BY SHARON MAIL
A CANADIAN MP told a Scottish Jewish Archives Centre audience about his rise to political success on Sunday.
Scotland-born Michael Levitt said: “This is really coming home for me. Edinburgh, 1970, is where it all began for me.
“My first six years were spent there and my parents were very involved with the Jewish community.
“In 1976, we moved to Glasgow and that was the real foundation of my understanding of what it meant to be Jewish.
“Dianna Wolfson was my headteacher at Calderwood Lodge and the importance of a Jewish education is a great definer of where people go in their future in the community.
“I still look back on how amazing my Calderwood education was.”
Mr Levitt added: “I was a member of Habonim and played football at Maccabi. It was a very embracing life. Coming back, I get the sense that it is still a caring, cohesive community.”
Mr Levitt’s ‘lovely, wonderful’ father died suddenly in 1979. Then his mother, Edna, told him that they were moving to Canada. They arrived there in December 1982, without knowing anyone.
Mr Levitt found it a huge cultural shock and it took him several years to fully adjust to his new life and country.
His interest in politics began in his final year in high school. He went on to McGill University where he obtained a BA in political science. He then returned to Scotland to complete a master’s degree in science and technology studies at Edinburgh University.
He married Barbi in 1997 and the couple have two children.
He joined the Liberal Party in the 1990s and, in 2007, was the spokesman for Justin Trudeau, whom he had studied with at McGill, in Toronto.
In 2013, he was invited to run for Parliament and two years later was elected to the House of Commons for the York Centre district, Toronto.
Mr Levitt said: “My focus in Parliament has really been on human rights. This was very much built upon through my education from Calderwood onwards.
“Human rights is based on Jewish values. We look around the world today and the issue of antisemitism is of great concern.
“I introduced the Canada Jewish Heritage Month Act to Parliament. The goal was to be able to reflect on the historical contribution of Jews across Toronto and Canada.
“It got royal ascent this year and in May we held events across the country.”
Speaking about his pro-Israel advocacy work, Mr Levitt said: “There is so much good work at the UN, but the Human Rights Council has been completely biased against Israel. We are trying to reach out to change that.
“Two weeks ago, former Pink Floyd member Roger Waters and others tried to force two New Democratic Party members of the Canada/Israel Interparliamentary Group, of which I am chairman, to stand down. We stood together as a group to oppose that.
“In these days, the delegitimisation and demonisation of Israel is the new antisemitism. Drawing comparison between the Israeli government and the Nazis is antisemitism.
“Our Parliament has made it clear to the BDS movement that we will not relent. We stand together across non-party lines.”
He added: “I get to host the Chanucah Party on the Hill — there are seven Jewish members in the House of Commons. I am also very proud to carry in the haggis, wearing my Jewish tartan kilt, to the Parliamentary Rabbie Burns Dinner.”
Asked if the pro-Israel stance of former prime minister Stephen Harper had eased his path, he said: “I have a ton of respect for him on his position on Israel.
“His strong support moved the bar ahead for all parties. However, we can’t turn this into a political position domestically and support should be cross-partisan.”
In attendance were Scottish Conservative deputy leader Jackson Carlaw MSP, who hosted Mr Levitt at the Scottish Parliament on Monday, and East Renfrewshire Conservative vice-chairman Michael Kusznir.
The meeting was opened by SJAC director Harvey Kaplan and thanks were given by fundraising committee chairman Jane Tobias.