Canada’s Israel Lobby
Peyton Vaughan Lyon
Professor Emeritus, Political Science, Carleton University
D. Phil., Oxford
This article is an update of a study of the Canada Israel Committee (CIC) published in the Journal of Canadian Studies, 1992-3. It benefited by extensive comments from Professors John Sigler, Joseph Debanné, David Farr and Diana Ralph, and Rt. Hon Robert Stanfield, Ian Watson, and Bahija Reghai. I have discussed the Israel Lobby with about 20 foreign affairs officials, 2 former Prime Ministers, 3 former Secretaries of State for External Affairs, 8 Members of Parliament, 6 Senators, and 3 officials of the Canada-Israel Committee.
Dr. Lyon is Professor Emeritus Political Science, Carleton University. He was a Rhodes Scholar, and obtained his D.Phil. from Oxford University. He served in the RCAF from 1940 to 1945.
He held posts as Foreign Service Officer, Department of External Affairs in Ottawa, Canada and in Bonn, Germany. He is the author of five books on Canadian foreign policy, trade and defence.
Canada’s relations with the Arab/Muslim world are second in importance and difficulty only to its relationship with the United States. The one serious threat to Canadian citizens now stems from the mounting anger of Arabs and other Muslims, fomented largely by Israel’s long-standing occupation of Palestine. The Mid-East conflict has for sixty years been the principal issue on the agenda of the UN General Assembly, a body in which Canadians like to shine. Trade with the Middle East, while modest, is largely in manufactured goods, the sort favoured by Canadian exporters.
Canada’s foreign policy, however, fails to reflect these concerns. Its votes in the UN General Assembly and other international bodies are closer in support of Israel than those of any other nation apart from the United States and its five Pacific satellites. Prime Minister Harper’s personal statements are more biased towards Israel than those of any other leader(1) This imbalance does not accord with the advice of the men and women employed by Canada to determine and implement its interests in the Middle East. It is also opposed by an increasing number of churches, unions, and other bodies concerned with peace and justice in Palestine.
Who makes Canada’s Mid-East policy? A ranking of influence by a panel of foreign affairs officials placed the Canadian Jewish Community first at
- compared to 5.40 for each of the Prime Minister and the Department of External Affairs. The Canadian/Arab Community at 1.80 was ranked sixteenth out of the eighteen estimated influence inputs. (2) Although the Arab Community has become better organized in recent years, interviews with senior officials and case studies suggest that there has been little change in this ranking.
There is of course nothing illegal or immoral about lobbies, even those operating in the interest of foreign entities. A significant number of ethnic groups do in fact lobby for their countries of origin. (3) Canada’s Israel lobby is simply by far the most powerful and effective. It has become customary to refer to it as “the Lobby”, and I shall follow that practice. The Lobby claims to act on all Canada-Israel matters on behalf of an estimated two- thirds of the three hundred and fifteen thousand Canadians of Jewish origin.(4)
For obvious reasons, the American-Israel lobby is far larger, more powerful, and better known than its Canadian counterpart. (5) There are further significant differences and I shall begin with them. American Jews number about three percent of the population whereas the Canadian equivalent is a more modest one percent. American Jews, having arrived earlier in North America, are more integrated into the general population and less united in support of their government’s Mid-East policy. Canadian Jews, in the words of Professors Taras and Weinfeld, “are more Jewish.” Other authorities have said they are more conservative. (6) “Is there,” asked Gerald Caplan, another prominent Jew, “any act of Israel that will shame the leaders of Canadian Jewry into saying enough is enough?” (7)
The biggest difference in the tactics followed by the two lobbies lies in their degrees of openness and use of threats. Because the role of Congress in making foreign policy is much greater than that of Parliament, and party discipline is weaker, the American lobby focuses on individual members of Congress, none of whom can take refuge behind a party line. Because cabinet solidarity matters more in Ottawa, the Canadian Lobby makes a greater effort to focus on every minister. Lobbying, moreover, is more acceptable in the American political culture and can be more open and hard hitting. A reputation for wealth, ruthlessness and success is in fact an asset whereas in Canada lobbies operate more discreetly and soft- pedal their influence. American elections are more frequent than in Canada; this makes raising funds more difficult, thus increasing the vulnerability of candidates to lobby pressure. Lobbying in the United States, however, is subject to greater legal restriction than in Canada. One authority goes so far as to say that, because of tighter organization, it is more effective in Canada. (6)
All in all, lobbying in each country is probably about equal in effectiveness. Elections afford each Lobby the greatest opportunity to exercise influence. Although most Jewish Americans have voted Democratic, and Canadian Jews Liberal, neither are formally aligned and votes can be swung if a party adopts what might appear to many Jews to be an anti-Israel approach. Jimmy Carter, in making an exceptional effort to bring peace to the Middle East, angered Israel and its American Lobby. As a result, Carter lost almost half his Jewish vote between 1976 and 1980, a loss which contributed to his defeat in the 1980 election. Sydney Spivak, chairman of the Canadian Lobby’s 1998 policy conference, threatened a similar outcome when Joe Clark, then Secretary of State for External Affairs, criticized Israel’s suppression of Palestinian rights.
A particular triumph for the American lobby was the defeat in 1984 of Charles Percy, chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee. As Tom Dine, executive director of AIPAC (the American Israel Public Affairs committee) — the predominant US-Israel lobby — boasted to a Toronto audience, “All the Jews in America … gathered to defeat Percy. And the American politicians got the message.” (8)
A comparable Canadian case was that of Dr. Frank Epp, an outstanding scholar and President of Waterloo University. In 1979, Epp ran as a Liberal in what was considered the safe Liberal seat in Waterloo. However, his desire for a more balanced approach to the Israel-Palestine conflict was falsely depicted by the Lobby as “anti-Semitic” – a charge the Lobby frequently uses to discredit critics of Israeli government policies. In Epp’s case, the attack culminated in a full-page advertisement on election eve. In a constituency containing several thousand Jews, Epp was defeated by a mere 155 votes.
In the Toronto riding of Saint-Paul’s, with about 20,000 Jewish voters, the 1979 election featured a Conservative promise to move the Canadian embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The Conservative candidate, Ron Atkey, won. In the election the following year –after Prime Minister Clark had abandoned his promise to move the embassy– the seat swung back to John Roberts of the Liberals.
In 1984 a Manitoba court ruled that unfair lobbying could have caused the defeat of Conservative candidate Luba Fedorkiw in Winnipeg North. Fedorkiw accused the Jewish advocacy group, B’nai Brith, of having defeated her by suggesting she was anti-Semitic and levelling the false charge of “Jew-baiting” against her. She was awarded $400,000 in damages.
The Lobby concentrates on the ten constituencies where most of the Jewish and Arab/Muslim populations are located. Proportionally more Jews, however, go to the polls and are more likely to make a difference. It should also be noted that a substantial minority of the Arabs are Maronite Christians who are indifferent to the fate of the majority of Arabs.