Winnipeg South Centre federal election candidates met for a tense Jewish community debate

Antisemitism, support for Israel, the role of Iran in causing international insecurity and anti-Israel sentiments at the United Nations were among the questions of concern candidates addressed during a Sept. 13 online election debate in the riding of Winnipeg South Centre.

The debate featured Liberal and current Member of Parliament Jim Carr, Conservative Joyce Bateman and Julia Riddell of the NDP.

Green Party candidate Douglas Hemmerling was also invited, but withdrew when he wasn’t allowed to include a pre-planned question.

The debate, which was sponsored by B’nai Brith Canada, Congregation Shaarey Zedek and Adas Yeshurun Herzlia, was moderated by lawyer Howard Morry.

In his opening statement, Carr cited the importance of helping refugees flee violence and persecution today, noting his ancestors came to Canada from Russia to escape persecution and that he was beaten up as a youth for being Jewish.

Bateman, who formerly represented the riding for the Conservatives, followed by accusing the Liberals of being “irresponsible” for holding an election in the middle of a pandemic.

Riddell, a clinical psychologist, noted the rise in mental health issues during the pandemic and said if it taught her anything, it’s that “we can take on challenges only if we work together.”

On the issue of antisemitism in Canada, Bateman indicated the Conservative Party “stands with the Jewish community” and said antisemitism today is often “dressed up” as anti-Zionism on university campuses where students call for boycotts of Israel.

She went on to say the Conservative Party would strengthen laws requiring social media platforms to remove hate of all kinds and double funding for security at synagogues.

She then accused Carr and the Liberals of “being silent” about the antisemitism that arose during the fighting between Israel and Hamas in May.

Carr replied if Bateman was “hearing silence” it was because she was “not listening. I have spoken out against all forms of racism and antisemitism using all platforms.”

He went on to accuse her of trying to divide the Jewish community based on “how virulently” people speak out against antisemitism.

That, he said, is “the kind of hyper-partisanship Canadians don’t want.”

He went on to say that “as a Jew I am particularly sensitive to antisemitism today. … This is not a time to divide communities, but to unite communities around tolerance and fairness.”

Riddell said the rise in antisemitism was “deeply disturbing” and that “we all should be united in addressing it.”

An NDP government, she said, would develop a national plan to combat antisemitism and “ensure the safety” of all marginalized groups.

When asked to address what the moderator called “strong anti-Israel bias in the United Nations,” Bateman said that no Canadian taxpayer dollars should go to anything at the United Nations that condones antisemitism, or that “demonizes” Israel or Jews.

She went on to accuse the Liberals of “shamefully” failing to curtail efforts to stop antisemitism at the world body, which caused Carr to say he was “deeply concerned” by her remarks.

That issue is “taken very seriously” by the government, he said, noting it had stopped funding when the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees was accused of promoting anti-Israel messages.

“Canada doesn’t want to be associated with any relief agency that promotes hatred or antisemitism,” he said.

On the topic of Iran and its support for terrorism, Bateman called it a “destabilizing influence” in the world and said the Liberals had failed to hold it accountable.

Carr responded the Prime Minister had been “very clear” in condemning Iran for shooting down an Ukrainian airliner in 2020, which killed 63 Canadians aboard, along with criticizing it for other actions that endangered international security.

Other questions posed to the candidates included pandemic recovery, support for seniors, climate change and Indigenous relations.

Reflecting on the barbed exchanges between Carr and Bateman, Riddell said her hope is that Members of Parliament can “work across parties” on these issues.

“It’s going to take all of us,” she said, adding “the fight about who did what is not getting us very far.”

Canada needs “a culture of political change,” she said. “Leaders need to work together. The mudslinging has to stop.”