaro, Rodrigo Duterte, Viktor Orban and Vladimir Putin, to say nothing of the continuing lovefest between Bibi and Donald Trump. Each of these figures is a strongman who is, to varying degrees, pushing the limits of their democracies to see how far they can stretch rule of law and diminish respect for human rights. With this in mind, the diplomatic warmth seems less about traditional bilateral relations than about a fraternity of nationalist, populist and authoritarian men leading the world down a path unimagined a decade ago.
With that background, Israel’s unprecedentedly improved relations with so many countries seems less positive a development. Our proverbial sleeper might pull the covers back over his head and hope for better in the decades to come.
A full house came out to the CIJA-SUCCESS townhall Sept. 23, which featured six Vancouver mayoral candidates. (photo from CIJA)
The refracted nature of Vancouver’s civic politics was on full display at a candidates meeting featuring six of the perceived front-running candidates for mayor. The near-implosion of the governing Vision Vancouver party, combined with divisions among erstwhile Non-Partisan Association members, has led to a race with both the left and right sides of the political spectrum divided and struggling to gain traction in a campaign with 21 contenders.
The afternoon event Sept. 23 was co-sponsored by the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs and the multicultural organization SUCCESS, which is rooted in the Chinese-Canadian community. Veteran Vancouver broadcaster Jody Vance handily moderated the occasionally raucous meeting.
Housing affordability topped the list of issues, with Kennedy Stewart, a former NDP member of Parliament for Burnaby-South who resigned that seat to run for Vancouver mayor as an independent, said his plan to attack unaffordability calls for building 85,000 new homes over the next 10 years, including affordable and market rentals.
Ken Sim, an entrepreneur who founded Nurse Next Door and Rosemary Rocksalt Bagels and who is the candidate for the centre-right Non-Partisan Association (NPA), responded by claiming that the construction industry does not have the capacity to meet Stewart’s construction schedule.
Wai Young, a former Conservative member of Parliament for Vancouver South, is running with a new party, called Coalition Vancouver, which was originated by a group of former NPA members who felt betrayed by what they call a lack of democracy in that party.
“Vancouver does not have a supply issue,” Young said about the housing situation. “There are no millionaires wandering around Vancouver that are unable to buy a house or a luxury condo. The issue is that we are not able to keep our young people, our young families, here because they can’t afford to buy a house. We have an affordability issue in Vancouver.”
“If I am mayor, we will have a three percent vacancy rate,” said Shawna Sylvester, who is running as an independent but has roots in Vision Vancouver. The rate today is about zero. She supports more co-ops, cohousing and what she called “gentle densification,” as well as addressing how the housing situation has particular impacts for women, who experience poverty in greater proportions than men.
Partly related to the affordability issue is the topic of Vancouver’s reputation as a place that is welcoming of people from diverse backgrounds.
David Chen, who is running with another new party, ProVancouver, noted that racism is alive and well in the city.
“My parents were first-generation Taiwanese [Canadian],” said Chen. “I was born in St. Paul’s [Hospital] because, at that time, it was the only hospital they were allowed to go to. During this campaign, I heard somebody say to me, ‘Go home.’ Well, I am home.” He added: “We haven’t progressed as much as we should or could.”
The NPA’s Sim echoed the experience and extrapolated it to the Jewish community.
“I’m 47 right now,” said Sim, “and I still remember the hurtful comments that I faced when I was 5 years old. It was tough. I think of what’s going on to our Jewish community right now. We still have a lot of issues. I’m acutely aware of what our Jewish community goes through because, when something happens halfway around the world, our friends in the Jewish community have to worry about their physical safety. That’s terrible. We will have zero tolerance for that, as mayor of Vancouver. We’re going to work with community groups, work with the Jewish community, work with all communities identifying threats to our communities and working on solutions to protect us, to protect our communities, and we will monitor our results.”
Hector Bremner, another former NPA member now leading another new party, YES Vancouver, is the only candidate for mayor currently sitting on Vancouver city council.
“Racism is a symptom, it’s not the disease,” Bremner said. “When do racial tensions flare up, when do they happen? They happen in a time when the people feel that resources are scarce and they feel pressure economically. It’s really a function of tribalism and nativism that occurs when people feel that it’s hard for them to make it. We look for scapegoats.”
Sylvester, who among many other roles is director of the Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue at Simon Fraser University, said people need to stand up to extremist voices and actions.
“There are forces in our communities, whether we want to acknowledge them or not, that are trying to divide us,” she said. “What we need to do [is] not be tolerant of any kind of hate crime, not be tolerant of antisemitism.”
Stewart said those who don’t subscribe to Canadian ideas of tolerance should be helped to change their minds.
“Immigration is really one of the best things about being Canadian,” he said. “We travel around the world and we brag about it. Multiculturalism is a Canadian word and it’s something we’ve exported. It’s something we should embrace, and most of us do. Those that don’t, we have to help them understand, change their opinions.”
Accusations of intolerance and implications of racism emerged in the debate.
Young, who had originally sought the NPA mayoral nomination, implied that her supporters, many of whom were from the Chinese community, weren’t welcome in the NPA. This brought a sharp rebuke from Sim.
“Guess what, I’m Chinese,” he said. “Here’s the real issue. When you [say] inflammatory statements like that to win a political agenda, you create divisions in our communities. People don’t like that. You put a wedge. That is a problem and you’ve got to knock it off.”
Sim went on to accuse politicians of stoking already existing embers of intolerance around foreign purchasers of Vancouver real estate.
“For political expediency, what politicians are doing is pointing at groups and blaming groups for problems,” he said. “We have a lot of issues with affordability and there are a lot of things that affect affordability and housing. I’m not saying foreign purchases do not affect housing. But, when we point to it and we blame a group, that starts a slippery slope. That’s what’s dividing our city, our province and our country. I call on everyone here to knock it off, because there are a lot of things that affect affordability – permitting delays, interest rates, the economy – but to point to something for political expediency because it wins votes is dividing people and it’s hurtful.”
The meeting took place in a SUCCESS building in Chinatown, close to the Downtown Eastside. Candidates agreed that more needs to be done to confront the seemingly intractable challenges facing that area of the city.
Young said she had visited a seniors home in Chinatown earlier in the day and was told residents are afraid to go outside.
“They can no longer walk outside of their building,” she said. “That should not happen in our beautiful city. There was a time I remember coming down here to Chinatown when it was vibrant, when it was safe, when you didn’t feel like you couldn’t be on the wrong side of the street here.… This city has gotten dirtier and grittier…. There are needles everywhere, there is defecation everywhere. We are one of the top 10 cities in the world and yet, currently, it’s embarrassing to have your friends come visit.”
She promised to be “John Horgan’s worst enemy,” referring to the B.C. premier, in demanding provincial help to address the issues in the area.
Stewart touted his connections with former NDP member of Parliament Libby Davies, who previously represented the area in Ottawa.
“Last week, I was very proud to stand with Libby Davies in the Downtown Eastside and announce that, as mayor, I would immediately strike an emergency task force to deal with the opioid epidemic and homelessness,” Stewart said. “We cannot have the number of deaths that are happening and the number of overdoses. We can’t have the impacts on the people that are suffering through illness and addiction problems.”
Another perennial issue candidates addressed was transportation and congestion.
“Vancouverites spend 88 hours of your life every year sitting in congestion,” said Young. “That’s like a two-week holiday.”
Sim promised an independent review of congestion in the city.
“The number of cars has not increased in the city in the last 20 years but congestion has,” he said. He blamed a range of factors, including bike lanes, left-hand turns, people running yellow lights and getting stopped by police, pedestrians crossing after the indicator says “don’t walk,” and roads that are closed for construction longer than necessary.
Chen said getting people to switch from cars to transit requires improving the system.
“If you use negative reinforcement, you’re not going to get people to switch,” he said. “It’s not reliable, it’s not convenient, it’s not cheaper, it’s not faster. You [improve] those four items and suddenly people may just switch.”
The would-be mayors mooted the availability of culturally appropriate services, such as seniors care, community security for institutions like synagogues and the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver, and unisex washrooms.
During the debate, Stewart repeatedly emphasized that he, Bremner and Young were the only ones with elective experience, a tack that may be motivated by the few polls on the race, which have indicated that Stewart’s toughest opponent is Sim.
Election day for municipal governments across British Columbia is Saturday, Oct. 20. In Vancouver, advance voting opportunities are available until Oct. 17, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. (photo by Cynthia Ramsay)
Members of British Columbia’s Jewish community have been involved in many pursuits over the decades. With some notable exceptions, few have pursued elective office. And this election continues the tradition. Of the hundreds of people running for city councils, school boards, regional district boards and the Vancouver park board, the Independent has identified only four members of the community running in the Oct. 20 elections, though there may be others. Here is a glance at their platforms and motivations.
Herschel Miedzygorski Independent candidate for Vancouver city council voteherschel.ca
Herschel Miedzygorski’s priorities include clean and safe streets, increased night transit and more funding for the arts. He wants to deter real estate speculation and speed up permitting processes for middle-class homes.
Miedzygorski has had a career as a restaurateur in Vancouver and Whistler, running Southside Deli in the resort municipality for 25 years and being involved in food ventures in the city. He has sold his food interests and now represents Giant Head Estate Winery, based in Summerland, B.C., to restaurant clients.
“I was born and raised in Vancouver,” he said. “My father had a secondhand store on Main Street for 60 years, it was called Abe’s Second Hand. That was my mom and dad.… We all grew up on Main Street.”
Miedzygorski has coached football and soccer and spends time at the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver. He was asked to run with a couple of the city’s political parties, he said, but “I just want to be an independent voice.”
Steven Nemetz is running for Vancouver park board because the time is right.
“It speaks to me at this stage of my life – father, grandfather – and I grew up in the city,” he said. “I grew up intimately familiar – because my father was a great outdoorsman – with these parks.”
Nemetz is a lawyer and holds a master’s in business administration and a rabbinic ordination. He created the “pop-up shul” Shtiebl on the Drive for the High Holy Days this year.
Having lived in various cities, notably New York, Nemetz wants to bring to Vancouver some ideas that have worked in other places. Inspired by the High Line, a park created from an old elevated railway in Manhattan, Nemetz suggests saving the Georgia and Dunsmuir viaducts (which are slated for demolition) and creating an elevated park in the space between them and extending that park east and west. A second High Line-style recreation space could work along the Broadway corridor, he said, incorporating transit hubs, Vancouver General Hospital and other existing assets.
He advocates a “privileges card” for city residents that would mean they pay no parking fees at any parks.
“There are 650,000 residents of the city of Vancouver,” he said. “There are over 10 million visitors a year.” A slight price increase for non-residents could offset the loss of revenue from locals, he said. “The residents of the city of Vancouver pay taxes. They support their infrastructure. They shouldn’t have to pay more for the use of facilities that they primarily support by way of small nickel-and-diming, like parking at Kitsilano Beach and Jericho.”
Nemetz looks at Mountain View Cemetery, 106 acres at the heart of the city, and sees potential for repurposing it to respectfully accommodate more living residents.
“We are not talking amusement park,” he said. “It could be something very unique, world-class in a way, that’s different.”
Norman Goldstein Richmond First candidate for Richmond school board richmondfirst.ca
Norman Goldstein is a former Richmond school trustee seeking to return to the board.
“The best thing for all people, including the Jewish people, is an open, accountable government that adheres to the rule of law,” he told the Independent. “The laws need to be crafted by caring, competent people, who understand that the strength of a society rests on how fairly and inclusively all citizens are treated. This is what I believe and this shapes who I associate with and trust politically.”
His priorities for education include moving forward with the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) policy passed by the Richmond school board.
“This has been, unfortunately, a very polarizing issue in Richmond,” he said. “To my understanding, the opposition to SOGI is based either on misunderstanding what the policy says – please, read the policy – or on deep-seated prejudice that is not self-recognized as such.”
Goldstein holds a doctorate in mathematics and taught and researched at the university level. He later completed a master’s of computer science and spent 21 years at MacDonald Dettwiler and Associates in Richmond, retiring in 2013.
“The Richmond School District has had a long, proud history of inclusion,” he said. “A major tool in this endeavour has been to integrate all learning levels into the same classroom. This socializes students to understand and appreciate each other.”
Election day for municipal governments across British Columbia is Saturday, Oct. 20. In Vancouver, advance voting opportunities are available until Oct. 17, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Advance voting dates and times differ by jurisdiction. More details are at vancouver.ca/vote or on the website for your municipality.
Advance voting is underway across British Columbia for municipal elections that culminate Oct. 20.
There are many dedicated, informed people with excellent ideas running for office in Vancouver and in communities across British Columbia. This is especially fortunate, since this year saw what may be the greatest number of incumbents in recent memory opt not to seek reelection. Of the 10 members of Vancouver city council, for example, only three are running for reelection. (One is running for mayor.) Mayor Gregor Robertson is also leaving the scene.
A similar change is evident across Metro Vancouver, where an inordinate number of incumbent mayors and councilors have chosen not to continue serving. Part of this may be coincidence and part may be that new funding rules put in place by the province have made the task of running more challenging, in some ways. Whatever the reasons, Vancouver and many other communities face a major realignment in our local politics.
Especially at a time like this, it is a little disappointing that there are not more individuals from the Jewish community who have chosen to offer themselves for office. It has been encouraging, on the other hand, to see the number of people from the community who are volunteering on campaigns and taking a very active role in engaging with candidates. The candidates forum for several mayoral hopefuls, sponsored by the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) and the social service agency SUCCESS, was well attended. Another event, organized by CIJA and the Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee, allowed people to speak one-on-one with those who would like to be mayor of Vancouver.
There are, of course, not a lot of “Jewish issues” in local elections, though candidates for mayor addressed a number of things that are of concern to the Jewish community at a recent candidates forum. (For story, click here.) Ensuring that our municipalities remain welcoming, safe places for members of every ethnocultural community is a top priority. Part of that comes from people in positions of leadership leading by example. We have seen, in the United States, Europe and elsewhere, the licence that can be given to people with ill will when leaders choose to engage in incendiary language. It has been reassuring that there have, to date, been no serious incidents in local campaigns of overtly divisive language or strategies.
While the atmosphere has not been terribly divisive, division is the key word for traditional political parties in Vancouver.
Vision Vancouver, which has dominated the city for the last decade, has collapsed, not even managing to put up a candidate for mayor. The Non-Partisan Association (NPA) is a house divided, with at least two new parties emerging from disaffected former members.
The likelihood of independent candidates being elected to Vancouver city council and boards – as well as to the mayor’s chair – has probably never been greater. It could be an interesting mix for the next four years, with a constructive amalgam of different ideas coming together to synthesize into good policy – or it could be four years of chaos.
On the topic of chaos … a word about Vancouver’s at-large voting system. It is difficult enough to make an informed choice for the one position of mayor with 21 people contesting the race. It is an entirely different ballgame to try to make sense of the 137 candidates running for the 26 positions on city council, school board and park board. There is simply no way to expect reasonable, ordinary people to inform themselves adequately about this number of candidates.
Vancouverites have been floating the possibility of a ward system for decades but still face this daunting and compendious ballot every election. A ward system would not be without it faults – it could have the effect, for example, of elected officials representing their narrow constituencies against the broader interests of the city at large – but it would certainly permit average voters to become more familiar with the candidates who would represent them.
For now, though, this is the system we are in. And finding our way through it and voting with the best information we can access is the least we can do as citizens of a democracy. Despite the fact that local government is the one that has the most direct impact on our everyday lives, it is also the one that tends to attract the lowest voter turnout.
The last election saw a turnout of about 43%, which is comparatively good for a local election. (The one before that saw less than 35% turnout.) Some observers have suggested that the circus-like circumstances this year could help voter turnout, with so many new groups and independent candidates trying to get their supporters to the polls. Still, with 21 candidates for mayor – at least a half-dozen of them serious contenders – the possibility of someone taking the position with, say, 25% of the vote, is a real possibility. If turnout were to rise to a comparatively healthy level of, say, 50%, that would still mean the mayor has a mandate from a mere 12.5% of voters.
But, consider this from your perspective as a voter: the power of your one ballot to influence the outcome may be higher than ever.
Maxime Bernier quit the Conservative party last week, at the precise moment that Conservatives from across the country were gathering in Halifax for their national convention, preparing for the federal election that is 13 months away.
Canadian political history would suggest that the former cabinet minister’s departure and his promise to form a new federal political party will be little more than a footnote in the history books when all is written.
The ostensible point of division between Bernier, who came a very close second to Andrew Scheer in last year’s Conservative leadership contest, is supply management. Supply management is an agricultural policy that limits supply in an attempt to stabilize prices so that Canadian farmers can make a decent living. It’s the reason we pay what we do for cheese, milk and poultry and it is prefaced on the understanding that the few extra dollars we pay weekly keeps the agricultural sector viable.
Bernier, who lambasted his former party over the issue, is correct. Support for such meddling in the economy is antithetical to conservative economic values. But it is an oddly Canadian consensus by which parties across the spectrum essentially accede to the status quo for political, if not policy, reasons. Opponents of Bernier in last year’s leadership race expressed fears that his opposition to supply management would undermine the Conservatives precisely where they are most popular: in rural Canada.
If less interventionist economic policies become the basis for Bernier’s new political party, it is hard to imagine how it will catch fire among Canadian voters. From a political standpoint, such a platform seems like a loser from the gate.
But there is a potential wild card in this scenario. Though he skirted the subject during his news conference last week, Bernier’s recent social media statements play to xenophobic, anti-immigrant sentiments. This, far more than economics, has the potential to get the attention of Canadian voters.
The Liberal government under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau likes to be associated with openness and a welcoming diversity, which contrasts nicely with developments to the south. But a recent poll suggests Canadians may not be as settled on this approach as some of us would like to believe.
The poll asked whether Canadians believed that there are too few, too many or the right number of immigrants to Canada. Overall, 18% of Canadians said there are too few immigrants coming to Canada, while 38% said there were too many and another 38% said the numbers were about right. The poll’s breakdown by party label indicates just how divisive this discussion could become. Only 12% of self-declared Liberals said that Canada has too many immigrants, while 73% of Conservatives hold that position.
Canadians, to an extent, have avoided opening a Pandora’s box in the form of a national discussion about immigration, perhaps happy in our complacency and self-image as a welcoming place. If Bernier’s new party – or, indeed, if the Conservatives – see an opening, we may be about to lift the lid somewhat on this issue.
If Bernier decides that he has nothing to lose and something to gain from upsetting accepted wisdom, it won’t necessarily prove a winning formula for his new party. However, if, by raising these topics, he forces other parties to articulate more specifically the generalized approach to multiculturalism and diversity that we take for granted, we may be headed for a reckoning on immigration, diversity and openness.
The election of Doug Ford as premier of Ontario suggests that populist messages are not anathema to Canadian voters. The Quebec provincial election, now underway, may very well provide a test case for some of these ideas that challenge our cherished notions of diversity.
When voter turnout hovers around the 50% mark, mobilizing one’s political base can be as crucial as convincing the undecided. If suspicion of outsiders appears likely to excite an identifiable core of the electorate, ambitious politicians will certainly consider how they might benefit by exploiting it.
Confronted by a heckler in Quebec last week, the prime minister shut her down by dismissing her as racist. It turns out, she may well be. But she also may not be the voice in the wilderness that some, including the prime minister, would like to believe. These people, too, will demand to be represented in Parliament and in the national discussion.
The rest of us, then, will need to have more than happy axioms and comforting self-satisfaction if we are to successfully defend diversity, inclusiveness and the social and economic value of new Canadians.
An Illinois congressional district leans so heavily Democratic that no serious figures contested the Republican nomination for this fall’s midterm elections. As a result, an avowed Nazi has become the official Republican standard bearer in the suburban Chicago area.
The issue is not that he stands a hope of winning. He doesn’t. The critical test is the degree of unanimity with which the mainstream body politic of the United States comes together to condemn the candidate and reject the normalization of his positions. So far, results are tepid.
Some GOP figures are advising voters not to cast a ballot in the race, which seems like bad advice in a democracy. Others are saying, simply, “Don’t vote for the Nazi,” without suggesting voters support the Democrat. When asked if he was urging Republicans to support the Democrat in the district, Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner simply said, “No.”
We have been seeing far too many examples of Americans putting party over country and humanity recently. President Donald Trump has been able to get away with his worst excesses only through the support of a Republican Congress.
Nevertheless, for whatever limits partisanship puts on bulwarks to bad things, most Americans agree Nazism is bad and should be condemned.
A more ambivalent reaction is taking place in the United Kingdom. The British Labour party has been embroiled for some time in a very serious internal conflict around antisemitism. Senior party figures, including MPs, have uttered (or expressed on social media) things that any “woke” person would recognize as founded on antisemitic premises. In some cases – including in a “closed” Facebook discussion group of which party leader Jeremy Corbyn was a part – the most medieval and unequivocal stereotypes, accusations, conspiracies and Jew-hatred have gone unchallenged.
Members of the party have been kicked out after being subjected to internal party investigations for antisemitic rhetoric. But some have been allowed back in and others have been let off without any censure, even after expressing what the most casual observers would recognize as unacceptable attitudes toward a minority group.
A reckoning has been coming. So, in an effort to set some ground rules, a party committee adopted a definition of antisemitism last week that will serve as the measuring stick in upcoming investigations around whether party figures have or have not engaged in antisemitic rhetoric or behaviour.
The party based their new rules on the standards created by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) – criteria that have attained a degree of consensus as perhaps the most conclusive definition we can hope to develop for something as amorphous as antisemitism. The guidelines have been adopted by governments and quasi-governmental agencies worldwide, including Britain’s, but the Labour party thought the guidelines could use some improvements – and so they made their own tidy edits.
The Labour party’s red pen took out references that assign antisemitic intent to the equation of Zionism with Nazism. They deleted the parts where the IHRA says that antisemitism includes accusing Jewish people of being more loyal to Israel than their home country. Under the new Labour party rules, it’s OK to say that Israel’s very existence is racist. Holding Israel to a higher standard than any other countries is also fine with the party.
In short, the Labour party retrofitted the definition of antisemitism to comport with the attitudes and actions of their members, instead of forcing their members to adhere to international standards that reject antisemitism.
The new rules also put the onus on the victims to prove intent, which is almost unprovable. In effect, a Labour member can say whatever they wish – “ZioNazi” is a favourite, it seems – as long as they declare that their intent was not antisemitic. For whatever else this represents, it is a betrayal of a core tenet of the global progressive movement: that those who experience discrimination are the ones who get to define it.
As disturbing as the antisemitism crisis in U.K. Labour is – especially as Theresa May’s Conservative cabinet is imploding and a new election could come any day – it is an important moment for addressing left-wing antisemitism throughout the West.
It is one of the first formal, structured discussions we have seen in Western countries around the issue of defining, identifying and censuring antisemitism within mainstream political discourse. It is not a good thing that it is necessary, but it is good that the necessary discussion is taking place.
Of course, this could go (at least) two ways. Labour could experience a backlash over their efforts to redefine antisemitism to their political benefit, realize that they are far outside acceptable discourse and undertake a genuine correction. Alternatively, they could stick with their highly problematic definition of antisemitism, leave their substantial problem of institutional anti-Jewish bias in place and still win the next U.K election. In which case, they will have moved the goalposts of acceptable discourse in dangerous new directions, with implications that go far beyond Britain.