For political parties, winning elections is – naturally – the big prize. Almost as good: stealing away an entire demographic group from an opponent.
Case in point, Canadian Jewish voters. The Liberal Party of Canada used to have ‘em. Now they don’t. The Conservative Party of Canada, Stephen Harper, prop., stole ‘em.
It is an extraordinary achievement. But when you consider how dissimilar Canadian Jewish voters are to their equivalents south of the border, maybe not.
In the U.S., about three out of four Jews have traditionally voted Democrat. An overwhelming majority of American Jews – 73% – have described themselves as moderate or liberal. Only 19% of American Jews voted for the guy who claimed to lead the war on terror, George W. Bush.
That’s less than half what Ronald Reagan got in 1980, the high-water mark for GOP share of the Jewish vote. The Jewish vote trend line, among all but Orthodox Jews, is down for conservatives in the U.S.
In Canada, it’s the reverse. From almost the moment he assumed control of the united Reform and Progressive Conservative parties, Harper has devoted himself to moving every Jewish voter from the red column to the blue column. A decade later, there can be no argument that he has succeeded.
The Ipsos polling firm has estimated that, in the 2011 federal election, as many as 52% of eligible Canadian Jews voted for Harper. The vast majority of them used to be hardcore Grits. They love Harper, it seems, and they love his unabashed love for Israel.
Canadian Jews are different than American Jews in critical ways. Many more Canadian Jews consider themselves to be Zionists, and many more have visited Israel than their American counterparts.
Whatever the reason, one thing cannot be disputed: Stephen Harper owns the Canadian Jewish vote.
All of this has been very frustrating for Canadian Liberals, and particularly Canadian Liberals who are also Zionists (like me, for instance). I recall attending one Jewish community dinner with Herb Gray, the first Jewish federal cabinet minister. Stephen Harper was speaking, and when he finished, the hundreds in attendance rose en masse and started chanting Harper’s name.
“This is like a Conservative Party rally,” Gray said of the supposedly non-partisan event. “No kidding,” I said. Gray and I felt lonely, to say the least.
As of last week, all of that may be changing – perhaps, maybe. Last week, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau issued a little-noticed statement that – perhaps, maybe – marks a significant change in the Liberal Party’s decade-long breakup with Jewish voters.
“Israel has the right to defend itself and its people,” the Liberal Party website declared. “Hamas is a terrorist organization and must cease its rocket attacks immediately.”
Liberal MP Marc Garneau went even further, with the support and encouragement of his leader. “Israel has no choice but to defend itself,” he said in an interview. “We would do the same thing here in our country.”
From the right, there was dismissal. In the National Post, David Asper called the statement “honest broker mush.” From the left, there was dismissal. In the Toronto Star, Haroon Siddiqui whinged that “Trudeau has fallen in line with Stephen Harper’s support of Israel.”
For Trudeau, this is as good as it gets.
When you’re a Liberal, and both the hard right and hard left are attacking you, you’re happy. And (for those of us who are Liberal and liberal Zionists), it is a long overdue development.
There are no votes, really, in foreign affairs. The Jewish vote is centred in only a few ridings in Toronto and Montreal. The reason for supporting Israel is only this: principle.
Justin Trudeau has done the principled thing. Stephen Harper, Canadian Jews, take note.