This is the 12th in a series of opinion columns on the 2021 Canadian federal election, written by Josh Lieblein for The CJN—you can find more in our section called Perspectives.
We should not be surprised that Toronto—St. Paul’s NDP candidate Sidney Coles appears to have supported the notion that Israel stole vaccines meant for patients in the United States:
We should not be surprised that someone calling herself an advocate for diversity, inclusion, human rights and equity claims that it wasn’t her intent to accuse a Jewish country of contributing to the spread of a plague:
We should not be surprised that she remains the candidate in the riding where the sitting Liberal MP implied that an independent Indigenous MP was more interested in her pension than getting justice for residential school survivors.
(9/15 UPDATE: Coles resigned three days later.)
We should not be surprised because it has been clear for a very long time that many Canadians feel and believe the same way. They may even be the silent majority in Canada, waiting for the signal from those in power that it’s safe to come out now and say what they really feel.
For now, though, an apology will suffice. And that’s just fine as far as Israel’s enemies are concerned, telling themselves that the powers that be have forced Coles to shut her mouth and walk her comments back. They’re content to wait, until the pro-Israel consensus among the Canadian political leadership fragments.
And once again: let us not be surprised when that happens. For this is the election where it became apparent that as a nation, and perhaps as a species, we’re not up to the task of confidently managing the problems we face. COVID. Afghanistan. Climate change. Housing prices. Running a debate, for crying out loud.
One day, despite all efforts to the contrary, the Canadian anti-Israel movement will graduate from a mostly online fringe group to a voting bloc that centrist politicians can’t afford to ignore. It’ll look a little bit like the moment the People’s Party of Canada is having right now, and the electorate will polarize, just like it has in America and the U.K.
I know this because I remember the exact moment the pro-Israel consensus emerged in Ottawa, born of a moment of political expediency. It was summer 2006, and Gilad Shalit had just been kidnapped by Hezbollah.
Critically, the Liberals were divided after losing power. So when a war broke out half a world away and the various contenders all tried to equivocate, Stephen Harper took full advantage of the chaos. Pro-Israel voters were given a clear rallying point and they rallied so impressively that I actually saw Israel-skeptical Conservatives converted to hardcore Zionists overnight. Here was a clear and easy way to peel voters off of the Liberal Party, and the fact that Israel’s critics rallied on Parliament Hill while draping themselves in the flags of banned terrorist groups removed any lingering element of choice.
But: easy come, easy go. This campaign, we’ve seen the CPC compromise on everything from guns to green issues. The Liberals, for their part, would like you to forget they ever committed troops to Afghanistan. The Greens tied themselves into knots over the Middle East instead of… you know… talking about green issues. And just recently, Premier François Legault endorsed the mostly unilingual Erin O’Toole instead of his fellow Quebec nationalist Yves-François Blanchet.
These are politicians. You only matter to them if you can help them win. The second you can’t? See you later.
So: when will the bottom drop out of the pro-Israel consensus that we have enjoyed for so long? Not when the critics of Israel deploy petitions, boycotts, or TikToks, but when the political elites of this country realize that they can, or should, win by playing to anti-Israel sentiment.
Josh Lieblein can be reached at [email protected] for your response to Doorstep Postings.
HEAR more weekly election thoughts from Josh on Bonjour Chai