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.”

Martow, Lantsman Vie for Tory Nod in Thornhill

Nov. 27, 2020

By LILA SARICK

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

Peter Kent
Peter Kent

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

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

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

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

Gila Martow
Gila Martow

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

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

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

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

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

However, Lantsman said she is attracted to federal politics.

Melissa Lantsman
Melissa Lantsman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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