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Quebec premier reaches out to Jews

MONTREAL, May 17 (JTA) — The new premier of Quebec may not have expected to win Jewish support for his separatist platform, but his visit to the central address of Montreal’s Jewish community at least won him some goodwill.

Speaking to a luncheon of the community’s leadership, separatist leader Bernard Landry stressed the similarities between Quebec and Israel, probing perhaps for a soft spot in a Jewish community that has not looked upon the separatism with favor.

The luncheon was organized by the Quebec region of the Canada-Israel Committee and Montreal’s Jewish federation, known as Federation CJA. It marked Landry’s first appearance here since taking over from Lucien Bouchard as leader of Quebec’s separatist forces earlier this year.

Bouchard resigned in part due to comments from his party colleague Yves Michaud that were perceived as anti-Semitic. Michaud and Landry happen to be close friends.

The Jewish population of Montreal has diminished in recent years in part because of what many in the community perceive as the anti-Semitism in the French secessionist movement in Quebec.

Speaking to a group of about 350 people, Landry acknowledged the uphill nature of any attempt to win Jewish support for an independent Quebec.

“I am saying this fully respecting your opinions,” he told the group. “You think exactly what you want. You decide your own conclusion, but no one will accuse me not to have explained clearly my proposal. And I hope that many of you, and more and more of you, will participate in that dream of ours.”

The reception given Landry was warm, even though most of his audience favors the status quo, with Quebec remaining within Canada’s federalist system.

Speaking on the occasion of Israel’s 53rd anniversary, Landry also sought to draw an analogy between Quebec and the Jewish state.

The similarities “are legion,” he said. The two areas share flags with the same blue and white colors; Quebec’s national symbol, the fleur-de-lis, appeared on both ancient Hebrew coinage and the modern shekel; both areas have similarly-sized populations; both are high-tech exporters; and both exert great efforts to teach national languages — French and Hebrew — to new immigrants.

Landry, who studied in France as a young man, said he had been impressed by how much France’s Jews contribute to the nation’s growth.

“In my view, the Jews of France appeared more French than the French in many circumstances,” he said. “What is my dream? That Quebec’s Jews appear more Quebecois than the Quebecois in many circumstances – because they are Quebecois.”

Phillipe Elharrar, director of CIC Quebec, was pleased with the event.

Landry “was totally respectful of our community,” he said. “There was no ambiguity and he was very frank with us.

“I think the visit was very important in maintaining an ongoing dialogue between the Quebec government and our community,” he added. “Mr. Landry was not here to sway voters to his side politically.”

Elharrar pointed out that last year, as Quebec’s finance minister, Landry visited Israel in an effort to establish an industrial park to be administered jointly by Quebec, Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

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