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The Jewish Canadian MP questioning his future with Liberal Party

Surge in anti-Israel activism within Canada’s governing party has the Liberal Party’s leading Jewish lawmaker reconsidering his partisan allegiances

Anthony Housefather (Screenshot)

Canadian MP Anthony Housefather had hardly made it through the door of his Ottawa office building last Tuesday when a reporter stopped him to ask about one of the most difficult days of his career. Housefather, a Jewish lawmaker who has represented a heavily Jewish district in Montreal since 2015, was one of just three members of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party to vote against a resolution the previous night that, in Housefather’s view, equated Israel to Hamas. 

A 50-second clip of the interview, posted by CPAC, Canada’s version of C-SPAN, went viral on social media; it showed Housefather getting choked up as he came face-to-face with a new political reality.

“I think it’s the first time, in my parliamentary career, that I’ve had a reflection like this, where I truly felt last night that a line had been crossed,” Housefather told the reporter. “I started reflecting as to whether or not I belonged.”

His crisis of belonging was sparked by his colleagues in the Liberal Party joining Canada’s New Democratic Party — which Housefather likened to the far-left Squad in Washington — in passing a resolution that called for an end to arms sales to Israel and for Canada to support global prosecutions of Israel in venues like the International Court of Justice, where South Africa has accused Israel of committing genocide. 

“Right now, for most North American Jews, and I think that’s the case in Canada and the United States, there’s no issue more important than antisemitism domestically and what’s happening with Israel,” Housefather told Jewish Insider on Friday. “So if I am this far out of line with my party, it has to make me question, am I in the right place?”

The past week has been a disorienting one for Housefather, who viewed Monday’s vote as the culmination of growing trendlines against Israel on the left in Canada. It’s a process Housefather has watched with alarm since just a few weeks after the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks in Israel — something, he said, he would never have predicted, even as some on the left have moved away from Israel in recent years.

“Our party’s position has consistently been pro-Israel, until about November of last year, and now somehow we’ve swung in a completely opposite direction,” said Housefather. 

Monday’s events surprised him on a procedural level, too: The resolution had been introduced by the New Democrats, who are a separate party from the Liberals — and, thus, Housefather expected the Liberals to oppose their measure. 

Instead, the Liberal Party’s leadership worked with the NDP to amend some language in the resolution after an initial draft called for unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state. MPs had just a few minutes to review the final text before it passed, leading some Conservatives to object on procedural grounds. But the resolution passed, and Liberal leaders have pledged to take the language in the non-binding measure seriously. 

“Canadian Jews, if this motion is adopted, will feel tremendous pain. Because the way this motion is constructed, it is clearly creating a false equivalency of the State of Israel and the terrorist organization Hamas,” Housefather said in a floor speech outlining his opposition to the measure. “The Jewish community right now is demoralized and intimidated. This motion creates one winner and one loser.” 

After the speech, in which Housefather offered a strong defense of Zionism and its centrality to the Canadian Jewish community, many of his colleagues came over to offer thanks and praise for the speech. 

“In all of these demonstrations around the country outside of synagogues and outside of Jewish schools and outside of Jewish community centers, where people are screaming about how horrible Zionists are, well, I am a Zionist, and I’m not embarrassed or ashamed of being a Zionist,” Housefather said on the floor. “Canadian Jews should not have to live [with] what we’re living through right now.” 

Ultimately, though, his remarks didn’t change the way his colleagues voted.

Housefather, who is 51, has not decided what he’ll do next — whether he will leave the party that has been his political home all his life, or whether he will stay to try to effect change from within.

“Do I stay and keep fighting this battle on an issue that I care so much about?” he asked. “Or do I say, OK, well, it’s now gotten to a point where I’m no longer at home here, and my community’s telling me they’re no longer at home?’” 

Housefather has wrestled with going public about his concerns about the Liberal Party. “But I’ve gone public with them because I hear it from so many Jewish Canadians that are having these same doubts, that I want them to know that they’re not alone, and I’m having these doubts too,” he explained. 

For a lawmaker with liberal values, making a choice to possibly leave his party — a choice that Housefather said he has not yet decided — is a difficult one.

“I’ve always believed that my values as a Jew are not any different than my values as a Canadian, and that I can’t be centered only on Jews, I have to care about everybody,” he said. “I don’t necessarily identify on many issues with the other party.” He acknowledged that, among Canadian Jews, “there’s been a very, very large migration to the Conservatives, because the Conservatives have been so so clear on this issue.” 

Lately, there is just one issue driving Housefather’s work. But his problems are bigger than just his Liberal colleagues’ growing antipathy toward Israel; it’s a sense of betrayal that his colleagues don’t empathize with Canada’s Jewish community at their time of need. 

“We all know that there’s antisemitic problems on the far right and the far left. And normally, the great danger to me has been from the right, but now, definitely, the great danger is more on the left, at least in the immediate term,” Housefather told JI. “I’d seen a trend on one part of my party away from Israel and support for Israel, but I’d never seen — on the issue of not caring about the Jewish community at all — no, I had never seen any of this.” 

What gives Housefather hope is what he describes as a silent majority of Canadians who do stand with the Jewish community. And the Jewish community is stronger than ever. 

“The vast majority of Canadians are on our side. They may not know how to fix the problem, but we’re not alone,” he said. “The Jewish community is fighting back. I think the Jewish community is united, and that has definitely revitalized Jewish life.”

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