By SHAWN McCARTHY
Globe and Mail Update
Ottawa Liberal candidates are scrambling to soothe the Jewish community after Canadian Alliance Leader Stockwell Day attacked the Liberal government's decision to support a United Nations vote criticizing Israel.
Candidates in several key ridings, particularly in Toronto and Montreal, worry that Mr. Day's strong statements supporting Israel and his promise of more government support for denominational schools are playing well in the Jewish community.
Liberal campaign co-chair David Smith acknowledged Tuesday that many Jewish voters are angry with the Liberals over Canada's support for UN Security Council Resolution 1322, which condemns Israel's use of "excessive force" against Palestinian rioters last month.
"I understand that is of concern to a lot of them and there is no easy answer to it," Mr. Smith said. "The wording of that resolution was unfortunate."
He said the issue has caused problems for Liberal candidates in Toronto-area ridings such as Thornhill, Willowdale, St. Paul's and York Centre and in the Montreal ridings such as Mont-Royal, ridings in which the Jewish vote represents a sizable minority.
The Liberals won most of those ridings handily in the last election but Mr. Smith said they can't take anything for granted this time around.
Mr. Day attended a meeting in a synagogue in the Toronto suburb of Thornhill on Monday night, and told the mainly Jewish audience that a Canadian Alliance government would be a staunch supporter of Israel.
"I want you to understand very clearly the Canadian Alliance position and my position. It is clear and unequivocal: We support Israel's right to exist in peace and security with its neighbours," he said.
"It was especially disappointing to see Jean Chrétien and the Liberal government support a one-sided United Nations resolution, number 1322, which singled out Israel as the sole party to blame in this outbreak of violence. It was unbalanced."
The audience of about 600 booed loudly when Mr. Day mentioned the name of the riding's local MP, Immigration Minister Elinor Caplan. A number of other MPs in the Toronto area have been criticized by their Jewish constituents because of the declaration.
Mr. Day noted that the resolution did not call on both sides in the dispute to reign in the violence, and failed to refer to holy sites in Jerusalem by their names in Hebrew.
"For me it was embarrassing and unsettling to see Canada support this kind of resolution in an international forum."
Mr. Day also used the meeting to reaffirm his support for government financial aid to private religious schools. Many in the crowd held placards last night demanding equal funding for their schools.
Jack Silverstone, vice-president of the Canadian Jewish Congress, said the timing of the UN vote was unfortunate for the Liberals, coming as it did just weeks before an election call.
"The anger is still palpable in the community, but we have to move forward from here and see what role Canada can play to help get the parties back to the discussion table," he said.
However, Ian Watson, of the Canada-Arab Council, said the government's vote at the UN recognized that Israel had responded to rock-throwers with live ammunition and had contributed to the collapse of the peace talks.
He said Canada's Arab and Muslim communities would punish any party that sought to garner Jewish votes by blindly supporting heavy-handed Israeli actions.
Ms. Caplan Tuesday conceded that some of her constituents remain concerned about the UN vote, but said the Liberal government has never wavered in its support for Israel to exist beyond secure borders and remains its steadfast friend.
The minister had Foreign Affairs Minister John Manley visit her riding to reassure voters of Canada's support for Israel, and she noted that Canada recently voted against another, more recent UN resolution that condemned Israel.
"I think people should be reassured about Canada's support for Israel," she said. "And I think they know I have been a good representative for them in Ottawa."