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Jewish Groups Congratulate Canada’s First Woman Premier

Canadian Jewish groups have congratulated Kim Campbell, a 46-year-old lawyer from Vancouver, on her narrow election victory to head the Progressive Conservative Party, thereby becoming this country’s first woman prime minister.

But she may also turn out to be Canada’s shortest-term prime minister. Campbell is expected to face an uphill battle in federal elections this fall as she tries to overcome Canadians’ current antipathy for her beleaguered party.

Campbell, who had served in the Cabinet as justice minister and currently holds the defense portfolio, won 53 percent of the vote at the Progressive Conservative Party convention on Sunday, beating out her rival, Environment Minister Jean Charest of Quebec.

Campbell is well-known to Jewish groups, who generally welcomed her victory. Jewish groups have been pleased with the policies of her party and predecessor, Brian Mulroney, who announced his retirement in February.

B’nai Brith Canada’s executive vice president, Frank Dimant, who has closely aligned his organization with the Progressive Conservative Party, said, “We are confident that Kim Campbell will continue in the tradition of Brian Mulroney as it impacts on the agenda of the Canadian Jewish community.”

“She is very au courant with our concerns in regard to Israel, the Mideast and combatting terrorism,” he added.

Charles Zaionz, chairman of the Canadian Jewish Congress national executive, said: “We congratulate Kim Campbell on being chosen the leader of the Progressive Conservative Party and Canada’s prime minister.

“We are heartened by he stated positions on political inclusive and civil liberties. We look forward to meeting with her to discuss these issues in the near future.”

Canadian Jews also noted Campbell’s ties to the community.

“There’s a certain amount of interest in Kim Campbell because her first husband was Jewish and because her two step-daughters are Jewish as well,” said Howard Brown, a political columnist for the Toronto monthly Jewish Life.

SPEAKS A LITTLE YIDDISH

Campbell, who is twice divorced, married as her first husband Nathan Divinsky, a professor of mathematics at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. She once quipped that she spoke Yiddish, having picked up a few colorful Yiddish expressions.

Campbell only won over Charest in the second ballot of the tight leadership race.

For the first time ever, two Hasidim participated as official delegates: Jack Hartstein and A. Werzberger, respectively members of the Satmar and Vishnitz sects in Montreal’s Outremont riding. Both voted for Charest.

Many here see Campbell as the voice of the baby-boomer generation, who publicly admitted to smoking marijuana in younger days and brought a fresh perspective to politics — not unlike Bill Clinton south of the border.

For Canada’s 316,000 Jews, Campbell’s most pertinent statement came in May 1992, when she announced that the Justice Department had set a 22-month deadline for completing current investigations into Nazi war criminals living in Canada.

Appearing before the House of Commons Justice Committee, Campbell was asked why Ottawa had not taken action in any of the 45 high-priority cases cited in 1989 by Bill Hobson, then head of the Justice Department’s war crimes unit.

Campbell responded that Hobson had been mistaken when he said 45 cases were under investigation and that charges would shortly be laid against a significant number of alleged Nazis in Canada. Since then one arrest has been made.

Declining to specify the number of current war crimes cases under investigation, she said the unit has been given more resources and a March 1994 deadline to complete as many as possible.

“We have a strong commitment within our department to get those investigations completed by that date,” she said. “That is the target we have set for ourselves.”

Brown observed that Canada’s Jews, along with their fellow countrymen, would make their attitudes regarding Campbell clear during the general elections.

“She has chutzpah to have come through a tough leadership campaign,” he said. “But I believe that they have a healthy skepticism owing to her ability to offend people with her strong language.”

“Most Canadians haven’t had a vote yet. Their interests will peak when they have a chance to pass their own judgment on the person they want to lead the country,” Brown said.

“Israel had had Golda Meir, Pakistan Benazir Bhutto and Britain Margaret Thatcher. The question is, ‘Can Kim Campbell capture the imagination and trust of Canadians?’ I still believe she will not be able to overcome the legacy of Brian Mulroney and his unpopular economic program,” he added.

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