Statement From York Centre Conservative Candidate Julius Tiangson

Oct. 19, 2020

Why I Stand with Israel

Growing up in the Philippines, I always celebrated the powerful connection between the Jewish and Filipino diasporas, whose strong ties date to the decision of Manuel Quezon, the Second World War-era president of the Philippines, to issue 1,300 visas to Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi-occupied Europe in 1937-41.

Julius Tiangson

Not only did Quezon welcome as many Jews as he could get visas for, he also offered them his private land to grow food and develop a kind of kibbutz.

The Philippines was thereafter the only Asian nation to vote for the United Nations Partition plan of 1947, which led to the independence of the State of Israel, and paved the way for strong relations between the two countries through to the present day.

Quezon’s heroism is celebrated by both Filipino and Jewish people, including at the “Philippine-Israel Friendship Park” in Quezon City, the Philippines, and at “Balai Quezon” multipurpose centre in Tel Aviv.

In 2015, the board of the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation approved a posthumous bestowal of the Wallenberg Medal upon President Quezon and to the people of the Philippines for having reached out, between 1937 and 1941, to the persecuted Jews of Europe.

I believe that Canada, too, should celebrate this great relationship with gratitude, with a monument in York Centre.

I am deeply committed to rebuilding Canada’s relationships with its most reliable allies, especially the State of Israel. Like our party’s leader, Erin O’Toole, I support recognizing Jerusalem as the eternal capital of Israel and moving the Embassy of Canada to Jerusalem. Israel, like every sovereign nation, has the right to choose its own capital as a domestic decision; and the people of Israel have chosen to restore their ancient capital in Jerusalem.

Mr. O’Toole and I will stand by our ally Israel, the only true democracy in the Middle East. Our party’s position on Israel is inspired by our last Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, who famously promised the Knesset, Israel’s Parliament, that “through fire and water, Canada will stand with you.”

I agree with his argument that it is in Canada’s long-term interest to back a country where freedom, democracy and the rule of law are threatened by “those who scorn modernity, who loathe the liberty of others and who hold the differences of peoples and cultures in contempt.”

Under Prime Minister Harper, Canada was a loyal ally to Israel at the United Nations. Unlike the current government, which has infamously abandoned Israel on UN resolution votes, the Harper government consistently stood against the abuse of Israel by a body which values dictatorships as much as democracies, and elevates countries like Communist China and Cuba to its Human Rights Council.

I celebrate the Middle East’s only democracy, a multiethnic country, much like our own, made up of recent immigrants from around the globe; and the only country in the region to provide full rights and democratic participation to religious and ethnic minorities.

The vibrant free press and right to dissent available to all Israelis, including religious minorities and members of the LGBTQ+ communities, are the envy of the region. Israel is also an environmental trailblazer as the only country in the world to have more trees at the end of the 20th century than at the beginning.

I also recognize the tremendous progress that Israel has made towards a regional agreement with the Abraham Accords, through which it has made peace with two of its Arab neighbors, the United Arab Emirates and the Kingdom of Bahrain. As Prime Minister Harper rightly noted in a recent article, these agreements “are truly transformative and will pave the way for historic realignments across the Middle East.” They occurred because the world has changed – not only has the strong support of its allies proved to regional nations that Israel is a lasting part of the Middle East, but increasingly, a partner with leading Arab nations against the aggression of Iran.

I also stand with the Jewish community in embracing the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of antisemitism, which recognizes that antisemitism “might include the targeting of the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity” which is different from criticism leveled against any other country.

According to Statistics Canada, year over year, there are more hateful attacks against Jews than upon any other group. I will always fight the terrible scourge of the world’s oldest hatred.

I call upon all Canadians who support Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East and Canada’s most reliable ally in the region, to join this campaign, because I want to represent you.

For a statement on Israel from York Centre’s Liberal candidate, Ya’ara Saks, click here.

Israeli-Canadian Ya’ara Saks is Liberal Hopeful in York Centre

Oct. 5, 2020

By LILA SARICK

It’s been the challenges of being a single parent and business owner during the pandemic that led Ya’ara Saks to seek the nomination for the Liberals in this month’s federal byelection in York Centre.

As the city went into lockdown, the demand for services at the mental health agency where Saks is the director skyrocketed, she told the CJR in an interview.

Meanwhile, the yoga studio she owns had to shift to online classes and employees were struggling.

Ya’ara Saks

“My staff are part of the gig economy – many of them are women – and watching them try to figure out how to get through this, and the vulnerabilities it exposed, was a real eye-opener [that] we never really addressed,” said Saks. “This is the moment to address them.”

Last month, Saks was appointed the Liberal candidate by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, bypassing the traditional nomination process.

“I was as surprised as anyone,” said Saks, pointing out that the party’s decision accorded with its guidelines.

Gary Gladstone, who was unsuccessful as the Liberal candidate in last year’s federal election in Thornhill riding, was also seeking the nomination in York Centre. He said that although he was “disappointed” there was no riding vote, he would be supporting Saks. “I think she’s a wonderful candidate.”

Saks will face Conservative candidate Julius Tiangson, a Filipino-Canadian businessman who lost his bid for a seat in Mississauga in the 2015 federal election. Maxime Bernier, leader of the People’s Party of Canada, which does not have a seat in Parliament, has also indicated he is running in York Centre.

According to the 2016 census, 17 percent of the riding’s residents are of Filipino ethnic origin. The 2011 National Household Survey found that 13.6 percent of York Centre residents indicated they were Jewish. It has traditionally been a safe Liberal seat, although in 2011, Conservative Mark Adler defeated Liberal incumbent Ken Dryden. The Liberals recaptured the riding in 2015.

The byelection, scheduled for Oct. 26, was called after MP Michael Levitt stepped down to become CEO of the Canadian Friends of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

Apart from owning a yoga studio in the riding, Saks, 47, is the director of Trauma Practice for Healthy Communities, a charity that focuses on mental health. Addressing mental health issues, especially challenges that have arisen during the pandemic, will be a priority if she is elected, she said.

Saks, who was born in Toronto and has an Israeli father, spent her early years in both Canada and Israel, and her first language is Hebrew. “My family’s moshav, Even Yehuda (just outside Netanya) was and remains a central part of my life,” she said.

She moved to Israel in 1995 and earned a master’s degree from Hebrew University of Jerusalem in international relations and diplomacy. She spent several years in the Jerusalem mayor’s office, working on community engagement projects, and moved back to Toronto in 2006.

The Liberal stance on Israel dovetails with her own philosophy, she said.

“The policy of the Liberal Party as it stands today is that a negotiated agreement between the Palestinians and the Israelis would be in the best interest of both societies, and I am in complete agreement,” she said. “I think that Israelis have the right to be safe and secure within their own borders. I also think that Palestinian society should have an opportunity to come to the table and negotiate as well.”

Saks has been a committee member of the New Israel Fund of Canada (NIF), and said those who fear the organization leans too far left should examine its mandate, which is to “support Israeli society and uphold its Declaration of Independence, which were the founding values of the country.”

The NIF’s goals are in fact “in very close alignment with Liberal values,” she said.

“If we want to push back against BDS [the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign against Israel], then we want to show that Israelis do care about having a strong, democratic and socially just society. If we can show that, what better way to push back against BDS and the underlying voices of antisemitism that come with it?” she asked.

Running an election campaign during a pandemic is a challenge, but Saks says it was crucial to hold the byelection now so constituents would be represented as the number of COVID cases climb again.

Elections Canada is working with the candidates to ensure that voting can be done safely, she said.

Saks is not concerned that she could be engaged in a second campaign soon after this one should the minority Liberal government be defeated in a non-confidence motion.

Reflecting on the years she lived in Israel, she noted she had experience with the country going to the polls multiple times.

“An election is not something to be afraid of,” she said. “An election is an opportunity to highlight your commitment to the values and the policies that have been put forward and to encourage voters to use their ballot to let us know what they want.”