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Elliot Leven


Ashley Faintuch

 
IS STEPHEN HARPER A MENSCH? FAINTUCH: USE OF WORD “MENSCH” BY LEVEN ON CBC RADIO IS INAPPROPRIATE. LEVEN RESPONDS

By Ashley Faintuch and Elliot Leven, May 30, 2011

ASHLEY FAINTUCH:  KEEP THE WORD “MENSCH” OUT OF CANADIAN POLITICAL DISCOURSE
 
By Ashley Faintuch, May 30, 2011
 
On April 21, Elliot Leven was part of a panel on Jewish Voters on CBC’s radio show The Current.
 
Leven discredited countless Jewish voters, using the assumption that they are one issue voters, referring to Conservative support for Israel. When asked whether people vote for leaders rather than parties, Leven stated “leaders are always important, and in a nutshell, I don’t think Stephen Harper is a mensch. A mensch is a Jewish expression for a decent compassionate human being…I just don’t see him as a mensch, his record on human rights issues is terrible and I just don’t see him as a compassionate leader”.  [To hear Leven's commentary on CBC's the Current, go to http://www.cbc.ca/thecurrent/episode/2011/04/21/jewish-voters/ . Leven first introduces himself at 10:40, and the mensch comment is between 13:10 and 13:35]I was  offended by this statement for a number of reasons. Firstly, this statement discredits Jewish voter opinion and intellect, and assumes all Jewish voters are one-issue voters. I personally am not a one-issue voter, although I do appreciate Harper’s strong and unwavering support for the democratic State of Israel, and look at further policies of a party and vote based on who I feel best represents the Canada I wish to live in. Secondly, the usage of the term “mensch” is problematic, especially in public Canadian political discourse. Essentially, this term is a codeword to Jews, and is not very definable. Unless you know a person intimately, you cannot categorize a person in terms of ‘menschlechkite.’ Would anyone say someone is a sinner without actually knowing them?
 
I think there is a specific stigma to the term mensch. An example of when  I think it t may be ok to use this term  is in reference to morally unethical behaviour, such as corruption, bribery or rape; however, using the term due to differing political views in not acceptable or advisable. In my view it would have been proper for  Mr Leven to say “ I disagree with Harper because of his policies and stances on x, y and z.,” and leave the whole issue of being a mensch out of it. 
 
Leven mentioned on the radio that he feels human rights is a big issue to Jewish voters, and that he disagrees with Harper’s stance on human rights.  I would be curious to know his reasons for making such an accusatory statement. I think Mr Harper has taken many good stances  on human rights locally, nationally and internationally.
 
Mr. Harper has cracked down on threats towards Jewish communal institutions such as schools, cemeteries and synagogues. Additionally, his government supported institutions to help support community growth locally and nationally, the Asper Jewish Community Campus being an example, as well as assist in funding the security infrastructure. Winnipeg Conservative Members of Parliament took the lead in passing the legislation to allow the construction of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.
 
On a larger scale, our government, under Harper’s leadership, condemns all forms of anti-semitism, religious violence in Egypt,  human rights violations in Iran, and has  imposed sanctions on Libya. Canada was also the first to boycott the Durban II conference after its predecessor descended into an anti-Jewish hate-fest. I believe Harper and his government wish to see peace, democracy and allowance of basic rights not only in Canada, but globally, and work hard to try and encourage this.  
 
 
There may be human rights issues you disagree with, and that is fine, you are entitled to your opinion, but then state that, rather than make blanket statements and incorrectly categorize people as unmenschlechkite on the grounds of differing political views.
 
 
HARPER NOT A MENSCH-ELLIOT LEVEN REPLIES
 
I did accuse Mr. Harper of not being a mensch on CBC Radio’s “The Current”. Unfortunately, the broadcast ended before I could elaborate fully. I did have time to mention that Jewish voters are diverse and have different motives for voting the way they do.

 

I mentioned human rights as an important issue to many Jewish voters. I had just enough time to give one example of Mr. Harper’s human rights record: he and almost all of his caucus consistently oppose adding the term “gender identity” to the Canadian Human Rights Act.  This is obviously a human rights issue.  To date, Mr. Harper and his caucus have not given any rational explanation for their deplorable stand on gender identity. I have no qualms about saying that a mensh would support human rights protection for transgendered persons.

If I had more time, I would have mentioned the consistent way that Mr. Harper and his caucus snub the gay and lesbian community.  At annual Pride marches, which are central events for the gay and lesbian community, NDP and Liberal (and often Green Party) politicians attend, but Conservative politicians never attend.  In gay community newspapers (such as Winnipeg’s Outwords), NDP and Liberal politicians often advertise, but Conservatives never do.  This sends a very strong message to lesbian and gay Canadians.  I consider this to be a human rights issue.

By the way, I think it’s no accident that the NDP has four openly lesbian or gay Members of Parliament, and the Conservatives (with a larger caucus) have none.

If I had more time on “The Current”, I also would have mentioned Mr. Harper’s utterly irrational stand on Vancouver’s Insite (a heroine safe-injection clinic). I don’t know if this is a “human rights” issue but, if Mr. Harper gets what he wants, people may die who otherwise might have lived.  In my opinion, a mensh would support Insite.

There are other examples, but I think the pattern is clear.  Mr. Harper may be clever at chasing the Jewish vote, but his pattern of placing dogma before reason is very disturbing.

Editor's note: Ashkley Faintuch has asked that I point out that Tory MP Shelly Glover was at the Winnipeg Pride Parade, which occured after Mr. Leven wrote his response above.

 

 
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