On June 19th, Parliament refused to adopt a proposal by well-known Zionist Irwin Cotler to declare November “Jewish Heritage Month”. Why? read more.
Mr. Speaker, (…) I trust that there will be consent for the following motion: That the House recognize the month of November as Jewish heritage month in recognition of the important contributions of Jewish Canadians to the settlement, development and growth of Canada (…).
Does the member have unanimous support to propose the motion?
Some hon. members: Agreed.
Some hon. members: No.
The motion fails.
With that abrupt decision, on June 19th the Parliament of Canada slapped longtime MP Irwin Cotler with a humiliating and perplexing defeat.
The decision to turn down his proposal seems rather strange. Lots of other groups have “heritage months”. In fact, the Canadian Parliament has already declared May to be “Asian heritage month”, February to be “Black history month”, and October to be “Women’s history month”. (October has also been named “islamic history month”.)
Cotler’s proposal was one of his very last acts as a Parliamentarian. (He had already announced he will not run for election in October.) The proposal should have been a no-brainer, but it required “unanimous” consent from Parliament. When the speaker asked if there was consent, a chorus of voices said “no” – and Cotler suffered a humiliating defeat.
But what’s wrong with the idea of a “Jewish Heritage month”? For more than a century, Jews have made a significant contribution to Canadian society in the arts, science, medicine sports and politics. The idea of a Jewish Heritage month seems in keeping with our vaunted multiculturalism.
So why in the world would Cotler’s proposal be abruptly rejected? We can’t know with certainty because the voice vote was not recorded, so we don’t know who (or how many) opposed his motion.
But that does not stop speculation about the reasons for its defeat.
According to outspoken pro-Israel Toronto Sun columnist Sue-Ann Levy, the answer is clear (and predictable) – antisemitism.
“I believe there’s anti-Semitic sentiment among Liberals and other members of leftist parties like the NDP”, she told the Jewish Forward emagazine. “They’d never admit it, but it comes out, especially as anti-Israel rhetoric, which to me is the new anti-Semitism.”
However, there could be another explanation. Working closely with the Israel lobby for many years, Cotler has used legitimate Canadian concerns for Jews as a way to deflect criticism of Israel. He has been the architect of several motions in Parliament equating criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism, which has left many MP’s feeling frustrated . The most recent example was his engineering a Parliamentary statement on the rise of anti-Semitism, which specifically targeted those who would criticize Israel for its continued violations of international law. He has also been a vocal supporter of Bill C-51 (the anti terrorism) legislation on the same grounds.
Perhaps some MP’s were just fed up with Cotler using defense of Jews as a way to provide protective cover for Israel. If so this is a shame. Cotler’s reputation for blind devotion to Israel may have impeded an entirely appropriate recognition of Jewish contribution to Canadian society.
“Jewish heritage month” ? Why not? But perhaps Irwin Cotler, the Zionist lobbyist, was not the man to do it.