Audience at the Vancouver JCC goes wild for former Alliance leader.
PAT JOHNSON SPECIAL TO THE JEWISH BULLETIN
Stockwell Day may have wished that his entire career had gone more like his recent visit to Vancouver. Despite the presence of added security for the presentation by the former Canadian Alliance leader at the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver, any potential dissent never materialized and the meeting was nothing short of a love-in.
The outspoken advocate of Israel was the featured speaker at the seventh Townhall meeting organized by Vancouver’s Israel Action Committee June 3.
Day gained a standing ovation even before his speech started for his work as foreign affairs critic for the official opposition Canadian Alliance. Day led the charge that forced the Liberal government to add Hezbollah and Hamas to the list of banned terrorist organizations under Canadian law. Day has also urged the federal government to protest Libya’s election to the head of the United Nations Human Rights Commission and has condemned Canada’s anti-Israel voting pattern at the United Nations.
The member of Parliament for Okanagan-Coquihalla said Canada has lost its international respect and influence under the current administration, which, he said, has abandoned its natural allies, including the United States and Israel.
He lambasted Prime Minister Jean Chrétien for providing $7 million in funding for the Francophonie summit in Lebanon, and for attending the summit at which the head of Hezbollah sat in the front row. Day got laughs for accepting Chrétien’s explanation at face value:
"He said he didn’t know [that the terrorist was in the audience] and you know what? I believe him.
"But when he was informed, he said nothing," Day added.
It is in Canada’s enlightened self-interest, said Day, to support democratic nations and institutions around the world because history has shown that democratic countries almost never go to war against each other.
The former Albertan went further than most Jewish speakers do in defending Israel, arguing that Jews built a country on a land that was inhabited mostly by roving tribes who did not have the kind of connection to the land that Jews do, and that Israel has the right to sovereignty over the territories because they won the land during defensive wars.
"Israel had demonstrated the right, through attack [by Arab states], to that land," said Day. "Israel and the people of Israel have paid a price for that land…. Israel has paid the price in war after war after war and it should be supported."
Day, who recently returned from a trip to Israel, took the cap from his bottled water and held it against a projection screen at the front of the room, comparing the bottle cap to Israel and the comparatively enormous screen to the surrounding Arab world.
"[Israel] is surrounded by a sea of dictatorships," Day said, adding that the Arab countries should have welcomed Palestinian refugees the way Israel welcomed Jewish refugees from around the world, instead of engaging in five decades of attacks on Israel for usurping the land of the Arabs’ Palestinian cousins.
Israel Defence Forces retaliate against terrorist attacks and the world views the two events as morally comparable, complained Day.
"There is a difference that should be noted in our national media and it is not," he said. "Israeli children go to school in armored school buses. Palestinian children do not ride to school in armored school buses," he said. Why? "Israeli soldiers do not attack buses with Palestinian school children."
Though Day’s support for Israel and criticism of the federal government was passionate, some of the most fervent views were spoken from the floor during the question and answer session. One audience member took Day’s criticism of the federal government to another level when he asked the politician to try to explain the "Liberal love affair with evil." Another urged Jews to remember the party’s stand on Israel next time they go to vote, while another questioner argued that Day ignored the most relevant argument for Israel, which the speaker said was that God gave the land to the Jews.
Day responded to the latter comment by noting he had discreetly acknowledged this argument at the beginning of his presentation, when he cited "shared spiritual traditions" but that he has learned some lessons about communicating.
"In our country, whenever a politician says the word God, some people go berserk," he said, to laughter and applause. Day’s career as party leader was cut short in part because of the image portrayed in the media of Day’s fundamentalist Christian religious views, which some criticized as outside the mainstream of Canadian Christianity.
Though Day’s speech was popular, the audience was not as large as the previous Townhall meeting. While there were few spare seats at Day’s presentation, organizers had been forced to rig up a closed circuit system for an overflow crowd that showed up to the previous meeting, which featured commentator and former Canadian ambassador to Israel, Norman Spector.
Pat Johnson is a native Vancouverite, a journalist and commentator.