O Israel, Quebec and Canada, I stand on guard for ye!

Mordecai Richler June 12 1978

O Israel, Quebec and Canada, I stand on guard for ye!

Mordecai Richler June 12 1978

O Israel, Quebec and Canada, I stand on guard for ye!

Mordecai Richler

My cultural loyalties, like just about everybody else’s in this schizoid country we call home, are confusing. I was born in the province of Quebec, a Jew, my nationality Canadian, and the demands on my heart being made by each group seem to me increasingly contrary.

Take Quebec, for instance. There are, as defined by present Minister of Cultural Retribution Camille Laurin, two kinds of citizens in the province: those who celebrate his cultural policies and those who

find them mean-minded. Laurin and our other elected leaders in Quebec City argue for independence, saying our culture will thrive only if we stop serving as the hewers of wood and drawers of water in the larger Canadian scheme. And yet—and yet—independence, we are told again and again, is economically guaranteed by the might of the James Bay project. Or, put plainly, we will cease being drawers of water for the rest of Canada, only to become suppliers of waterpower to New York state.

This is not to say Péquistes are without a sense of irony.

Gérald Godin, MNA for Mercier, who recently represented his government at the celebration of Israel’s 30th birthday in the Montreal Forum, reasonably observed that this was a nationalist event. “When it was over,” he wrote in the Montreal Star, “I said to one Jewish war veteran, a very sympathetic Quebecker: T hope one day you will also come and celebrate with us the independence of Quebec.’ His reaction was typical. He told me he was afraid of nationalism ...”

Could it be, Godin argued, that there was a double standard, that some people accept only their own nationalism and reject anybody else’s? He had a point. Québécois of Jewish origin who uncritically support Israel but resolutely oppose independence for Quebec are on a somewhat sticky moral wicket. They plead for continued cultural pluralism here, but support a sometimes oppressive unity of church and state over there. Furthermore, while it is possible for me, with relative impunity, to find Laurin an abomination, were Godin to speak out against Menachem Begin he would immediately and unfairly be

branded an anti-Semite.

Péquistes seem to feel that Quebec Jews who do not support their aims are living on a double standard as well as being disloyal to something in our cultural heritage. But, on the Jewish standard, to take Begin to be at least as deplorable a politician as Laurin is worse than being disloyal to your culture; it is treason.

The night little, besieged Israel declared its independence I was one of those who danced in the streets of Montreal. I mar-

velled at this intrepid, imaginative country’s victory in the War of Independence and again at its brilliant triumph in the SixDay War. Israel’s survival is crucial to me. But I also believe the Palestinians have a case to be answered. They, too, deserve a homeland. I find Menachem Begin an uncommonly obdurate man and I think his immediate response to Sadat’s speech before the Knesset was unfortunate. As Washington journalist I. F. Stone observed at the time, it was a typical United Jewish Appeal speech. Furthermore, I consider some of Israel’s cultural assumptions about diaspora Jews presumptuous. Which is to say, though my emotional at-

tachment to Israel is large, I remain a Canadian.

Some years ago the late Zionist leader Moshe Sharett, on a visit to London, invited a group of writers of Jewish origin to dinner. Why, he asked us reproachfully, did we not live in Israel, writing our novels or plays there? What was wrong with us? Patiently we explained that if certainly Jewish, we were also British (or, in my case, Canadian), and wrote of the society we had from. He shook his head,


If, on the Laurin or Sharett scale, I am an unclean Quebecker and an inadequate Jew, then on the Canadian nationalism scale, I also find myself sorely wanting. I cannot, for instance, accept that Frederick Philip Grove is one of our cultural treasures, a classic. I would like to be at one with CanLit Packers Inc. on this, but 30 years of reading cry out no, no, no. And now, if the polls are to be credited and Joe Clark does have a real chance of becoming our next prime minister, I fear that his election would tangle all my cultural ties, creating enormous conflict. To be fair, Clark has had a rough time from journalists. It is, for instance, not true that he never ventures out into the streets of Ottawa without anchoring his pockets with stones, lest he blow away in the first strong wind. But were he to be elected, it would obviously be without the support of my province, and, as a Québécois, I would find myself without representation in a Joe Clark government.

My Jewish loyalties would also be involved. Clark is the leader who refused to withdraw his support, in a Quebec by-election, for a candidate, running under the Conservative party standard, who was an anti-Semite of the most primitive sort. Zionism, he had said, could be equated with Nazism. And the death of the six million was a myth. Jewish propaganda.

Sometimes I wish I had not been born in Quebec, a Jew, my nationality Canadian, but instead something culturally simpler. Another faith in a different country. Say, a Swiss Protestant, where my loyalties would be absolutely clear-cut, all obeisance due to the international exchange rate.