Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee
Address to the Canadian Jewish Congress: Renewing Our Ties

Shalom.

Good morning and thank you, Keith, for your kind introduction.

Firstly – Mazel Tov! Celebrating your 90th anniversary is a remarkable achievement. Since 1919 the Canadian Jewish Congress has been positive force in the Jewish community of Canada and the world.

From anti-semitism to Holocaust remembrance to the advance of human rights in Canada and abroad, your Congress has played an important role in building a better, more tolerant Canada.

It’s a testament to your organisation’s vitality at 90 that this plenary session is being held in this beautiful sanctuary. I’m honoured to be asked to speak today, and moved to being doing so in this special place.

You know, President Obama recently gave the commencement address at the University of Notre Dame, a Catholic college in Indiana. There was some controversy around his appearance, because the President supports a woman’s right to choose and the Catholic Church does not. Speaking of this disagreement, President Obama said:

“When we open up our hearts and minds to those who may not think precisely like we do or believe precisely what we believe – that’s when we discover at least the possibility of common ground.”

The President went on to offer three simple principles to overcome differences in belief or principle: “Open hearts. Open minds. Fair-minded words.”

Preparing to speak to you today reminded me of those words of President Obama, because there have been differences between my party and this Congress. But with open hearts, open minds and with fair-minded words I believe we’ll find that the common ground between us is rich and fertile with opportunities for growth and stronger ties.

I learned a word in Hebrew that I hope captures the essence of what unites your community and New Democrats. Tzedakah. A beautiful, powerful word. A word whose core meaning is “justice”. I was moved to learn that Hebrew has no direct translation for “charity”, because you use tzedakah. “Justice”.

I understand tzedakah to mean that we must help those less fortunate than us not only out of kindness, but because it is right to do so. That doing so both seeks and restores justice. I believe that fighting racism and discrimination is justice. I believe that ending poverty in Canada is justice. I believe that ending genocide in this world is justice.

And that is what I wish to speak to you about today. Aujourd’hui, je m’adresse à vous afin de vous parler d’un concept auquel je tiens, soit celui de justice.

 

Renewing Our Ties

 

Let me begin by saying that our shared commitment to the justice should be the foundation of a renewed and revitalised relationship between us. New Democrats and Jewish Canadians have a long history of being strong, progressive voices in Canada, not least due to the many Jewish members, staffers, leaders and MPs of our party.

The New Democrat community and Canada’s Jewish community overlap and have close ties. But there was a time when those ties were closer, and we are working now to renew them.

I want to thank the Canadian Jewish Congress for taking a leading role in doing so. In the last year I’ve had the opportunity to meet with leaders from the Congress, such as Bernie Farber, and other prominent members of the Jewish community from across Canada. I speak with Bernie regularly and value his advice. We’re working hard to deepen the dialogue between the Congress and New Democrats.

Today I’d like to talk about some of the issues on which we can work together, areas of common ground between us.

We have a strong foundation. Like the landmark legislation sponsored by Judy Wasylycia-Leis, one of our Manitoba MPs, in 2006 that commits Canada to commemorate Yom HaShoah every year. I was honoured to speak at this year’s ceremony in Ottawa with National Holocaust Remembrance Day Event Chair Dr. Joel Dimitry and Executive Director Yaron Ashkenazi.

We supported recent legislation against suicide bombings, and we’ve been working against anti-Semitism in Canada. New Democrats have always fought hate crimes and discrimination in all their forms and are both saddened and angered by every new act of anti-Semitism in this country.

It is important that we develop new ways to prevent hate speech, especially on the internet where we need more tools for reporting hate, such as those available on the CJC website. New Democrats condemn all those cowardly attacks on homes, schools and community centres. In the wake of such attacks, repairing communities and ensuring security must be a priority.

When Pope Benedict recently brought Holocaust denier Bishop Williams back into the fold, New Democrats strongly objected to the Pope’s decision. The sad truth is that we must remain ever-vigilant against anti-Semitism and all forms of discrimination if we are to pursue the ideal of a multicultural Canada. A Canada founded on respect and compassion, celebrating difference and diversity, and defined by justice and respect. Nous avons l’occasion de rebâtir nos liens pour construire un pays où l’antisémitisme et toute autre forme de discrimination n’ont plus leur place.

 

Justice in Canada

 

Social justice begins at home: with human rights and equality right here in Canada.

One reason why we didn’t support Stephen Harper’s budget – it undermined human rights in Canada by attacking a woman’s right to equal pay for work of equal value. Here’s the thing about the Liberals supporting Harper’s budget – why vote for measures that will set the struggle for women’s rights back twenty years? Our Parliament should be reinforcing those rights, not attacking them.

We should be strengthening our communities, with our ties to one another. So if tzedakah can be the basis for our work together, then perhaps tikun olam offers an expression of what New Democrats do. I know from his daughter Janet Solberg, my riding association president, that David Lewis, a former leader and founding figure in our party, would have used those words.

We work to repair what is broken. We seek to strengthen community. We strive to build a better society in Canada.

Now, if we’re to build a better Canada we need to start by assisting the least fortunate, as the Canadian Jewish Congress has advocated and worked towards. After decades of economic growth, Canada is one of the wealthiest countries on earth. But as the fruits of prosperity flow increasingly to a privileged few, the gap between the rich and everyone else has never been wider.

Today, in the depths of an economic crisis, with more than job losses soaring and average wages remaining stagnant, more than 3.4 million Canadians have fallen in poverty. 800,000 are children and many more are of full-time workers trying to make ends meet on minimum wages. In fact, half of all families now feel they are one or two missed paycheques away from falling into poverty themselves.

New Democrats and this Congress are on the same page on addressing poverty:

– Supporting better early childhood education.
– Ensuring affordable, accessible health care.
– Advocating for the $10.00 minimum wage.
– Building more affordable housing.
– Working towards comprehensive, affordable child care.
– Real reform on credit cards, not just changes to the font size.

Combating poverty isn’t just about assisting individual families, it’s about strengthening communities. It’s about providing every Canadian with a just and fair opportunity to succeed, and a stable, supportive community in which to live.

Il est de notre devoir de prôner la justice sociale, surtout à travers une crise économique où plusieurs Canadiens ont de la difficulté à joindre les deux bouts.

No group in Canada is in more need of more justice and opportunity than our First Nations. The strong and public support this Congress has offered First Nations is deserving of great praise. My party is also demanding a fair deal for First Nations, such as:

– Delivering the same standards of education as students receive across Canada
– Building hospitals and clinics that can guarantee quality health care
– Investing in infrastructure, like bridges, roads and community centres
– Improving access to skills training and career development
– Applying Jordan’s Principle so First Nations children are not disadvantaged by inter-provincial disputes.

These are goals we can work towards together. There is no good reason that our First Nations continue to languish with little regard from their government. Fighting to ensure their better treatment is, I believe, our duty as citizens of Canada. And, I humbly submit, it is tzedakah, too.

 

Peace and Justice in the World

 

Now let me turn to the world stage and speak briefly on the Middle East. Just as the Congress takes an active role in social justice in Canada, so it is important that the New Democrats support the development of civil society in Israel. And so we applaud the work of Canadian organisations like the Congress.

Just as Canada has a proud tradition in achieving peace, New Democrats have a proud tradition of working for peace. Here at home, we can work to ensure Canada plays a meaningful, principled role in the Middle East. Abroad, we can work with our Israeli and Palestinian brothers and sisters to continue to support international law and long-term security within the rule of law.

New Democrats remain unequivocally committed to the right of Israel to exist within secure borders and equally unequivocally committed to the right of Palestinians to an independent state with secure borders. Nous croyons au droit d’Israël d’exister à l’intérieur de frontières sécuritaires et nous croyons également que les Palestiniens ont droit à un état indépendant avec des frontières tout aussi sécuritaires.

So it is unfortunate that the new government in Israel has stopped using the language of a “two state solution”. When we met earlier this week, Israeli Ambassador Miriam Ziv – with whom I’m honoured to have a good relationship – told me that this is likely to remain the case.

Nevertheless, an opportunity exists with a new Israeli government and a new administration in Washington. Fundamental and difficult issues must be addressed in the complex peace negotiations. That is why I echoed the call by Barak Obama for an immediate halt to new settlements. And that’s why I urged President Abbas, with whom I met last week, to continue his quest for peace and security, knowing that Canadians wish him well and are willing to help.

I also discussed with Ambassador Ziv the concern of so many Jews around the world about Iran. I believe that the combination of the development of nuclear capacities and threatening, unacceptable statements about Israel’s right to exist requires strong action. Therefore, Canada should strongly support President Obama’s initiatives to open dialogue to transform the current tensions into a pathway towards peace.

Friends, there are far too many places in this world without peace. If the world’s peoples had truly learned the lessons of Shoah [the Holocaust], we would not still be witness to genocide in Darfur. We would not have seen genocide in Rwanda or ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia.

It is so important, then, that Canada – a country with a history of peacemaking and peacekeeping – should take the lead internationally on Darfur. In Darfur we must act for the 400,000 who have lost their lives, and the 2.5 million displaced. Both New Democrats and the Canadian Jewish Congress have applied all possible pressure to the Harper government, but so far we have yet to see Canada take the stance it should.

We must keep this issue in people’s minds. I want to commend the work of the Congress’s National Darfur Committee for their strong advocacy of this issue – to the public and to Parliamentarians. And, of course, the tremendous effort of the Hillel student organisations on their “Never forget, Save Darfur” campaign to raise awareness raise awareness and transform that into public pressure on our government.

Like so many in this room, I believe that ordinary people can and do make a difference. And I too believe that “never again” must be more than words. In too many places around the world, security and peace are distant dreams for many people. As Canadians we can and must do more.

We must work together for justice and peace, at home and abroad. As New Democrats that is something we are committed to at the very core of our being. And I know that the same is true for Jewish Canadians – those in our party and those not. Let’s work together, with open hearts, open minds, and fair-minded words.

Travaillons ensemble, en gardant nos esprits ouverts, en gardant nos cœurs ouverts, pour nous permettre de bâtir un pays fondé sur la justice et la paix.

Let’s make that shared belief in that betterment of individuals, communities and the world – whether we call it tzedakah or simply justice – the foundation for a fairer, more equal Canada and a better world.

Thank you, merci beaucoup. Shalom.