The Unlikely Story of Canada’s First Jewish Parliamentarian

Dec. 27 2017

Born in 1799 to a Sephardi family in the English city of Brighton, Moses Cohen took the somewhat less Jewish name of George Benjamin at the age of twenty-three and then set off for the U.S., where he settled in North Carolina. Not long after his marriage to a twelve-year-old Jewish girl, he brought his new family first to Toronto and then to the town of Belleville, some 100 miles to the east. Benjamin made little of his religion, but he also did not keep it a secret. Later, his conservative politics—which he had first embraced in England—would lead him to a career as a newspaperman and politician. Allan Levine writes:

Benjamin established Belleville’s first newspaper, the weekly Intelligencer, and he [eventually] made Canadian history twice. In 1836, he won election as a clerk of the Thurlow Township, encompassing the town of Belleville, . . . becoming the first Jew elected to a municipal office in Canada. And two decades later, in 1856, he was elected to the Province of Canada’s Legislative Assembly as a conservative supporter of John A. Macdonald, soon to be the first prime minister of Canada. . . .

Benjamin and [his wife] Isabella and their ever-growing family fit into the slow pace of life in Belleville. Their Jewish background was not conspicuous: it is unlikely that their sons were circumcised, and Isabella certainly did not keep kosher. The newspaper business provided Benjamin . . . with a modest living and a small-town visibility, which enabled him to become involved in municipal and provincial politics. As the paper’s publisher/editor, Benjamin was as partisan and spiteful as the custom of the day dictated. . . .

In April 1836, a group of critics who were angered by one of Benjamin’s editorials . . . hung him in effigy outside his office door. Benjamin was not troubled by this until John Barker, the editor and publisher of the Kingston British Whig, a newspaper [associated with the opposing Reform party], decided to have some fun at Benjamin’s expense. About a week after the effigy-hanging, Barker published a ditty titled “On the execution of the Belleville Jew.” . . . This was not the last time that a detractor would use his Jewish background to insult him.

Benjamin had a successful political career, and was even invited by the opposing party to be minister of finance. (He declined out of loyalty to the Conservatives.) He was baptized shortly before his death in 1864, most likely so that he could be buried in a church cemetery.

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More about: Canadian Jewry, History & Ideas, Jewish history

Terror Returns to Israel

Nov. 28 2022

On Wednesday, a double bombing in Jerusalem left two dead, and many others injured—an attack the likes of which has not been seen since 2016. In a Jenin hospital, meanwhile, armed Palestinians removed an Israeli who had been injured in a car accident, reportedly murdering him in the process, and held his body hostage for two days. All this comes as a year that has seen numerous stabbings, shootings, and other terrorist attacks is drawing to a close. Yaakov Lappin comments:

Unlike the individual or small groups of terrorists who, acting on radical ideology and incitement to violence, picked up a gun, a knife, or embarked on a car-ramming attack, this time a better organized terrorist cell detonated two bombs—apparently by remote control—at bus stops in the capital. Police and the Shin Bet have exhausted their immediate physical searches, and the hunt for the perpetrators will now move to the intelligence front.

It is too soon to know who, or which organization, conducted the attack, but it is possible to note that in recent years, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) has taken a lead in remote-control-bombing terrorism. Last week, a car bomb that likely contained explosives detonated by remote control was discovered by the Israel Defense Forces in Samaria, after it caught fire prematurely. In August 2019, a PFLP cell detonated a remote-control bomb in Dolev, seventeen miles northwest of Jerusalem, killing a seventeen-year-old Israeli girl and seriously wounding her father and brother. Members of that terror cell were later arrested.

With the Palestinian Authority (PA) losing its grip in parts of Samaria to armed terror gangs, and the image of the PA at an all-time low among Palestinians, in no small part due to corruption, nepotism, and its violation of human rights . . . the current situation does not look promising.

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More about: Israeli Security, Jerusalem, Palestinian terror