Commentary Magazine


True North

To the Editor:

Michael Medved asks if Canadian Jews have “gone to the right,” but his attempt to answer the question misses the mark [“Jews, Conservatives, and Canada,” November 2013]. He is intent upon grafting alien American categories and considerations onto the Canadian political landscape, missing both the forest and the trees.

Mr. Medved writes: “Jewish Canadians decisively deserted…the center-left Liberal Party and migrated en masse to…[the] resurgent Conservative Party.” His description implies an ideological shift where there was none. The Conservative Party’s gain, from 37.6 percent of the popular vote in 2008 to 39.6 percent in the most recent election (2011), could hardly be called “resurgent.” The 2011 election was characterized by a unique collapse of the Liberal Party (falling from 30 percent to 18 percent of the popular vote), due to the acute unpopularity of the new Liberal leader (a professional academic who had spent most of his life abroad). Bloc Quebecois, a nationalist Quebec party, collapsed due to regional Quebec issues unrelated to left-right ideology (falling from 47 seats to 4 seats). The New Democratic Party, traditionally the small third party on the ideological left, picked up much of the two “collapsed” parties’ votes (rising from 34 seats to 67 seats), to become for the first time the official opposition party.

Canadian Jews, like much of the rest of the Canadian electorate, abandoned the Liberal Party. But most Canadian Jews, who regard the NDP as too far left from the established center, felt more comfortable voting for the incumbent Conservatives than the NDP.

The way Mr. Medved writes, one would think that the Canadian Conservative Party represents a social agenda different from that of the Liberals, one resembling a GOP social platform in the United States. But it does not. Socialized medicine, same-sex marriage, abortion rights, strict gun control, and a highly regulated banking system are all settled into Canadian life and law. The Conservatives do not contest them. Canadian Jews who, like the overwhelming majority of American Jews, support these liberal social policies can easily vote for the Conservatives. The Conservative Party is not made up of, or led by, religious Christians. Yes, there was some election squabbling over deficits, taxes, and the size of government, but these issues are not electoral deal-breakers. And elections are not contested on foreign policy even in the superpower United States; certainly this is true in a non-power like Canada.

Canada is a blue state like Massachusetts. Canadian Jews are blue-state voters who, constituting only 1 percent of the population, are numerically insignificant. There is no Electoral College winner-take-all provincial voting system in Canada that would give a city with a large concentration of Jews an electoral significance in a national election. Canadian Jews, like all Canadian liberals, don’t fear the Conservative Party the way American Jews fear the GOP, the GOP’s red-state policies, and the GOP’s strong religious Christian support and membership. While it is true that Canadian Jews are less assimilated than American Jews (with much less intermarriage and much more identification with Israel), ideology and Jewish values were not factors in the Jewish support of Conservatives. Mr. Medved would like to discern a nonexistent trend.

Mr. Medved indicates how misinformed he is when he points out that Catholics did not vote for the Conservatives. “Catholics” in Canada means mostly French Canadians, who do not vote for Conservatives because the Conservative Party barely exists in French Canada or Eastern Canada. French Canadians in our era have voted Liberal when they have voted for federalist parties. Their vote has nothing to do with religion, but with regional, federalist issues.

Sheldon Freedman
Passaic, New Jersey

To the Editor:

In his essay “Jews, Conservatives, and Canada,” Michael Medved mistakes allies for friends. In the interest of a strong and secure Israel, we should welcome allies wherever we find them. But the evangelical Christian right is no friend of the Jewish religion. Evangelicals’ interest in Israel is in the fulfillment of the Christian prophecy of the Second Coming. Their view of Judaism is of an incomplete faith: Jews must be proselytized and converted. The ultimate goal for evangelicals is not an Israel populated with Jews freely choosing Judaism (or not), but an Israel populated with “completed” Jews who all worship Jesus.

The United States worked with the Soviets to defeat the existential threat of the Axis Powers—but they were never our friends. We should cultivate allies when needed, and we should be allies when our interests coincide. Similarly, the evangelical right has the political goal of demolishing the wall of separation between church and state that has allowed myriad faiths to prosper on an equal footing. This is not the mission of friends.

Jerry Cohen
Asheville, North Carolina

To the Editor:

It is plain wrong to make a political choice on the basis of a single perceived issue and ignore the bigger picture. The Republican Party that Mr. Medved is in love with has been hijacked by maniacs who shut down the government and were ready to wreck the global economy. The president he would have supported would have made Supreme Court appointments that would have ruined the country for decades to come. Present-day Republicans are bad news for everybody—including Jews. Besides, it is naive to have faith in what politicians say. Judge them by what they do. Nixon was an anti-Semite, but he did come through for Israel in the Yom Kippur War.

Leo Staschover
Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, Florida

To the Editor:

In his essay, Michael Medved wrote that “secular Jews in particular retain a sincere if irrational fear of Christian conservatism as a toxic source of anti-Semitism, intolerance, apocalyptic delusions, and theocratic conspiracies.”

I was wondering if he penned these words before or after George W. Bush announced that his first major public appearance since retiring from the presidency would be before a group whose avowed purpose is to convert Jews to Christianity. Surely “irrational” is an uncharitable term in that light.

Michael Geselowitz
Cedarhurst, New York

To the Editor:

Michael Medved fails to explain why Canadian Jews voted for Stephen Harper and the Conservatives. There certainly is no “Muslim threat” to Jews in Canada. I am not certain that the poll figures he cites are accurate. They remind me of the constant insistence of this author and his ilk that American Jews are going to vote more and more Republican. There seems to be a perpetual search for confirming evidence.

Arthur C. Hurwitz
Astoria, New York

To the Editor:

While the article about Canadian politics by Michael Medved communicates the most important reason that Canadian Jews vote for their Conservative Party and American Jews vote for their liberal party, there may be another important factor in the difference between Jewish voters in Canada and the United States: military power. The United States has far greater military power and is much more disposed to military intervention than Canada. This may influence American Jews to vote for the Democratic Party, which has become much less inclined to military intervention. The issue of military intervention is more important in the United States and may account for some of the disparities between American Jews who vote liberal and Canadian Jews who vote conservative.

James Ruscheinski
Address Withheld

To the Editor:

Michael Medved’s article reminds me that as a Canadian Christian I am always puzzled by the overwhelming American Jewish support for the Democrats. At a superficial level I get it—the perception of equal rights, free speech, care for the poor, etc. propounded so effectively by the left.

What I don’t understand is how the Jewish community misses the almost rabid support for Israel by the conservative and evangelical arm of Christianity. We study the Old Testament almost every (other) week, our heroes are the Hebrew patriarchs. In fact I would guess that many Christians know the Old Testament better than most Jews. We see 1948 as a fulfillment of a God-given prophecy, and totally support the right of Israel to self-determination. Some of us, like myself, are even studying Hebrew. What accounts for this disconnect? To a Canadian it is simply puzzling.

Gary Clarke
Prince George, British Columbia
Canada

To the Editor:

Michael Medved should know that Justin Trudeau stated recently that “terrorists have feelings, too.” How might that sit with Canadian Jews?

Mike Semoff
Ajax, Ontario
Canada

To the Editor:

Michael Medved’s thesis is well stated, as far as it goes. But he ignores some big issues for American Jews with regard to the Republican Party. The Republicans have been nativist or anti-immigrant since their founding in the mid-19th century. In the early 20th century, they and the most conservative Southern Democrats (Republicans since 1964 or 1972) led the way on 1920s anti-immigrant laws. The same groups prevented immigration from Germany in the 1930s. And now they constantly remind us of that history with their current anti-immigration activism

Those of us who grew up in the South of the 1950s–70s know well that the turning point for the modern Republican Party was “polite racism” replacing our traditional legal segregation. All the positive aspects of the Republican Party on supporting a strong national defense, business, and the State of Israel don’t outweigh the historical and remaining bigotry so widespread in the party.

Les Bergen
Arlington, Virginia

To the Editor:

As an American Jew who visits Canada on a nearly monthly basis, I was very interested to read Michael Medved’s piece contrasting the willingness of Canadian Jews to vote for the eponymous Conservative Party with the American Jews who remain stubbornly wedded to the Democratic Party. This is certainly my impression and, as a conservative, I find it encouraging to see that nothing inherently makes secular Jews liberal. While Mr. Medved correctly cites the lack of a significant evangelical Christian community in Canada and therefore its lack of influence in the Conservative Party, he also notes that Jews in Canada are more recent immigrants and, hence, have had less time to assimilate (something which is associated with a move leftward) than have their American counterparts. While true, this ignores the differences in Canadian society as a whole, which has a weaker national identity than one finds in the United States. It is less the newness of Jewish immigration to Canada that defines their willingness to vote conservative than the more balkanized nature of Canadian society itself and the lesser degree to which Canada’s Jews feel Canadian in their identity.

And while I do think the lure of liberalism will exert a stronger influence over Canadian Jewry as time goes by, I do not see anything resembling the near-religious identification with liberalism we see among Jews in the United States. This bodes well for the long-term prospects of conservatism amongst Canadian Jewry. I only wish I could say the same for their American counterparts.

Evan Winer
Chicago, Illinois

 Michael Medved writes:

 I am grateful for all the thoughtful responses to my recent essay.

Sheldon Freedman quite rightly notes that “alien American categories” fit uncomfortably on the Canadian political landscape but misses the more important point that the terms “right” and “left” signify a direction, not a destination. Certainly, Canada’s Conservative Party counts as more moderate than today’s American Republicans, but at the same time they stand well to the right of their Liberal and NDP competitors at home. They also offer a more decisive ideological contrast to their rivals than did many of their Tory predecessors who, between 1942 and 2003, styled themselves “The Progressive Conservative Party”—a designation that would give American right-wingers both headaches and nightmares.

Mr. Freedman’s observation about the consistency of Conservative support among the overall electorate only strengthens my point on the striking significance of the Jewish shift in Canada’s most recent balloting: While non-Jewish Canadians didn’t move decisively in a Tory direction, the Jewish community undeniably did, making Prime Minister Harper the first Conservative candidate ever to win a Jewish majority. This means that Canadian Jews gave the most right-wing major contender (Harper) 12 percent more support than did voters at large, while the most right-wing contender in our contest (Mitt Romney) got 18 percent less backing from Jewish voters than from the general public. In other words, while the Jewish community of the United States found itself situated in 2012, as usual, well to the left of center on the national political spectrum, in 2011 Jewish voters in Canada settled for the first time somewhat to the right of the nationwide electorate. This striking development, and the unprecedented contrast between voting patterns in the second- and fourth-largest Jewish communities on earth, seemed worthy of investigation and comment.

Jerry Cohen doubly insults Christian evangelicals who have played an increasingly important role in mobilizing support for Israel, first by ascribing exclusively unwholesome and even anti-Semitic motives to their efforts on behalf of the Jewish state and second by describing them as allies of convenience, worthy of comparison to Stalin’s nightmarish Soviet tyranny. His insistence on maintaining some meaningless distinction between “allies” and “friends” seems distracting and even destructive; a nation and a people fighting for survival need allies of every sort and shouldn’t turn them away when they proffer the additional blessing of friendship.

While I personally dissent from Leo Staschover’s characterization of the current Republican leadership as hijacking “maniacs,” I do agree that we should judge politicians by their actions more than their words. That’s why it’s mystifying to me that so many American Jews prefer to focus on President Obama’s pretty words about Israel rather than his actions to appease the terrorist theocracy in Tehran.

Michael Geselowitz is simply mistaken that George W. Bush gave his “first major public appearance since retiring from the presidency” to the Messianic Jewish Bible Institute in Euless, Texas. Prior to this ill-advised banquet engagement, the former president had given literally scores of other significant speeches, including an appearance for the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations just a month earlier. He also gave a nationally televised address for the dedication of the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum, which features moving material emphasizing his lifelong friendship to Israel and the Jewish people.

Arthur C. Hurwitz and James Ruscheinski both seek to minimize any “Muslim threat” in Canada or around the world. Unfortunately, the evidence of recent history argues against them, with a very real danger of radicalization of a minority of young Muslims leading to serious, homegrown terrorist plots in both Canada and the United States. This naturally provokes greater concern among Canadian Jews because the Islamic population of Canada is three times the percentage of the national total of that in the United States. Mr. Ruscheinski’s odd assumption that American Jews would feel instinctively attracted to a non-interventionist or isolationist foreign policy makes scant sense. Most American interventions since 2001 have been aimed at defending against depredations of Islamic extremists who identify Jews as their special targets.

Thanks to Canadian readers Gary Clarke and Mike Semoff for their pertinent and supportive comments, and to Les Bergen for his insightful invocation of the immigration issue as a reason for long-standing Jewish distrust of the Republican Party. My grandmother arrived in New York Harbor from Ukraine in 1924, and the recently passed immigration restrictions nearly prevented her from landing. This history of prominent Republicans seeking to reduce or eliminate immigration helped turn generations of Jewish, Italian, Greek, and other voters away from the GOP. The fear of making another mistake of similarly fateful proportions helps motivate many conservatives, including at least 60 members of Congress, who fight within the Republican Party for immigration reform.

Finally, I feel more optimistic than Evan Winer that more American Jews may someday shed their “near-religious identification with liberalism.” When a religion consistently fails to produce the miracles it has promised, and finds its core convictions and prophecies confounded by reality, it begins to lose its appeal for all but the most devout adherents. Recent Canadian experience demonstrated the workings of this process in undermining the nation’s once unassailable Liberal Party establishment. Today, Canadians should welcome admiring American attention to the dynamic political scene unfolding in the Jewish community and elsewhere north of the border, and to all other subjects beyond the appalling antics of Rob Ford, Toronto’s irrepressible, crack-smoking (and nominally conservative) mayor.




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