TORONTO — Liberal party Leader Justin Trudeau was greeted with calls of “We love our prime minister,” “Harper” and even “no traitors here” as he arrived at an Aug. 26 fundraising event at the home of pharmaceutical magnate and philanthropist Barry Sherman.
About 30 protesters were in attendance, carrying Canadian and Israeli flags and signs comparing the recent Iran nuclear deal with the Munich peace agreement between Adolf Hitler and then-British prime minister Neville Chamberlain, which allowed Germany to annex portions of Czechoslovakia. The demonstrators stood peacefully outside Sherman’s home as Trudeau arrived for the $1,500-a-head event. Uniformed police and plainclothes security personnel were present in numbers outside Sherman’s home in an affluent Toronto neighbourhood.
The protest, organized by the Jewish Defence League of Canada (JDL), was meant to voice displeasure at the reception given the Liberal leader despite the Liberal party’s endorsement of the nuclear deal with Iran, said JDL leader Meir Weinstein.
“It is unprecedented to protest at the home of a Jewish leader,” Weinstein acknowledged. But if the Liberal party hadn’t backed an agreement deemed by the government of Israel to be dangerous, “we wouldn’t be here.”
Referring to an email exchange a week before the event in which Gabriel Erem, the former publisher of Lifestyles magazine, criticized the Liberal party’s positions on various issues concerning Israel, as well as Trudeau’s choice of advisors, Weinstein said “if it was just the substance of the email that went around, we wouldn’t be here.
“When we have unanimous opposition in Israel about the Iran nuclear deal, we take that very seriously. That’s different.”
Toronto immigration lawyer Guidy Mamman was among the protesters.
“I think this is a high-profile event by a Jewish community leader to try to unseat the best friend Israel has, [Prime Minister] Stephen Harper,” Mamman said.
“The Liberal party is supporting a deal that the prime minister of Israel says is an existential threat to Israel, and I believe him,” Mamman said.
On various occasions, Harper “has stuck out his neck for Israel and earned the support of the Jewish community,” he added.
Sherman told The CJN that “the event went very well.”
“Trudeau is very articulate and personable. He reiterated that all parties are 100 per cent supportive of Israel. In my view, it is irresponsible for Conservative supporters to suggest otherwise to try to garner votes,” Sherman said.
“The key issues in this election are thus economic policies and leadership. In my view, the centrist philosophy and policies of the Liberal party are enormously preferable for all Canadians than either of the two alternatives.”
Other Jewish leaders, while not mentioning the JDL by name, criticized its tactics.
“We should all be supportive of fellow community members exercising their fundamental democratic rights. Intense political debate is natural, but it must be constructive and respectful,” Shimon Fogel and David Cape, CEO and chair, respectively, of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, wrote in an opinion piece for The CJN.
“Disparaging, personal attacks have no place in this discourse. They undermine our community’s interests, foment divisiveness within Canadian Jewry, and contaminate the political process with a level of vitriol that should never be injected into the campaign.”
In a statement, titled “United We Stand,” issued before the protest, Avi Benlolo, CEO of the Friends of the Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies, also addressed the issue.
“After enjoying nearly a decade of support of historic and unprecedented proportions from Stephen Harper’s Conservatives, many community members are visibly concerned as polls have placed all three parties virtually neck in neck,” he wrote. “We want to see the exceptional support for Israel continued; that sanctions against Iran prevail; and an increased pushback on anti-Semitism and denunciation of the malicious 'boycott, divestment and sanction’ campaign, just to name a few issues.”
He added: “As a result, strong and legitimate emotions have manifested visceral reactions which threaten to tear our community apart. Some Jewish community members are setting an uncomfortable precedent by promising to picket other Jewish leaders. Our teachings strongly condemn machloket (division) and sinat achim (brotherly hatred). For shalom bayit (a peaceful home) to exist, we have made it our organizational policy to respect multiple voices and opinion in our community – and support all who genuinely have Israel's best interest at heart.”