By Michael Regenstreif, Editor
No matter what one may feel about the policies of “The Squad,” four women of colour elected in 2018 to their first terms in the United States Congress, or even the antisemitic tropes that were tweeted by one of them, there was no denying the explicit racism employed by U.S. President Donald Trump in his attacks on them last month.
“So interesting to see ‘Progressive’ Democrat Congresswomen, who originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe, the worst, most corrupt and inept anywhere in the world (if they even have a functioning government at all), now loudly and viciously telling the people of the United States, the greatest and most powerful Nation on earth, how our government is to be run. Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came,” Trump tweeted on July 14.
And that was only the beginning of Trump’s tweet storm.
Just for the record, three of the four congresswomen Trump was attacking – Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley and Rashida Tlaib – were born in the United States. The fourth, Ilhan Omar, was born in Somalia and was brought to the U.S. legally as a refugee when she was a child. Omar became an American citizen in 2000 when she was 17.
By the way, earlier this year when Jewish organizations and congressional colleagues came down hard on Omar for employing antisemitic tropes in criticizing Israeli government policies toward the Palestinians, she did apologize for them – even writing an op-ed in the Washington Post describing Israel as the “historical homeland” of the Jews and reiterating her support for a two-state solution to the conflict, calling for “internationally recognized borders, which allow for both Israelis and Palestinians to have their own sanctuaries and self-determination.”
So, while Omar did come to understand why Jewish people were hurt by her words, and apologized for them, Trump has shown no such understanding.
Even leaders of some of the U.S.’s closest allies took the unusual step of calling out the American president for remarks he made about domestic political opponents.
“The prime minister’s view is that the language used to refer to these women was completely unacceptable,” said the spokesperson for then-prime minister Theresa May of the United Kingdom.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she rejects Trump’s racist comments and stands in solidarity with the congresswomen he targeted.
“That is not how we do things in Canada. A Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian, and the diversity of our country is actually one of our greatest strengths and a source of tremendous resilience and pride for Canadians, and we will continue to defend that,” said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Trudeau’s comments were inspiring to hear at that time. Our Canadian Jewish community, and so many other ethnic and religious communities in Canada, have thrived in a country that takes justified pride in its multiculturalism.
But, and it’s a big but, “a Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian” is not necessarily true when Quebec, our second-largest province, encompassing nearly a quarter of our population, uses the notwithstanding clause to override the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms to prevent people working in the public sector from wearing kippot, hijabs, turbans and other expressions of religious belief, including Stars of David.
For example, Minister of National Defence Harjit Sajjan is a Sikh whose religion mandates that he wear a turban – a turban that he wears in the House of Commons, a turban that he wore as a Canadian military officer serving on deployments to Bosnia and Herzegovina and three times to Afghanistan, and a turban he wore during an 11-year career as a Vancouver police officer and detective. Now, though, because of that turban, Sajjan cannot be a police officer in Quebec.
With a federal election two months away, are Trudeau and the other federal leaders and candidates willing to defend our diversity – in both official languages – and ensure that “a Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian” is more than just a platitude?