Editorial: Don’t Let Ignorance Prevail

July 29, 2020 –

John F. Kennedy once noted: “The rights of everyone are diminished when the rights of one are threatened.” It’s hard not to think about Kennedy’s words when dissecting the present leadership run of Annamie Paul to head the federal Green Party of Canada. As reported in the CJR on July 27, Paul is Jewish and Black.

There is little doubt she has the right stuff to run for leader. A Princeton University graduate, lawyer, and the international affairs critic for the party, Paul has been a loyal member of the Greens for years. Sadly, her run for some seems more about her Jewish faith and the colour of her skin than her abilities to hold the position.

According to Paul, she, along with another woman of colour running for the leadership of the federal Conservative party*, Leslyn Lewis, have been the victims of anti-Black racism, and in Paul’s case, this has also been mixed with Jew-hatred. These verbal attacks were hurled anonymously during Zoom leadership debates. The parties are investigating, and if it turns out that the bigot responsible is a Green or Conservative member, he or she will be immediately tossed.

That is very clearly the correct course of action, but why must it come to this in the first place? We are always left aghast at the level of ignorance and intolerance that emerges from time to time in the public sphere. And frankly, it wasn’t always this way.

There have been a number of high-profile politicians, from former federal NDP leader David Lewis; his son, Ontario NDP leader Stephen Lewis; former Ontario PC Leader Larry Grossman; one-time federal Deputy Prime Minister Herb Gray, and others whose Jewishness was rarely, if ever, an issue.

Of course we are not blind to antisemitism in this country. It’s always been with us but it never really seemed to permeate the politics of the nation. So why now?

For one, our technologically advanced era provides a new ease with which racists may transmit their venom – anonymously to boot.

As well, Canada and the rest of the world are facing a pandemic. This is unprecedented. We have been locked down, afraid, anxious and deeply concerned for our future. At such times, we see both the best and the worst of people, and we see it magnified many times over.

This is as true for politics as anything else. As a Jewish community, we must continue to hold our head up high. We are a diverse group of people and perhaps this pandemic and the tumult it has created will help us focus.

People of colour, no matter their faith or place of origin, have most notably on this continent faced bigotry, oppression, and slavery, and have lived in fear of its consequences. We need to stand tall with leaders like Annamie Paul and Leslyn Lewis. Despite their party’s problematic stance on Israel, their presence on the national scene gives us all hope for the future.

*This corrects an earlier version of this editorial, which said Leslyn Lewis was running for the leadership of the Green Party of Canada. The CJR regrets the error.