MONTREAL— The New Democratic Party’s resolution passed earlier this month calling on Canada to end arms deals with Israel does not mean the state has no friends within the NDP, says Anthony Housefather, the new chair of the Canada-Israel Interparliamentary Group, known by the acronym CAIL.
What the NDP membership supports is not necessarily true of the party’s caucus in the House of Commons, points out the Liberal MP for the Montreal riding of Mount Royal.
CAIL’s executive committee has MPs and senators from the four main parties in Parliament.
Housefather’s election at the end of March by that executive marks a reinvigoration of CAIL after the previous chair, Toronto-area Liberal MP Michael Levitt, retired from politics and a year constrained by the pandemic.
Joining Housefather as vice-chairs are Randall Garrison, an NDP MP from British Columbia; Winnipeg Conservative MP Marty Morantz; and Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino of Toronto. Also from the NDP on the executive is Lindsay Mathyssen (London-Fanshawe).
“I very much appreciate Randall’s support for Israel; he has always been a great ally, despite backlash from some in his party,” said Housefather.
Six Bloc Québécois MPs are also among the 40-plus executive, as well as another cabinet member, Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic Leblanc.
There is far more goodwill toward Israel across partisan lines than might be presumed, said Housefather.
CAIL is one of a long list of bi-national interparliamentary or friendship groups recognized by Parliament, and was established longer ago than Housefather can recall. Like similar groups it is not funded by Parliament, but their quasi-diplomatic role is officially recognized and governed by certain rules.
CAIL’s stated mission is “to further co-operative relations and mutual understanding between parliamentarians of both countries.”
As chair, Housefather said, “I am going to try to find a multi-partisan way to enhance the relationship between Canada and Israel, particularly in trade and scientific research and other areas of exchange.”
He thinks CAIL can also work to confront the “unfair singling out of Israel for treatment different from that of other nations,” as illustrated in the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance working definition of anti-Semitism. Canada adopted the definition as part of its anti-racism strategy in 2019.
CAIL members may have a role to play on university campuses in presenting a positive image of Israel, he said, and among Canadians in general in raising awareness of the benefits of our relationship with Israel.
At its next (virtual) executive meeting, the guest speakers will be the acting chair of CAIL’s counterpart, the Israel-Canada Interparliamentary Group, former Knesset member Michal Cotler-Wunsh, and her father Irwin Cotler, Canada’s first special envoy for preserving Holocaust remembrance and combating anti-Semitism.
Although Cotler-Wunsh did not run in last month’s election, she is a valuable partner in developing relationships between CAIL and Israel’s new MKs, Housefather said, given her close ties to Canada.
First elected in 2015, Housefather has been an outspoken supporter of Israel, as well as defender of the Trudeau government’s record on Israel, notably Canada’s voting record at the United Nations. Housefather and Levitt were accused by anti-Israel activist Dimitri Lascaris a couple of years ago of being more loyal to Israel than Canada, which the prime minister denounced as an anti-Semitic canard.
Housefather first visited Israel in his 20s and has since been more than a dozen times. Before becoming an MP, he was general counsel at Dialogic Corporation, a multinational tech company, which has an office in Israel that he frequently went to. He also competed as a master’s swimmer at three Maccabiah Games.
Housefather is open to dialoguing with the Canada-Palestine Parliamentary Friendship Group, chaired by Toronto-area Liberal MP Salma Zahid. “We have to get out of our echo chamber,’’ he said.