What We Can Do About the Growing Canada-Israel Divide

There’s a widening chasm in values between Canada and Israel. Is it irreversible?

Israel’s political map is presently deeply divided – nearly 50/50 split between left and right political perspectives. Yet solid majorities still confess to support the two-state solution, gender equality, religious pluralism, minority rights, freedom of the press, and minority rights.

But as you examine the views of younger Israeli Jews – including among secular Jews – a deeply worrying picture of Israel’s future emerges. Fewer and fewer believe in those bedrock tenants of liberal democracy. As those young people come of age, will Israel move even further from liberal democracy?

The counter-trend is what’s happening among most young Jews in Canada.

The recent Study of Canadian Jews made many of us sit up and take notice. In it, we learned how Canadian Jews are highly educated and engaged Jewishly, particularly compared to American Jews. And some of the worrying trends of disaffiliation happening there are not nearly as pronounced here.

What surprised us, however, is that despite these higher rates of education and affiliation, Canadian Jews have “remarkably similar” attitudes towards Israel as our US peers. That is to say, we are not a majority conservative community on Israel, nor are we more conservative on Israel than US Jewry.

As examples, 44% of Canadian Jews do not believe the Israeli government is making a serious effort for peace. About 39% of Canadian Jews believe expanding West Bank settlements hurts Israel’s security – three times as many as those who believe the opposite. Fewer Jews vote for the Conservative Party (32%) than the Liberal Party (36%); an additional 12% vote for the NDP or Green Party.

Furthermore, these rates of liberal attitudes spike higher among young Jews, sometimes as high as 70%.

As Canadian Jewry likely becomes more liberal in the future but Israeli society drifts further rightwards, the chasm between Israel and the diaspora will grow. Will young Canadians be able to admire, much less want to engage with, an Israel that sheds democratic principles?

What can be done?

Israel is lucky to have a vocal, involved, and powerful diaspora that can help strengthen the country’s pro-democracy camp.

Today we share with you the stories of four such Israelis you should meet: Aviv Tatarsky, Mushira Aboo Dia, Shmuel Shattach, and Tamar Rechnitz.

  • Tamar is education director of Tag Meir, a coalition of 48 interfaith organizations that respond to racist and vigilante violence in Israel.
  • Mushira is a physician and is both the first woman and the first Palestinian citizen to chair the board of Physicians for Human Rights-Israel.
  • Shmuel is the Executive Director of the leading organization fighting for moderation and liberal values within modern Orthodoxy in Israel.
  • Aviv is a researcher with Ir Amim, the leading organization working for an equitable and shared Jerusalem for all its residents.

These are the kinds of Israelis who can bridge the Canada-Israel divide.

Our 2019 Featured Activists - Aviv, Mushira, Shmuel, and Tamar

And reaching back across the chasm is an emerging kind of young Canadian Jew:

Over the past year, four young Torontonians – Sterling, Racheli, Enbal, and Jacob – gave us just a glimpse of how Canadian Jewry could deepen our relationship to Israel’s defenders of democracy. These four Naomi Chazan Fellows hosted educational events for nearly a hundred of their peers, showcased photo exhibits seen by over a thousand people, and in articles and social media reached tens of thousands of viewers.

And as the pilot year of this program now ends, they have become our first four alumni. They join nearly 70 other alumni from Australia, the UK, and the US in a rapidly-growing network of progressive young leaders.

I’m delighted to announce that we’ve just selected our next cohort – Cantor Cheryl Wunch, Robbie Solway, and Jon Medow. In just a few days, these three new Fellows will fly to Israel for the start of their ten-day, in-depth study tour:

  • Jon is an independent public policy consultant and previously worked for Ontario cabinet ministers and nonprofit think tanks.
  • Robbie is an educator and storyteller who’s been involved in social change initiatives around the world.
  • Cheryl is an ordained cantor in the Reform movement and previously worked in the field of at-need children and youth.

We are thankful to our outgoing Fellows and excited about these incoming young leaders.

What if Canada selected not a handful of Fellows, but dozens? What if the future leaders of Canadian Jewry weren’t distanced by Israel’s challenges, but instead motivated by them?

What if Tamar, Mushira, Shmuel, and Aviv could call upon greater numbers of progressive partners outside Israel? What if the future leaders of Israel’s democratic camp weren’t isolated from progressive forces in the diaspora, but united with them?

This is the very idea of the New Israel Fund of Canada: that Canadians like you and me can partner with Israelis on the ground fighting for a better, fairer, more equal Israel. And young leaders like Jon, Robbie, and Cheryl – united with Israelis like Tamar, Mushira, Shmuel, and Aviv – are why I am not daunted by the state of the Canada-Israel divide, but instead motivated by it.

Click here to meet this year’s Naomi Chazan Fellows.

Click here to meet this year’s featured activists.

Click here to make a donation to our work.

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