New NDP leader strongly backs Israel

Thomas Mulcair

TORONTO — Not only is Thomas Mulcair the new leader of the official Opposition, he’s a strong backer of Israel and has many ties to the Jewish community.

The New Democrat MP for Outremont won the party’s leadership race last Saturday.

Mulcair, 57, is familiar with the Jewish community, having served as Liberal MNA for the multicultural Montreal-area riding of Chomedey from 1994 to 2007 and as New Democrat MP for Outremont since the 2007 federal election.

In April 2008, Mulcair addressed a Montreal audience at a gala event hosted by Tribune Juive magazine – a French-language publication whose aim is to educate Quebecers about Jewish and Israeli culture – telling the crowd in French that he will always be a supporter of Israel for numerous reasons.

“My wife, Catherine Pinhas, who was born in France and whose family is of Turkish origin, is a descendant of the Sephardim who were expelled from Spain in 1492,” Mulcair told the audience.

“When we here think of 1492, we think of Christopher Columbus and his arrival in America. But for Sephardi Jews, 1492 evokes their expulsion from Spain by the Catholic monarchs. One of the most gracious gestures I have ever seen in politics took place in 1992, when King Juan Carlos I of Spain went to a Madrid synagogue to ask for pardon.”

He added: “My in-laws are Holocaust survivors. Their history is part of my daily life. That’s why I am an ardent supporter of Israel in all instances [French for the different institutions that make up a country] and circumstances.”

Mulcair’s outspoken support for Israel was cited as a reason why some prominent New Democrats wouldn’t support his leadership bid, but shortly after winning, he signalled his intention to keep Vancouver East MP Libby Davies as deputy party leader, despite her outspoken criticism of Israel and their previous clashes on the party’s position on the Jewish state. 

The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) congratulated Mulcair on his victory and said it looked forward to working with him.

“Mr. Mulcair has enjoyed a strong relationship with the Jewish community, through his work at both the provincial and federal levels of government, and I am confident that under his leadership the friendship between the NDP and the Jewish community will continue to strengthen over the coming years,” CIJA chair David Koschitzky said in a statement.

Mulcair beat out rival Brian Topp, the former party president, after receiving more than 57 per cent of the vote at the leadership convention in Toronto.

He now follows in the footsteps of the late Jack Layton and assumes control from interim leader Nycole Turmel.

The CJN hopes to have an interview with Mulcair in an upcoming issue.