Statement From York Centre Liberal Candidate Ya’ara Saks

Oct. 19, 2020

My name is Ya’ara Saks and I’m the Liberal candidate in the riding of York Centre in the upcoming federal by-election. Let me tell you a little bit about myself. I’m a dedicated mother of two teenage daughters. I’m a small business owner in York Centre and I’m an active community advocate, in particular for better access to mental health services.

Ya’ara Saks

Like so many of us in Canada, I cherish my roots and where my family comes from. I’m the daughter of a Sabra. My father was born in Israel after my grandparents settled in what was then British Mandate Palestine. They fought in the War of Independence. I went to school in Israel; lived there, worked there. It was in Israel, working in the government of the City of Jerusalem, that I lived through the Second Intifada and found my love of public service, working for the Mayor. My family and I contributed to the building of the State of Israel, and we have done so out of a deep love, one that I share with so many of you.

I am a proud Canadian, and I am also an unapologetic Zionist who believes passionately in the State of Israel. I oppose and condemn BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel) and every other form of antisemitism. I have the privilege of being a dual citizen of Canada and of Israel, and having spent many years living in Jerusalem and around Israel, I know firsthand the serious threats that face Israel and Jewish communities around the world.

I believe in a Jewish and democratic Israel, with safe and secure borders, founded on the promise of the rule of law and equal rights enshrined in its Declaration of Independence. I believe that a secure peace is a moral and political imperative and that the only solution to the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians is a two-state solution reached through direct negotiation between the two parties. I believe that the Abraham Accords are an important shift in diplomacy and I am excited for the prospects of Israel’s neighbours finally recognizing its right to exist in peace and security, with the opportunities that it creates.

In Canada, we do not shy away from diversity of thought or of opinion. We embrace it. Our Canadian Jewish community is all the richer for that diversity. Disagreement and debate are rooted in our history, in our culture, in the way we practice our shared faith, and in our politics. It is a defining characteristic of who we are as a people, and it has served us well through the millennia.

This is just as true in Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East. From Jerusalem to Tel Aviv, from Eilat to Rosh Ha’Nikra, Israelis often disagree with their government and with each other. I will not pretend that I agree with every initiative and policy made by Israel’s current political leadership.

But let me be clear: there is a difference between criticism of government policy and questioning the state’s existence. And let me be equally clear: I will never compromise on Israel’s right to exist, on its right to self-defence, or on its right to fair and equal treatment internationally. I oppose BDS and every other form of antisemitism at every turn. I was proud when the Liberal government condemned the BDS movement. I was pleased when the Liberal government formally adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) definition of antisemitism. I was thrilled to see the Canadian government strengthening bilateral relations with Israel, including signing the updated Canada-Israel Free Trade Agreement and standing strong against threats of violence and intimidation against our Jewish communities and institutions here in Canada. I will always work with anyone who shares those values and supports Israel and the Jewish community, even when we disagree on the best way to do so.

I have dedicated my entire career to building communities based on two pillars of common understanding. The first is that compassion is our greatest currency as human beings, and the other is that כל ישראל ערבים לזה זה – all of Israel is responsible for one another. As your Member of Parliament, as a proud Canadian and as a Zionist, I will stand by these principles.

In seeking your support as your Member of Parliament in the face of the COVID-19 crisis, in a world that is changing as rapidly as it ever has, the ideas of compassion and mutual responsibility guide me more than ever. These are the values that will inform everything I do representing the people of York Centre. From mental health support to the environment, from the economy to health care, and from striving for fair and equal treatment of all Canadians to supporting a safe and secure Israel, I will be there. For you. For our children. For all of us.

For a statement on Israel from York Centre’s Conservative candidate, Juilus Tiangson, 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.”

MP Levitt Quits Politics to Take Over FSWC

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