Toronto Eatery That Served Up Antisemitism, Anti-Zionism Closes

Dec. 8, 2020

Foodbenders, the Toronto restaurant and catering business that has been at the centre of a controversy since July for its antisemitic and anti-Zionist social media posts, and for discriminating against Zionists, has closed.

Online photographs as of Monday afternoon show the front window of the Bloor St. West business has been boarded up, indicating more than a temporary shutdown. That followed an announcement on Instagram over the weekend from owner Kimberly Hawkins that she will be closing.

“The four legal cases against me hold very serious consequences for free speech in this country,” Hawkins wrote. “Given the gravity of what’s at stake, I have made the decision to close Foodbenders and focus on giving my very best defence in court.”

Foodbenders store window boarded

Foodbenders generated worldwide headlines over the summer when it told its Instagram followers: “#zionistsnotwelcome.” Other posts alleged that “Zionists are Nazis”; denounced Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as a “Zionist puppet,” and glorified Leila Khaled, who hijacked two airplanes in 1969-1970 as a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a designated terrorist entity in Canada.

Other posts accused Jewish groups of controlling the media and elected officials, justified terrorism against Israelis, and accused Israel of “systematic genocide.”

A sandwich board outside the eatery once proclaimed, “F@ck Mossad, IDF, Bibi.

Amid the ensuing outcry, several food ordering and payment apps, including Ubereats, Doordash, and Square, dropped Foodbenders.

Foodbenders and Hawkins now face a raft of legal challenges, including a $750,000 lawsuit from Shai DeLuca, a Toronto interior designer with Canadian and Israeli citizenship, who alleged he was defamed in social media posts.

The Bloordale business also faces two complaints before the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal. One is from the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) and the other on behalf of GTA resident Elena Aschkenasi, 86, whose parents fled Nazi Germany. She claims Hawkins discriminated against Jews when Hawkins publicly stated her refusal to serve Zionists.

On top of that, B’nai Brith Canada requested that the city revoke Foodbenders’ business license for breach of a by-law that prohibits discrimination based on race, colour, or creed.

Hawkins was charged by municipal licensing officials last month and may have to appear before the Toronto Licensing Tribunal.

“Our position remains that Foodbenders should have its business license revoked by the City of Toronto for fostering discrimination,” B’nai Brith stated. We will continue to follow that process and provide updates.”

Hawkins said she has raised some $47,000 for her legal defense fund.

*An earlier version of this story incorrectly located Foodbenders on Bloor Street East. We regret the error.

Cotler denies IHRA Definition Will Suppress Israel Criticism

Dec. 7, 2020

By JANICE ARNOLD

MONTREAL—The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism does not stifle criticism of Israel or discredit advocacy for Palestinian rights, says Canada’s first ever Special Envoy for Preserving Holocaust Remembrance and Combatting Antisemitism.

A key role for Irwin Cotler, who was named to the new post by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Nov. 25, is leading Canada’s delegation to the IHRA, an intergovernmental organization founded more than 20 years ago and headquartered in Berlin.

Canada endorsed the legally non-binding working definition of antisemitism, formulated in 2016, in June 2019 as part of an anti-racism plan. This October, Ontario became the first province to accept the definition.

Opponents of the definition point to clauses that make it antisemitic to claim that the existence of Israel is “a racist endeavour” or to apply a “double standard” to Israel not expected of other democratic nations.

This is an unpaid, part-time position for Cotler, 80, whose work with the Montreal-based Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights, which he founded after leaving politics in 2015 and chairs, will continue as before.

Charges that the IHRA definition will be used as a weapon against pro-Palestinian advocacy, including the promotion of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel, are unwarranted and disingenuous, Cotler believes.

“It’s turning it on its head,” he told the CJR in an interview. “There is no intention to silence Palestinian advocacy; on the contrary. The definition states clearly that criticism of Israel is not in itself antisemitism…What is antisemitic is denying Israel’s right to exist. Singling out Israel for opprobrium and indictment is hateful, and to not say so is discriminatory.”

Cotler said he “fully affirms Palestinian rights, that the Palestinians are a people with the right to self-determination, including a free, independent and fully protected state. I have said it over and over again.”

As envoy, he is tasked to support the implementation of the definition across the country and internationally, in concert with civil society and academia.

“The definition is the first international normative set of standards for understanding what antisemitism and facilitating how to combat it in domestic and foreign policy,” he explained. “It’s basically a set of metrics as to when the line is crossed.”

Cotler urged the creation of the Special Envoy position during a face-to-face meeting with Trudeau in late 2019. Most of Canada’s allies, and notably the United States and United Kingdom, have had similar posts for years.

“I’m committed to doing this for one year. Then I’ll be happy to hand it over to somebody else,” said Cotler, who was a member of the Canadian delegation at the IHRA’s founding in Stockholm.

He stressed that the definition is an affirmation of “the right of the Jewish people and Israel to live as equal members of the family of nations…It’s anchored in international human rights and equality laws.”

In his home province and city, the definition has not gained much traction. A motion to adopt it has not come before the National Assembly, and the City of Montreal last year shelved it for further study.

“It’s an educative process,” said Cotler. “When people better appreciate that this is basically an anti-discrimination framework, protecting Jews individually and collectively, I believe they will adopt it. But as long as there are voices misrepresenting what it is, it will take a while.”

Eight-year-old Cancer Survivor Pays it Forward with Toy Drive

Dec. 4,  2020

By SUSAN MINUK

In January 2019, eight-year-old Ethan Hayes became part of the Chai Lifeline Canada family when he was diagnosed with medulloblastoma, a cancerous brain tumour that had spread to his spine. Ethan went through four brain surgeries, travelled to Memphis, Tenn. for 30 proton radiation treatments, and endured months of chemotherapy.

Ethan Hayes at Toy Drop Off

One year ago, Ethan received his last round of chemotherapy treatment at Toronto’s SickKids Hospital. Today, he is cancer free.

“Every day when Ethan was sick in the hospital, Chai Lifeline Canada brought him a toy, which would light up his day and make the treatment easier,” said Cindi Shoot, Ethan’s mother. “Now it’s our time to give back.”

So on Nov. 1, Ethan, his mom and sister, Chloe, started a toy drive. The goal was to collect 365 toys for every day that Ethan was going through treatment, his mother explained.

The family received an outpouring of love far exceeding their goal: Some 500 toys and gift cards were donated across the country and from as far as the United States.

“Some people mailed gift cards and others sent money. Some donated directly to Chai Lifeline in honour of Ethan,” said Shoot. “Every gift counted, from the Amazon man who donated, to my childhood cancer mamas, dance crew, work friends, Facebook friends and our friends and family.”

She took kids on a shopping spree at ToysRUs. “I told them to get whatever they think kids in the hospital would want. They were so happy and grateful to give back.”

On Dec. 1 – “Giving Tuesday” – Ethan, Chloe and their mother delivered the 500 gifts to Chai Lifeline’s office on Wilson Ave. in North York.

“We had no idea Ethan and his family were going to do this,” said Mordechai Rothman, the group’s executive director. “It’s heartwarming when families turn around and do things like that.”

The organization traditionally runs its toy drive at schools and offices. “People are still being generous, but the opportunities to fulfill their generosity are not as prevalent due to the pandemic,” Rothman pointed out.

There’s a toy bin outside Chai Lifeline’s office to allow for drop-offs, he noted. “We welcome gift cards for the 14+ kids. They seem to prefer iTunes cards.”

Founded in Toronto 13 years ago and dedicated to alleviating the burden of those facing medical challenges, Chai Lifeline Canada has nearly 600 volunteers helping more than 2,000 family members. When Ethan got sick, he was matched with 25-year-old Kevin Heymann, his Chai Big Brother. Kevin was at Ethan’s side throughout his yearlong treatment, playing with him, providing a shoulder to lean on, and offering a break to his mom. Now during COVID, the support continues. Chai Lifeline delivered video consoles to them both, so they can play games online a few times a week.

Kevin Heymann and Ethan Hayes (right)

“The role is never over. I am a life friend,” said Heymann. “To realize how much Ethan has been through and how little he dwells on it…he’s so positive.”

Chai Lifeline Canada’s 14th annual holiday toy drive is for the more than 400 children and families currently in the organization’s care. 

The organization collects toys year-round and also provides them to the siblings of sick children. It believes that when a child is born or diagnosed with a serious illness, the entire family is affected.

Donations can be made in person or at ChaiLifelineCanada.org and on Amazon.

Hillel Ontario Condemns U of T BDS; U of T Replies

Dec. 3, 2020

On Nov. 27, Hillel Ontario issued the following statement:

“At its annual general meeting on Nov. 30, the University of Toronto Scarborough Campus Students’ Union (SCSU) sent a clear message to Jewish students: ‘You are not welcome here.’

“In a motion that reaffirms the Union’s commitment to the antisemitic BDS movement, the SCSU singled out and condemned a former executive for “displaying an Israeli flag,” and resolved not to partner with organizations that normalize Israel.

“The motion further resolved that future elected representatives and staff would be formally required to endorse BDS [the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign against Israel.]

“The SCSU then rejected an amendment to the motion proposed by Jewish students that would prevent the Union from boycotting the Jewish clubs on campus.

“In response, Rob Nagus, Senior Director of Hillel UofT issued the following:

‘Last night’s conduct by the SCSU violated the University of Toronto’s Statement on Human Rights, which prohibits discrimination and harassment based on creed, ethnic origin, and citizenship. Hillel has long voiced its serious concerns with the impacts of the BDS movement on the Scarborough Campus. This latest attempt to boycott and exclude Jewish students and organizations from campus life must be named and challenged.

Hillel is calling on the University of Toronto to demonstrate its commitment to the values reflected by its policies, including its recent Statement on Antisemitism and Racism, by issuing a condemnation and rejection of the SCSU’s motion, and taking the necessary steps required to ensure Jewish student life is protected on campus.’”

In response, the University of Toronto issued the following statement to the CJR:

“The University of Toronto is strongly committed to equity, diversity and inclusion, and has zero tolerance for hate speech, harassment, and discrimination in any form.  We condemn, in the strongest possible terms, anti-Semitism, and all other forms of hate and racial violence. 

“The Scarborough Campus Students’ Union is an autonomous student organization that acts independently from the University of Toronto. The SCSU first joined the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement in 2013. At a recent AGM, they reaffirmed their commitment to this movement.

“All such autonomous organizations are required by the University’s policies to operate in an open, accessible and democratic manner, including a commitment to equity and to allowing a diversity of perspectives to be heard. The University does not approve or endorse activities or groups sponsored by SCSU.”

Scholar Honored for Work on 100th Anniversary of San Remo Conference

Dec. 2, 2020

By STEVE ARNOLD

A Christian scholar has been honoured by a Jewish foundation for his defense of Israel’s right to exist.

Toronto lawyer Jacques Gauthier was given the Canadian Antisemitism Education Foundation’s inaugural Advocate Award of Excellence in an online event last week. The prize honoured Gauthier’s doctoral thesis – a 1,100-page behemoth that took more than 25 years to complete – which supported and proved Jewish sovereignty over all of Jerusalem.

The award was presented to mark the centennial of the San Remo Conference, the 1920 gathering where the victors of the First World War drew a new global map that created the Jewish homeland promised three years earlier in the famous Balfour Declaration.

At San Remo, a town in northwest Italy’s Mediterranean coast, the world powers of the day – Britain, France, Italy and Japan, with the United States as neutral observer – divided the former Ottoman Empire into three parts. One became the British Mandate of Palestine, and another the Emirate of Transjordan, where a British ally was installed as king. The third portion became a French mandate that controlled parts of today’s Syria and Lebanon.

The San Remo resolution confirmed putting Palestine under a British Mandate and affirmed the 1917 Balfour promise of support for the establishment of a “national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine.

That action, Gauthier concluded, created a binding international agreement that gave Israel a legal claim to its land.

“This is a truth that has been hidden by the machinations of the nations,” Gauthier said in accepting the honour. “The identity of Israel is intimately linked to this legal fact. Jews are not in Israel as usurpers, they are there by legal right. The San Remo conference was the moment when the Balfour Declaration was crowned.

“When I started my work I didn’t understand the extent to which it was holy work,” he added. “I wanted to bring this truth into a light that is bigger than Jacques Gauthier.”

Israel’s first president, Chaim Weizmann, who attended the San Remo conference with Nahum Sokolow and Herbert Samuel, described the actions as seismic shifts for the Jewish world.

“Weizmann called San Remo the biggest political event in the history of the Zionist movement, maybe in the history of the Jewish people since the exile,” said Israel’s consul general in Toronto and western Canada, Galit Baram.

Others who spoke at the event lauded Gauthier’s work and the San Remo resolution as tools to crush arguments that Jews have no claim to the land of Israel.

“By focusing on the legal facts of the matter Jacques has brought San Remo to life,” said long-time friend Michael Diamond. “He has taught Israelis that they have a solid basis in international law for their claims.”

Israeli lawyer Yifa Segal, another participant, said Gauthier’s work in bringing the San Remo resolution back into public view is an important step in refuting arguments Israel has no right to exist.

“His analysis of Israel’s right to exist lays the groundwork for one of the most important battles of our age,” Segal said. “He shows that international law fully supports our claim to the land.

“There is a fundamentally wrong premise that the land of Israel does not belong to the Jewish people,” she added. “This is a false legal narrative that forces us to fight a new war for our very existence.”

Repairing the World: Looking Back on 25 Years of Ve’ahavta

Dec. 2, 2020

By AVRUM ROSENSWEIG


Learn to do good. Devote yourselves to justice; Aid the wronged. Uphold the rights of the orphan; Defend the cause of the widow.

 – Isaiah 1:17

I was born into a rabbinical home where my siblings and I were shown a high level of empathy. I am therefore blessed and cursed with feeling for those who are oppressed. If you have experienced this, you will understand. It is a blessing because defending justice reminds us of the Jewish people’s covenant with God. And the curse? It reminds us there is little time to exhale as injustice hardly ceases.

In 1994, I was working at United Jewish Appeal. It was the year a genocide erupted in Rwanda. It was bloody. Up to one million people were macheted to death by their neighbours. And the world was mostly quiet. The Jewish community, despite our commitment to “Never Again,” barely uttered a word. A finger, it seemed, was rarely lifted to help. Stillness.

This 100-day bloodbath awakened in me the realization the Canadian Jewish community did not have a humanitarian outlet. Christians did. Muslims did. But we, the bearers of “knowing the stranger” were unprepared to respond the way we had expected others to do for us.

So, in 1996 Ve’ahavta became a legal entity. Its mission was to encourage Jews to play a role in repairing the world (tikun olam) through the sharing of our personal and collective gifts and know-how. I just knew we could live up to the biblical imperative of Ve’ahavta L’reacha Kamocha (“love thy neighbour the way you love yourself”) in a universal way. And we did.

In 1997, Ve’ahavta launched its first program, a MASH-like medical mission to the impoverished country of Guyana in South America.  To start things off, we assembled a formidable team of Jews and non-Jews – doctors, nurses, pharmacists – and received donations of $500,000 in pharmaceuticals from the late Barry Sherman, head of the generic drug maker Apotex, and his wife Honey (may they rest in peace), and from Leslie Dan, founder of Novopharm.

The Toronto Jewish community was a giant partner in our Guyana mission. Synagogues, temples, schools, organizations, rabbis, families, and individuals donated funds and humanitarian items. CHAT students collected Flintstones vitamins to distribute to children with vitamin A deficiency, a condition that can cost a child their sight or their life.

Our teams, led by an extraordinary staff and lay leadership, then flew to the land of 1,000 rivers and set up makeshift clinics in forests, jails and along water banks. School rooms were turned into check-up areas. Desks were reassigned as beds. Sheets separated one cubicle from another. Men, women, and children trudged for miles to visit us.  And we helped them. We saved lives.

Our Guyana medical missions were the genesis I had dreamed of for Ve’ahavta. It was Avraham and Sarah hospitably standing by the door of their tent greeting “the stranger.” We were rocking!

Further on the international front, Ve’ahavta sent volunteers to the Howard Hospital in rural Zimbabwe. There, we helped patients with HIV/AIDS and conducted medical studies on decreasing mother-to-child transmission of the disease. The results were published in prestigious medical journals and implemented around the world. Tikun olam at its best.

Then there’s the Mobile Jewish Response to the Homeless (MJRH), our local van program. In the early days, we partnered with Toronto’s NaMeRes (Native Men’s Residence). I was the first person to ride with Simon McNichol, NaMeRes’s outreach driver. I was nervous and obsessively chatty. But as the evening wore on, Simon and I both settled in and a Jewish-Native relationship was born, as was Ve’ahavta’s homeless program.

One morning, following the vandalization of a Jewish cemetery on Royal York Road, I got a call from NaMeRes staff. They had heard about the swastikas scrawled all over the tombstones. They were stone masons. They wanted to help. We embraced their offer.  For days, our Native counterparts scrubbed the stones until the swastikas disappeared.

Upon visiting the cemetery, I met a young man helping with the cleaning. He was not Jewish or Native. He was from Scarborough. I asked him why he had come.  He responded, “I wish I were born earlier so I could have fought the Nazis and helped the Jewish people. But I wasn’t, so when I heard about this I volunteered to help.”

I was verklempt. I had always hoped Ve’ahavta would play a role in defining the real Jewish narrative for others, gain friends and fight antisemitism. It did.

Over the years, Ve’ahavta has created the Ve’ahavta Street Academy and the annual Creative Writing Contest for the homeless, with judges like former British prime minister Tony Blair and Canadian novelists Joseph Boyden and Michael Ondaatje. From our van, we have implemented harm reduction. Internationally, Ve’ahavta’s volunteers delivered conjoined twins in Zimbabwe who were separated at Toronto’s SickKids Hospital through our efforts. Our teams worked closely with Israel on several international crises, including in Haiti, the earthquake in Ducze, Turkey, and floods in Pakistan. Ve’ahavta staff drove to El Salvador in a school bus following an earthquake there. We left the humanitarian goods and the bus to villagers. The years were magical.

If I were to print all the name of the Ve’ahavta’s beautiful chairpeople, board and committee members, staff and volunteers, this article would be lengthy. Suffice to say that my success was entirely predicated on the work of thousands of caring, decent, kind and loving peoples of all backgrounds. They know who they are.

While I am sad this is over, and I am no longer an employee of Ve’ahavta, I am thankful to God for giving me the strength to create and lead it. I am also completely confident in our new leadership, the soulful, creative powerhouse executive director, Cari Kozierok.

We all look for the accomplishment that justifies our existences. For me, it is first my son. Then, it is Ve’ahavta. Yashar koach to everyone who helped make my Ve’ahavta journey flawless. It gave me my purpose. It gave me my life.

If you are not a better person tomorrow than you are today, what need have you for a tomorrow?

– Rebbe Nachman of Breslov


Avrum Rosensweig

Avrum Rosensweig is founder, now Ambassador, of Ve’ahavta,


A Jewish Humanitarian Response to Poverty.

* There will be an online “fireside chat” with Avrum this Thursday, Dec. 3 from 7:30 to 9 p.m. in which he’ll look back on Ve’ahavta. For details, visit:

https://www.facebook.com/events/389091498810362

Despite long shutdown, YM-YWHA Looks to Future

Dec. 1, 2020

By JANICE ARNOLD

MONTREAL — A 110th anniversary should be an occasion for celebration, but the Sylvan Adams YM-YWHA has had to postpone the party until COVID is history.

Since mid-March, the Y has been open just one week and the current red-zone restrictions preventing it from normal operations will remain in place until Jan. 11.

At the Y’s virtual annual general meeting on Nov. 24, the association’s leaders nevertheless struck an optimistic tone, as they looked to the more distant future.

Outgoing president Rick Rubin, who completed a two-year term, reported that pre-pandemic, the Y’s fortunes were looking up. When he took the helm, its facilities were aging and could not compete with other fitness centres in the city. Membership was declining.

The Y Country Camp, opened in 1962, was also becoming outdated and losing its appeal.

A generous donation from businessman Sylvan Adams, formerly of Montreal and now living in Israel, helped reverse the downward trend. Major renovations to the fitness facilities have been completed and a kosher cafeteria been added.

The Y is working with Federation CJA, of which it is an agency, to “get on the path of sustainability…The Y is an undeniable requirement for our community,” said Rubin. “I am confident that when we reopen we will rival and surpass any other facility in Montreal.”

Although the Quebec government permitted gyms to reopen in June, the Y remained shuttered until Sept. 30, the day before Montreal went into a 28-day partial lockdown in response to a surging second wave of the coronavirus. Gyms were added to the list of places to be closed on Oct. 8.

Revenue dropped to almost zero, Rubin said, and senior staff had their salaries reduced.

Treasurer Jeffrey Kadanoff reported that by the fiscal year ending on May 31, the Y had incurred a deficit of just under $673,000.

The Y Country Camp in the Laurentians, like other overnight camps, was not permitted to run a regular program this summer.

The downtime was used to revamp its facilities and programming, Rubin said, and the camp is looking forward to reopening next season and enrolment should be high, judging by the response to early-bird registration.

Incoming president Tina Apfeld said, “My vision is that the Y be the centre of the Jewish community. The Y should be welcoming to all members of the Jewish community, whatever their age or affiliation…The Y will not only survive but flourish; our children and grandchildren will also consider it a second home.”

Besides enhancing its recreational features, Apfeld said the Y, with support from the Jewish Community Foundation of Montreal, will be increasing its Jewish programming, including creating an after-school program for children who do not attend a Jewish day school.

She said the Y has consulted with the management firm EY on it financial situation and will soon be making public a sustainability plan. “We are reimagining and repositioning the Y for the future.”

The new Y chief executive officer is Elyse Rosen, replacing Marla Gold who retired in June after seven years.

A longtime Y member, Rosen said she chose to leave her law practice partly because she is the daughter of Holocaust survivors and feels a duty to work toward Jewish continuity.

“The Y must be open and inclusive, where young and old, Ashkenazi and Sephardi, able and disabled, observant or not can come together, a place that builds Jewish identity and inspires engagement in Jewish life…We are going to come out of this crisis stronger than ever.”

Breaking News: Maimonides Sends COVID Patients to Hospital to Curb Outbreak

Dec. 1, 2020

By JANICE ARNOLD

MONTREAL – A rapidly worsening COVID outbreak at Maimonides Geriatric Centre has been brought under temporary control by transferring infected residents to hospital, but family members say more needs to be done to prevent a recurrence.

On Nov. 29, 20 residents were taken by ambulance from the Cote Saint-Luc long-term care facility’s “hot zone.” Two acutely ill residents were brought to the Jewish General Hospital and the rest to Hotel Dieu Hospital, which has a unit dedicated to less severely ill patients from nursing and seniors’ homes.

Maimonides’s hot zone for active cases, located on its uppermost seventh floor, is closed for now.

The move was made after some relatives held a demonstration outside Maimonides on Nov. 26, fearing the facility had lost control of the viral spread. They claimed infection prevention measures were inadequate, that a shortage of nursing and support staff was resulting in repeated movement between cold, warm and hot zones, and that infected residents were not getting the medical treatment they needed.

They appealed to Premier Francois Legault to take immediate action.

Active cases went from zero to over 50 in a couple of weeks, the most at any long-term care home in the province at that point, although not the highest per capita rate. Eight residents had previously been sent to hospital. Ten residents have died, while others recovered.

In addition, more than 20 staff members and about a dozen registered caregivers – either family members or workers privately hired – have tested positive and had to quarantine at home.

Maimonides was hard hit by COVID in the first wave, when one-third of residents had the virus and 39 succumbed to it, according to Quebec government statistics. Members of the Canadian Armed Forces and later the Canadian Red Cross were brought in.

During this second wave, administrators had insisted the situation was in hand, that stringent infection prevention measures were in place, and that staffing overall met government requirements, until relatives raised their voices ever louder that this was not what they observed. They received support from Cote Saint-Luc Mayor Mitchell Brownstein and local Member of the National Assembly, David Birnbaum.

In a Nov. 29 public message under the heading “Mission accomplished!” Barbra Gold, an official of CIUSSS West-Central Montreal, the regional health authority that manages Maimonides, confirmed that the residents’ transfer to hospital had been completed that day.

“We hope that this temporary closing of our hot zone will break the cycle of infection in our facility,” she stated.

Gold said that 10 other residents with active COVID who had been in the hot zone remain at Maimonides, explaining, “our medical team determined they could be safely returned to their rooms (in other areas).”

Caregivers are not allowed to visit the residents at Hotel Dieu, she said, but an effort is being made to set up FaceTime calls. They were accompanied to Hotel Dieu by the nurses and orderlies who had tended to them at Maimonides. The CIUSSS has arranged for kosher food to be available there.

Gold added that a virtual town hall with families is being planned to address concerns.

The day before, Gold communicated that an evaluation of Maimonides’s COVID isolation unit by public health authorities, infectious disease specialists and the institution’s health care professionals had been conducted. A “contributing factor” to the virus’s rapid spread, they believe, was “a high density of very contagious individuals in a relatively small area that has not been built to accommodate them.” That seventh-floor wing was sealed off with plastic sheeting.

Another CIUSSS official, associate chief executive officer Francine Dupuis, told the media that the ventilation system may have been another factor. She also said the origin of the outbreak was traced to a caregiver, who was asymptomatic and later tested positive.

The Family Advocacy Committee, which staged the demonstration, is now calling for mandatory weekly testing of all employees and visitors to Maimonides. Its chair, Joyce Shanks, whose 92-year-old father is a resident, deplored that testing is now voluntary and only required when a positive case occurs in a unit.

The committee would also like to see the return of the Red Cross or of the health department’s “swat team,” which shores up staff when an outbreak reaches a critical level.

The CIUSSS says that, as of Dec. 7, all registered caregivers at Maimonides and other CHSLD under its jurisdiction, which includes the Jewish Eldercare Centre, must be tested every two weeks, either on-site or at any testing centre in the province. Written proof of a negative result must be shown or they will be barred. Maimonides has an on-site clinic three days a week, and Eldercare twice a week.

Since the second wave began, the 320-bed Eldercare has had total of 17 cases among its residents of which 10 are now active, attending physician Dr. Mark Karanofsky reported. Two residents have died. Two positive staff are currently isolating at home. Karanofsky himself came down with COVID in late October and has recovered.

Montreal-born UAE Chief Rabbi Expects Jewish Influx to Gulf State

Nov. 30, 2020

By JANICE ARNOLD

MONTREAL—Jews from around the world are migrating to the United Arab Emirates and will increasingly make their home there with the normalization of relations between that Gulf state and Israel, says the community’s Montreal-born chief rabbi.

“I expect the number to balloon dramatically and quickly,” said Rabbi Yehuda Sarna in a webinar hosted by McGill Hillel and Princeton Hillel on Nov. 22.

Rabbi Sarna was appointed chief rabbi of the Jewish Council of the Emirates after it was established early last year, and said to be the first organized Jewish community in the Arabian peninsula in centuries.

The council is the official representative to the UAE government, responsible for the community’s religious and educational needs.

Rabbi Sarna, 42, has been a chaplain at New York University and executive director of its Bronfman Center for Jewish Student Life for 18 years. Since 2006, he’s had a high profile in interfaith activity, especially with Muslims. He helped establish an NYU campus in Abu Dhabi 10 years ago along with NYU Muslim chaplain, Imam Khalid Latif.

Rabbi Sarna

Rabbi Sarna returned every year to interview high schools students from abroad for the four-year undergraduate program. His role grew into “negotiating mutual respect” between “the Arab host culture” and the Western educational institution, a quasi-diplomatic role that earned him the regime’s trust.

As chief rabbi, he does not live in the UAE but visits regularly, pandemic restrictions permitting. The Jewish Council, based in Dubai, has over 100 active members. Rabbi Sarna estimates about 1,000 Jews live throughout the country today.

They come from North America, South America, Europe, Israel and elsewhere, he said.

“They are moving there for, number one, economic opportunity and, number two, for safety, because of antisemitism in Western democracies…And they are establishing themselves there, marrying, raising families. They see a future in an Arab country,” he said.

They have resident status that allows them to work, but gaining citizenship is more difficult, he said.

A temporary resident active in the Council is Canada’s Ambassador to the UAE, Marcy Grossman, a Montreal native like Rabbi Sarna, appointed in October 2019.

Rabbi Sarna said the distinctive Emirati culture explains why Jews would choose to settle and feel welcome in the UAE.

“Deep in the Emirati DNA is a kind of radical hospitality…The Emiratis were a Bedouin people. They knew about desert living and opened the proverbial tent to those who wanted to be with them. You see the modern manifestation of that in the airports, the hotels.”

It wasn’t always that way, he acknowledges. Ten years ago, the few Jews living there were a “private community,” if not exactly a clandestine one, he said. They would meet homes for prayer in Dubai and instruct their children not to tell classmates they were Jewish.

“All that changed overnight on Aug. 13, 2020,” Rabbi Sarna said, with the Abraham Accords signed by Israel, the UAE and the United States. “People stepped out of the shadows.”

But change was underway before that. The UAE declared 2019 the Year of Tolerance. It invited Pope Francis to the country and opened a multi-faith complex containing a mosque, church and synagogue, he noted.

Rabbi Sarna celebrated this Rosh Hashanah with the community at the spectacular Atlantis, The Palm resort in Dubai. He hopes to return at Hanukkah and host a party inviting the diplomatic corps as well.

In October Lebanese-born Elie Abadie became the Jewish Council’s in-resident rabbi, arriving from New York. The Council is now applying for World Jewish Congress affiliation.

“Rabbi Abadie and I are sharing spiritual and diplomatic roles,” Rabbi Sarna explained. “We have different backgrounds – Ashkenazi and Sephardi – and connect to different people, both locally and internationally.”

Of the accords, Rabbi Sarna commented, “the UAE took the great leap to full normalization, not incremental and with no conditions. By all accounts, this will be a very warm peace.”

Rabbi Sarna thinks a “demystification” of Israel has taken place among the Emirati people. “My sense is that there has been a normalization of disagreement…Israel is now seen like other countries. They may not see eye-to-eye on everything, but that does not mean they should not have diplomatic relations.”

After the pandemic, Rabbi Sarna expects that hundreds of thousands of Israelis will annually flock to the UAE, which has directed its hotels to provide kosher food. He hopes that Israelis will respect the culture of the country and not regard it as their “playground.”

Rabbi Sarna is concerned that Israel finds a way to equally welcome Emirati tourists and not subject them to the strictures often imposed on Arabs and Muslims arriving in the country.

Rabbi Sarna graduated from Hebrew Academy in Cote Saint-Luc, where he was inspired by one of his teachers, Montreal Chief Rabbi Avraham Dovid Niznik. He left Montreal to study at Yeshivat Har Etzion on the West Bank, before entering Yeshiva University in New York. He maintains strong ties to Montreal, where his parents live.

Asked if Montreal influenced what he is doing today, Rabbi Sarna replied, “Growing up in Montreal, in a bilingual, multicultural society, gave me a very interesting understanding of different cultures. I’m very grateful.”

Calling all Canadian and Israeli R&D, Tech Companies

Nov. 30, 2020

The National Research Council of Canada and the Israel Innovation Authority have placed a call for Canadian-Israeli collaborative Research and Development project proposals for the 2020-2021 year. Although this call will help fund proposals related to any technological or market area, applicants in the following sectors are highly encouraged to apply:

– Health & bio-sciences
– Digital technologies
– Agricultural & agri-food technologies
– Clean & low carbon economy technologies

To be considered for funding, applicants must form a consortium comprising of one Canadian small or medium-sized enterprise (SME), and one Israeli R&D-performing company.

For over 30 years, Canadian and Israeli partners have worked closely together, achieving great success in various R&D fields. This strong partnership is now more important than ever, as we face the COVID pandemic, alongside a rapidly changing climate, and various other global challenges.

In combining efforts, Canadian and Israeli R&D partners can rise above with new ideas and technologies, and help in global efforts facing these challenges.
Deadline for proposal submissions is Jan. 21, 2020.

For more info, or to apply, visit: https://nrc.canada.ca/en/irap/about/international/index.html?action=view&id=79
Israel link: https://innovationisrael.org.il/en/opencall/canada-israel-2020-21-call-for-proposals

Martow, Lantsman Vie for Tory Nod in Thornhill

Nov. 27, 2020

By LILA SARICK

Two women, Gila Martow and Melissa Lantsman, both Jewish and both with deep roots in the Conservative party, have announced they are seeking the federal Tory nomination in Thornhill riding.

Peter Kent
Peter Kent

Last month, Conservative MP Peter Kent, who has represented the riding since 2008, said he would not run again.

Martow, 59, and currently the MPP for the riding, says she was “inundated with messages” from Thornhill residents who urged her to seek the nomination when Kent announced he was retiring from politics.

“My team thinks that we need effective local representation to hold the riding blue (Conservative) in the next federal election,” she told the CJR.

Martow, an optometrist, was first elected in 2014. Recently, she was credited with proposing legislation that eased the rules on patio seating for restaurants during the COVID pandemic. She is currently parliamentary assistant to Minister of Francophone Affairs Caroline Mulroney.

Gila Martow
Gila Martow

In 2016, Martow introduced a motion making Ontario the first province to reject the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel.

Thornhill, which has the highest concentration of Jews of any riding, estimated at 37 percent, cannot be considered a safe Conservative seat, she said. Although Kent held the seat for 12 years, he worked very hard every election to keep it a Tory stronghold, she said.

The nomination meeting will be held early in the new year. Martow said it’s unlikely the Conservative party would appoint a candidate, as the federal Liberal party did recently in two high-profile Toronto byelections. The public “wants to see strong candidates and the way that you get those candidates is by having those nomination meetings,” she said.

Interest in the race is high, and party memberships “are flying out the door.”

A few weeks ago, Martow said that she and Lantsman agreed that Lantsman would seek the provincial seat in Thornhill and that the two candidates had agreed to support each other.

However, Lantsman said she is attracted to federal politics.

Melissa Lantsman
Melissa Lantsman

“It’s where my interest is, it’s where I spent most of my time in politics. I think I would bring a new fresh voice to the Conservative party under [leader] Erin O’Toole and to the constituents in Thornhill.”

Lantsman, 36, was chief spokesperson for Ontario Premier Doug Ford during his 2018 election campaign. From 2007 to 2015, she served as communications director for federal ministers of finance, foreign affairs, trade and environment.

“I think it’s important to bring a new generation under the Conservative banner. We’ve lost many, particularly around the last election, that didn’t see themselves in the party,” she said.

“I’ve spent the better part of my life speaking on issues that I just don’t think we speak about enough.” Among the issues Lanstman wants to raise are gender and racial equality, and the environment.

A federal election could be called anytime, depending on the fortunes of the minority Liberal government, Martow said. “We need to be ready for a spring election.”

In the meantime, the competitive nomination race is a good sign for the party, Lantsman said.

“Having strong women with a history of activism and community involvement in the Conservative party speaks volumes to what this party is going to attract in the next election.”

Parshat Va’yetzeh – Jacob’s Ladder and the Angel Lilah

Nov. 27, 2020

By ILANA KRYGIER LAPIDES

As a b’nai mitzvah teacher in the early 90s, I would teach my students the midrash of Lilah, the Angel of Conception and the Midwife of Souls, who watches over all babies as they grow in the womb. For nine months, Lilah keeps a lamp lit so the babies can see from one end of the world to the other. She makes the babies feel loved and whispers all the secrets of Torah and Paradise and the universe into their little ears.

When a baby is born, the angel gently touches her finger to the baby’s lips and says, “shhhh.” The baby forgets all that they have learned and are left with the mark of the angel’s fingertip above their lip – the same mark we all still have above our upper lip today.

My students loved this sweet midrash, not only because there’s something comforting about an angel watching over us, but because it explains why, when we learn something, the moment often feels not new but like we are remembering. How often have we heard a piece of information and found it so obvious that we wondered why we hadn’t figured it out for ourselves? According to our tradition, it’s because we aren’t learning, we are remembering.

Our Torah reading this week, Parshat Va’yetzeh, brought to mind the angel Lilah. The parsha begins as Jacob is fleeing to find refuge from his enraged brother Esau, from whom he’s stolen their father’s birthright and blessing.

When evening falls and Jacob stops to rest, he falls asleep and dreams about a ladder on which angels of G-d are traveling up and down. In this dream, G-d appears by Jacob’s side and gives Jacob the same blessing of posterity and protection that was earlier given to his father and grandfather, Isaac and Abraham. When Jacob wakes up from sleep he says:

אָכֵן֙ יֵ֣שׁ יְהוָ֔ה בַּמָּק֖וֹם הַזֶּ֑ה וְאָנֹכִ֖י לֹ֥א יָדָֽעְתִּי”

“Surely Adonai is present in this place, and I did not know it” (Gen: 28:16).

Commentary on this passage usually centers around the fact that Jacob thought this resting place was like any other – he doesn’t recognize the holiness. But soon enough, we experience Jacob’s sense of wonder and appreciation that G-d was there, in that holy place, all along. Jacob says he “didn’t know” of G-d’s presence, but there is some discussion that Jacob did know – he just needed a reminder. G-d’s presence is always there, always everywhere; the dream simply helped Jacob remember.

Dreams can be a helpful way for us to recognize our emotional and mental state, for our inner life to convey to our consciousness what we are feeling. For Jacob, the dream of the ladder communicated G-d’s message directly and unmistakably: “Remember who you are. I am with you.”

Parsha Va’yetzeh is a good lesson, a reminder for all of us to not get too attached to what we think we know. The memories that the angel Lilah whispered to us in the womb are buried deeply within us and sometimes, it takes a while, and some faith, to unearth them. If we keep our hearts and minds open, there’s no telling what we can learn and what we may remember.


Ilana Krygier Lapides
Ilana Krygier Lapides

Ilana Krygier Lapides lives in Calgary. She has three adult children, one of whom lives at home with her and her husband and their very large dog. Ilana is a rabbinic student with JSLI in New York. She will be ordained next month. 

Critical Thinking on Israel, not Coddling, Needed for Jewish University Students: Expert

Nov. 26, 2020

By STEVE ARNOLD

A veteran of the wars against antisemitism warns Jewish students are being harmed more than protected when their universities stifle criticism of Israel.

Kenneth Stern has been fighting against antisemitism for more than 25 years, first with the American Jewish Committee and now as head of a major hate studies institute.

He argues in his new book on the Israel-Palestine debate that “safe zones” on campuses and speaking bans on Israel critics aren’t preparing modern students for the world they will have to face.

He told the recent annual meeting of JSpace Canada that rather than being sheltered from uncomfortable ideas, today’s students should be taught the critical thinking skills that will let them counter anti-Israel ideas with better ones of their own.

“Today’s students are being quarantined from difficult ideas, but we are all going to have to face disturbing ideas in our lives,” Stern told the online meeting. “There is too much of a push now saying students are fragile and need to be protected.”

In his new book, The Conflict Over the Conflict: The Israel/Palestine Campus Debate, Stern argues that honest and free debate over Israel and the policies of its government are being stifled in the name of protecting students from uncomfortable ideas.

“There is a kind of group-think today that says some things shouldn’t be explored,” he said. “Our students need to learn how to fight over ideas.”

Stern’s book, which appeared earlier this year in the United States, was officially launched in Canada as part of the meeting. JSpace bills itself as a progressive Jewish voice.

Stern is director of the Bard Centre for the Study of Hate, a lawyer and an author. For 25 years, he was the American Jewish Committee’s expert on antisemitism.

Reviews, like the one in The Jewish Independent, have described Stern’s book as “the most comprehensive assessment” of the Israel/Palestine debate. The reviewer also found it free of bias, noting the author “offers proof that the pro-Israel side is far from innocent of engaging in disgraceful tactics…” 

The real core of the book, however, is an argument for free expression and the exercise of academic freedom, the review stated.

Stern told his JSpace audience that rather than suppressing anti-Israel ideals, universities should sweep away their anti-hate speech codes and instead empower students to speak out when they are faced with bigotry and hatred.

“In an ideal environment you want students to be able to say what they think, but if bigotry becomes normalized, some are going to feel uncomfortable,” he said. “It’s important that students learn to speak out against things that make them uncomfortable.”

Before a civilized debate can be held, however, Stern has argued that terms must be defined: What actually is antisemitic as opposed to a legitimate criticism of Israel’s policies.

On that point, critics have found irony in the fact Stern was instrumental in helping to draft the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism currently being adopted by governments and universities around the world.

Canada adopted it last year, while Ontario recently imposed it through an Order in Council. Several Canadian cities and towns have endorsed it.

Critics of the definition have attacked its 11 attached examples of antisemitism, noting seven of them specifically equate criticism of Israel with Jew-hatred.

Carleton University political science professor Mira Sucharov, who reviewed Stern’s book in June for the CJR wrote: “It may also read as ironic, given that Stern was instrumental in drafting the definition that is now much debated, and which has been adopted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (and last year by Canada). But this is where the strength of the book lies: It is a principled discussion of free speech, whether or not one agrees with his threshold.”

Stern told the JSpace audience the IHRA definition was created as a way of gathering data on antisemitism in Europe and was never intended as a club to stifle free debate on the topic.

“The idea that some people are using it as a hate crime measure on campuses is despicable,” he said. “It was never intended to be used this way on campus. That is an absolute abuse of it.”

One result of efforts to censor anti-Israel speech on campus, he said, is to drive some students away from on-campus Jewish life when they find organizations fully committed to an “us-versus-them” vision. That is especially true, he said, of graduates of Jewish day schools who feel betrayed when they arrive on campus when suddenly faced with attacks on Israel for the “occupation” of Palestine.

One example of that, noted by the Jewish Independent reviewer, is Stern’s critique of the “Standards of Partnership” adopted by Hillel International. It “proscribes engaging with groups or individuals that deny Israel’s right to exist, or who delegitimize, demonize or apply a double standard to Israel, who support BDS or who exhibit “a pattern of disruptive behaviour towards campus events or guest speakers or foster an atmosphere of incivility.”

In the end, Stern argues that rather than turning anti-Israel speakers into martyrs by denying them a chance to air their ideas on campus, Israel supporters should be armed with the skills to refute those claims.

“Both sides are harming the academy by trying to chill the other,” he said. “Campuses should not be places where we censor free speech. They should be places where we mine it for what it is worth.”

The alternative to that environment of free speech, he said, is for government to define truth, “and I see danger there.”

Hate Incidents Surface in British Columbia

Nov. 25, 2020

By STEVE ARNOLD

A pair of nasty hate incidents have appeared in British Columbia.

In the first, a convicted hatemonger has been handed a conditional sentence and more probation for breaching an earlier probation order to stop posting antisemitic claims on the Internet.

The sentence came a month after Arthur Topham was found guilty of breach of probation. That restriction was imposed following a 2017 conviction for willfully promoting hatred against Jews.

Under the terms of the first probation order, Topham was banned from posting any online content related to Jews, the Jewish religion, Israel and Israelis, and/or Zionism.

Topham was first charged in 2012 after he had called for Jews to be forcibly sterilized, claimed that Canada is “controlled by the Zionist Jew lobby,” and described Jewish places of worship as “synagogues of Satan.” He was convicted by a jury in November 2015.

He then launched a failed constitutional challenge to Canada’s hate speech laws, which delayed his sentencing until March 2017.

Though facing a maximum penalty of two years in prison, he received a six-month curfew and ban on posting online. At the time, B’nai Brith condemned the sentence as a “mere slap on the wrist,” warning that it failed to establish a deterrent against future offences.

Originally ordered not to post comments about Jews or Judaism for two years, Topham was accused of violating those conditions.

“This decision is a positive development in the fight against antisemitism and hate speech in Canada,” said Michael Mostyn, CEO of B’nai Brith Canada. “We need accountability for inciting hatred in this country, and Topham can now serve as an example to remind people that there are real consequences for these sorts of actions against your fellow citizens.”

Both Topham’s original conviction and his re-arrest for breach of probation were made possible through the work of Harry Abrams, a long-time B’nai Brith volunteer based in British Columbia.

In a new incident, B’nai Brith announced it is reaching out to police after learning of another act of incitement by a firebrand religious figure.

In a Facebook post flagged on Nov. 23 by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, Younus Kathrada calls Jews “brothers of monkeys and khanzeer” (pigs in Arabic), and calls on Allah to “tear them apart.”

Younus Kathrada
Younus Kathrada

The post was made in 2014, but remains online. Kathrada, who preaches for the “Muslim Youth of Victoria,” made the same allegation in 2004, prompting a police complaint by B’nai Brith at that time.

In his 2014 post, Kathrada also prayed for the success of Chechen jihadists. Notably, one of his congregants travelled to Chechnya to fight Russia and was killed there in 2004.

In October 2019, Kathrada advised his followers not to vote in last year’s federal election, arguing that all Jewish and Christian candidates were “filthy” and “evil.” In January of that year, Kathrada suggested that wishing Christians a merry Christmas was a sin worse than murder.

In April, B’nai Brith warned the B.C. Hate Crimes Unit of YouTube sermons by Kathrada calling on Allah to “humiliate the unbelievers and polytheists” and “destroy the enemies of Islam, the heretics and the atheists.”

Kathrada also beseeches divine aid to “grant victory to those waging jihad on your path in every place” and “grant them victory over their enemies and your enemies.” In October, he called French terrorism victim Samuel Paty “a cursed, evil-spirited, filthy excuse for a human being.”

“There must be consequences for years of relentless hate and incitement against Jews and others,” Mostyn said. “The law enforcement and legal system in B.C. showed last week that it can act effectively against hate – but consistency is paramount.”

Breaking News: Irwin Cotler Named Special Holocaust Envoy

Nov. 25, 2020

Canada has named Irwin Cotler, the internationally respected human rights advocate, founder and chair of the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights, and former Justice Minister, as this country’s first Special Envoy on Preserving Holocaust Remembrance and Combatting Antisemitism.

According to a Nov. 25 press release from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s office, Cotler will lead the government’s delegation to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), “working with other member countries and both domestic and international partners to strengthen and promote Holocaust education, remembrance, and research in Canada and around the world.”

Irwin Cotler
Irwin Cotler

“The Holocaust was one of the darkest chapters in human history,” Trudeau’s statement said. “Seventy-five years after the liberation of Nazi concentration and extermination camps revealed the full horrors of the Holocaust, Jewish communities in Canada and around the world face rising antisemitism. The Government of Canada will always stand with the Jewish community, and fight the antisemitism, hatred, and racism that incite such despicable acts. We will also continue to preserve the stories of survivors through younger generations, and work to promote and defend pluralism, inclusion, and human rights.

“That is why Prime Minister Justin Trudeau named the Honourable Irwin Cotler as Canada’s Special Envoy on Preserving Holocaust Remembrance and Combatting Antisemitism,” the statement continued.

“The Government of Canada is committed to reinforcing and strengthening Canada’s efforts to advance Holocaust education, remembrance and research, and to combat antisemitism as key elements of the promotion and protection of human rights at home and abroad.

“With a longstanding record of leadership in the fight against racism, antisemitism, and hate, and extensive experience in human rights and justice including in cases related to mass atrocities, Mr. Cotler will lead the Government of Canada’s delegation to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA). He will work with other member countries and both domestic and international partners to strengthen and promote Holocaust education, remembrance, and research in Canada and around the world.”

The statement noted that the federal government adopted the IHRA’s working definition of antisemitism in June 2019 as part of its anti-racism strategy.

As special envoy, Cotler will also support advocacy and outreach efforts with Canadians, civil society, and academia to advance the implementation of the definition across the country and its adoption internationally, according to the statement.

“We must never forget the painful lessons of the Holocaust, or the memories of those who lived through it,” Trudeau stated. “As Canada’s first Special Envoy on Preserving Holocaust Remembrance and Combatting Antisemitism, Irwin Cotler will use his vast knowledge and experience to promote Holocaust education, remembrance, and research as we continue working with partners in Canada and around the world to fight against hate and intolerance. Because antisemitism has no place in Canada – or anywhere else.”

As envoy, Cotler will work with the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Minister of Diversity and Inclusion and Youth, and other departments to inform government policy and programming.

The IHRA includes 34 member countries and eight partner organizations with Holocaust-related issues as part of their mandate. Canada joined it in 2009.

Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center said it was “thrilled” to learn of Cotler’s appointment.

“This announcement is a major step forward in the fight against antisemitism in Canada and shows a much-needed seriousness in our government’s commitment to this promise,” said Michael Mostyn, CEO of B’nai Brith Canada. “We very much look forward to working with Mr. Cotler in his new role.”

“Mr. Cotler is a Canadian icon who has been tirelessly advocating for human rights for decades. Canada has demonstrated leadership by creating the position of special envoy, in discussion for months, and we are pleased Mr. Cotler was chosen to fill this important role,” said Joel Reitman, Co-Chair of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs Board of Directors.

Liberals Defend Canada’s UN Vote Against Israel

Nov. 24, 2020

Canada’s recent vote against Israel at the United Nations sparked spirited discussion in the House of Commons.

On Nov. 19 – the same day Canada voted for a resolution affirming Palestinian statehood – Conservative foreign affairs critic Michael Chong demanded an explanation for Canada’s vote.

Michael Chong
Michael Chong

“Today, the Liberal government voted against the state of Israel at the UN General Assembly for a second year in a row, contrary to our long-standing Canadian policy of opposing all resolutions that single out Israel, a policy that former prime minister Paul Martin had put in place,” Chong said.

“Even [Canada’s Ambassador to the United Nations Bob] Rae said he disagreed with the preamble of the resolution. Why did the government break with long-standing Canadian policy and vote against the State of Israel at the UN General Assembly today?”

Bob Rae
Bob Rae

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland did not directly address the question in her response.

“Let me just be very clear: Israel is a close and important friend of Canada, and Canada will always stand with Israel,” she said. “Let me also be very clear to Jewish Canadians in my riding and across the country: We stand with them, particularly today when we are seeing an appalling rise in antisemitism here and around the world.”

Chong then asked when the Liberals would “restore Canada’s long-standing opposition to these anti-Israel resolutions, which were upheld by previous Liberal and Conservative governments and put in place by former prime minister Paul Martin?”

Chrystia Freeland
Chrystia Freeland

Freeland replied: “Let me speak to Canada’s place in the world and to our foreign policy. We are living in a world today where there is a worrying rise of authoritarian regimes, a worrying rise of anti-democratic populism – and our country in that world will always stand up for human rights and will always stand up for the rules-based international order,” Freeland said. “That may not always be popular but that is the Canadian way.”

For the second consecutive year, major Jewish organizations denounced Canada’s vote in favour of the resolution as one-sided against Israel.

Entitled the “Right of the Palestinian people to self-determination,” the resolution stresses “the need for respect for and preservation of the territorial unity, contiguity and integrity of all of the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem.”

The resolution passed 163 to five, with only Israel, the United States, and the Pacific Ocean nations of Micronesia, the Marshall Islands, and Nauru voting against, and 10 other countries abstaining.

In a joint statement the day after Canada cast its ballot, Jewish advocacy groups expressed their “deep disappointment,” saying the resolution fails “to affirm Jewish self-determination in the indigenous and ancestral homeland of the Jewish people” while “intentionally erasing historical Jewish connections to Jerusalem – including the Western Wall, Judaism’s holiest site.”

Independent Jewish Voice of Canada, which supports the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel, lauded this country’s vote as “commendable.”

Until last year, Canada had voted against the annual resolution, part of a basket of pro-Palestinian measures introduced at the UN this time of year.

A year ago, Ottawa’s abrupt shift on the measure – skipping over abstention to support – shocked many in the Jewish community and led Israel to say it might lodge a complaint.

Canada’s support this year “is a reflection of our longstanding commitment to the right of self-determination for both Palestinians and Israelis,” said Canada’s UN Ambassador Bob Rae in his explanation of the vote (EOV) to the General Assembly.

“From the time of the earliest resolutions of the Security Council on these issues, we have endorsed the principle of ‘two states for two peoples,’” Rae said. “While we do not agree with some elements of the preamble, Canada will support this resolution because of its focus on these important, core issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

Rae also said that Canada “does not and will not support any resolution that unfairly singles out Israel for criticism.”

He referenced the “destructive” role in the Mideast conflict of such “terrorist organizations as Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and Hezbollah.”

– By CJR Staff

Jewish Community Critical of Quebec’s Rejection of Hanukkah Gatherings

Nov. 24, 2020

By JANICE ARNOLD

MONTREAL – Community leaders say it is unfair that the Quebec government is denying Jews the right to celebrate Hanukkah in the same manner as has been granted to those who observe Christmas under new pandemic rules.

Many in the community find it galling that a government that places such a high value on secularism appears to be privileging Christian tradition in its relaxation of the ban on private gatherings.

When asked by the media about the decision, Premier Francois Legault replied that the lifting of the prohibition on gatherings during four days around Christmas will not be similarly applied to the holidays of other faiths. The eight-day festival of Hankukah begins December 10th.

Rabbi Reuben Poupko, co-chair of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs-Quebec, said Jews should be allowed to get together for the first four days of Hanukkah, observing the same rules that have been set for Christmas.

Rabbi Poupko montreal
Rabbi Poupko

“It is bewildering that the government would prioritize the holiday of one faith community over the others,” Rabbi Poupko said. “I think equality and common sense would demand that every religious community in Quebec be treated fairly and a similar indulgence be extended to each of them.”

Rabbi Poupko, spiritual leader of Congregation Beth Israel Beth Aaron, noted the government did not show any flexibility during the High Holidays. The Jewish community did not ask for any, and it abided by the rules, he said.

Legault, along with Health Minister Christian Dubé and the province’s public health director, Dr. Horacio Arruda, announced on Nov. 19 that Quebecers will be allowed to gather at home in groups of up to 10 people from Dec. 24-27.

But the premier asked that they enter a “moral contract” under which they minimize their physical contact with anyone outside their household for one week before and one week after that period. Although 14 days is the standard quarantine length, public health officials said symptoms of COVID typically appear five to seven days after infection.

Schools are to close two days before they were scheduled to do so, and the government is asking employers to allow personnel to work at home where possible to enable them to comply with the two weeklong isolation periods.

Elementary schools will reopen on Jan. 4 as planned, but high school students will not return to class until Jan. 11 because coronavirus transmission in this age group is higher, authorities say.

This suspension of the ban on private gatherings is contingent on no spike in cases occurring beforehand. The province is seeing an average of close to 1,200 new COVID cases daily, higher than in the first wave.

B’nai Brith Canada said the government should have consulted the Jewish community and other minority religious groups when establishing pandemic rules that impact their practices.

“The Quebec government must take the needs of minority communities, including the Jewish community, into consideration and work pro-actively with these communities prior to the lifting or imposition of unilateral COVID restrictions. There must be no favouritism. The premier must be the premier of all Quebecers,” stated Toronto-based B’nai Brith CEO Michael Mostyn.

Since the beginning of October when the Montreal region entered a partial lockdown, later expanded to much of the province, the rule has been that no one can enter a household who does not live there, with a few exceptions like elder care or tradespeople.

Gatherings outside, such as in a backyard, are also prohibited. That ban has been extended to Jan. 11, at least.

Rulebreakers may face a fine of $1,500 per person.

Previously, the limit had been six people after Montreal went orange under the province’s colour-coded alert system on Sept. 20. 

Houses of worship are permitted to have 25 people inside at a time.

Legault said a “concentration” of time was necessary to make an easing feasible, and the days chosen represent what most Quebecers want. Public health officials added that the days from Dec. 24 to 27 also are in the middle of the school break and most workplace shutdowns.

“We are in a critical situation,” Legault said at the Nov. 19 press conference. “We can permit gatherings during four days only and we say that the majority of Quebecers would be happy that those four days be at Christmas.”

‘Mensch’ Father John Walsh Mourned by Jewish Montrealers

Nov. 20, 2020

By JANICE ARNOLD

MONTREAL—To many, “Father John” was the Montreal Jewish community’s priest. Some even respectfully called him “Rabbi Walsh.”

All considered him a mensch – and a beloved one.

That’s been abundantly clear, given the outpouring of sadness, gratitude and, as he would have wished it, humorous reminiscing since Father John Walsh’s death at age 78 on Nov. 9.

Surely this was the first time in its century-long history that Paperman’s funeral home listed a Catholic priest among the funerals, with links to the interreligious memorial planned for him and to his favourite cause, the Nazareth Community, which serves the homeless.

The Paperman family said it “mourns the loss of a compassionate leader, a bridge builder and a dear friend” to the community. The scores of condolences on the website concurred.

“He endeared himself to Jewish Montrealers, who considered him one of their own,” tweeted Eta Yudin, vice-president of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs-Quebec.

In a nod to Father Walsh’s Irish heritage, one synagogue’s cantor sang Danny Boy at the Shabbat service after the priest’s death.

His longtime friend and collaborator Rabbi Michael Whitman of Congregation Adath Israel, posted a “secret” on social media: “The rabbis of Montreal knew that Father Walsh was much more popular in the Jewish community than any of us.”

Over the decades, Father Walsh had a bond with the community that went beyond interfaith dialogue, a term he avoided. He was not an emissary of the Catholic Church; he acted on his own volition. This was personal, even visceral.

Everyone has spoken of his genuine love and interest in each person, whoever they were. But Judaism and the Jewish people were the strongest among his ties to other religious and cultural groups.

He joked that with his initials – his full name was John Emmett Walsh – predestined him to a kinship with Jews.

His goodwill was constant in good times and bad, said Rabbi Whitman. Whenever there was an act of antisemitism in the world, he immediately called to express his solidarity.

As Rabbi Lisa Grushcow of Temple Emanu-El-Beth Sholom put it at an interreligious memorial on Nov. 14, “those in interfaith work build relationships on theology or policy, but Father John built relationships for the relationship; nothing got in the middle.”

The memorial, which was webcast from a funeral home due to pandemic restrictions on gatherings, preceded Father Walsh’s funeral Mass, also invitation-only, on Nov. 16.

After studies in Rome, Father Walsh continued his education in theology and scripture at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He learned Hebrew and his command of the language delighted Jewish audiences.

His ministry in Montreal spanned close to 50 years until his retirement from St. John Brebeuf Parish in LaSalle a decade ago. After that, he devoted even more time to what was dear to his heart.

In 2012, he, Rabbi Chaim Steinmetz of Congregation Tifereth Beth David Jerusalem, and Imam Zijad Delic, created a blog called Faith Blender. Each clergyman offered his perspective on current issues or common human dilemmas. Their goal, as the site points out, was not to convert anyone, but rather to share their respective traditions.

Father Walsh died of a heart attack as he was about to officiate at a funeral. He had been well and active until then. Just a few days before, he was feted by the Nazareth Community, with which he was associated for 40 years, when its newest shelter, a home for young men, was named “John’s House.”

Israeli Consul General David Levy made a donation on behalf of his country, to which Father Walsh remained faithful. Cantor Gideon Zelermyer of Congregation Shaar Hashomayim sang on that occasion, as he did at the interreligious service.

Zelermyer had been friends with Father Walsh since the young American cantor came to Montreal some 20 years ago. This was not a polite acquaintance, but a deep relationship that extended to Zelermyer’s entire family.

He recalled the first time Father Walsh was a guest at his home for a Passover seder. The priest apologized that he had forgotten his kippah. Zelermyer’s young son quickly fetched one. “It was a red velvet one. A big smile came on John’s face and he exclaimed, ‘Hah, a promotion!’” alluding to the headwear of Catholic cardinals.

Zelermyer concluded the memorial with Come Healing and If it Be Your Will, two spiritual songs by Leonard Cohen.

There were official tributes as well. Rabbi Reuben Poupko, co-chair of CIJA-Quebec, stated that his close friend “brought Montreal together. His sincerity and love were powerful forces that helped shape the life of the city.” Federation CJA CEO Yair Szlak commented that Walsh “embodied the spirit of tikun olam. A mensch to the core, he will be deeply missed by Jewish Montrealers…”

When he was honoured with the Sheila and Victor Goldbloom Distinguished Community Service Award in 2012, Father Walsh explained what motivated him. “My work in interfaith [dialogue] is to change humanity. If we can all reclaim that together, then we can make a better world. Yes, there will be differences. We need to say: How can we become better human beings?”

Canada Repeats Last Year’s UN Vote on Palestinian Self-Determination

Nov. 20, 2020

By RON CSILLAG

In a repeat from a year ago, Canada has voted for a United Nations resolution that refers to “occupied Palestinian territory” – including east Jerusalem and its holy Jewish sites.

Canada voted for the annual resolution on Nov. 19. The measure was adopted 163 to five at the UN’s Third Committee and will now go to the General Assembly for a final vote.

Titled “The right of the Palestinian people to self-determination,” the resolution was opposed by Israel, the United States and the Pacific island nations of the Marshall Islands, Nauru, and the Federated States of Micronesia.

Since 2006, over Liberal and Conservative governments, Canada had voted against the measure and has generally sided with Israel or abstained in its votes on the basket of about 20 resolutions introduced at the UN annually this time of year on “The Question of Palestine.”

But a year ago, Canada’s abrupt about-face on this one resolution sent shock waves through the Jewish community and strained relations with Israel. Canada’s move was widely denounced in Israel advocacy circles and was seen as all the more dramatic because it skipped over abstention and went to support.

Others questioned whether it meant a shift in Canada’s Middle East policy.

At the time, Israel said it had no advance warning of Canada’s change of vote, adding that it was considering lodging a formal complaint against Canada.

Entitled the “Right of the Palestinian people to self-determination,” the resolution stresses “the need for respect for and preservation of the territorial unity, contiguity and integrity of all of the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem.”

It further “reaffirms the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination, including the right to their independent State of Palestine; [and] urges all States and the specialized agencies and organizations of the United Nations system to continue to support and assist the Palestinian people in the early realization of their right to self-determination.”

In a joint statement the day after Canada cast its ballot, Jewish advocacy groups expressed their “deep disappointment,” saying the resolution fails “to affirm Jewish self-determination in the indigenous and ancestral homeland of the Jewish people” while “intentionally erasing historical Jewish connections to Jerusalem – including the Western Wall, Judaism’s holiest site.”

In its explanation of its vote, Canada said it is a “strong ally and close friend of Israel” and is “committed to the goal of a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East, including the creation of a Palestinian State, living side-by-side in peace and security with Israel.”

This country’s support for the resolution “is a reflection of our longstanding commitment to the right of self-determination for both Palestinians and Israelis,” said the explanation, known as an EOV.

The resolution focuses on two issues, the EOV stated: “The right of self-determination of the Palestinian people, and the need for all countries to do what they can to support the successful creation of a Palestinian state, living in peace and security with its neighbour Israel.

“From the time of the earliest resolutions of the Security Council on these issues, we have endorsed the principle of ‘two states for two peoples.’ While we do not agree with some elements of the preamble, Canada will support this resolution because of its focus on these important, core issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

The EOV said Canada “does not and will not support any resolution that unfairly singles out Israel for criticism. Our votes on these resolutions across the UN system reflect this principle. We will continue to oppose these resolutions and initiatives which do not speak to the complexities of the issues or seek to address the actions and responsibilities of all parties, including the destructive role in the conflict of such terrorist organizations as Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and Hezbollah, that have refused to accept the legitimacy of the State of Israel and routinely use violence targeting civilians.

Canada said it welcomes the recent announcement by the Palestinian Authority to resume coordination with Israel. “We continue to insist that real progress will depend on mutual recognition and trust, and a firm rejection of extremism and terrorism. We know that lasting peace and security starts with direct talks, and the concessions and compromise that always accompany successful negotiations. Canada urges both sides to return to negotiations.”

In a statement, newly-elected Liberal MP Ya’ara Saks (York Centre) defended the government’s voting record on Israel at the UN: “The systematic singling out of Israel at the UN is unfair and unjust, which is why we have the strongest record of any Canadian government in opposing the annual UN resolutions that single out Israel, having voted against almost 90 percent of them since 2015. We are the only Western country alongside the U.S. that systematically votes against these resolutions.

“Israelis and Palestinians want and need a resolution to the conflict firmly rooted in the principle of ‘two states for two peoples.’ Their future depends on it and the new developments of the recent accords show us what can be achieved when states work together.

“The Canada-Israel relationship is stronger and deeper than can be defined by one vote. It is an unbreakable bond that makes both countries better, safer, and more prosperous,” said Saks. “That’s why the government is right now engaged in Canada-Israel collaboration and innovation, and increasing our efforts internationally to promote Holocaust remembrance and combat the global rise of antisemitism.

“I’ve made our community’s position clear to the government, and will always work to further strengthen the Canada-Israel relationship,” Saks stated.

Three days before the vote, Canada’s major Jewish advocacy groups, B’nai Brith, Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center (FSWC), and the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), wrote to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Foreign Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne, urging Ottawa to return to its “principled and unequivocal opposition” to this year’s batch of resolutions.

The day after Canada cast its ballot this year, Michael Levitt, president and CEO of FSWC, stated, “We are dismayed by Canada’s decision to undermine its longstanding policy of rejecting one-sided and prejudicial anti-Israel resolutions at the UN. By supporting this resolution, Canada is providing ammunition to those who seek to delegitimize and demonize the State of Israel, which ultimately sets back the prospects for peace in the region.”

Shimon Koffler Fogel, CIJA President and CEO commented: “The government of Canada has now doubled down on its incomprehensible support for a resolution that simply expands the anti-Israel narrative within the United Nations system – an aberration in the voting pattern established and re-affirmed by successive Canadian governments for almost two decades until the Liberal government changed its vote last year.”

Notwithstanding other “praiseworthy” initiatives by the Liberals, this vote “will undermine the Jewish community’s confidence in this government – its willingness to stand by its principles as they relate to Israel, as well as its relationship with the Jewish community here in Canada.”

Wondered B’nai Brith Canada’s CEO Michael Mostyn, “Does support for this resolution bring us any closer to a durable and sustaining peace?”

In its own statement, the progressive group JSpaceCanada, sounded a different tone, saying Canada “has once again demonstrated that supporting Israel and recognizing the rights of Palestinians are not mutually exclusive. This year, Canada reiterated its opposition to the annual slate of anti-Israel resolutions, while also re-affirming its support for Palestinian self-determination. While imperfect, the resolution Canada voted for signals that the two-state solution remains a key priority for Canadian foreign policy. With the looming threat of annexation and continued impasse on peace negotiations, it is critical that the international community advance the need for a just peace based on mutual recognition.”

Montreal-born Hillel Neuer, head of UN Watch in Geneva, employed stronger language, saying the Liberal government “has joined the jackals at the UN” by voting for the resolution.

Israel’s embassy in Ottawa had no comment when asked for its position on the Nov. 19 resolution.

The day before that vote, Canada sided with Israel on a UN resolution that recognizes Palestinians’ sovereign rights to natural resources on the West Bank and east Jerusalem.

The measure calls on Israel, “the occupying Power,” to “cease the exploitation, damage, cause of loss or depletion and endangerment of natural resources in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including east Jerusalem, and in the occupied Syrian Golan.”

The resolution was approved by a vote of 156 to six. Opposing it were Canada, Israel, the United States, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia and Nauru.

Earlier this month, Canada voted with Israel on five Palestinian-related resolutions and abstained on two others.

Ajax Councillor Apologizes for Linking Israel with Nazi Street Name

Nov. 19, 2020

By STEVE ARNOLD

An Ajax councillor has apologized for citing Israeli “oppression” of Palestinians as justification for naming a local street after a Nazi warship commander.

“I would like to apologize for any comments I made that were hurtful to yourself and the Jewish Community,” Coun. Ashmeed Khan (Ward 2) said in an email exchange with Ajax resident Adam Wiseman. “That was not my intention.”

Ashmeed Khan

Khan made the controversial statement Monday in a lengthy debate over a motion to change the name Langsdorff Drive to that of an Allied veteran of the Second World War. The motion to change the name passed four to three.

During that discussion, Khan declared: “One word I have heard repeated consistently today is reconciliation, reconciliation, reconciliation. I’ve been having calls from people in [his ward] who are Palestinian and have no hope of reconciliation, as they are currently being oppressed by the Jewish State of Israel and they are concerned about how we will address this today.”

The next day, Wiseman, who started a petition calling for the street’s name change, asked that Khan apologize.

“I understood your comment about the ‘Jewish state of Israel currently oppressing Palestinians’ as justification for not changing the street name as though you are implying that yourself and the Palestinian community believe Jews deserve this sort of affront,” Wiseman wrote. “(I)f that was your intention then I am requesting an on the record apology to the Jewish community in Ajax.”

At the heart of the debate is a residential street named in 2004, and dedicated in 2007, for Captain Hans Langsdorff, a career officer of Nazi Germany’s navy and commander of the warship Admiral Graf Spee.

An attempt to name one street in Ajax for Langsdorff’s ship was reversed earlier this year.

In addition to challenging Khan’s statement, Wiseman also had a testy email exchange with Ajax Mayor Shaun Collier, who opposed the renaming motion.

Shaun Collier

Wiseman wanted the mayor to condemn antisemitism but Collier replied that Langsdorff was an honourable man who deserved to be remembered.

Collier noted a passage from a book titled Command Decisions: Langsdorff and the Battle of the River Plate: “All Langsdorff’s actions as captain of the Graf Spee show that he was a decent, honourable and compassionate man.”

Wiseman responded that in his message to Collier, he had used Langsdorff’s own words from his suicide note, in which he praised Adolf Hitler as a “prophet,” not the “conjecture” of an author writing decades after the events.

Holding Langsdorff up as anything other than a loyal officer of the German navy cheapened the memory of Germans who actively opposed the Nazi regime, Wiseman added.

Wiseman said he was “absolutely disappointed about this email both in tone and content.”

In a later email to the CJR, he added the mayor should have called out an antisemitic statement the moment it happened.

“I am definitely not pleased with the mayor,” he wrote. “It is after all his council and I feel the comment should have been addressed in the moment. The best way to fight antisemitism is to call it out immediately and without apology.”