Doorstep Postings: Sarah Jama said sorry for sounding antisemitic—on the same day she won a seat for the Ontario NDP

Sarah Jama, the new Ontario NDP MPP for Hamilton Centre, at a rally at Toronto’s Nathan Phillips Square in 2021.

This is a special edition of Doorstep Postings, the periodic political commentary column written by Josh Lieblein for The CJN.

A byelection in Hamilton, Ont., to replace Andrea Horwath—who became the city’s mayor after leading the Ontario New Democrats for 13 years—has concluded with a 54 percent win for the party that held it previously. And, as per usual, the takes are absolute and pre-programmed to reflect your agenda of choice.

It’s a crushing humiliation for Doug Ford and the Progressive Conservatives, and Ontarians are finally waking up to his mismanagement of the province. It’s a nothing-burger that the governing party wasn’t trying to win anyway. It’s the long awaited beginning of the end of the shameful all-party lockstep consensus in favour of Israeli apartheid. It’s yet another example of the yawning chasm between the NDP and the PCs with respect to Jewish voters, where the parties couldn’t be more different.

And then there’s the overwhelming majority response: “Wait, there was a byelection?”

Many are indulging in their preferred choice of these opinion-flavours while violently disparaging the others as not fit for human consumption, as if they weren’t all manufactured and stamped by the same people. And this is the crescendo to a month of byelection posturing, not just by the rollout of parties, but by the whole host of official and unofficial third-party groups all trying to demonstrate their relevance, and, failing that, keep the lights on.

The constant repeating of messages as though they were magical incantations, the constant whiplashing between the momentous idea that this byelection, like all elections before or since, is a singular event in human history and the secure knowledge that nothing matters because nobody cares. 

This is the product of the grand unifying concept of Canadian political thought and, beyond that, Canada as a country; that everything we do must stick with absolute fidelity to the playbook of acceptable thoughts, behaviours, and statements. Those who know and commit this playbook and its many precepts—written and unwritten—to heart become those secret knowers and understanders of politics. It is a tree of life to all who hold fast to it, and all of its supporters are happy. Everyone else? Well, they won’t be on any TV panels anytime soon. 

And because everything we do in this often-ridiculous country has to be checked and double-checked against the code of acceptability, we spend byelections—and indeed whole general elections—trying to call people who we don’t like offside on the unacceptability of their views and forcing them to apologize and cower while we high-five as if we’ve scored a goal. This is also the reason for that distinct fiddling-while-everything-burns quality of our public life, for why people don’t vote in said elections, why everything feels like you have to picked from a set of not-very-good but safe Tim Hortons-esque flavours.

And the most insane thing is that this is the Canada people choose, over and over again. “It’s not perfect… but it’s better than the alternative!”  

Therefore I am sorry to disappoint everyone who is waiting for some grand reckoning over Israel, or Ontario politics, or anything for that matter one way or another, now that Sarah Jama is your new MPP for Hamilton Centre. Everything will proceed according to the Torah of Acceptability, as it always has done and as it always will do. NDP politicians who hate Israel, same as Conservative politicians who love Israel too much, come and go and end up marginalizing themselves in parties that are concerned with acceptability above all else. 

That’s why the NDP and PCs alike punted the question of Jama’s views on Israel, while pretending they weren’t stoking the fire from both ends. Heavens no! To be seen as using Israel as a partisan football would be unseemly and unacceptable. For as it is theoretically written: “Thou shalt createth a false consensus in thine favour through the use of sock puppets, and yea, when thou hast done this thing, thou wilt turn and speak unto the voters, saying, ‘Members of the Jewish community are asking questions, and mayhaps thou shouldst be asking questions too before thou voteth!’”

That’s why NDP friendlies were dispatched to Just Ask Questions about how talk of Chinese interference in Canadian elections was cutting into valuable calling-out-Israel time. And that’s why Jewish groups subjected themselves to creating buzz around Jama’s well-known views on the subject, since Conservative folks likely told them that the province’s ruling party wouldn’t be the ones calling for Jama to be booted from the ballot.

That’s also why the NDP waited until most people had voted before walking back Jama’s comments—because, just like I told you last week, Israel haters play the same acceptability game as everyone else—and it’s why the Ontario PCs calculated that having Jama in caucus would cause more problems for the NDP than it solved.

And all of this was done with the absolute foreknowledge by everyone involved that none of it was going to change the outcome. 

While this timeless (and time-wasting) art of seduction took place, and while everyone wrung their hands about whether Jama was an antisemite or not, some hard data emerged from the Angus Reid Institute that showed a 10-point spread in the range of 50 percent among the four major parties with respect to positive views on Judaism.

Judaism itself—not Israel, mind you—scored a maximum of just 54 percent net favourable among supporters of everyone’s favourite party of consensus, the Liberals.

And what did we hear from the parties, the Jewish groups, Sarah Jama, or anyone at all, about this most unacceptable finding? Well, if pressed, they might say that at least it wasn’t as bad as the figures for Islam, for which the top favourability result was a mere 20 percent.

Once again: “It’s not perfect… but it’s better than the alternative!” 

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