Aug. 5, 2020 –
Toronto-area Liberal Member of Parliament Michael Levitt has announced he is retiring from politics to become president and CEO of Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center (FSWC).
Levitt has represented the riding of York Centre since 2015, when he defeated Conservative Mark Adler. He was re-elected in last year’s federal vote. His final day as an MP will be Sept. 1.
In a message to his constituents posted on Facebook, Levitt said the job of MP in Ottawa took a toll on his personal life.
“It hasn’t been without consequence to those I love most, and while it is an incredible privilege to serve the people of York Centre, I know deep down that now is the time for me to put family first and come back home, both physically and mentally,” he said.
Despite that, he said he “loved every minute” of political life. “…it has been the adventure of a lifetime.”
Among a handful of Jewish MPs, Levitt chaired the Canada-Israel Interparliamentary Group; the House of Commons’ Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development; and the Foreign Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on International Human Rights.
He will replace Avi Benlolo as head of the FSWC. No reason was given for Benlolo’s departure from the organization earlier this summer.
“FSWC is excited to welcome Michael Levitt as President and CEO,” the group’s chair, Fred Waks, said in a press release. “As the Member of Parliament for York Centre, Michael is deeply rooted in the community and his work in the fields of foreign affairs and human rights has garnered him respect from advocates at home and abroad. His distinguished career advocating for human rights, and his support for Israel and the fight against antisemitism, bring a high level of leadership and profile to our organization. We could not be more excited for the future.”
As an MP, Levitt frequently spoke out on Israel and issues of concern to Canada’s Jews, co-sponsoring a 2018 bill to make May of each year Canadian Jewish Heritage Month.
He was visible when Canada said it would adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism, and he often addressed anti-Jewish incidents in the country.
But Levitt found himself on the defensive last autumn when Ottawa abruptly changed its vote on a resolution at the United Nations to oppose Israel, which filed a diplomatic complaint against Canada.
Levitt was also a member of the Raoul Wallenberg Parliamentary Caucus on Human Rights. Before entering politics, he helped found the Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee.
In the FSWC statement, Levitt said he plans “to continue the organization’s proud legacy and the work I’ve done over the past five years in fighting antisemitism and promoting human rights, including bringing a renewed focus to the issue of systemic racism in Canada and how we can work together to address it.”
His appointment earned praise from former justice minister and international human rights advocate Irwin Cotler, who said Levitt’s “extensive experience and expertise dovetail perfectly with the mission and purpose of [FSWC], acting on the universal lessons of the Holocaust – combating racism and antisemitism and safeguarding Israel and the Jewish people.”
According to iPolitics, Levitt’s departure will trigger the first byelection of the current Parliament and will be the first during the COVID pandemic.
– CJR Staff