Braid: Gondek's shocking snub of Hanukkah turns a great party into magnet for antisemitism

Once again, Jews are a special case in times of crisis, readily disposable for political gain — or survival.

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Jyoti Gondek is not fit to be mayor of Calgary.

At the last minute, she said she wouldn’t attend this year’s menorah lighting at city hall, accusing Jewish leaders of tricking her about the “political” meaning of the celebration.

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Will she now cancel Christmas, too? Stop attending Muslim events? I don’t think so.

Once again, Jews are a special case in times of crisis, readily disposable for political gain — or survival.

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In the name of unity, she sows division and fear. This is the mayor who ran a campaign based on tolerance and fighting racism.

This Calgary Hanukkah celebration has been going on for 35 years. During that time, Israel has fought three previous wars, two with Hamas and one with Hezbollah.

In peace and war, the mayor of Calgary always attended the menorah lighting at city hall. It’s typically a joyous event fuelled by optimism and fun for kids.

Commentator Jen Gerson nailed it when she said on X, formerly Twitter: “Nothing screams highly divisive pro-war rally like a poster advertising ‘Children’s program, awesome show, (Hanukkah) crafts and prizes,’ ”

Gondek’s snub has inflicted shock and anguish on Calgary’s Jewish community. It came out of nowhere after Gondek had agreed to attend and a lot of work had gone into the event.

The excuse, predictably, features her tendency to lay the blame on others.

The mayor says she didn’t know support would be expressed for Israel. There was a “last-minute change” that “goes against the original intention” because the event was “repositioned to support Israel.”

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That left her “feeling let down by (Jewish) leadership.”

Calgary city hall menorah
The city of Calgary’s menorah is moved into the atrium at city hall in preparation for the annual lighting ceremony on Thursday, December 7, 2023. Gavin Young/Postmedia

Gondek’s accusation that she was misled “is actually a very antisemitic claim,” says Lisa Libin, president of the Calgary Jewish Federation.

“It does go back to the old antisemitic trope that Jews are conniving.” Jewish leaders were in contact with the mayor’s office for days, Libin adds. “There was absolutely no trickery involved.”

The poster promoting the event didn’t just appear on Wednesday. It has been out for several days.

Calling for “unity, supporting Israel, Jewish pride,” it also includes the phrase “Am Yisrael Chai!” meaning “the people of Israel live.”

There’s a raffle of Israel bonds — just like last year, when Gondek seemed happy enough to light candles.

There are no calls for blood here, not even a mention of war, none of the wild threats thrown around at pro-Hamas rallies.

The menorah lighting falls on the two-month anniversary of Hamas’ slaughter and rape of Israeli civilians. Gondek condemns that horror but also circles around to blame Israel for “murder” of Palestinian civilians.

At a news conference in Dubai, Premier Danielle Smith said: “I disagree with the mayor. I think this is a very important event for the Jewish community, especially in light of the terrorist attack by Hamas.

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“We stand by the Jewish community at this time and we want to make sure that we know that they know that they are valued by us, and so we will take part in a cultural event.”

She designated Jobs Minister Matt Jones to attend in Calgary and Service Alberta Minister Dale Nally for a ceremony in Edmonton.

Liberal MP Anthony Housefather, who is Jewish, said of Gondek: “You are sending a horrible message by not attending.”

Calgary Nose Hill Conservative MP Michelle Rempel Garner, after hearing the news late Wednesday, caught an early morning flight from Ottawa to attend.

The local federal Conservative caucus said in a joint statement: “Her decision to withdraw could dangerously normalize antisemitism at a time when across campuses and communities, Jewish Canadians are already feeling threatened.”

In claiming the event had been repositioned as political, Gondek actually said, “this breaks my heart.”

This unfit mayor just broke many hearts herself, but they will heal.

It’s not clear what can be done about hers.

Don Braid’s column appears regularly in the Herald

X: @DonBraid

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