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Toronto — “I understood there was a gradual movement among Jews toward the Conservatives in recent years, but these results show there’s been a quantum leap,” said Nelson Wiseman, associate professor of political science at the University of Toronto.
In the May ballot, Conservative candidates ousted long-serving Liberal legislators from two seats in Toronto and one in Winnipeg, representing districts with substantial Jewish populations. In Montreal, Irwin Cotler, the former Liberal justice minister — himself a prominent pro-Israel advocate — retained his historically Liberal seat but failed to win a majority of the Jewish vote.
Jack Siegel, president of a local Toronto Liberal Party association, says the Liberals can regain the Jewish vote. But he admitted, “We can’t out-Zionist the Conservatives. I can’t fault a single thing in the Conservative position vis-à-vis Israel.”
Jews, Siegel observed, “until recently have been more comfortable voting on the issues that other Canadians vote on. I think that pattern will re-emerge, especially if we run a better campaign than our last one.”
Harper has also made a number of high-profile Jewish appointments to public office that play well in the community. In 2008–09, he appointed two Toronto Jews and one from Montreal to Canada’s nonelected upper chamber.
Following last May’s election, he named a rookie Jewish legislator, Toronto’s Joe Oliver, to the senior Cabinet post of natural resources minister. Oliver has emerged as the chief defender of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline for the transmission of Alberta’s tar sands-derived oil to Texas — a project that has provoked demonstrations in Washington and Ottawa. Oliver’s appointment is expected to reinforce the Cabinet’s already pronounced pro-Israel tilt.
For the actual implementation of his foreign policy, Harper relies on Montreal-born lawyer Morris Rosenberg, whom he appointed last year as deputy minister of foreign affairs.
Rosenberg, although an experienced civil servant, was the first official without diplomatic experience ever to be named to the post. The Montreal-born, Harvard-trained lawyer has been responsible for implementing Harper’s strongly pro-Israel policy in the face of a foreign service that favors a more even-handed approach to the Middle East conflict.
Harper has also tapped Jews for other nonpartisan posts. In October, he named Justice Michael Moldaver to the Supreme Court of Canada. Moldaver became the fourth Jewish judge now serving on the nine-judge panel, and the second named by Harper. Until 1970, the high court had never had a Jewish justice.
The selection of Moldaver, following Harper’s previous appointment of Justice Marshall Rothstein, has added two conservative jurists to the bench. This is expected to make the high court more receptive to Harper’s right-of-center policies on such matters as tougher prison sentences and limitations on collective bargaining.
But few suggest that the judicial appointments were made for their Jewish appeal. “I don’t think that was the calculation at all,” Wiseman said. “I don’t think that many people in the Jewish community [paid attention]. Now Jews are seen as part of the Establishment.”
Contact Sheldon Gordon at firstname.lastname@example.org