Former Canadian prime minister Brian Mulroney was honoured at the Museum of Modern Art in New York on Nov. 9. He was given the World Jewish Congress Theodor Herzl Award, joining a list of recipients that includes former U.S. president Ronald Reagan (posthumously), former U.S. Secretaries of State Colin Powell, George Shultz and Henry Kissinger, former German chancellor Angela Merkel, writer/activist Elie Wiesel and U.S. President Joe Biden.
Mulroney’s speech that evening was superbly crafted. I’m sure it was delivered with the eloquence we’ve come to expect from one of the finest orators ever to lead our country.
A few paragraphs deserve to be highlighted that focus on the Israel-Hamas war and the scourge of anti-semitism. These are important issues due to the times we live in. The former PM has also strongly and passionately opposed this type of racist behaviour for his entire life, which means it’s a matter of personal importance.
“Hamas knew full well the reaction its murderous rampage against innocents would provoke,” Mulroney said. “They knew and didn’t care. Indeed, it is the reaction they sought. They chose to put the lives of the two million people of Gaza they claim to defend in mortal danger in a deliberate, nihilistic attempt to set the Middle East on fire.”
The reasons for this attack “was not to increase the likelihood of a Palestinian state” and “was not to improve the lives of the people of Gaza,” the former PM told the audience. “These are terrorists in the purest sense of the word for whom the senseless violent act satisfies the strategic objective, killing Jews. Hamas knew something else. They knew they could count on a legion of apologists who, while decrying attacks on Jews here at home, are prepared to accept attacks on Jews in Israel as deserved.”
In Mulroney’s view, “contemporary antisemitism has added the State of Israel to its list of targets. Israel has become the new Jew. Stripped of its intellectual pretensions, of the cloak of human rights, these ritual denunciations of Israel with which we have become all too familiar are a pernicious form of racism.”
There was also this powerful paragraph near the end. “Antisemitism, born in ignorance and nurtured in envy is the stepchild of delusion and evil and is a scourge that must be eradicated. It will not be stamped out in my lifetime, nor in the lifetime of my children, or even, sadly, in that of my grandchildren.”
Well said and articulated.
Mulroney’s commendable opposition to antisemitism was detailed in Donald E. Abelson and Monda Halpern’s “On the Right Side of History”: Brian Mulroney’s Enduring Battle Against Antisemitism, published by the Brian Mulroney Institute of Government at St. Francis Xavier University. I wrote about this paper in a Troy Media syndicated column in January, but it’s worth a second examination.
Mulroney was born in Baie-Comeau, Quebec. It’s a “small pulp and paper mill town that had no Jews.” The first Jewish person he would meet, the “son of a local clothier,” occurred at St. Thomas High School in Chatham, New Brunswick.
Abelson and Halpern provided three reasons why Mulroney has strongly opposed anti-semitism in his lifetime. They’re as follows: “his exposure to social justice issues while a student at St. Francis Xavier University (StFX), his years in Montréal in the 1960s, and his intense appreciation for the lessons of the past which inspired his consistent resolve to be ‘on the right side of history.’”
Mulroney has also been frustrated at the hostility against Jews in and around our country. He firmly believes “Canada’s collective shame rests largely in the treatment of the Jews by the Mackenzie King government,” and has always “looked to the lessons of the Holocaust as inspiration for helping to redress other injustices.”
Some critics may feel that Mulroney’s support of Jews and Israel has been politically motivated. Nothing could be further from the truth.
“With Jews representing less than two per cent of Canada’s electorate, Mulroney had little to gain politically by garnering favour with the Jewish community,” the authors correctly pointed out. Rather, he was “fulfilling an ethical imperative – pushing for Jews in federal politics and diplomatic posts, establishing the Deschênes Commission, and supporting the existence and self-preservation of Israel.”
The proof is in the pudding, as the old saying goes.
Three of his chiefs of staff were Jewish – Stanley Hartt, Norman Spector and Hugh Segal. Spector would also be named Canada’s first Jewish Ambassador to Israel, and Conservative Mira Spivak would become Canada’s first Jewish female Senator. Former Ontario NDP leader Stephen Lewis became Canadian ambassador to the United Nations, Liberal Senator David Croll, who Mulroney believed was consistently passed over for a cabinet position “for no apparent reason at the time other than his Jewishness,” was appointed to the Queen’s Privy Council.
I’ve known Mulroney for years. His opposition to antisemitism, support of Israel’s right to defend itself and friendship with the Canadian Jewish community is genuine and has never wavered one iota. He, along with several other former Canadian prime ministers – including my old friend and boss, Stephen Harper – have consistently defended Jews and Israel in both public and private life.
That’s why Mulroney deserves not only the Theodor Herzl Award, but our thanks for being a beacon of light during this difficult time for our country and world.
Michael Taube, a long-time newspaper columnist and political commentator, was a speechwriter for former Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper.