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.

Read more at Tablet

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

The Right and Wrong Ways for the U.S. to Support the Palestinians

Sept. 29 2023

On Wednesday, Elliott Abrams testified before Congress about the Taylor Force Act, passed in 2018 to withhold U.S. funds from the Palestinian Authority (PA) so long as it continues to reward terrorists and their families with cash. Abrams cites several factors explaining the sharp increase in Palestinian terrorism this year, among them Iran’s attempt to wage proxy war on Israel; another is the “Palestinian Authority’s continuing refusal to fight terrorism.” (Video is available at the link below.)

As long as the “pay for slay” system continues, the message to Palestinians is that terrorists should be honored and rewarded. And indeed year after year, the PA honors individuals who have committed acts of terror by naming plazas or schools after them or announcing what heroes they are or were.

There are clear alternatives to “pay to slay.” It would be reasonable for the PA to say that, whatever the crime committed, the criminal’s family and children should not suffer for it. The PA could have implemented a welfare-based system, a system of family allowances based on the number of children—as one example. It has steadfastly refused to do so, precisely because such a system would no longer honor and reward terrorists based on the seriousness of their crimes.

These efforts, like the act itself, are not at all meant to diminish assistance to the Palestinian people. Rather, they are efforts to direct aid to the Palestinian people rather than to convicted terrorists. . . . [T]he Taylor Force Act does not stop U.S. assistance to Palestinians, but keeps it out of hands in the PA that are channels for paying rewards for terror.

[S]hould the United States continue to aid the Palestinian security forces? My answer is yes, and I note that it is also the answer of Israel and Jordan. As I’ve noted, PA efforts against Hamas or other groups may be self-interested—fights among rivals, not principled fights against terrorism. Yet they can have the same effect of lessening the Iranian-backed terrorism committed by Palestinian groups that Iran supports.

Read more at Council on Foreign Relations

More about: Palestinian Authority, Palestinian terror, U.S. Foreign policy