Ken Dryden goes on Israeli power play in York Centre faceoff.
It's true that sitting Lib MP Ken Dryden didn't exactly promise to attend every bris up and down York Centre riding.
But he did dangerously hit the hyperbole gas pedal at a September 24 meeting while trying to out-Israel Conservative challenger Rochelle Wilner, a hard-liner and former B'nai Brith president.
In front of a split audience in the sanctuary of the Beth Emeth synagogue on Wilmington (personal note: I had my bar mitzvah here), the ex-hockey guy's eyes hardened as he advocated no truck or trade with the "terrorists" in the democratically elected Hamas government in Gaza.
Then he offered this shocker: "Stop all aid that flows into Gaza. While that may seem a harsh measure that will hurt Palestinian civilians... it is the right thing to do at this time."
What could he possibly mean? Even the Stephen Harper Tories, despite their boycott of direct aid to Hamas, funnel money via CIDA through the United Nations for humanitarian aid in Gaza, where more than 80 per cent of the population rely on such assistance.
Is this what Dryden wants to cancel? If so, this puts him far to the right of the Conservatives.
Seeking clarification about Dryden's comments, I later speak with his campaign manager, Ruth Thorkelson. She tells me the Liberal position is to support the boycott of Canadian government aid but to maintain support indirectly through UN assistance.
"I don't agree with your suggestion that we have changed our position," she says.
Well, maybe, maybe not. Obviously there's a nuance Dryden chose not to elaborate on. Odd he'd feel driven to blur the line given that York Centre is considered one of the safest Lib seats in the country. Dryden won by over 12,000 votes in the last election.
Wilfred Laurier U. political scientist and polling expert Barry Kay says that, while the Israel issue resonates in areas with a significant Jewish minority like Thornhill, York Centre and Don Valley East and West, he doubts the Liberals will have any difficulties in these ridings even with an impending national Conservative upsurge.
"Thornhill [where Conservative Peter Kent is facing off with incumbent Liberal Susan Kadis] is probably the only one where a distinct shift [in Jewish votes for the Tories] would even have the [demographic] capability of making a difference, given the margins the Liberals win by."
One reason the Liberals probably won't pay a price for the Tories' dedicated loyalty to the Israeli government is that the Grits hold exactly the same position now. Aside from Michael Ignatieff's musing - and then step-down - about Israel committing "war crimes" in Lebanon, the Libs' policy has generally morphed from bipartisan to Israel-positive.
Sure, Dryden did some hand-wringing at the meeting about how awful it is that Canada is no longer seen as the exponent of diplomacy and the honest broker it once was.
But as even B'nai Brith exec VP Frank Dimant admits, the parties have no real differences. Dimant points to his friend Irwin Cotler, the Lib MP for Mount Royal and former justice minister, as a case in point.
"His positioning on Middle East and Jewish issues in general is very close today to where the Conservative party is," says Dimant, described by Embassy Magazine as one of the top foreign policy influencers in Ottawa.
But this consensus on Israel is a worry, says former ambassador to the UN Paul Heinbecker, particularly because of international law. "We tend to accept the argument that Israel is a democracy - ‘Who are we to criticize what the Israelis do? [Whatever] the Palestinians do is ipso facto wrong' - I'm thinking of Hamas. This is not an approach that leads anywhere except to more deadlock."
But pushing for a more complex view of the Mideast isn't for the faint of heart. Steve Scheinberg, a retired Concordia history prof and Canadian Friends of Peace Now activist, laments that his group lacks the resources to lobby politicians for a view counter to mainstream Jewish orgs.
"I don't think the Conservatives are that interested in the Middle East per se," he says. "What I think they are interested in is winning some Jewish votes and money."
Says Mark Khoury of the National Council on Canada-Arab Relations about the lobbying challenge, "Many parliamentarians are nervous about [the Palestine] issue. There is still a culture where it is too hard an issue to touch.''