This is a special edition of Doorstep Postings, the periodic political commentary column written by Josh Lieblein for The CJN.
The Unetaneh Tokef prayer we say on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur has a dark and brutal origin story. (But please click away now if descriptions of graphic violence bother you!)
As the 11th-century tale goes, one Rabbi Amnon of Mainz was pressured by his so-called friend the Archbishop of Mainz to convert to Christianity. For whatever reason, the rabbi asked for three days to consider the matter, a fairly standard delay tactic.
When he got home, though, he realized something terrible: by not declaring one way or another, he had given the impression that he might convert. And poor Rabbi Amnon was so distraught by this realization that he failed to appear at the end of the three days and was punished by having his hands and feet cut off.
Brought to the synagogue a few days later, the rabbi uttered the words that became the Unetaneh Tokef right before dying of his wounds.
One thousand years have passed, and we no longer cut the hands and feet off people who do not appropriately signal their allegiance. That is barbaric. Instead, for lack of decrees from tyrants demanding that we change our principles from one moment to the next, we impose them on ourselves.
If you’re reading this column, you’ve probably heard the details by now: Zelenskyy comes to Ottawa to canvass support; 98-year-old Nazi who fought against Russia in the Second World War is brought into the chamber; MPs stand up to applaud.
And it has already been forgotten, in the collective paroxysm of stupidity that came next, that MPs were videotaping one another and issuing worthless call-outs against other members for clapping in an insufficiently supportive manner. Before everyone fell all over themselves denouncing the 98-year-old Nazi and calling each other soft on Nazis for not distancing themselves from the Nazi-clapping fast enough, they were calling each other soft on Nazis for not clapping for the Nazi hard enough—because we are expected to believe that at the time nobody knew he was a Nazi.
It took two whole days for the switch to be flipped and for everyone to feign outrage at what everyone else had been doing two days ago. As the hours to Yom Kippur drew near, Jewish organizations outdid themselves in demanding apologies and voicing concerns and calling for explanations that everyone knows will never be offered.
And now, as I write this, the Polish government—not these Jewish groups, who have participated in attempts to deport other older-than-dirt Nazis living in Canada—is demanding that the 98-year-old Nazi be extradited.
The Speaker of the House, who invited the Nazi from Nipissing, took his time resigning, as there was apparently insufficient consensus as to whether he initially should. The government is demanding that we all stop politicizing (read: talking about) their mistake. Conservatives are claiming that this exonerates them from having a few of their MPs meet with the bigoted Christine Anderson some months ago, for don’t you see, at least they didn’t meet with an actual Nazi.
Everyone is good! Everyone is blameless! Nobody intentionally did anything bad here! Except those espousing-hateful-rhetoric folks on the other side.
Now, just a few days before Ottawa became paralyzed in this sadly common manner, another incident took place at the other end of the political relevance spectrum: New Brunswick MLA Dominic Cardy was named the interim leader of a political party called Canada Future.
Long story short for those wondering who we’re talking about: Canada Future claims to be the solution for all the “homeless” centrists who can’t stand the sort of overheated rhetoric and misinformation and accusations that have led to debacles like the humiliation wrought by clapping for a 98-year-old Nazi. At last, a party full of radical centrists that will move away from polarization.
And, after being invited onto The Andrew Lawton Show, it took Cardy about 10 minutes to accuse CPC leader Pierre Poilievre of antisemitism after being asked to provide an example of a conspiracy theory spun by the opposition leader. In Cardy’s view, Poilievre is once again signalling to the wrong people when he talks about the World Economic Forum and globalists.
Thus at both the alpha and omega of Canadian politics, in the House of Commons or one of countless podcasts featuring fringe characters, is the accusation of antisemitism, of being soft on Nazism, of tilting towards Russia.
And let’s not forget that this is the case for our friends in the Chinese community, or for those Canadians from India as well, and for every other issue, foreign and domestic. It would be bad enough if we just left it there, at the realization that this is the entirety of Canadian politics now. Not fixing the health care system, improving our schools, building houses or preventing assassinations on our soil.
Instead, our politicians must spend every waking moment signalling frantically with increasingly meaningless magic words about who they stand with. How there is no place for this or that. Calling out disinformation as if it’s supposed to change something. Implying that every slip of the tongue, every micro-aggression, demonstrates the need for more calling out. More signalling. More statements. More education.
Everyone is so obsessed with reassuring the feelings of various stakeholders that hate is being duly stood against that they can’t see the actual Nazi showing up on the House floor.
I wish that this could be written off as a recent development, caused by social media and disinformation and excessive partisanship ruining everything. But if we’re being honest with ourselves for a change, we remember how back in the day, Stephen Harper, Jean Chretien and Jack Layton were all antisemites, secretly consorting with antisemites, or were insufficiently condemnatory of antisemitism.
Remember how Harper only supported Israel because he wanted to bring about the Christian Armageddon? Remember how Chretien “sold out” Canada’s Jews at the UN?
No, I’m afraid it has always been this way, and the only thing that has changed today is that we now have an easily tuned out background hum of everyone labelling their political enemies antisemites while insisting that their record on antisemitism is clean as fresh snow.
As long as we in the Jewish community and Canadians as a whole continue to put faith in politicians, parties and institutions that wake up each morning and receive their talking points and thinking points from above, we will forever be threatened by the severe decree of those who would do us harm.
We spend valuable time and money trying to secure the support of elected officials who have no discernible skills other than to look good, smile, be polite, stand and clap, offer concern, apologize, denounce, or try to shame their opponents without once considering that everyone else is trying to do the same thing. Then we are surprised and shocked when we are confronted with the results of all the lobbying, all the dinners, all the parties and all the Holocaust education.
The result is people who have no intention of ever putting their necks on the line when things get really bad for the Jews, yet who are happy to use antisemitism as a club for settling their own personal grudges.
Josh Lieblein can be reached at [email protected] for your response to Doorstep Postings.