Canada Announces More Funding for UNRWA

Dec. 22, 2020

By RON CSILLAG

Canada has announced more funding – up to $90 million over three years – for Palestinian refugees through the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).

The funds will “help respond to the rising needs of vulnerable Palestinian refugees in UNRWA’s five areas of operation: the West Bank, Gaza, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan,” said a Dec. 21 statement from Karina Gould, Minister of International Development.

The previous release of regular funding to UNRWA was in 2018, when Canada announced a contribution of $50 million over two years.

This time, the funds will contribute “to meeting the basic education, health and livelihood needs of Palestinian refugees, especially women and children,” Gould’s office stated. 

It will also provide “emergency life-saving assistance to an estimated 465,000 Palestinian refugees in Syria and Lebanon, through UNRWA’s Emergency Appeal for the Syria regional crisis. In addition, it will complement UNRWA’s response to the new and emerging needs created by the COVID pandemic.”

Canada’s funding of UNRWA continues to be a hot-button issue in Jewish circles. Former Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative government eliminated aid to the agency in 2010 over its ties to Hamas. The Liberals restored funding in 2016 with promises of more stringent oversight. The latest tranche puts Canada’s combined commitment at about $200 million.

There have long been allegations that funds and supplies to UNRWA are diverted to terrorist activity, black marketeering, and to bankroll antisemitic and anti-Zionist propaganda, especially in Palestinian schools.

B’nai Brith Canada said it is “extremely disappointed” at Canada’s latest round of aid to the agency.

The move represents “a missed opportunity to leverage our international leadership to foster conditions for a durable Middle East peace during a time of transformative regional change,” B’nai Brith CEO Michael Mostyn told the CJR in an email. The agency’s core objectives “are not conducive to finding equitable solutions for Palestinian ‘refugees,’ and its educational efforts help perpetuate a feeling of hatred towards Israel and the Jewish people. This must end.”

Mostyn called it “intolerable that UNRWA schools continue to indoctrinate Palestinian children toward antisemitism and eternal war, rather than peace and acceptance. Canadians deserve to know that their international aid dollars are not supporting terrorism or incitement in any way, shape or form.”

Shimon Koffler Fogel, president and CEO of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, sounded a more conciliatory tone. He said CIJA supports Canadian humanitarian aid “to those genuinely in need, particularly the victims of the devastating conflict in Syria where the humanitarian situation remains extremely dire.”

Over the years, Fogel said CIJA “has communicated our concerns about UNRWA’s accountability and neutrality to the Government of Canada. We appreciate both the government’s acknowledgement of these concerns and the measures Canada has now put into place to ensure meaningful accountability and oversight.”

Ottawa said it is continuing its support for UNRWA’s “ongoing efforts to promote neutrality in its operations and among its staff.”

On its website, the federal government referenced the “Framework for Cooperation” between Global Affairs and UNRWA, a 3,000-word document that lays out such issues as monitoring, reporting, oversight, policies of neutrality, and compliance with Canadian anti-terrorism requirements. It was signed in April 2017 by Pierre Krähenbühl, Commissioner General of UNRWA and Peter Boehm, Deputy Minister of International Development.

In August 2019, B’nai Brith and CIJA called on Ottawa to suspend funding to UNRWA after a damning report alleged widespread mismanagement, nepotism and wrongdoing at the agency.

Last April, Erin O’Toole, then a candidate for the leadership of the federal Conservatives, told The Canadian Jewish News: “I will end funding for UNRWA unless it is significantly reformed. It cannot under any circumstances provide support to terror organizations or their affiliates. It also cannot create dependencies, which serve as a deterrent to lasting peace and deter resettlement efforts in other parts of the world. Canada will not continue funding if these reforms are not underway by the midway point of our first term.”

Gould’s Dec. 21 statement said the needs of Palestinian refugees “are undeniable, especially during a global pandemic: they face high rates of poverty, food insecurity and unemployment,” continued. Ottawa’s continued support for UNRWA “builds upon Canada’s long-standing commitment to Palestinians while also contributing to stability in the region.”

She said this latest round of aid will help more than half a million Palestinian refugee children receive quality basic education.

Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME), which supports the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign against Israel, expressed concern that Canada “still refuses to support UNRWA politically or diplomatically.”

Earlier this month, Canada abstained on a UN resolution to renew UNRWA’s mandate, and voted “no” on another motion supporting the activities of UNRWA, the group noted in a statement following the announcement of Canada’s latest round of funding.

“It is hypocritical when Canada funds UNRWA to the tune of $90 million, but then refuses to stick up for the agency politically on the international stage,” said Michael Bueckert, vice president of CJPME.

JSpaceCanada welcomes the government’s announcement.

“This funding will provide Palestinians with crucial education, health, and livelihood supports – making important contributions to regional stability and peace,” the progressive group said in a statement. It also applauded Canada’s “continued work to ensure meaningful oversight and accountability of UNWRA and of all foreign aid commitments.”

Letter to the Editor: Dec. 22, 2020

Agrees on CIJA

Andrew Cohen’s excellent analysis and critique of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) is most welcome and long past due. (“Unelected, unaccountable, untroubled: CIJA says what it wants and then says it speaks for us” – Dec. 16)  In the eyes of the non-Jewish community and of legislators in Canada, the high profile and well-funded CIJA appears to be the voice of Canadian Jews. But it is not that voice, as Mr. Cohen points out, but rather an advocacy group with a single agenda and a single point of view.

It was a sad day when CIJA replaced the Canadian Jewish Congress under a cloak of mystery. Canadian Jews had a representative and accountable body to speak for us. We need one again; CIJA is not that body.

Donnie Friedman
Toronto

Unelected, Unaccountable, Untroubled: CIJA Says What it Wants, Then Says it Speaks For Us

Dec. 16, 2020

By ANDREW COHEN

Since its induced birth a decade ago, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) has offered full-throated support for the government of Israel. As official advocate of Jewish Federations of Canada-UIA, it suggests it speaks for Canadian Jewry.

That CIJA “represents hundreds of thousands of Jewish Canadians affiliated with the federation,” is as empty as its claim that it is non-partisan. It isn’t really, at least not when it comes to Israel.

CIJA can scarcely utter a discouraging word about the harshest policies of Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, from expanding settlements on the West Bank, to undermining the multi-party Iranian nuclear treaty.

Three years ago, for example, when the United States announced it would move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, CIJA quickly assembled an on-line forum of three panelists. All heralded the decision, a breathless exercise in propaganda from an organization which celebrates “educating Canadians about the important role Israel plays in Canadian life.”

Because Likud has been in power longer than CIJA has been in business, we don’t know how CIJA would react to a moderate government in Israel. But we do know how it reacts to a more moderate government in Canada on Israel: CIJA complains and complains.

In 2015, CIJA was quick to jump on Justin Trudeau, then in opposition, for “trivializing” the Holocaust. Yet it was unfazed when Steven Blaney, a Conservative minister, did much the same two days later.

More recently, when CIJA joined two other Jewish organizations in criticizing Canada’s vote at the United Nations in favour of Palestinian self-determination, it showed, once again, how CIJA is out of step with opinion at home and abroad.

CIJA issued a joint statement of protest with B’nai Brith and the Simon Wiesenthal Centre. Each representative was quoted independently, as if none would take responsibility for the other – or, out of vanity, each insisted on his own megaphone.

Jon Allen, Canada’s former Ambassador to Israel, rejected their woolly-minded argument in the CJR. More than most Jews, he knows Canada is an unflinching friend of Israel. He explained persuasively why we voted with the rest of the world, including every one of Israel’s long-standing allies (other than the United States).

But that wasn’t enough for CIJA. Nothing is but the orthodoxy. This happens when your board of directors includes the perfervid John Baird, Stephen Harper’s foreign minister, beloved by CIJA; when he resigned unceremoniously in early 2015, CIJA saluted “his clear and conscientious foreign policy vision of which all Canadians can be proud.” Actually, many Jews were appalled, and helped defeat the Conservatives that October.

The Liberals can appoint Bob Rae as Canada’s Ambassador to the UN; they can avow moral and material support for Israel until the coming of the Messiah; they can appoint Irwin Cotler envoy on anti-Semitism (which CIJA uncharacteristically praised). CIJA is rarely satisfied.

Then again, why should anyone care what CIJA thinks? Its officers are unelected, unaccountable and untroubled by criticism, which it reliably ignores or dismisses. Sustained by the Federation, which is sustained by tax-deductible donations, CIJA says what it wants – and then says it speaks for us.

CIJA has lacked credibility since it was mysteriously established in 2011. Some say it was the product of a hostile takeover of the Canadian Jewish Congress, engineered by wealthy conservative Jews with the blessing of the governing Conservatives. That may explain its defensiveness.

For an organization which sees itself as a communicator, CIJA has clownish media relations. Despite its self-described legion of “analysts, public affairs specialists, web and social-media practitioners, relationship builders and media relations experts,” it is among the least responsive advocacy organizations I’ve seen in 43 years in journalism.

CIJA boasts of its work on Jewish issues in Canada (curiously, it does not have “Canada” in its name), which are detailed on its website. For fighting antisemitism, encouraging Jewish education, protecting kosher food, and other campaigns – wonderful. I applaud that, although it’s hard to judge its effectiveness or its value for money. Its budget is said to be $8 to $11 million, of which 40 percent, goes to advocacy on Israel. (CIJA refuses to say). To push this and other causes, it has 10 or so lobbyists.

For all its resources, though, how is CIJA the voice of “hundreds of thousands” of Jews in a country of 390,000 Jews? By what arithmetic, and with what authority?

The Canadian Jewish Congress, a venerable Jewish parliament, did not worry about its legitimacy. It had the confidence of Jews because it tried to represent all of them. It was a forum of conciliation between faiths, a voice of immigrants, and a champion of social justice. It had authenticity and loyalty. This we can say with confidence: The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs is not the Canadian Jewish Congress.

The Federation can address the problem with CIJA. It can tell CIJA to stop advocating for Israel in Canada, and focus exclusively on education and other domestic issues. It can allow donors skeptical of CIJA to designate their support to other worthy charities within the Federation. Or choose others outside it.

As the pandemic strains many charities heroically serving our community, CIJA is one progressive Jews no longer want to hear – and need no longer subsidize.


Andrew Cohen
Andrew Cohen

Andrew Cohen is an award-winning columnist with the Ottawa Citizen, a professor of journalism at Carleton University, and the author of Two Days in June: John F. Kennedy and the 48 Hours That Made History

Japan Diplomat Sugihara Honoured for Wartime Heroism

Dec. 11, 2020

By LILA SARICK

George Bluman doesn’t hesitate when he considers the legacy of Chiune (Sempo) Sugihara, a Japanese diplomat who provided Jews with life-saving travel visas during the Second World War.

“In my own family, there are 21 people living…. We wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for him,” Bluman, a retired math professor who lives in Vancouver, said in an interview with the CJR.

In the summer of 1940, Sugihara served as Japan’s vice-consul in Kaunas (Kovno), Lithuania, and issued thousands of transit visas to Jewish refugees, permitting them transit through Japan. Some were issued to Jews who had managed to secure visas allowing them to enter Dutch-controlled Curacao, but Sugihara also issued them to other refugees who did not have proper documentation.

Chiune (Sempo) Sugihara
Chiune (Sempo) Sugihara

Bluman’s parents were Polish Jews who had fled to Lithuania at the outbreak of the war. In 1940, they received visas from Sugihara, even though their paperwork was incomplete. They travelled through Russia, boarding a ship in Vladivostok, and sailed to Japan.

After spending six months there, Bluman’s father, who had a degree in bio-engineering, received one of 25 Canadian visas available to immigrants with specialized skills. The couple arrived in Vancouver in 1941.

Bluman, who was born not long after his parents arrived in Canada, has done extensive research into Sugihara’s life and what happened to those who received those precious visas. One of Bluman’s grandchildren carries Sugihara’s name, and the family is in frequent contact with the diplomat’s descendants.

“From my perspective, he (Sugihara) wasn’t just a passerby. He cared and put his family at some risk,” Bluman said. “He wrote to his superiors three times and they certainly didn’t encourage these visas.”

While there is some dispute about the number of visas Sugihara issued to Jewish refugees in that summer of 1940 in Kaunas – Yad Vashem in Israel says it was between 2,100 and 3,500, while other sources say it was as many as 6,000 – Bluman says the number is not important. “What was amazing is what he did over a short period of time.”

After arriving in Japan, many refugees then travelled to Shanghai, China, where there was an established Jewish community. After the war, about half of those left for the United States and about 15 percent came to Canada, Bluman said. About one-quarter of those who received visas were yeshiva students, he said.

Today, an estimated 40,000 people are descendants of those who received the visas.

Sugihara’s legacy will be commemorated by the Japanese Embassy in Canada this week to mark the 120th anniversary of his birth, the 80th anniversary of his issuing the visas, and the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. It all makes for an auspicious time to remember the diplomat’s achievements, said Atsushi Murata, director of information and culture for the Embassy of Japan in Ottawa.

The online memorial was recorded Dec. 8 and was organized by the Embassy of Japan in cooperation with the embassies of Israel and Lithuania, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, and the Canadian Society for Yad Vashem. Among the speakers were a Holocaust survivor who received a visa, and two descendants of those who were saved by Sugihara, including Bluman.

Sugihara was recognized by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations in 1984, the only Japanese national to be honoured. He died in 1986.

Bluman credits the Japanese ambassador to Canada for initiating the event. While based in New York, Ambassador Yasuhisa Kawamura became friends with a number of Jews and began to hear about Sugihara and the people he had helped. “He is passionate about the story,” Bluman said.

In Japan, Sugihara’s story is well known, and he is considered one of the country’s 100 most important people, Bluman said. Last year, Lithuania announced that 2020 would be dedicated to the memory of Sugihara, and conferences, museum exhibits, and a commemorative stamp were planned for the year.

Sugihara’s deeds are comparable to those of Oskar Schindler, the German industrialist who sheltered Jews during the war, but his story is much less well known in North America simply because there hasn’t been a popular Hollywood film about his life, Bluman said.

“The most important thing is to make people in Canada aware of Sugihara.”

To watch the ceremony honouring Sugihara, as well as documentaries about his life and the survivors, visit www.visasforlife.info.

Addendum: In 1993, Canadian Jewish Congress and the National Association of Japanese Canadians were one of the first organizations to honour Sugihara. Present for that dinner were members of the Sugihara family and numerous elected officials, including then Ontario Premier Bob Rae.

Jewish Day Schools Call for Distribution of COVID Funds

Dec. 10, 2020

By LILA SARICK

A coalition of independent schools, including Jewish day schools, is calling on the Ontario government to distribute federal funds intended to cover COVID-associated costs to all schools, not just publicly funded ones.

In August, Ottawa announced the Safe Return to Class Fund and committed up to $2 billion to schools for pandemic-related expenses such as improved air ventilation, increased hygiene and purchases of personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies.

Funding was allocated “based on the number of children between four and 18,” according to a statement announcing the fund. Ontario was allocated $763 million, to be distributed in fall 2020 and early 2021.

In Ontario, the funds were distributed through public and Catholic school boards, shutting out Jewish day schools, as well as other independent and faith-based schools. The schools have now launched a campaign lobbying the province to change the way it distributes the money.

“What’s disheartening is that the federal government has given money to all the provinces in order to help children go safely back to schools and the money from the federal government’s announcement is for all children from four to 18, and there’s no distinctions,” said Ira Walfish, a founder of TeachON, a grassroots group that advocates for funding for Jewish day schools, and a member of the independent school coalition.

“What’s disheartening is that this is pure pandemic funds, it’s not for education,” Walfish told the CJR.

The independent schools that have formed the Supporting Students Coalition estimate that 125,00 students are enrolled in schools that did not receive federal COVID funding. Parents are encouraged to write their MPPs to express their dissatisfaction, Walfish said.

Grassroots for Affordable Jewish Education, another Ontario advocacy group, has also urged families to join the campaign.

The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) has also argued that private schools should be eligible for the federal COVID funds.

“CIJA continues to advocate for the inclusion of Jewish community institutions – including our Jewish day schools – in a range of government support programs,” Noah Shack, CIJA’s vice president for the Greater Toronto Area, said in a statement to the CJR. “It is crucial that they continue to operate safely and meet the needs of families hit hard by the pandemic.”

CIJA was successful in having the federal government extend the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy program to not-for-profit schools.

“This subsidy provides substantial relief, which the government has committed to extend through to June 2021,” Shack said.

Asked about the distribution of federal funds, a spokesperson for the provincial education ministry replied in an email: “In Ontario, private schools operate as businesses or non-profit organizations independently of the Ministry of Education and in accordance with the legal requirements established by the Education Act. They do not receive any funding or other financial support from the government.”

Ontario funds the public and Catholic school systems but not other faith-based or independent schools.

Not all provinces have handled the federal funds the same way as Ontario. In British Columbia, for example, some money has been distributed to private schools, Walfish said.

“It would be better for everybody, not just our children, if they’re all in a safe environment,” Walfish said. “Presumably, there are some children in independent schools who might play with other children in public or Catholic schools and if they’re not protected, we can do the math.”

Ontario parents are eligible for some relief, however. CIJA advocated for the inclusion of all Ontario families in the provincial government’s education grants provided directly to parents, Shack said. The grants, disbursed last spring and this winter, provide families with between $400 and $500 per child for COVID-related costs.

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.

Canada Votes at the UN: A Response to the CIJA, B’nai Brith Canada and Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center

Nov. 25, 2020

By JON ALLEN

I am writing in response to the recent joint statement issued by the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), B’nai Brith Canada, and Friends of the Simon Wiesenthal Center regarding the Nov. 19 vote by Canada on a United Nations resolution affirming the right of Palestinians to self-determination.

I was surprised to receive the statement and I fundamentally disagree with it. I was surprised because it leaves the reader with the impression that this is a new resolution, a different vote from the one last year, and that the government has rethought its policies and has now betrayed the “Jewish community,” which these organizations purport to represent.

Just to be clear: This is the same resolution that the government, along with 163 other states, including all Europeans, the Nordics and New Zealand, supported last year. There were good reasons then for Canada to support the resolution and it is arguable, given recent events in the region, that there are even better reasons to support it this year. Moreover, it would be highly unusual for a government to change its vote one year as it did in 2019, and then, barring changed circumstances, reverse the change the next. Thus my surprise at both the tone and aggressive nature of the statement in question.

First, the reaffirmation of the right of Palestinians to self-determination and to an independent state is wholly consistent with Canadian government policy, and has been for decades through the Chrétien, Martin, Harper, and now, the Trudeau governments.

Second, some have suggested that the resolution is flawed because it does not specifically mention Israel, its right to exist or the two-state solution. This is a clear misreading of its intent and substance. The resolution is not about Israel or its right to exist. Israel exists and has since 1948, no matter who or how many times its existence is challenged. As the name of the resolution suggests, it is about the right of the Palestinian people to a state. The second to last preambular paragraph (preambular paragraphs set the context for the operative paragraphs that follow) specifically refers to a “lasting and comprehensive peace settlement between the Palestinians and the Israeli sides” and then cites: the Madrid Conference, the Arab Peace Initiative, and the Quartet road map, all of which assume, support and encourage a two-state solution.

Third, as mentioned, if Canada was correct in supporting the resolution in 2019 – and I believe it was – then given recent events in Israel and the territories, the vote this year is even more justified. The last year has seen significant expansion of illegal settlements, including into areas deep into the West Bank and around East Jerusalem. Such activities threaten the very viability of the two-state solution and the self determination of Palestinians referred to in the resolution. We also should recall that 2020 was a year in which the Israeli government threatened to annex approximately 30 percent of the West Bank, including much of the Jordan Valley.

Finally, I take exception with any statement of this nature that suggests that it represents the views of “the Jewish community.” It does not represent my views or those of the tens of thousands of progressive Jews for whom the two-state solution is seen as the saviour of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. It would be more accurate, if in future communications, the organizations in question would make clear that they speak on behalf of themselves and not the Jewish community at large.


Jon Allen is a Senior Fellow at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy at the University of Toronto, and served as Canada’s ambassador to Israel from 2006 to 2010.

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.

Federal Official Faces Probe Over Antisemitic Posts

Nov. 12, 2020

By STEVE ARNOLD

A senior government official in Ottawa is under investigation for social media posts accusing Israel of the “ethnic cleansing” of Palestinians, “leeching” off American taxpayers, and harbouring pedophiles.

Nizam Siddiqui is described in a government employee directory as a senior analyst in the Privy Council Office, which supports the prime minister and cabinet in policy making for the country.

The posts were first uncovered by Israeli blogger David Lange. Acting on a tip from a reader, he said he matched the person in a Facebook profile to a YouTube video in which Siddiqui was interviewed following a terrorist event on Parliament Hill.

Lange said he deployed “due diligence” in concluding that the man on the Facebook page and in the YouTube video are the same person.

The postings can be seen on Lange’s site, israellycool.com, one of the largest English-language blogs in Israel.

After Lange brought the posts to light, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) and Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre (FSWC) called for government action.

Paul Duchesne, the PCO’s director of media relations, told CIJA, FSWC and the CJR that the Privy Council Office “takes this matter very seriously and expects all of its employees to adhere to the Values and Ethics Code of the Public Service. We are shocked and disappointed with this content and we are following due diligence processes to determine the facts surrounding the involvement of this employee to enable us to respond quickly and appropriately.”

His statement did not address whether Siddiqui is still at work or what sanctions he may face if the allegations are found to be true.

The Jewish organizations said they were pleased with the PCO’s response.

“We were gratified to receive assurances from the PCO that they regard the allegations as seriously as we do, and that an investigation and immediate action will be pursued to address the issue,” they said in a joint statement. “In their response, the PCO officials re-affirmed that there is no place for such appalling attitudes amongst members of the public service.

They said they expect that the individual in question “will be dealt with in a manner that reflects the seriousness of his hateful actions and breach of public trust.”

The statement from the two Jewish groups said the Facebook page also includes “a multitude of libels against Israel, referring to it as a ‘parasitic, racist, apartheid state,’ and indicates ‘likes’ for over a hundred extremist anti-Israel groups around the world.”

In an interview, Lange said he uses his blog to uncover antisemitic actions wherever he can.

“A reader sent me an email saying, ‘check this guy out,’” he said. “I looked it, and [Siddiqui’s] Facebook page, and the Youtube video, where he says he works for the government.”

In that video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZpsJJuSM9XE), Siddiqui is interviewed by the Ottawa Citizen about being in the area of a terrorist attack on Parliament Hill. He expressed the hope the incident would not lead to an increase in Islamophobia.

“This has been bothering me for a long time,” he told the interviewer. “It was very hard to see a young man lose his life like that.”

Siddiqui was likely referring to the 2014 attack in which Nathan Cirillo, a Canadian soldier and reservist on sentry duty at the National War Memorial, was fatally shot by Michael Zehaf-Bibeau. 

Siddiqui did not respond to a telephone call for comment.

The Facebook posts also allege that European Jews are a counterfeit people and that Palestinians are the true descendants of the Hebrews of the Bible.

Lange said the views expressed in the posts are especially troubling because they came from someone in a position of public trust.

“It’s always troubling to me when someone has these views,” he said. “I wouldn’t say it is particularly troubling to me that he is close to the prime minister, but it would be extremely troubling to me that now that they know about his views, they were to cover for him.”

Why We Support the IHRA Definition of Antisemitism… Cautiously

Nov. 5, 2020 

By JORDAN DEVON AND KAREN MOCK

On Oct. 27, Ontario became the first province in Canada to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism. JSpaceCanada, the organization we represent, joined the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), B’nai Brith Canada and Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center in applauding this decision

As most in our community are aware, we do not always see eye to eye with these organizations. As a progressive Zionist Jewish voice, we are unapologetic in our opposition to the Israeli occupation and emphatic in our support for a two-state solution – positions that aren’t always shared by more dominant community institutions.

But on this occasion, we felt the need to rise above these differences. While our community has diverse voices and opinions, there is clear consensus about the need to combat the alarming rise of antisemitism. We cannot protect our society from the scourge of antisemitism if we are unable to name it, to identify it properly, and to address it consistently. 

The IHRA definition states: “Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”

The definition has been given broad acceptance by Jewish communities around the world. By adopting it, Ontario is following the anti-racist/anti-oppression norm that victimized groups can best define the terms that describe discrimination against them.

However, it must be noted that the IHRA definition does not come without its critics.

Shortly after we released our statement in support of the provincial government’s decision to bypass public committee hearings and proceed to endorsement, we received concerned, disappointed, and even angry messages from allies and colleagues in the Arab community, who noted that the IHRA definition has been used to suppress criticism of Israel in jurisdictions around the world. 

Indeed, the IHRA definition comes with a list of illustrative examples of antisemitism, some of which have been interpreted as appearing to conflate criticism of Zionism and Israel with antisemitism.

The definition, as drafted by Kenneth Stern and an international team of scholars, was meant to be used as a tool or resource to assist in identification and documentation, and not to be legally binding. However, there is great concern that the IHRA definition has been weaponized by right-wing groups to suppress even tepid criticism of Israel – a reality that has been acknowledged by Stern himself.

But we can understand why reference to the IHRA language is alarming for communities who experience Israel and Zionism differently than Jews do. And we acknowledge the distinctions and relationships between antisemitism and criticism of Israel.

Criticizing Israeli policy is not inherently antisemitic. Indeed, the IHRA definition itself specifies that “criticism of Israel similar to that against any other state cannot be considered to be antisemitic.”

As a progressive Zionist organization, JSpaceCanada has actively criticized discriminatory Israeli government policies, and we will continue to do so, challenging Israel to fulfill the promise of its Declaration of Independence. Nevertheless, it is important to distinguish between well-meaning critics of Israel and those who are influenced by antisemitism, or may cross the line into antisemitic rhetoric.

We will continue to call for the cautious application of the IHRA definition in keeping with the drafters’ intent, to ensure it does not supress freedom of speech or academic freedom. In the same vein, we would expect that definitions of racism or any form of discrimination should not be used to silence speech that does not meet one of the criteria of hate speech.

We are committed to monitoring and speaking out against any attempt to misuse the IHRA definition to attack Palestinian activism or to promote Islamophobia. And we will defend those whom we feel have been wrongfully accused of antisemitism.


Dr. Karen Mock is the President of JSpaceCanada
Jordan Devon is the Vice-President of JSpaceCanada. 
JSpaceCanada is an all-volunteer, non-partisan, progressive Jewish organization.

Editorial: Kosher or Treif? Help Us Decide

Nov. 4, 2020

We had in mind to call this new addition to the CJR “Bouquets and Brickbats,” but somehow, “Kosher or Treif?” seemed more appropriate.

From time to time, the editors here would like to recognize individuals and groups for their work, whether it’s advancing Jewish ideals, pushing forward a positive agenda, or simply getting at the truth in an era in which objective truth is proving elusive.

On the other hand, we also need to know about those who, to put it politely, do not have our best interests in mind.

Recognition will be complimentary (K= Kosher) or critical (T=Treif). Please feel free to let us know if you agree by sending us your thoughts at canadianjewishrecord@gmail.ca

KOSHER: Andy Lulka is a Montessori advocate and educator. Her quiet but vital work on Holocaust education and confronting antisemitism from a point of intersectionality and anti-oppression is well known in the field. Despite health challenges, Andy has demonstrated that positivity and wisdom leads to strength of purpose.

KOSHER: York Regional Police, which has charged a white nationalist for “uttering threats” against two anti-racist activists in an online chat room. All to prove that hateful actions online can lead to serious consequences.

TREIF: Bobby Orr. The Canadian hockey legend’s fawning statement of support for Donald Trump only tells us that while he played stellar defence for the Boston Bruins, it turns out his embrace of a racist, sexist, misogynist candidate for president was nothing but offensive.

KOSHER: Mustafa Farook is the Executive Director of the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM). His outreach to other faith communities has helped build many bridges. Most recently, following a swastika defacement of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Ottawa, Mustafa publicly tweeted, “…To the lowlife that did this, if you want to intimidate the Jewish community, or dishonour the fallen you have to come through us.”

TREIF: Maxime Bernier, leader of the so called People’s Party of Canada, tried to run for a seat in Toronto’s York Centre riding in the recent by-election. His anti-immigrant, climate change skeptic, anti-transgender policies were eagerly echoed by white supremacists and others of the same ilk. York Centre voters, speaking for most Canadians, soundly sent him packing with just 642 votes. But, alarmingly, at 3.6 percent of the total vote, Bernier did better than the Greens in York Centre.

KOSHER: Annamie Paul has become the first Jewish female person of colour to head a federal party, the Greens, in Canada. She faced down sexism, racism and antisemitism to do so. Mazal tov Annamie. A welcome addition to the political scene.

KOSHER: General John Vance and the Canadian Armed Forces. Despite a slow start, the military has taken decisive action to root out neo-Nazis and white supremacists from their ranks. Gen. Vance, the Canadian Chief of the Defence Staff, has issued new standing orders that will assist others in command to take decisive action against racists and haters in the military.

TREIF: Kimberly Hawkins, owner of the Toronto-based restaurant/caterer Foodbenders. Following a flurry of online rants last summer equating Zionists with Nazis, glorifying terrorism, and saying Jews control the media, Hawkins was hit with a lawsuit, two human rights complaints and now, a possible review of her business license by the City of Toronto. Even after she issued a wan apology, Hawkins kept posting her bilge. Her food is treif and she gives us heartburn.

KOSHER: The Hon. Marco Mendicino, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, has initiated a bold new plan that would see thousands more immigrants and refugees welcomed to Canada as part of our pandemic economic recovery.

KOSHER: The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), B’nai Brith Canada, Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre, and JSpace Canada for the unprecedented move of coming together without rancour to support the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism that was approved last week by the Ontario government. This marks the first time in their collective histories that these Canadian Jewish groups from the left to the right of the Jewish political spectrum have issued a joint statement in support of an advocacy issue.

Foodbenders Faces Business License Probe

Nov. 2, 2020

Foodbenders’ woes keep piling up.

Late last month, B’nai Brith Canada learned that Toronto Bylaw Enforcement will investigate the west-end business and request a hearing before the city’s Licensing Tribunal.

Foodbenders’ windows prior to the protest by the Jewish Defence League.

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

The eatery and catering business on Bloor St. East has been at the centre of a controversy since July for its antisemitic and anti-Zionist posts on social media.

The Licensing Tribunal has the power to suspend, revoke or refuse to renew a license, and can also impose conditions, according to a Nov. 1 statement from B’nai Brith.

“We are relieved to hear that the City of Toronto has finally advanced this critical process,” said Michael Mostyn, CEO of B’nai Brith Canada. “Enough is enough – businesses in Canada’s most diverse city cannot be used to foment racism and antisemitism.”

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, justifying terrorism against Israelis, and accusing 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.

Later in the summer, the business’s posts showed likenesses of the incendiary balloons sent from Hamas in Gaza into southern Israel.

Shai DeLuca
Shai DeLuca

In addition to the municipal probe, Foodbenders and its owner, Kimberley Hawkins, face a defamation lawsuit filed by Shai DeLuca, a Toronto interior designer with Canadian and Israeli citizenship who alleged he was defamed in Instagram posts under Foodbenders’ account.

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 in her store.

The by-law under which Toronto is investigating Foodbenders states that “no person licensed under this by-law shall, because of race, colour, or creed, discriminate against any member of the public in the carrying on of the trade, business or occupation in respect of which the license is issued.”

A spokesperson told the CJR that since this is an “open investigation,” the city is unable to comment at this time. It advised to check back in about two weeks.

– By CJR Staff

Ontario Endorses IHRA Definition of Antisemitism: Jewish Groups Approve; Others are Upset

Oct. 27, 2020

Ontario has become the first province in Canada to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism – motivated by the recent anti-Jewish vandalism at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Ottawa.

In a statement, Government House Leader Paul Calandra said Premier Doug Ford’s cabinet “took swift and decisive action” on Monday (Oct. 26) to “adopt and recognize” the definition, even before the legislation could be passed.

“After a heinous act of antisemitism at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Ottawa [on Oct. 14], it is crucial that all governments be clear and united in fighting anti-Semitism and our adoption of the working definition has done just that,” Calandra said in a statement on Oct. 27.

“The government of Ontario is proud to adopt and recognize the working definition of anti-Semitism. We stand with Ontario’s Jewish community in defence of their rights and fundamental freedoms as we always have and always will,” he said.

The “Combating Anti-Semitism Act,” known as Bill 168, passed second reading earlier this year. It sets out to use the IHRA definition as a framework for interpreting acts, regulations and policies going forward.

It was scheduled to go to committee hearings in late October for public input. But the government’s pre-emptive adoption of the definition means the committee suspended public hearings.

“The government decided to act swiftly in view of the events of Ottawa over the weekend,” York Centre Tory MPP Roman Baber told the CJR via-email, referring to antisemitic graffiti found etched into the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in the capital.

“It also seemed appropriate given the second anniversary of the Pittsburgh shooting [at the Tree of Life Synagogue],” Baber stated.

The legislation will not go to third reading he noted, “as we have accomplished what Bill 168 set out to do.”

The move to adopt the definition and bypass public hearings was carried out by an Order in Council, which read as follows:

“On the recommendation of the undersigned, the Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, by and with the advice and concurrence of the Executive Council of Ontario, orders that:

Whereas the Government of Ontario believes that everyone deserves to be treated with fairness, respect and dignity;

And Whereas systemic racism, including antisemitism, is a persistent reality in Ontario preventing many from fully participating in society and denying them equal rights, freedoms, respect and dignity;

And Whereas on May 26, 2016, the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) decided at its Plenary in Bucharest to adopt a working definition of antisemitism;

Now therefore the Government of Ontario adopts and recognizes the Working Definition of Antisemitism, as adopted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) Plenary on May 26, 2016.

Premier and President of the Council

Approved and Ordered: October 26, 2020.”

Jewish groups issued statements approving the development. They did so jointly – for the first time in recent memory.

Ontario joins “a growing number of jurisdictions, at all levels of government and around the world, in taking action against the growing threat posed to our society by antisemitism,” said Shimon Koffler Fogel, president and CEO of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA).

The IHRA definition “provides a framework that can help guide Ontario government institutions interested in understanding contemporary forms of antisemitism, such as Holocaust denial,” Fogel said.

The adoption of the definition and its many illustrative examples of antisemitism “is a major step forward. From high schools and university campuses to police hate-crime units, this announcement promises much-needed relief for Jews across the province,” stated B’nai Brith Canada CEO Michael Mostyn.

“Ontario will now be equipped to identify and react to incidents of antisemitism in a clear and precise way, and be better positioned to prevent antisemitism and react to it whenever it rears its head anywhere in the province. We applaud the Ontario government for becoming the first province in Canada to adopt the IHRA definition,” said Mostyn.

Michael Levitt, president and CEO of Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies (FSWC), applauded the move.

He called the IHRA definition of antisemitism “a vital tool in the ongoing fight against hatred and discrimination targeting the Jewish community in Ontario…By making clear what antisemitism is and looks like, the IHRA definition will allow civil society and government to work together more effectively in our shared goal of eliminating hatred in our province.”

Karen Mock, president of JSpace Canada, remarked that “there is clear consensus about the need to combat the alarming rise of antisemitism. We cannot protect our society from the scourge of antisemitism if we are unable to name it, to identify it properly, and to address it consistently. By adopting the IHRA definition of antisemitism, the government of Ontario has demonstrated a commitment to implementing human rights and anti-racist policies.”

In a tweet, Ontario Liberal leader Steven Del Duca welcomed the development, saying he “fully support[s] the decision by #ON  to adopt the IHRA’s definition of antisemitism. There’s no place for hatred in Ontario, and this is an important step in the right direction.”

The New Democrats appeared to have been caught off guard by the government’s unexpected move.

In a statement on Oct. 27, the NDP said the government “secretly” adopted the legislation “behind closed doors and passed it by Ford edict instead of by democratic vote.”

Nearly 100 Ontarians asked for a chance to appear before the committee and “thousands” of messages were sent, the statement said.

“Antisemitism and antisemitic acts of hate are growing in Ontario, and we need to take concrete actions as a province to stomp out this growing, racist movement,” said NDP critic for the Attorney General Gurratan Singh. “Adopting a new definition of antisemitism should be done in consultation with the people of Ontario, and discussed in open and transparent debate.
 
“Excluding the voices of community members is no way to build a united coalition against hate.”
 
The NDP had voted for the bill on second reading “while explicitly and specifically saying it was doing so in order to ensure Ontarians would be welcomed into committee hearings, and amendments could be proposed,” the statement said.

Questioned by reporters later, NDP leader Andrea Horwath said she had “no idea” how the bill was handled.

“All of a sudden, out of nowhere, the government moved ahead on it. When we’re changing the laws in Ontario, we should really have public hearings.”

She said this and other examples of the Ford government cancelling public hearings are “pretty dictatorial. We were waiting to see the outcome of the public hearings and we didn’t get that opportunity, which is the whole point of having a democracy. You’re supposed to actually listen to people and not just ram things through.”

Groups that have opposed the IHRA definition because they believe it would silence criticism of Israel and squelch support for Palestinians were angered by the Ford government’s move, charging that was undemocratic.

NDP MPP Rima Berns-McGown, in a Facebook post, said she found it “appalling” that the government “did an end-run around democracy and snuck the IHRA definition through by order-in-council, the day before it was to go to justice committee hearings and the day before 100s of civil society organizations had asked to speak to it.

“It is obvious that they were afraid of the storm of public disgust that was on their way in committee — including by many respected Jewish public figures.”

Montreal-based Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME), which supports the BDS campaign against Israel, condemned the Conservative government “for pulling the plug on democracy in an attempt to protect Israel from criticism.”

“We were less than 24 hours away before members of the public were set to testify before the committee about the dangers of IHRA in regards to free expression,” said Michael Bueckert, vice president of CJPME. “Apparently, the Ontario government didn’t like to see that they were receiving thousands of emails opposing IHRA, and they shamefully decided to pull the plug before Ontarians had a chance to share their opinions,” said Bueckert.

Another pro-BDS group, Independent Jewish Voices of Canada, said the government’s “anti-democratic order is fitting for the IHRA definition, which poses such a grave threat to democratic principles of free expression and the right to protest.

“One thing is for certain: that we will not be deterred from our efforts to denounce the state of Israel for its systemic racism against the Palestinians. If that means we will be engaging in civil disobedience, then so be it,” said a statement from Corey Balsam of IJV.

Mira Sucharov, professor of political science at Carleton University and founding co-chair of the Jewish Politics division at the Association for Jewish Studies, acknowledged that the Ontario government needs to combat antisemitism. “But by conflating criticism of Zionism with antisemitism, this particular definition is the wrong way to go about it,” she told the CJR.

The IHRA working definition of antisemitism is opposed by other organizations, including the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty, the Canadian Labour Congress, the Canadian Federation of Students, the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group, and more. More than 450 Canadian academics signed an open letter opposing the IHRA definition’s adoption by universities, citing threats to academic freedom.

The working definition has been adopted by 35 countries, including Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom. Several cities have also endorsed it, while others have shelved it.

Bill 168 was a private member’s bill introduced by Conservative MPP Will Bouma in late 2019 and co-sponsored by fellow Tory MPP Robin Martin.

* The above expands a previous version of this story with quotes from the NDP, and clarifies that the Ford government’s move to adopt the IHRA definition unilaterally was done with all-party support.

Breaking News: Ontario Endorses IHRA Definition of Antisemitism

Oct. 27, 2020

Ontario has become the first province in Canada to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism – motivated, it seems, by the recent anti-Jewish vandalism at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Ottawa.

In a statement, Government House Leader Paul Calandra said Premier Doug Ford’s cabinet “took swift and decisive action” on Monday (Oct. 26) to “adopt and recognize” the definition, even before the passage of legislation currently before the house.

The “Combating Anti-Semitism Act,” known as Bill 168, passed second reading earlier this year and was scheduled to go to committee hearings this week for public input. It contained the IHRA definition as a guide for interpreting acts, regulations and policies going forward.

The government’s pre-emptive adoption of the definition, done with all-party approval, according to a CJR source, means that the committee has suspended hearings on Bill 168. Several communal organizations were scheduled to speak both in favour of and against the bill.

“After a heinous act of anti-Semitism at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Ottawa [on Oct. 14], it is crucial that all governments be clear and united in fighting anti-Semitism and our adoption of the working definition has done just that,” Calandra said in a statement on Tuesday.

“The government of Ontario is proud to adopt and recognize the working definition of anti-Semitism. We stand with Ontario’s Jewish community in defence of their rights and fundamental freedoms as we always have and always will,” he said.

The move to adopt the definition and bypass public hearings was done by an Order in Council, which read as follows:

“On the recommendation of the undersigned, the Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, by and with the advice and concurrence of the Executive Council of Ontario, orders that:

Whereas the Government of Ontario believes that everyone deserves to be treated with fairness, respect and dignity;

And Whereas systemic racism, including antisemitism, is a persistent reality in Ontario preventing many from fully participating in society and denying them equal rights, freedoms, respect and dignity;

And Whereas on May 26, 2016, the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) decided at its Plenary in Bucharest to adopt a working definition of antisemitism;

Now therefore the Government of Ontario adopts and recognizes the Working Definition of Antisemitism, as adopted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) Plenary on May 26, 2016.

Premier and President of the Council

Approved and Ordered: October 26, 2020.”

Jewish groups issued statements approving the development. They did so jointly – for the first time in recent memory.

Ontario joins “a growing number of jurisdictions, at all levels of government and around the world, in taking action against the growing threat posed to our society by antisemitism,” said Shimon Koffler Fogel, president and CEO of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA).

The IHRA definition “provides a framework that can help guide Ontario government institutions interested in understanding contemporary forms of antisemitism, such as Holocaust denial,” Fogel said.

The adoption of the definition and its many illustrative examples of antisemitism “is a major step forward. From high schools and university campuses to police hate-crime units, this announcement promises much-needed relief for Jews across the province,” stated B’nai Brith Canada CEO Michael Mostyn.

“Ontario will now be equipped to identify and react to incidents of antisemitism in a clear and precise way, and be better positioned to prevent antisemitism and react to it whenever it rears its head anywhere in the province. We applaud the Ontario government for becoming the first province in Canada to adopt the IHRA definition,” said Mostyn.

Michael Levitt, president and CEO of Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies (FSWC), applauded the move.

He called the IHRA definition of antisemitism “a vital tool in the ongoing fight against hatred and discrimination targeting the Jewish community in Ontario…By making clear what antisemitism is and looks like, the IHRA definition will allow civil society and government to work together more effectively in our shared goal of eliminating hatred in our province.”

Karen Mock, president of JSpace Canada, remarked that “there is clear consensus about the need to combat the alarming rise of antisemitism. We cannot protect our society from the scourge of antisemitism if we are unable to name it, to identify it properly, and to address it consistently. By adopting the IHRA definition of antisemitism, the government of Ontario has demonstrated a commitment to implementing human rights and anti-racist policies.”

According to CIJA, the IHRA definition has been adopted by “dozens of countries and other institutions, including Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, and the European Union.”

Bill 168 was a private member’s bill introduced by Conservative MPP Will Bouma in late 2019 and co-sponsored by fellow Tory MPP Robin Martin.

Police Break Up Hasidic Gathering in Quebec

Oct. 14, 2020

By JANICE ARNOLD

MONTREAL—Police broke up a large gathering prohibited under COVID public health rules in the Hasidic Tosh community north of Montreal during a Simchat Torah celebration the evening of Oct. 10.

One person was arrested obstructing a police officer and 16 citations of more than $1,500 each for public health violations were issued as a result of the intervention at a synagogue in Kiryas Tosh, an enclave of over 3,000 in the municipality of Boisbriand, in Quebec’s lower Laurentians.

The area is in the “red zone,” the province’s highest alert level, and houses of worship are limited to 25 socially-distanced people at a time.

In response to notification from neighbours, and at the request of the Laurentian public health department, the regional police force of Thérèse-de Blainville, reinforced by the provincial Sureté du Québec, went to the synagogue. They found about 400 people for a festive conclusion of the High Holidays.

According to news reports, the police asked the organizers to have the building vacated. The departures attracted hundreds more community members to the scene on the street, possibly up to 1,000. Many wore masks, but physical distancing was not strictly observed.

The man arrested was later released.

The incident was denounced by the umbrella Council of Hasidic Jews of Quebec. In a statement, the Montreal-based body said it “greatly regrets what happened in Boisbriand. It should not have taken place. These were not the instructions given to the leadership of the community. We ask that the protocols be respected.”

The council had attempted to head off such a gathering earlier in the day, without success, for reasons unclear.

The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs-Quebec also deplored the event on Twitter.

“The Jewish community appeals once again to the Boisbriand community to fully conform to the health directives…Numerous Jewish institutions in Montreal have done everything possible to conform and, in numerous cases, surpassed the directives and recommendations in the fight against COVID. We ask the leaders of the Tosh community to follow our example and see that their members conform to all directives…for the well-being of their community and the greater public.”

At an Oct. 13 press conference, Health Minister Christian Dubé commended the police for how they handled a “delicate” situation.

“I believe that our police did an incredible work” in dispersing people, Dubé said. “It was done correctly and succeeded in avoiding the worst because there may be infections there but it could have been still worse.”

He said it appeared that people from outside Quebec were among those at the gathering.

Premier Francois Legault also lauded the police for how they acted and the citizens who brought the situation to the authorities’ attention.

The entire Tosh community was placed under a month-long quarantine at the beginning of the pandemic in March. The measure was requested by its leaders after an outbreak, which was attributed to members returning from New York, where they had participated in Purim celebrations.

Eventually, 70 community members tested positive, but none required hospitalization.

Meanwhile, users of Facebook in Outremont, home of the majority of Quebec’s Hasidim, are receiving ads sponsored by a group called Démocratie Outremont that “wrongly target, blame and shame” Hasidim for an increase in COVID cases, tweeted Sarah Dorner, who is active in promoting intercultural harmony in the area.

Editorial: Facebook, Holocaust Denial and a School Principal

Oct. 15, 2020

Well, Facebook has finally done the right thing.

According to a notice published over Simchat Torah, the social media behemoth is “updating our hate speech policy to prohibit any content that denies or distorts the Holocaust.”

For an entity that prides itself on speed and freshness, this took a depressingly long time.

Jewish organizations from the Anti-Defamation League to the American Jewish Committee, and the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs to Friends of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre have been imploring Facebook for years to take action against Holocaust denial and distortion. It took an immense push from the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany (the Claims Conference), which produced dramatic daily videos of Holocaust survivors, including from Canada, imploring Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to rid his platform of this toxic content for him to finally take action.

And for those who still believe that Holocaust deniers are simply ignorant white supremacists, consider the story of William Latson, the principal of Spanish River High School in Boca Raton, Fla.

During an email exchange in April 2018 with a parent, Latson insisted that Spanish River students could choose not to take Holocaust studies because “not everyone believed the Holocaust happened.”

He insisted that as an educator, he had to be “politically neutral.”

The parent was naturally astounded, maintaining that everyone knows the Holocaust is a historical fact. Apparently, not Latson, who responded in another email: “I can’t say that the Holocaust is a factual, historical event because I am not in a position to do so as a school district employee.”

The drama continued for months, with Latson finally being fired for continuing to make these claims. Just last week, he was reinstated with back pay, but will no longer serve in a teaching capacity (the school board voted to reinstate Latson 4-3, with the board’s only Jewish member strongly urging against it. Another member blamed the media.)

Holocaust denial has clearly not abated. Indeed, the Southern Poverty Law Center, the world-renowned anti-hate institution, has described it quite properly as “an essential manifestation of antisemitism.”

That educated men like William Latson can take such public positions tells us that it’s not necessarily confined to the racist margins.

So there is no doubt that Facebook did the right thing. And perhaps by doing so, fewer more vulnerable minds than Latson’s will go unpolluted by hatred.

We’ll see. It’s still one thing for Facebook to enact the policy, but quite another to enforce it. If it does, Latson’s young charges will benefit, even if he doesn’t.

Facebook Holocaust Denial Ban Welcomed

Oct. 12, 2020

Canadian Jewish advocacy groups are hailing the decision by Facebook to ban Holocaust denial.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced the new policy Monday (Oct. 12).

Mark Zuckerberg
Mark Zuckerberg

“Today, we’re updating our hate speech policy to ban Holocaust denial,” The statement read. “We’ve long taken down posts that praise hate crimes or mass murder, including the Holocaust. But with rising anti-Semitism, we’re expanding our policy to prohibit any content that denies or distorts the Holocaust as well. If people search for the Holocaust on Facebook, we’ll start directing you to authoritative sources to get accurate information.”

Zuckerberg said he has “struggled with the tension between standing for free expression and the harm caused by minimizing or denying the horror of the Holocaust. My own thinking has evolved as I’ve seen data showing an increase in anti-Semitic violence, as have our wider policies on hate speech. Drawing the right lines between what is and isn’t acceptable speech isn’t straightforward, but with the current state of the world, I believe this is the right balance.”

The decision comes amid a campaign over the summer by Holocaust survivors around the world, including from Canada, who made moving videos urging Zuckerberg to remove Holocaust denial posts from the social media site.

He raised eyebrows a few years ago when he said he did not think Holocaust deniers were “intentionally” getting it wrong, and that as long as posts were not calling for harm or violence, even offensive content should be protected.

Zuckerberg later clarified that while he personally found Holocaust denial “deeply offensive,” he believed that “the best way to fight offensive bad speech is with good speech.”

In a joint statement, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) and Canadian Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Descendants (CJHSD) welcome the announcement.

CIJA said it had been engaging with Facebook’s policy team “over many months to help them understand how antisemitism manifests on their platform…

“More than an assault on truth, Holocaust denial and distortion are some of the most insidious forms of antisemitism. The claim that the genocide of six million Jews was either a hoax or an exaggeration hinges on classic antisemitic themes of a manipulative world Jewish conspiracy,” CIJA stated.

Pinchas Gutter, co-president of CJHSD, added: “Holocaust deniers call us liars. We are not liars. We are survivors. I witnessed with my own eyes the cattle cars and the horrors of the Majdanek concentration camp, where my mother, my father, and my twin sister, Sabina, were sent immediately to the death chamber to be gassed.

“By directing users to institutions focused on Holocaust research and remembrance, like Yad Vashem, Facebook will be taking an active role in countering the spread of antisemitism online.”

Facebook’s decision “is a major step forward in the fight against antisemitism on social media, at a time when hate targeting Jews is thriving online,” said Michael Levitt, president and CEO of Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre, in a post on Facebook.

Levitt said it’s time for all social media platforms to enforce “a strict prohibition on Holocaust denial and other forms of antisemitism, which continue to fester online and have contributed to the increase in real-world violent attacks against Jewish people around the world.” 

The ban is “years overdue,” said Marty York, Chief Media Officer of B’nai Brith Canada. “Banning Holocaust denial and distortion should have been standard practice since Facebook’s inception,” said York. “With antisemitic bullying, harassment and radicalization burgeoning on social media, Zuckerberg finally took a step today in the right direction. Here’s hoping he keeps his word, enforces the ban, and keeps combating hate in all its forms.”

What Do We Mean When We Talk About Free Speech?

Oct. 9, 2020

By ZACK BABINS

Picture a large Canadian university with a law school. The school is set to offer a directorship to an academic with a long history of pro-Israel scholarship and activism in Zionist causes.

At the last moment, a Canadian Muslim – a federal judge who, along with his family, have been massive donors to this school, likely in the millions – calls the school’s fundraising team. From that point on, negotiations with the Zionist academic are cancelled and the position is somehow “no longer available.”

What would we as a community do? 

Certainly, this school would be labeled antisemitic. It would make the Top 10 list of every “antisemitic school where Jewish students aren’t safe.” We would lament the decline of academia and people would warn their children to stay away from that “Jew-hating school.”

The influencers and organizations that make a living defending Israel would see a spike in donations.

Eventually, the right-wing pundits, Jewish and Gentile, would cry that free speech is about listening to arguments and ideas that you don’t like, and would wonder whether today’s students are so soft (and antisemitic) that they could not tolerate a Zionist Jewish teacher.

This isn’t a hypothetical. We just changed some parts of speech.

Explosive recent media reports alleged that Justice David Spiro, a Tax Court of Canada judge, megadonor to the University of Toronto, and former board member of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, had improperly interfered in the hiring of Prof. Valentina Azarova.

Azarova, who is not Palestinian but sympathetic to Palestinians, and more than occasionally focuses her academic work on the Palestinian cause, was reportedly quite close to landing a position as director of U of T’s International Human Rights Program. According to the school, the program isn’t hiring a director at all.

Law professor Audrey Macklin, who chaired the faculty advisory committee, and was part of the selection panel that unanimously found Azarova the best candidate for the job, resigned from the board in protest.

The Canadian Judicial Council is now considering multiple complaints about Spiro’s conduct. And over 1,000 lawyers, academics, and activists have signed a petition asking U of T’s law school to apologize and reinstate the job.

And in an open letter to University of Toronto President Meric Gertler, a slew of international law and human rights practitioners and law school faculty and staff said they are “deeply concerned” that U of T’s law school dean responded to “external pressure, following the objection of a law school donor to Dr. Azarova’s work on international law and human rights in the Israel-Palestine context.”

One would think that the champions of free speech would be all over this one. But the brave “marketplace of ideas” folks, who have no qualms defending transphobes, homophobes, racists and white nationalists under the banner of free speech, are nowhere to be found. Similarly, those who argue that “sunlight is the best disinfectant” just can’t be bothered to defend an academic who, by their standards, has had her right to free speech violated.

One op-ed submitted by a Jewish organization claimed that “a long history of one-sided critiques of Israel” justified these events. What if the shoe was on the other foot? If a long history of “one-sided activism” surrounding Israel can disqualify you from a job, well, I’ve got some bad news for a lot of my friends who went to Jewish day school, summer camp or synagogue. 

I haven’t even mentioned yet how damaging this move – which any PR consultant could tell you would not remain private for longer than a week – may be to Jewish students who are actually on campus, who will now face slurs and tropes about Jewish power and influence.

Frankly, I’ve never been a free speech evangelist. Freedom of speech is a wonderful thing but it must be restrained by reasonable limits to protect marginalized communities from hatred and violence. History bears out that hate speech almost never remains “just words.” 

We either care about free speech or we don’t. We either care about academic freedom or we don’t. We either care about outside political interference in our universities – including the “outside agitators” that Hasbara organizations love to remind you are sent to campuses to scuttle BDS motions and anti-Israel campaigns – or we don’t.

To paraphrase the great “Rabbi” Jon Stewart, if you don’t stick to your values when they’re used by your opponents, you don’t have values. You have hobbies.

We have to make a decision – a microcosm of the same decision Israel has to make when it attempts to administer a democratic state that prioritizes one religion that’s necessary to the idea of a Jewish democracy.

Does Zionism – specifically, right-wing, tribal, expansionist, Revisionist Zionism that leaves no room for the humanity of Palestinians – supersede liberal democratic values like free speech? Are you prepared to defend Israel, no matter the cost? 

In other words, we must decide whether we are prepared to sacrifice our souls. I’m not prepared to do that, and I’m not alone.


Zack Babins

Zack Babins is a professional Jew and Recovering Jewish Professional™, a political communicator and activist, and amateur challah baker. All opinions are his own. You can find him on Twitter @zackbabins.

BREAKING: West Bank Wine Case Shuts Out Interveners

Oct. 8, 2020

Jewish advocacy groups will not have a say in the case of the wine labels from Israel.

In a recent ruling, a Federal Court judge denied intervener status to a dozen organizations that sought input in the ongoing challenge to wines made in the West Bank but labeled as “Product of Israel.”

Psagot Winery

They included the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) and B’nai Brith Canada’s League for Human Rights.

One of wineries at the centre of the case, Psagot Winery Ltd., was added to the case as a respondent, but the court said its participation “must be limited.”

At issue in the case is whether wines produced by the Psagot and Shiloh wineries in West Bank Jewish settlements can be labeled as “Product of Israel” under Canadian law.

Last year, a Federal Court judge found that “made in Israel” labels on settlement wines are “false, misleading and deceptive” because international law does not recognize the West Bank as part of Israel, and that Canadians have a right shop “conscientiously.” She returned the case to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s appeals board for further consideration.

The government appealed her ruling. But before the appeal could be heard, a judge dismissed everyone who wanted to weigh in on the case, saying, in effect, that the court will not be drawn into a battle over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In his ruling, Federal Court of Appeal Judge David Stratas said that “a number” of parties wishing to intervene wanted to address “Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, including the status of the West Bank, the territorial sovereignty of Israel, human rights and humanitarian concerns, issues of international law, and other related issues. Many of them appear to want this Court to rule on the merits of these issues.

“But there is one basic problem,” the judge wrote. “This appeal does not raise the merits of these issues.”

He said the case should properly rest on Canadian laws regulating the labeling of food and drugs, which are designed to protect consumers. There is “nothing to suggest,” Stratas said, that these laws “were enacted to address state occupation of territories and, in particular, Israel’s occupation of the West Bank.”

The Israel/West Bank issue “is a controversial one, with many differing views and deeply-felt opinions on all sides,” the judge went on. However, it is not “useful” for the appeals court to hear the interveners.

In addition to CIJA and B’nai Brith, Stratas dismissed requests to intervene from Independent Jewish Voices, the Centre for Free Expression, Amnesty International Canada, Prof. Eugene Kontorovich, Prof. Michael Lynk (the UN special rapporteur on Palestinian human rights), the Arab Canadian Lawyers Association, the Transnational Law and Justice Network, and Canadian Lawyers for International Human Rights, Al-Haq.

Independent Jewish Voices and B’nai Brith’s League for Human Rights were interveners in the Federal Court case.

Stratas also took aim at other judges who “give the impression that they decide cases based on their own personal preferences, politics and ideologies. Increasingly, they wander into the public square and give virtue signalling and populism a go.”

The judge said he didn’t want to be too hard on the prospective interveners, saying he suspects that some of them were “lured” to the appeal “by torqued-up press reports distorting what the Federal Court decided. And once one group applies to intervene on a controversial issue like this, others feel they also have to apply.”

The Psagot winery, about 20 kilometers northeast of Jerusalem in an Israeli settlement of the same name, was added to the case as a respondent because the court should have notified it of the case, said the judge. The court said the winery was “never invited” to join the case but should have been, and that it found out about the matter from media reports.

The winery “is pleased to have been granted the opportunity to be a party to this important legal proceeding,” said its lawyers, David Elmaleh and Aaron Rosenberg of the Toronto firm RE-LAW.

The firm’s website leaves little doubt about how it feels when it comes to the winery’s legal status:

“Psagot Winery’s wines are produced by Israelis under the auspices of an Israeli company in an Israeli community on Israeli land subject to Israeli law, in the State of Israel, and in the Land of Israel. Its wines are products of Israel.”

In a statement to the CJR, David Matas, legal counsel to the League for Human Rights, found fault with Stratas’ “over-generalizations.”

Also, this ruling was made by a single judge. “Yet the appeal itself will be heard, presumably, by a panel of three judges. The other two members of the panel might disagree with this judge on many of the statements he made.”

Interveners may ask the court to reconsider its decision within 10 days of the ruling, but “it is too early for B’nai Brith Canada to decide whether we will or will not do so.”

The case goes back to 2017, when Winnipeg resident David Kattenburg raised concerns with Ontario’s liquor board that products from the two wineries were from Israeli settlements in the occupied territories, not from Israel itself, and were deceptively labeled as “Product of Israel.”

He then complained to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), which sided with him. However, after Jewish groups protested, the agency abruptly reversed course, saying the wines could be sold under the Canada-Israel Free Trade Agreement.

Kattenburg appealed to the agency’s Complaints and Appeals Office, which upheld the reversal. He then sought a judicial review at the Federal Court.

The court sided with Kattenburg, and Jewish groups urged an appeal based on what they said were errors committed by the judge. The government agreed. Due to delays brought about by COVID, it is not clear when the matter will be heard.

* The above clarifies that the Psagot winery was added to this case as a respondent, not an internever.

– By CJR Staff

Editorial: Joining Together to Battle Hate

Oct. 6, 2020

Mainstream Jewish and Muslim organizations join human rights groups, anti-hate communities, and peace and labour organizations, all working toward one goal. Impossible?

The joining of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) with the National Council of Canadian Muslims and two dozen other faith-based and ethno-cultural groups might have once seemed a lofty goal, perhaps even unattainable.

And then came a maelstrom: Nazis and white supremacists openly rallying in the United States; murders at mosques and synagogues; right-wing extremist attacks in Canadian cities; reports by experts of hundreds of new hate groups in Canada; and, of course, COVID.

The world changed in the blink of an eye. It became a much more dangerous place, especially if you are Muslim, Jewish, Asian, LGBTQ+, or a person of colour.

Police, of course, investigate crime, but still seem to find it difficult to wrap their heads around hate crime. While anti-hate laws exist, they are rarely invoked, and when they are, investigations can take an incredibly long time. For example, the conviction of those behind Your Ward News, a hateful, antisemitic, misogynistic publication, took five years from the date of the first complaint against it. This was unacceptable for targeted groups.

No amount of group advocacy moved the needle. Indeed, things got worse. Reports began to circulate that the Canadian military harboured numerous recruits who were members of well-known hate groups or had been recently radicalized online. A new political party, the Canadian National Party – racist, deeply antisemitic, and parroting Nazi rhetoric of emptying Canada of Jews – was accorded official party status, allowing it to issue tax receipts for charitable deductions.

Then, just a few weeks ago, Mohamed-Aslim Zafis, a caretaker at a downtown Toronto mosque, was brutally murdered while monitoring those entering the building. The Canadian Anti-Hate Network (chaired by CJR publisher Bernie Farber) revealed that the alleged killer has ties to a satanic neo-Nazi organization.

And still no action from any level of government.

Mustafa Farooq, the newly minted executive director of the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM), decided to do something. Farooq called upon civil society players, through their organizations, to come together and demand better, demand protection, demand change.

As a result, a “Call to Action” was organized by Mustafa through the offices of NCCM. A myriad of human rights groups and faith communities have now signed on to a public letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (found here).

The World Sikh Organization, the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, Amnesty International, the Canadian Labour Congress, the Canadian Federation of Students, the Baha’i community of Canada, and the African Canadian National Council, are just some of the 26 signatories. Individually, some of these groups don’t play well together in the sandbox, but here, all have recognized the danger by speaking in one loud voice.

These Canadians are demanding from their government that the hundreds of white supremacist, alt right, and neo-Nazi groups be disbanded; for better legal tools, including improved use of anti-terrorism laws for domestic hate groups; better enforcement of laws for social media sites to ensure heavy fines against platforms like Facebook, Twitter, TikTok for disseminating hate, and much more. Civil society, now joined in all its facets, has had enough.