Canadian lawmakers: Israel support may cause backlash

TORONTO (JTA) — Some Canadian lawmakers fear the Conservative government’s staunch support of Israel risks triggering a backlash against Israel and Canadian Jews.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his ministers have voiced nearly unconditional support for Israel and have slashed funding to groups that are critical of Israel.

Winnipeg-area Liberal Parliament member Anita Neville, who is Jewish, feels the government’s hard-line policies could spark an “anti-Semitic response.”

Neville and other lawmakers made the comments earlier this week before the Canadian Parliamentary Coalition to Combat Anti-Semitism, an all-party committee that is at arm’s length from the government.

“By making [support for Israel] frequently into a black-and-white issue, [the Conservatives are] setting it up as a wedge,” said Neville, who is co-chair of Liberal Parliamentarians for Israel. “And they’re also setting it up so that people who have been longtime strong supporters of Israel are questioning issues.”

“And it’s creating a backlash,” she told reporters.

The Tories have been criticized of late for mailing out taxpayer-funded flyers that suggested the Liberals were anti-Israel, and of cutting funds to a Christian aid group.

Neville called the flyers “incitement to anti-Semitism,” and said the slashing of funds to the church group risks alienating Canadians.

New Democratic Party lawmaker Judy Wasylycia-Leis sounded the same themes, saying “there is a tendency to cheapen the reality of anti-Semitism and not give it the attention it truly deserves. There is this possibility of inciting racism and hatred as opposed to opening up discussion,” she told the Winnipeg Free Press.

The target of their criticism was Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, who is responsible for multiculturalism policies. He appeared Monday before the committee.

Kenney defended his government’s policies.

“All I get is praise for Canada’s efforts to deal with these sometimes difficult issues and not to sweep them under the carpet,” he told lawmakers, adding that he would continue to target groups deemed as terrorist or which use anti-Semitic language.

“We are going to name them, and if that ruffles feathers, so be it,” he said, citing the cutting of funds to the Canadian Arab Federation as an example.