When he headed the Jewish Agency during World War II, David Ben-Gurion told Jews to “support the British as if there is no White Paper [limiting Jewish immigration to Palestine] and oppose the White Paper as if there is no war.” To generalize, an interest group can be in strong agreement with the government on some issues and in vehement disagreement with it on others; Ben-Gurion urges determined action on both types without pulling any punches.
However, this goes against the grain of politics, as a government that supports an interest group on one issue will expect its gratitude and support on others and also its votes in the next election.
Israel and Ontario Politics
Ben-Gurion’s thinking and the tension it seeks to straddle were brought into sharp relief in the debate on October 17 in the Ontario Legislature over the Ford Government’s motion “to condemn the ongoing and reprehensible attacks being carried out by the terrorist organization Hamas … and recognize the inalienable right of the State of Israel to defend itself and its people against this horrific violence.”
Premier Ford set the tone for his party with these words: “There is no excuse, no justification for the horror we’ve seen. This is terrorism in its darkest form. We must be clear: Israel has an absolute right to defend itself and its citizens. We must stand firm in our support for Israel and the Jewish people, both abroad and at home.” Other Conservative speakers included MPPs who are Jewish (Michael Kerzner and Andrea Khanjin) and MPPs whose constituencies contain large Jewish populations (Robin Martin from Eglinton-Lawrence and Laura Smith from Thornhill). They all focused on condemning the Hamas attacks and their impact on Israelis and Canadian Jews, saying little about the Palestinians. Minister of Colleges and Universities Jill Dunlop criticized university faculty and students who supported and praised Hamas’s actions and she named the executives of student groups at York University and the University of Toronto Mississauga who took that position – in effect, shaming them in perpetuity.
Marit Stiles, leader of the Official Opposition NDP moved a more wide-ranging amendment to “call on the Government of Canada to advocate for the immediate release of all hostages, the protection of all civilians in accordance with international law, an end to the siege and bombardment of Gaza, and for humanitarian aid to reach Palestinian civilians urgently and without restriction.” NDP speakers in the debate, in addition to denouncing Hamas’s attacks, paid much more attention than did the Conservatives to the Palestinians, discussing the history of the conflict, the situation in Gaza, and the impact of these events on Canadians.
By and large, the two parties did not attack each other, with two notable exceptions. The previous day the Conservatives introduced a motion to censure NDP MPP Sarah Jama for statements on X calling for an “end to all occupation of Palestinian land” and criticizing “settler colonialism.” In the debate on October 17, Andrea Khanjin referred to “members of the opposition who have a well-documented history of Jewish hate and antisemitism” and accused Marit Stiles of “hav[ing] done nothing about the antisemitism that exists in her own caucus.”
Though subnational governments can talk about foreign policy, the constitution gives them little opportunity to act. Premier Ford did mention some actions his government had taken before the Hamas attacks: funding a two-year $25 million program to provide grants for organizations combatting hatred, including Holocaust education in the school curriculum, and contributing to the Toronto Holocaust Museum.
Where I Stand
As a Jew, I appreciate the Ford Government’s statements in support of Israel at this critical time. As a former professor, I am concerned about discourse in the universities that heroicizes terrorist groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad and demonizes Jews and Israelis, so I support the statement by the Minister of Colleges and Universities.
Consider the government’s policy initiatives. The contribution to the Holocaust Museum is welcome, but essentially an endorsement of an initiative for which the Azrieli Foundation was the main player. The anti-hate grants program and Holocaust education initiatives are good ideas, but the key to their success will be implementation.
For some Jews and non-Jews who support Israel, the Ford Government’s position – and its contrast with the NDP’s position – might increase their approval of the Government and make them more likely to vote for it in 2026.
In my case, Ben-Gurion’s maxim is particularly relevant. I support a progressive agenda to mitigate climate change; protect the environment, especially greenspace; safeguard democratic governance and fact-based policymaking; and treat support public sector workers fairly. In each of these areas, as I’ve discussed in numerous blog posts, the Ford Government has failed dismally. Therefore, I endorse the Ford Government’s support for Israeli as if there were no progressive agenda, but I support my progressive agenda for Ontario as if there were no war in Israel. Thank you for supporting Israel in this hour of need, Premier Ford, but your support for Israel today leaves me no less determined to oppose your misguided policies between now and the election and help defeat your government in 2026.