ontario news watch

When the terrorist organization Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7, 2023, it led to the ongoing war in the Gaza Strip. The after-effects have also been felt around the world. Pro-Palestine and pro-Israel rallies. Protests in front of small businesses, restaurants and even hospitals. Threats of antisemitism in Jewish and non-Jewish schools. Growing distrust of individuals and groups in neighbourhoods and communities.

Every so often, these incidents have contained a connecting theme. While this isn’t surprising per se, it’s interesting enough that some people will take note of it.

Here’s one of the strangest connections to date. Two Jewish women living in two different countries were recently involved in two bizarre situations that ended in an eerily similar fashion.

Strange, but true.

The first story relates to Leah Goldstein. Born in Vancouver to Israeli parents, she’s lived in both countries and currently resides in Vernon, B.C. She went from being a medal-winning kickboxer to a renowned cyclist. Goldstein won the women’s solo category in the annual Race Across America in 2011, and became the first woman to win the overall solo category in 2021.

Goldstein was asked in Aug. 2023 to be the keynote speaker at an International Women’s Day event in Peterborough, Ont. She often appears as a motivational speaker, and gladly accepted this honour. Her speech would’ve been given in March.

So far, so good.

Everything came crashing down a few months later. The event organizers unexpectedly disinvited Goldstein in January. “Our focus at INSPIRE has been and will always be to create safe spaces to honour, share, and celebrate the remarkable stories of women and non-binary individuals,” the organization said in a statement. “In recognition of the current situation and the sensitivity of the conflict in the Middle East, the Board of INSPIRE will be changing our keynote speaker.”

What had exactly caused this decision? Goldstein had reportedly served in the Israel Defence Force over three decades ago. This led a “small but growing and extremely vocal group” to take issue with her invitation – and INSPIRE caved in. Goldstein was never invited to speak with the event organizers, and refused to respond when some members reportedly demanded to know her position about the Israel-Hamas war.

“I am zero political when I speak,” she told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency on Feb. 15. “Honestly, there is nothing political about my presentation. I just talk about the crap that I went through and the crap that most women go through, and they still do, and how I handled it.”

If she had spoken with the organizers, this would have been her first question, “You didn’t hire me because I’m Jewish, so why are you firing me because I’m Jewish?”

Good point.

What does being Jewish have to do with making a keynote speech on International Women’s Day? Absolutely nothing.

This brings us to our second story involving British actress Tracey-Ann Oberman. She’s appeared on popular TV shows like EastEndersFriday Night DinnerRobin HoodDoctor Who and Tracey Ullman’s Show, theatre performances by the Royal Shakespeare Company and Soho Theatre, and radio programs on BBC4.

Oberman was set to perform on the opening night of Merchant of Venice 1936 at the Criterion Theatre in London’s West End on Feb. 15. It’s a reimagined version of William Shakespeare’s play that takes place during the rise of fascism in parts of Europe, and focuses on a march by Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists in the Jewish East End.

So far, so good.

While the play opened as scheduled, Metropolitan Police were called in to monitor the performance due to a number of online threats and abuse against Oberman. She’s been a vocal opponent of rising antisemitism in her country, especially in the Labour Party under former leader Jeremy Corbyn. Some people are irritated by her words and actions, it seems.

“’Tracey is really nervous at the moment like a lot of Jewish people are with the rising tide of antisemitism in this country, with people mixing up their anger at Israeli actions in Gaza with attacks on Jews in this country,” an unnamed friend of Oberman’s told the Daily Mail on Feb. 15. “She was very grateful to learn that police were outside the theatre on the opening night.”

In a twist of irony, Oberman plays the role of Shylock in Merchant of Venice 1936.

The original Shylock, a villainous Venetian Jewish moneylender who ultimately converts to Christianity, has long been the subject of controversy for representing historical Jewish stereotypes. Oberman’s portrayal of Shylock has been notably different since she introduced it last year at Watford Palace. Her version is a Jewish “matriarch and pawnbroker, dignified and steely,” The Guardian’s Arifa Akbar wrote on Mar. 2, 2023, “who is spat upon and verbally abused by powerful men on the street and has antisemitic graffiti daubed on her house.” This is what the audience at the Criterion Theatre witnessed, too.

Let’s recap. Olberman, who’s Jewish, had to be protected by police from antisemitic threats while performing a modern adaptation of a Jewish Shakespearean character based on historical antisemitism.

What does being Jewish have to do with playing Shylock on stage? Absolutely nothing.

So. While Leah Goldstein and Tracey-Ann Oberman may never meet, their stories that rose out of the Israel-Hamas war actually “met” in the most peculiar way.

Michael Taube, a long-time newspaper columnist and political commentator, was a speechwriter for former Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper.


The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.