Kay vs. Kay: Has Canada been good for the Jews?

The Canadian Jewish News (Toronto) - - News -

As Canada cel­e­brates its 150th an­niver­sary, it of­fers the op­por­tu­nity for the Jewish com­mu­nity to eval­u­ate its role within Cana­dian so­ci­ety, and how it has evolved since Con­fed­er­a­tion. Has Canada been good for the Jews? Has the anti-semitism that pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tions faced af­ter im­mi­grat­ing to this coun­try largely dis­ap­peared? Or have many of the anti-jewish sentiments that caused them to flee the hor­rors of Europe re-emerged in new and in­sid­i­ous ways in con­tem­po­rary Cana­dian so­ci­ety? Na­tional Post colum­nist and pan­el­list on CBC’S The Na­tional Jonathan Kay, and Na­tional Post colum­nist Bar­bara Kay, dis­cuss.

Bar­bara Kay: My pa­ter­nal grand­par­ents ar­rived in Canada from Poland some­where around 1917, with half their even­tual co­hort of nine chil­dren, so my fa­ther, the youngest, was born in Canada. They were ex­tremely poor, but they were sur­rounded by Jewish im­mi­grants much like them­selves, in an area of Toronto now dom­i­nated by hos­pi­tals. They lived close to a very beau­ti­ful syn­a­gogue, the Pol­ish syn­a­gogue, which was the sup­port­ive pil­lar of my ob­ser­vant zaide’s life. Thanks, in part, to their com­mu­nity, they did not feel iso­lated or de­spised.

Zaide never learned a word of English, but didn’t have to, be­cause his job – buy­ing and sell­ing junk from a horse-drawn cart, just like in the movie, Lies My Fa­ther

Told Me – never took him out­side the cir­cle of his Yid­dish-speak­ing clien­tele. As the youngest child, my fa­ther never had a new pair of shoes, un­til he was a grown man. He re­mem­bers wear­ing news­pa­per-lined hand-me-downs to cover the holes in the soles.

Re­mark­ably, ev­ery one of Zaide’s nine chil­dren ended up solidly in the middle class, even though only one went to uni­ver­sity – he be­came a well known and re­spected ar­chi­tect – and all es­tab­lished sta­ble homes, pro­duc­ing an aver­age of three chil­dren each. All the chil­dren of my gen­er­a­tion, I be­lieve, were uni­ver­sity ed­u­cated, in­clud­ing the girls, which was un­usual for our day, and no­body was left behind.

When I look around at my gen­er­a­tion’s chil­dren, I see a solid wall of success and pro­duc­tiv­ity. Not a sin­gle rel­a­tive of mine, to my knowl­edge, has ever suf­fered a sig­nif­i­cant in­ci­dent of anti-semitism, or been held back in life be­cause of it. It’s true that, for my par­ents’ gen­er­a­tion, Jews were un­wel­come in many social venues, but they re­sponded by start­ing their own clubs, and it never struck me, when I was lolling around in the Oak­dale Golf Club’s pool, that I was dis­ad­van­taged be­cause it was a Jewish club formed as an act of re­sis­tance to social anti-semitism. I am sure we had a lot more fun there than most gen­tiles had at their musty tra­di­tional clubs.

So yes, I would say Canada has been good for the Jews. Per­haps no bet­ter than America was, but prob­a­bly bet­ter than any­where else in the Di­as­pora. I won­der if Jon takes all this for granted. When he was grow­ing up, anti-semitism as a mean­ing­ful form of big­otry had been pushed to the mar­gins. He at­tended schools few Jews had ever at­tended, works in a mi­lieu that was vir­tu­ally closed to Jews in the past, be­longs to clubs he would not have been wel­come at in my day and takes friend­ship across all cul­tural lines as a norm. On the other hand, his ties to the Jewish com­mu­nity are weaker than my gen­er­a­tion’s. Be­ing good to the Jews paid off hand­somely in many con­crete ways, but, as usual, when it’s good for the Jews, it is of­ten not so good for Ju­daism.

Jonathan Kay: In one of his re­cent Rebel videos, Ezra Le­vant claimed I was “as Jewish as a ham sand­wich.” Bar­bara’s de­scrip­tion of me is more po­lite, but no less ac­cu­rate (at least as far as my rit­ual ob­ser­vance is con­cerned).

I’m very lucky that I have the abil­ity to de­fine my­self re­li­giously in what­ever way I see fit. In this re­gard, Cana­dian Jews are among the most priv­i­leged peo­ple on Earth: un­like Mus­lims in many ma­jor­ity-is­lamic coun­tries, we can cast aside our faith freely, with­out fear of vi­o­lence or per­se­cu­tion. We can also em­brace our faith openly, with­out much fear of anti-semitism. In my case, it so hap­pens that my in­abil­ity to learn He­brew as a child, and my Adhd-fu­elled aver­sion to prayer and rit­ual, com­bined to lead me away from an ob­ser­vant Jewish life. But I feel my Jewish cul­tural her­itage in my bones ev­ery day. For in­stance, I don’t think it is a co­in­ci­dence that the only psy­chother­a­pist who ever truly seemed to un­der­stand me – fol­low­ing a suc­ces­sion of fail­ures – hap­pened to be a middle-aged Jewish man who was well versed in the work of Woody Allen and Phillip Roth. (This fel­low has the un­likely sur­name of Wil­liams, and changes the subject when I ask about how those came to be the words printed on his business cards. But I’ll get the backstory sooner or later.)

If my elderly rel­a­tives were around to wit­ness the course of my adult life, I think they would be amazed at how ac­cepted Jews are in main­stream Cana­dian so­ci­ety. They would also see it as a tragedy that I have cho­sen to dis­card much of my re­li­gious her­itage, es­pe­cially now that Cana­dian so­ci­ety doesn’t make re­li­gious mi­nori­ties choose be­tween their re­li­gion and their right to in­te­grate into so­ci­ety. But I am not sen­ti­men­tal about this sort of thing. (If I were, I never would have turned my back on Jewish rit­ual life to be­gin with.) This is the re­al­ity across the Western world, where the trend among ed­u­cated peo­ple gen­er­ally has been to turn away from re­li­gion. Jews aren’t alone.

Jewish groups taught us that we have to con­tinue fight­ing anti-semitism ev­ery day.

That said, there is some­thing sur­real about the man­ner of Jewish in­te­gra­tion into Cana­dian (and Amer­i­can) so­ci­ety in re­cent years. Things did not go as I was led to ex­pect when I was young.

In the 1980s, when the last ves­tiges of "re­spectable" anti-semitism were fad­ing away (I am think­ing of the teacher at my non-jewish school who, in Grade 8, point­edly re­ferred to the Holo­caust as an episode in which mil­lions of Jews were "de­tained"), I imag­ined that the ex­tinc­tion of Jew ha­tred in Canada would be a grad­ual thing. Jewish groups taught us that we had to con­tinue fight­ing anti-semitism ev­ery day by ed­u­cat­ing peo­ple and re­spond­ing force­fully to ev­ery des­e­crated tomb­stone or van­dal­ized syn­a­gogue win­dow. Jewish groups, which led the fight for the es­tab­lish­ment of hu­man rights com­mis­sions across the coun­try, were then ac­tively al­lied with other mi­nor­ity groups and were seen as re­li­able left-of-cen­tre cadres for the Lib­eral party. Un­like now, Jewish ad­vo­cacy was about lo­cal Jewish causes first, right-wing Zion­ism sec­ond.

Then came 9/11, and there was a rapid shift in at­ti­tudes. Mus­lims sud­denly be­came the new Jews, the new "root­less" peo­ple who al­legedly put loy­alty to creed ahead of loy­alty to coun­try, and who were stig­ma­tized as a po­ten­tial ter­ror­ist threat, de­tained at bor­ders and put on no-fly lists. There were still some old-school Jew haters to be found. If you scroll down far enough in the com­ments un­der a news­pa­per ar­ti­cle, for in­stance, you might see one of them ac­cus­ing Jewish bankers of mas­ter­mind­ing the fi­nan­cial cri­sis. And on uni­ver­sity cam­puses, some Is­rael-haters ex­press their ha­tred of the Jewish state in such lurid terms, that they blur the line with Jew ha­tred. But gen­er­ally speak­ing, Is­lam­o­pho­bia has be­come a more acute prob­lem in our so­ci­ety than anti-semitism. In­deed, the data now are quite strik­ing: in a 2017 Pew Re­search Cen­tre sur­vey of at­ti­tudes to­ward dif­fer­ent re­li­gions, re­spon­dents ex­pressed warmer sen­ti­ment to­ward Jews than to­ward any other group – in­clud­ing Chris­tians. (This would have ab­so­lutely floored Zaide, I dare say.) The sec­ondleast liked group was athe­ists. The low­est-ranked group: Mus­lims.

Jews have been edg­ing their way into the Western halls of in­flu­ence and power since at least the early 20th cen­tury – first in academia, lit­er­a­ture, law and business, then also in media and pol­i­tics. But af­ter 9/11, things went to an­other level: be­cause Jews had been fight­ing Arabs reg­u­larly since the days of the Bri­tish Man­date, the war hawks sur­round­ing for­mer U.S. pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush em­braced the Jewish for­eign pol­icy and in­tel­lec­tual es­tab­lish­ment as a vital ally. Fol­low­ing sim­i­lar in­stincts, for­mer prime min­is­ter Stephen Harper's gov­ern­ment here in Canada sin­gled out Jews for spe­cial at­ten­tion, and forged deep and af­fec­tion­ate ties with Jewish groups that shared Harper's Zion­ist be­liefs. The idea of the Jew as the skulk­ing well poi­soner was re­placed, in an in­stant, with a new stereo­type: the Jew as the post-9/11 super-pa­triot. Jews used to be the lead­ing tar­gets of con­spir­acy the­o­ries. Now Jews of­ten are the ones who I see on social media pro­mot­ing con­spir­acy the­o­ries about Mus­lim "stealth ji­had" and such. This trans­for­ma­tion of the social im­age of Jews within North Amer­i­can so­ci­ety has been stun­ning, and the ram­i­fi­ca­tions of it still have not been fully pro­cessed by in­sti­tu­tional Ju­daism.

Many Jews still cling to the idea that they are the most op­pressed and en­dan­gered group in our so­ci­ety. This is per­haps not sur­pris­ing, as it has been the re­al­ity of Jewish his­tory for the last two mil­len­nia. So ev­ery time some pro-is­rael ac­tivists at York Uni­ver­sity gets spit on, or a swastika ap­pears on a bath­room stall, it gets mas­sive at­ten­tion and B'nai Brith puts out an­other re­port about how we're a com­mu­nity un­der siege (their num­bers are ap­par­ently al­ways ris­ing). But in re­al­ity, the big­gest threat to Ju­daism in Canada is suc­cess­ful, sec­u­lar­ized peo­ple who don't see any rel­e­vance for God, or for the ob­ser­vances that the God of the To­rah com­mands of us.

Bar­bara Kay: Well, there isn't much for me to agree with here. My gen­er­a­tion had good rea­son to think anti-semitism was on its way out. Jon be­lieves it is out. But over time, I think it has re­turned in a trans­mo­gri­fied form: anti-zion­ism rooted in anti-semitism.

Jon spends most of his time amongst peo­ple who are as ed­u­cated, pacific and cos­mopoli­tan as he is. No­body he so­cial­izes or works with is per­son­ally anti-semitic.

But he also knows some peo­ple – many of whom are sec­u­lar Jews, like him­self, but still in need of a "tribe" – who are aligned with the hard left and are

there­fore anti-zion­ist and sup­port­ive of the boy­cott, di­vest­ment and sanc­tions (BDS) movement, which is an in­her­ently anti-semitic po­lit­i­cal stance, since it ad­vo­cates for the dis­so­lu­tion of Is­rael as a Jewish state. He sim­ply does not take this kind of anti-semitism se­ri­ously.

He doesn’t even iden­tify it as anti-semitism, which al­lows him to hang on to his “sunny ways” dis­po­si­tion on the anti-semitism front.

I do take it se­ri­ously. Sure, the worst of the BDS sup­port­ers are con­fined to uni­ver­sity cam­puses, but the cam­puses are where the next gen­er­a­tion of cul­tural elites are formed.

So yes, anti-semitism on the right did move to the mar­gins, be­cause many ed­u­cated peo­ple are ap­palled by the right in gen­eral and have no dif­fi­culty show­ing their dis­dain for it, so it can’t get a pur­chase with any­one in po­lit­i­cal or social power.

But anti-semitism on the left, which of­ten comes in the form of anti-zion­ism, is a se­ri­ous con­cern glob­ally, and it is folly to say it can’t hap­pen here. Europe’s po­lit­i­cal and cul­tural elites feel free to dis­play their anti-semitism in the guise of anti-zion­ism. But it is quite thinly veiled, even at the high­est lev­els. In Ger­many, not so long ago, a court found that the Mus­lim fire­bombers of a syn­a­gogue in Wup­per­tal were not guilty of a hate crime be­cause they had been mo­ti­vated by anti-zion­ism and events in the Middle East. A court of law in Ger­many, of all places! I doubt any Euro­pean court would ab­solve a Chris­tian of a sim­i­lar crime per­pe­trated against a mosque, if he said he was mo­ti­vated by anger over the Is­lamic State of Iraq & the Le­vant’s per­se­cu­tion of Chris­tians – quite the op­po­site.

Here in Canada, Is­lam­ophilia runs hot in left­ist po­lit­i­cal cir­cles. Harper liked Is­rael and the Jews, and Jon crit­i­cized him for it. Our cur­rent prime min­is­ter, Justin Trudeau, seems quite daz­zled by Mus­lims. He doesn’t dis­like Jews, but as a mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ist, he con­sid­ers Jews white and firmly es­tab­lished, while he per­ceives Mus­lims as frag­ile and in need of spe­cial pro­tec­tion.

When Trudeau heard about the Bos­ton Marathon mas­sacre, which was an act of ter­ror­ism, with­out know­ing all the de­tails, he semi-ab­solved the bombers be­cause he said so­ci­ety had not wel­comed them. But when he heard about the mosque at­tack in Quebec, he im­me­di­ately pro­claimed it an act of ter­ror­ism – be­cause the shooter was white and of Chris­tian her­itage. Yet it has not been es­tab­lished that this was a ter­ror­ist act. In fact, we have no idea what the mo­ti­va­tion of the shooter was. It is, how­ever, in­ter­est­ing to see Trudeau’s Mus­lim-pro­tec­tive in­stincts kick in. As I say, that does not make him an anti-semite, but if Harper was too Jew-friendly for Jon’s taste, I wouldn’t mind see­ing an ac­knowl­edge­ment that Trudeau swings the other way.

Not just Trudeau, but all com­mit­ted mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ists. While anti-semitism is not of­fi­cially tol­er­ated, one does not see much more than tut-tut­ting when some imam foams anti-semit­i­cally at the mouth in a mosque and calls for the death of all Jews. A de­ter­mi­na­tion to over­look Is­lamic anti-semitism is a well-ac­knowl­edged fea­ture of the left­ist mind­set.

This idea that the Mus­lims es­cap­ing war in Syria are the “new Jews,” has no ba­sis in his­tory as a par­al­lel. The Chris­tians and the Yazidis, per­haps, but the Mus­lims are not es­cap­ing per­se­cu­tion as de­spised aliens. Theirs is an in­ternecine con­flict, and they have been un­lucky. The en­tire Mus­lim world has trou­ble get­ting along. Jewish refugees never came to Canada be­cause they were flee­ing other Jews. There is a qual­i­ta­tive dif­fer­ence in the nar­ra­tives. And I per­son­ally find it quite of­fen­sive to see the par­al­lel ad­duced so ca­su­ally.

As for Pew Re­search, that or­ga­ni­za­tion did a poll in 2011, the Pew Global At­ti­tudes Project sur­vey, which found that almost no one in the Mus­lim Middle East or South Asia has any­thing nice to say about Jews. Re­searchers found that the per­cent­age ex­press­ing “favourable views” about Jews was uni­formly low: Egypt, two per cent; Jor­dan, two per cent; Pak­istan, two per cent; Le­banon, three per cent; Pales­tine, four per cent; Turkey, four per cent. Im­mi­grants com­ing from these and other Is­lamic coun­tries are bring­ing these at­ti­tudes with them.

Anti-mus­lim big­otry may be grow­ing, but it has a long way to go to catch up with anti-semitism. A Jew in Canada is still eight times more likely to ex­pe­ri­ence ha­tred than a Mus­lim. In fact, the lat­est B’nai Brith hate-crime au­dit notes a 26 per cent rise in anti-semitic in­ci­dents. And while Jews ex­pe­ri­ence ha­tred from Mus­lims, I would be sur­prised if a sin­gle re­ported hate in­ci­dent against a Mus­lim was per­pe­trated by a Jew. There are now triple the num­ber of Mus­lims as Jews in Canada. Jewish num­bers will re­main static; Mus­lim num­bers are grow­ing ex­po­nen­tially. Given Is­lam’s his­tory and the his­toric re­la­tions be­tween Mus­lims, Jews and Chris­tians (of­ten peace­ful, but never plu­ral­is­tic), and given the left­ist ten­dency to priv­i­lege mul­ti­cul­tural pieties over re­alpoli­tik, I would say that the Jews in Canada have a great deal more to fear in the com­ing years than Mus­lims do.

Jonathan Kay: If we were liv­ing in the Middle East, or even Europe, then I would find much of this to be per­sua­sive. But we live in Canada, where sup­port for Is­rael – and for the Jewish com­mu­nity, more gen­er­ally – is a com­mon de­nom­i­na­tor across the en­tire main­stream po­lit­i­cal spec­trum. Bar­bara ar­gues that there are im­por­tant points of dif­fer­ence, based on things that Trudeau did or did not say, but I hon­estly find this kind of ex­e­ge­sis to be silly and te­dious. It’s sim­i­lar to the peo­ple who ac­cused for­mer U.S. pres­i­dent Barack Obama of be­ing an America-hater be­cause he didn’t wear his Amer­i­can flag pin the right way, or didn’t stand up quite at the right time when the an­them was played.

Bar­bara writes that, “Jon spends most of his time amongst peo­ple who are as ed­u­cated, pacific and cos­mopoli­tan as he is.” She is ab­so­lutely cor­rect about this: the media uni­verse I have in­hab­ited lately is some­what left-of-cen­tre in its out­look. And for this rea­son, I can re­port that most of these bien–pen­sant media types sim­ply don’t think about Is­rael any­where near as much as Bar­bara does. It is per­fectly true that in the early 2000s, Is­rael-bash­ing was quite the fix­a­tion on cam­puses and in elite Cana­dian media cir­cles. That’s when I set up “CBC Watch” at the Na­tional Post and reg­u­larly wrote about this is­sue. But things have changed enor­mously since then. The Arab Spring, the Syr­ian civil war, the hor­ror of Libya, the po­lit­i­cal spasms of Egypt, not to men­tion the con­tin­u­ing in­sta­bil­ity of Iraq and Afghanistan, have all pushed Is­rael off the front pages in re­cent years. Yet Bar­bara is stuck in a time warp and seems to think we still live in the era when Svend Robin­son, An­to­nia Zer­bisias and Naomi Klein are still loud and in­flu­en­tial voices in the arena of Cana­dian for­eign pol­icy.

Even on cam­puses, Is­rael Apartheid Week (IAW) has be­come some­thing of a joke – with most of the few at­ten­dees com­posed of grey hairs who aren’t even stu­dents.

Which is why, when I hear speeches from right-lean­ing Zion­ists com­plain­ing about Canada’s sup­pos­edly Is­rael-hat­ing elites, they have to go back in time many years, or find ex­am­ples from out­side Canada, to sup­port their ar­gu­ments. The only time I hear the term “BDS,” is when Bar­bara tells me that it is a mor­tal threat to the Jewish state, or when some tooth­less aca­demic union or stu­dent so­ci­ety passes a res­o­lu­tion in sup­port of it. In my two-and-a-half years at The Wal­rus, over count­less ed­i­to­rial meet­ings, I never heard any­one bring up the subject – not once. The idea that Canada’s in­tel­li­gentsia is a seething mass of anti-zion­ist ag­i­ta­tion is about 15 years out of date.

The real ef­fect of the pho­bic out­look and dog­ma­tism on dis­play in right-wing Jewish cir­cles is the spirit of an­i­mos­ity it has cre­ated. A lit­tle while ago, I be­gan do­ing some work at speak­ing events run by the New Is­rael Fund (NIF), a left-ish out­fit that sup­ports fem­i­nism, re­li­gious plu­ral­ism, en­vi­ron­men­tal­ism and kin­dred creeds in both Is­rael and Canada. The group is not a sup­porter of BDS, but one would not know this from the con­spir­acy the­o­ries about NIF that are sent to me ev­ery time I do one of these speak­ing en­gage­ments. Af­ter a Van­cou­ver NIF event I did two years ago, I emerged from the build­ing to find peo­ple hand­ing out leaflets at­tack­ing NIF as a front for all sorts of ne­far­i­ous ac­tiv­i­ties. I was shocked to learn that the peo­ple hand­ing out the leaflets were not anti-semitic Alex Jones nut­bars, but lo­cal Jews who de­spised the NIF be­cause it was seen as in­ad­e­quately Zion­ist. (Their pam­phlets were drip­ping with ref­er­ences to Ge­orge Soros, which I have learned to be the mod­ern call­ing card of right-wing cranks.)

Per­haps this is why Bar­bara and I are talk­ing past each other. Our mis­sion here is to talk about the state of Ju­daism in Canada. But Bar­bara seems much more in­ter­ested in talk­ing about the state of Zion­ism, which is a re­lated, but dif­fer­ent creed. As I ar­gued in The Wal­rus last year, the is­sue of Zion­ism has so to­tally con­sumed Jewish ad­vo­cacy groups in the West, that it has cre­ated what is, in ef­fect, a spir­i­tual faith unto it­self, com­plete with its own forms of ex­com­mu­ni­ca­tion, liturgy and re­vealed truth.

If Bar­bara and I were dis­cussing the state of Ju­daism in an­other era, we might be dis­cussing is­sues of sect and the­ol­ogy. But in 2017, the only thing that counts for the most pub­licly ac­tive, po­lit­i­cally mo­bi­lized mem­bers of Canada’s Jewish com­mu­nity tends to be who loves Is­rael more. (Wit­ness the bizarre and petty in­tra-jewish ar­gu­ments that broke out among var­i­ous po­lit­i­cal can­di­dates in Toronto and Mon­treal in 2015).

Sadly, this has also brought into com­mon us­age the de­bat­ing trick of dis­miss­ing any­one who de­vi­ates sig­nif­i­cantly from doc­tri­naire Zion­ism as an anti-semite. In the same way that some ul­tra-or­tho­dox Jews will not con­sider you a real Jew if you at­tend a Re­form syn­a­gogue and don’t keep kosher, so does the new breed of Face­book Zion­ist ex­com­mu­ni­cate those who dis­dain Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu, or take ex­cep­tion to the vi­cious slan­der­ing of Trudeau (and Obama) as sharia dupes, or even full-fledged fifth colum­nists. It’s ap­palling.

As a middle-aged man, I am hardly in a po­si­tion to lec­ture any­one about what Canada’s young Jews think. But I do be­lieve that if I were a teenager or young adult, it is the as­pects of to­day’s Jewish com­mu­nity that I just de­scribed, that I would find most off-putting, and which would serve to drive me away from or­ga­nized Jewish life.

Jews have been edg­ing their way into the Western halls of in­flu­ence and power since at least the early 20th cen­tury.

Bar­bara Kay: I am see­ing a lot of double stan­dards in Jon’s re­sponse. Harper’s public avowals of his com­mit­ment to Is­rael were irk­some to Jon, but I should not find irk­some Trudeau’s ob­vi­ous at­ten­tive­ness to Mus­lim ac­tivist causes, or his heavy hand on the tiller of Mo­tion 103, which will likely end in blas­phemy laws around Is­lam that will mark a sea change in our con­cept of free­dom of speech? Ac­cord­ing to Jon, the peo­ple hand­ing out leaflets de­nounc­ing the NIF must be taken very se­ri­ously, but the whole BDS movement may eas­ily be shrugged off as “some­thing of a joke.” It is not a joke. Many Jewish stu­dents at­test to the dis­com­fort they feel as Jews on cam­puses where BDS is ac­tive.

More im­por­tantly, anti-zion­ism runs rife in fac­ul­ties and dis­ci­pline as­so­ci­a­tions. To be pub­licly pro-is­rael on cam­pus takes moral courage. If it were such a joke, Jewish stu­dents would not need the ser­vices of groups like Stand With Us. As a mem­ber of the ad­vi­sory board of the Cana­dian In­sti­tute for Jewish Re­search (CIJR), I am ex­posed to a great deal of the lit­er­a­ture on this subject, and it is quite clear that, in spite of the far more mas­sive prob­lems in the Middle East, the anti-zion­ist movement on cam­pus nei­ther slum­bers, nor sleeps. It is true that IAW has di­min­ished in im­por­tance, but only be­cause the BDS movement be­cause BDS ab­sorbed it into its more or­ga­nized, and more powerful, or­bit.

I shouldn’t be “talk­ing past” Jon when I dwell on at­ti­tudes to­ward Is­rael. As he notes, in an­other age, we would be talk­ing about whether some caliph or other was good or bad for the Jews, or whether the En­light­en­ment was good or bad for the Jewish Peo­ple. To­day, it is Zion­ism and anti-zion­ism that are at the fore­front of our de­bates – as is log­i­cal. Ex­treme anti-zion­ism is a lit­mus test for anti-semitism to­day, and any­one who does not be­lieve that is sim­ply naive – or worse. There are cer­tainly crit­ics of Is­rael who are not anti-semitic. But once you get into BDS sup­port, or question the “le­git­i­macy” of Is­rael, or ad­vo­cate for a “one-state” so­lu­tion, you are de­bat­ing some­one who deals in double stan­dards: one for all other na­tions founded in eth­nic ties (vir­tu­ally all na­tions) and an­other for Is­rael. Such ar­gu­men­ta­tion is not a “de­vi­a­tion” from the party line; it is it­self a bright line. If you hold such double stan­dards, you are an anti-semite.

Call me a sim­ple­ton, but I don’t find it all that com­pli­cated. Ju­daism is a re­li­gion, a peo­ple­hood and a na­tion. At var­i­ous times in our his­tory, one or an­other of those as­pects has come to the fore as the defin­ing mo­tif of Jewish sur­vival. Right now, Is­rael is the cen­tral is­sue of our Jewish times. Some­times, it re­ally does come down to a stark choice. Zion­ism is not a “re­li­gion” – it is the be­lief that Jews have the right to be sov­er­eign in their an­cient home­land, like any other indige­nous peo­ple. A lot of peo­ple hate that idea. So it is quite nat­u­ral for those who be­lieve in it to dig in their heels a bit when they are deal­ing with, shall we say, “con­tin­gency” Zion­ists, who will only stand up for Zion­ism if Jews prove they “de­serve” their home­land, a con­cept that has never been ap­plied to any other indige­nous peo­ple.

If you be­gin with the idea, as I be­lieve Jon does, that “trib­al­ism” of any kind is an in­fe­rior and ret­ro­grade way of be­ing in the mod­ern world, then of course a home­land is by def­i­ni­tion an out­moded con­cept and the pas­sion­ate at­tach­ment to Is­rael Jon sees in Zion­ists must be quite alien­at­ing. But I see Jon’s de­tach­ment not as an in­tel­lec­tual virtue, but as a fail­ure of imag­i­na­tion. His­tory is alive and preg­nant with mean­ing for most peo­ple. That is a re­al­ity that de­mands a cer­tain amount of re­spect, even in those who do not feel his­tory’s – and destiny’s – pull.

All that said, Canada is still the best place in the Di­as­pora to be Jewish. But our rapidly chang­ing de­mo­graph­ics, and the po­lit­i­cal dis­rup­tions those chang­ing de­mo­graph­ics por­tend, have placed a sober­ing re­straint on my wonted com­pla­cency.

Jonathan Kay: Although this dis­cus­sion is about Ju­daism specif­i­cally, it’s im­por­tant to note that cur­rents of thought be­yond Ju­daism are tak­ing their toll on the Jewish com­mu­nity. Almost ev­ery­where on Earth – in­clud­ing the United States, France, Poland, Hun­gary, Rus­sia, Turkey, In­dia and China, to take some re­cently news­wor­thy ex­am­ples – there is a grow­ing chasm be­tween two groups of peo­ple: (a) strong ethno-re­li­gious na­tion­al­ists who plant their flag of iden­tity deep into the na­tive soul, of­ten seek to pro­tect tra­di­tional forms of pas­toral or in­dus­trial work, and emit grim warn­ings of the apoca­lypse that will come if for­eign­ers and heretics are not ex­pelled or con­trolled (think Don­ald Trump, Marie Le Pen, Vik­tor Or­bán, Vladimir Putin, Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan and, I sup­pose, Ezra Le­vant); and (b) de­ra­ci­nated in­tel­lec­tu­als who place their faith in ab­stract glob­al­ized creeds, such as fem­i­nism, sec­u­lar­ism and the sci­en­tific method.

Is­rael has gone down this path, and that so­ci­ety now is di­vided be­tween groups (a) and (b) –al­beit with group (a) now in the driver’s seat, thanks to Ne­tanyahu’s po­lit­i­cal success. And the Jewish Di­as­pora com­mu­nity has fol­lowed suit. Bar­bara and I are typ­i­cal of the grow­ing in­ter­gen­er­a­tional schism in many Jewish com­mu­ni­ties, with her be­ing sym­pa­thetic to group (a) (at least when it comes to Jewish and Zion­ist is­sues), while I tend to­ward group (b), as a Cana­dian, a Jew and a Zion­ist.

The good news (from my point of view) is that Canada has gen­er­ally re­sisted the world­wide trend to­ward pop­ulist na­tion­al­ism and na­tivism. This is in part due to the lead­er­ship of Prime Min­is­ter Trudeau, who has an­gered mil­i­tant Jews by vis­it­ing mosques and an­gered mil­i­tant Mus­lims by prais­ing Is­rael. Only the fa­nat­ics on both sides are wast­ing their time pars­ing his syl­la­bles for ev­i­dence of se­cret loy­al­ties. There is a rea­son Trudeau is praised on the world stage: he has risen above ethno-re­li­gious feuds. And I re­gret that Bar­bara would pre­fer that he hew to the grasp­ing eth­nop­o­l­i­tics that marked the lat­ter Harper years. (Re­mem­ber Mark Adler and the “mil­lion-dollar shot” in Jerusalem?)


Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau with Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu at the United Na­tions Cli­mate Change Con­fer­ence near Paris in 2015.


A Syr­ian refugee and her child rest in Greece.


A group of Jewish im­mi­grants in Hal­i­fax, 1927. ON­TARIO JEWISH ARCHIVES, BLANKENSTEIN FAM­ILY


U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump

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