Doorstep Postings: Struggling to make sense of the bizarra backlash against Liberal MP Ya’ara Saks

Rebel News truck driving to a protest against Ya'ara Saks on March 18, 2024.

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

If there are to be any protests outside Anthony Housefather, Ben Carr, or Rachel Bendayan’s offices after Monday’s watered-down, non-binding motion about Palestine, they won’t be of the pro-Israel variety.

There will be no honking trucks from Rebel News, no online-only cries to “fire” this or that MP, and no questions asking whether the Canadian Jewish Political Action Committee will be organizing canvasses against them (as opposed to, God forbid, community members finding out who the opposing candidate is on their own and organizing the canvasses themselves).

There will certainly be none of the above directed against any senior member of the Liberal cabinet. Nor any of the keffiyeh-wearing cosplaying NDP MPs who dreamed the thing up.

No one will criticize the Jewish community apparatchiks who waited until last Monday to start a campaign of calling MP offices after the other side had been doing the same for weeks—and, upon doing so, directed volunteers to persuade the already-persuaded Conservative MPs.

No, only Ya’ara Saks was subjected to all of the above and worse among the honourable members, because she voted in favour of the NDP motion that was gutted and lawyered by the Liberals and sold back to the NDP, who voted for it en masse. All, except for Manitoba NDP MP Niki Ashton, who abstained rather than accept a motion that pulled any punches when it comes to Israel. More on Ms. Ashton later—when the NDP leadership position opens up soon enough—but perhaps if MP Saks had the sense to follow Ashton’s lead and abstain, she might have a prayer of leading the Liberals, or even keeping her seat in that next election. 

“Fire Ya’ara Saks” was a thing before, during and after this shambles of a vote, because anything that required more effort or nuance than singling out a lone, female, Jewish, Liberal MP for the repeated and widespread failures that led us to this point is way higher than most people’s pay grade. That the protest outside her office happened at all is nothing short of a miracle, because it wasn’t called off due to weather, wasn’t cancelled because someone got hungry or wasn’t feeling up to it, and wasn’t deterred by the multiple police cars that were summoned to defend her empty office.

Jew-on-Jew anger is never a good thing, and it’s especially a bad thing at this time. But worse still is the shock, the wide-eyed wonder about where it’s coming from, after the endless parade of outrage explosions over everything from global pandemics to the bosom of Sydney Sweeney. A stunning amount of people believe, for reasons no one would or could articulate, that Canadians—and Canadian Jews especially—would be spared this culture war trial. It must be because of capitalism and click-hungry disinformation mongers. No, it must be diversity-obsessed woke ideologues. No, it must be the Russians, and the Chinese with their insidious TikTok mind virus, and the mullahs in Iran. Some omnipresent “they” are wrecking everything that’s good and decent and moral in the world. 

The answer is and always has been staring us in the face, and it should be even more obvious to people living in a country who refuse to define themselves as anything else than Not America. The answer is, and always has been, that short-term, knee-jerk, uncritical, defensive outrage with a dash of smugness that casts other people as evil and you as good is where most people feel the most comfortable. Folks will keep right on trucking along with whatever cancellable take, conspiracy theory or simplistic slogan no matter how bad things get because they have to believe it.

Look at the absolute fury when someone tries to talk about the situation in Gaza as anything but a slam-dunk genocide. Look at how the conflict is framed as some Star Wars narrative of brave, untouchable Rebels vs. the omnipotent-but-somehow-incompetent Empire. Look at the constant repetitions of the phrases “moral clarity” and “there is only one right side,” and the casual references to putting people in The Hague. Now think about the times you have looked at the wannabe Zionist-destroyers and thought you were better than them. 

If Ya’ara Saks is guilty of anything, it’s that she thinks that “getting into politics to build a better future for the next generation”—as her defensive statement said—is what you do, and not just what you tell people. I have no doubt that she believes that she did the right thing and that she believes her vote will somehow break the deadlock of two sides convinced of their own correctness.

But the difference between her compared to Ashton and Housefather is that those savvy manipulators of outrage understand that their supporters cannot—even for one second—tolerate the idea that they might be morally compromised. It never occurred to Ya’ara Saks that the people who voted for her now have to justify her actions to themselves and their friends, or else that says something about “how they will be remembered by history.” 

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