Before she was a political staffer and public affairs fixture—and also recently a podcaster with The Canadian Jewish News, for five months—I went to university with Melissa Lantsman.
I didn’t know her that well—being involved with Hillel was just something I did to unwind from my science courses.
(OK, it was also a bit of a resume booster. That’s the way things work at the University of Toronto.)
Back then, none of us seemed too interested in (ugh) Canadian politics. None of the candidates looked like us, talked like us, or even seemed to know we existed as they argued over whether we should have “two-tier health care” or not, or obsessed over the colour of Belinda Stronach’s blonde hair.
I remember Melissa being focused and articulate, extremely plugged into everything that was going on. I’d call her a little ruthless, too—and I think she might regard that as a compliment.
So, I wasn’t surprised when she went for the Conservative Party of Canada nomination in Thornhill, and won it. (The Liberals have also fielded a Jewish candidate, Gary Gladstone.) I’m a little surprised, however, by the fact that my newsfeeds are crowded with photos of CPC lifers from all over Ontario pitching in to help her campaign—even to the exclusion of their own local campaigns, sometimes.
Nobody questioned the fact that it was good to have her on side, especially when both of us were caught up in the storm over the emergence of Israeli Apartheid Week. It turns out that when you try to normalize violence against a group of people under the guise of “standing up for human rights,” it has interesting effects on their voting patterns.
Things got so bad at UofT that even British novelist Howard Jacobson noticed. In his Man Booker Prize-winning novel The Finkler Question, his main character does a Google search for “antisemitic incidents” and comes up with a real one I was present for, where a sketchy security guard threatened to remove a Jewish student’s head from his body.
Besides, it wasn’t like there was much of a choice politically. Parties other than the CPC are still talking about how “criticism of Israel is not antisemitic,” then bemoaning vandalized synagogues after the fact:
Look, I don’t begrudge Israel’s critics their right to speak their minds. Just don’t expect Thornhill to be anything other than a solidly blue riding for a very long time, that’s all.
And I don’t want to imply the CPC doesn’t have their problems. Oh sure, they love Israel. But they tend to be put off by the fact so many other young Jews seem to be Jews first… and Conservatives second. Some still resent candidates like Melissa for being out and proud—Jewishly and otherwise:
Well, here’s the problem: In all the years I’ve been doing this politics thing, no one has ever explained how we’re supposed to win the votes of people who do think their Jewish identity is connected to how they vote. Or their Muslim identity, LGBTQ+ identity, and so on.
I cannot explain this contradiction. The best answer I can give is that the people who disdain “identity politics” assume that because they don’t enjoy “being pandered to” everyone else will see things that way, too.
Melissa’s campaign represents the next stage of the evolution from a community of Liberal water-carriers to equal partners: a potential Jewish Conservative MP for whom being Jewish, and Conservative, is the most normal thing in the world.
And now, you know how we got there.
Josh Lieblein can be reached at [email protected] for your response to Doorstep Postings.