Doorstep Postings: When the price of peace involves a Canadian politician knocking on doors to criticize his Jewish constituents about another country

Ontario NDP MPP Joel Harden in an interview with Peter Larson of the Ottawa Forum on Israel Palestine, posted to YouTube on Aug. 10, 2021—but not widely publicized until November 2022.

This is a special edition of the series of opinion columns written by Josh Lieblein for The CJN.

UPDATE: Joel Harden issued an apology for his comments following the publication of this column—although the activity he described in the interview wasn’t denied.

We like to tell ourselves, and the world, that Canada is a society founded on mutual tolerance, open dialogue, shared values—and above all, fairness.

This, so goes the common wisdom, is what separates us from all those other “democracies” where there’s an established pecking order despite claims to the contrary. We have no such presumptions here! Politicians are just local folks who you know on a first-name basis.

Billionaires appear in commercials poking fun at themselves. Our sporting events are supposed to be pick-up affairs where winning is secondary to love of the game. The arts, higher education, the economy… all of these sectors are quietly and efficiently run by a small group of competent folks who all get along. And above all, we care about one another and we absolutely do not tolerate bullying of any sort.  

Except, if you live here, you know this is all nonsense. You don’t say so out loud, because that doesn’t help anybody. It doesn’t help anybody because it upsets the established way of doing things. And without that established way of doing things, we’d be no better than the rest of those countries where the people are divided and chaos is the order of the day. 

And so you accept that Quebec politicians are allowed to say and do things that would be considered bigoted in any other part of the country. We do this because we have two founding peoples and it isn’t for us in English Canada to criticize too harshly. On the other hand, when Alberta’s leader appears to dabble in antisemitism, it’s good and right and acceptable to decry it. Some of those Westerners have just grown too attached to their oil money to care about people like they’re supposed to.

Luckily, in seven months or so, Albertans will head to the polls and will have a chance to dump the un-ready premier Danielle Smith, whose opinions are offside with the majority. 

Unless it comes from Quebec (where it must be understood as part of the culture), right-wing antisemitism has a very short half-life in this country. Ever since I spoke my first word I’ve watched Jewish leaders, in full partnership with those guardians of the established order, shred online bigots, clownish white supremacists with names you can’t even say out loud without dissolving into laughter, and former Nazi prison guards now pushing 90 and beyond.

After decades of congratulating themselves on rooting out these threats, I’ve become less interested in the pageantry and fundraising appeals, and the endless opining about what we’re going to do about the culture that allows these cosplayers and relics to have outsized platforms.

I’m more interested in why nobody has gotten around to saying out loud that there is an equally poisonous “culture” on the left that works hand in glove with those same protectors of Canadian norms to make things difficult for Jews who support Israel.

There can be no other explanation for the actions of Ottawa Centre MPP Joel Harden, who proclaimed that it’s his duty as a consensus-busting “left-politician” to ask his Jewish neighbours how long he has to tolerate Israel’s behaviour, because Israel “feels absolutely no shame in defying international law, doing whatever they want.” 

I’m not sure how appeals to international law and norms squares with being a challenger of the status quo, but once again, the point is less about the way Harden justifies whitesplaining his Jewish neighbours than it is about the how.

How does Joel Harden decide that a couple of Ottawa Jewish families can, or should, be able to influence the actions of the Israeli government? Because he comes from the exact same leftist culture where resisting apartheid, standing against oppression, and fighting white supremacy has made it acceptable to treat Jews who support Israel the same rough way that any privileged person should be treated.

The same culture that informs comments made by people from Harden’s party on previous occasions. 

For Harden, it is not just moral and courageous for people to confront Israel-supporting Jews, it is positively Canadian to do so. Every lesson we good Canadians learn about how to be nice and care about people and not be bullies means that singling out supporters of Israel should follow naturally. If it weren’t for the watchful eye of commentators like @AntisemitismCA and @Hansardish (who have to remain nameless lest they face reprisals), we wouldn’t even know about Harden’s remarks, because the attitude that informs them is just that widespread.

I don’t have to wonder if Harden’s neighbours replied that the attitude of the Israeli government that upsets him so is the same attitude that informs the approach to comments made by Kanye West and Danielle Smith and Dave Chappelle. But because Canadian norms are sacrosanct, Joel Harden’s defenders in Ottawa Centre will return him to power, just as the defenders of François Legault will in Quebec. And so these neighbours, whoever they are, probably nodded and smiled because they didn’t want to upset the established way of doing things. 

It may not seem fair to you. But this is Canada, where the greater good always wins out. Or so we tell ourselves.    

Josh Lieblein can be reached at [email protected] for your response to Doorstep Postings.