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Did concerns about anti-Semitism play a role in the Toronto by-election?

Photo: Chris Young The Canadian Press Staff were busy Tuesday in the electoral office of defeated Liberal candidate Leslie Church.

Stephanie Taylor – The Canadian Press in Ottawa

Published at 9:38 a.m.

  • Canada

An organizer who encouraged Jewish residents to vote against the Liberals in this week's Toronto by-election suggests a rise in anti-Semitism motivated many people to turn out at the polls.

Andrew Kirsch, the riding's Progressive Conservative candidate in the 2018 provincial election, helped launch the Jewish Ally group earlier this year in advance of Monday's vote.

The close race ended in a surprising Liberal defeat and a victory for Conservative Don Stewart, with nearly 600 votes more than his Liberal opponent, Leslie Church.< /p>

Kirsch says members of the Jewish community feel “abandoned” by the Liberals in power, and he believes that played a bigger role in the outcome than any views on the war between Israel and Hamas itself.

Both the Liberals and Conservatives have acknowledged that the Middle East crisis was a factor in a riding where one in six residents identify as Jewish.

During the campaign, the Conservatives made a direct appeal to the Jewish community.

Households received a letter signed by Melissa Lantsman, the party’s deputy leader and Toronto-area MP, who is herself Jewish.

She said voters should choose the Conservative candidate to denounce the alleged “betrayal” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Mr. Kirsch's organization, which has entered the race as a third party, has been advertising in the area and trying to raise awareness about the by-election.

Like the Conservative Party, he asked Jewish voters to send a message to Prime Minister Trudeau.

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The remarkable rise of anti-Semitism

Mr. Kirsch said it is important for people to understand that members of the Jewish community have varied opinions on Israel and the conflict.

But there are lines guidelines, he suggested.

“What really resonated more broadly was the rise in anti-Semitism that we saw and the government’s response to it,” he said.

“We can disagree about how the conflict is being waged, about Israel, about the government, about all of these things.”

Residents have witnessed violence in community hubs, Kirsch said, including a shooting at a Jewish school. And they’re seeing similar incidents happening across the country, including in other major cities like Montreal.

Toronto’s downtown riding has also been the scene of ongoing anti-war protests, Kirsch said.

“We can debate legal definitions of hate, but what we can't debate is that it's intimidating to the Jewish community, and I think we, the Jewish community, haven't felt supported by this government as we should have been,” he said.

Support for liberals shaken

Talia Klein Leighton, spokesperson for Canadian Women Against Anti-Semitism, said there was more to interpreting the results than a possibility that some Jewish voters wanted to support the leader Conservative Pierre Poilievre for his outspoken support for Israel.

Some people who have always voted Liberal may have stayed home, she said, because of perceived inaction on the part of the government.

“There are conservative Jews and liberal Jews. I think this election suggests that that is changing,” she said.

Sue Goldstein, a resident involved with the Independent Jewish Voices organization Canada, questioned the idea that the result of the by-election could be explained by a shift of Jewish voters towards the Conservatives.

She noted that, generally speaking, many residents of the district were motivated by economic concerns.

Nevertheless, she believes that many Jews with progressive views were disappointed by the government response to the conflict.

Klein Leighton, a former resident of the riding, also says she has spoken with people who have struggled to maintain their long-standing support for the Liberals because of what they describe as a “lukewarm” response to anti-Semitism .

The prime minister and other senior Liberal officials have repeatedly spoken out against the rise of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia during the conflict.

It stood out, Ms. Klein Leighton said, when Mr. Trudeau said last month that “Zionism is not an insult.”

Yet many people view her response as lip service, she said.

Justin Trudeau attempted to take a nuanced position on the war taking place in the Gaza Strip.

The war was sparked by a Hamas attack on Israel on October 7, which killed some 1,200 people and led to the kidnapping of 250 others. Israeli ground offensives and bombardments have killed more than 37,600 people in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, according to the territory's Health Ministry, which does not distinguish between combatants and civilians in its tally.< /p>

Divisions in the Liberal Party

The by-election in Toronto — St. Paul's was the first federal election since the start of the war. The district, which has the fifth-highest percentage of Jewish voters in the country, had been vacant since longtime MP Carolyn Bennett resigned in January.

Liberal MPs from several other ridings with strong Jewish representation were among the most vocal during the conflict.

They include former minister Marco Mendicino and current minister Ya'ara Saks, who represent the Toronto ridings of Eglinton-Lawrence and York Center respectively, as well as Ben Carr, MP for Winnipeg South Centre.

Anthony Housefather, the Liberal MP for Mount Royal in Montreal, considered leaving his party because of government MPs' support for an amended NDP motion calling for Canada to end “arms exports” to Israel.

Conservatives have their eyes on the constituency. This was the first stop on Mr. Poilievre's tour of Quebec after the House of Commons adjourned for the summer break.

He is appeared on stage at a rally with party candidate Neil Oberman, a lawyer who represented Jewish students in a lawsuit against the pro-Palestinian encampment at McGill University.

Talia Klein Leighton says she's not partisan and believes it's important that voices like Housefather's continue to remain in the Liberal Party “even if they end up in opposition.”

But she suggested that it might be difficult for some in the Jewish community to continue supporting the Liberals under her current leadership.

“Maybe this is a red flag. »

Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116