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.”

Trump’s Muddled Foreign Policy Examined at FSWC Event

Nov. 13, 2020

By STEVE ARNOLD

Donald Trump did not make the world safer for Jews, or anyone else, say two prominent officials who worked directly with the soon-to-be former American president.

John Bolton
John Bolton

John Bolton, former national security advisor to the president, and David Petraeus, former director of the CIA and retired four-star general, told a Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre event on Nov. 9 that Trump’s often incoherent foreign policy did nothing to counter the threats of terrorism, a nuclear Iran, or Chinese aggression.

The speakers were the feature attractions at FSWC’s State of the Union fundraiser. They told their virtual audience that while the Trump era did produce some promising results, such as the Abraham Accords peace agreements between Israel, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, the safety of the world remains threatened.

David Petraeus
David Petraeus

The Middle East agreements, they said, were more driven by domestic politics in the Arab world than by American leadership.

“Both of these agreements reflect changes that are tectonic in their effect in this region,” said Bolton, adding that the move to peace could be attributed to a decreased concern over Palestinian issues, rising concern about a nuclear Iran, and concerns about American staying power as an influence in the region.

Those forces will result in more peace agreements “sooner rather than later.”

Petraeus, who commanded American military efforts in both Afghanistan and Iraq, said that another major piece that brought the deals together was Israel’s agreement to halt settler incursions into disputed land, at least temporarily.

“There are lots of pluses here, it is clearly a positive step forward,” he said. “The question is, can it stick? There’s not much else here for the Palestinians.”

Petraeus added those small gains are the best that can be hoped for now. Anything more will have to wait for new leadership in Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

“Now isn’t the time to be swinging for the fences,” he said. “This is the time to hit singles and doubles, no home runs.”

There are also potential benefits to the region from some parts of the so-called Deal of the Century, Petraeus noted. Among those are the creation of a 25-mile long tunnel between the West Bank and Gaza Strip; allowing travel between the regions without having to pass through Israeli checkpoints; ideas about developing the Red Sea-area Egyptian Riviera that could bring economic benefit to Palestinians; and Israel’s prospects of becoming an energy superpower through the development of natural gas.

That’s all in addition to potential benefits from Israel’s already strong, and growing economy.

“The start-up nation is becoming the scale-up nation,” Petraeus said.

Bolton added a political restructuring in the region is needed.

Rather than the one or two-state solutions that have been so bitterly debated for years, he suggested a three-state deal that would see the Gaza Strip become part of Egypt while Israel and Jordan jointly rule over the West Bank.

Hovering over those potential promises, however, is the continued threat of Islamic terrorism.

Bolton said the radicalization driving some young Muslims to strap bombs to their bodies in the hope of killing Israelis is continuing to spread through both the Sunni and Shiite branches of Islam.

“The West seems to forget how deeply religious feeling can go toward motivating political action,” Bolton said.

That concern is heightened, he added, as American and allied troops are pulled out of Afghanistan, leaving room of Taliban terrorists from Pakistan to return to the region.

The soldier and the security advisor both said China remains a particular concern to world peace, one Trump failed to handle.

“There was simply no coherent Trump Administration policy on China,” Bolton said. “China is a huge question we have to face and we are not ready for it.”

Beyond seeking trade deals to sell American grain to China, Bolton said the Trump Administration ignored China’s growing economic strength – a strength he said is based on stolen intellectual property and is used to build a military machine.

How the situation changes once President-Elect Joe Biden takes office in January is an open question, they said.

“Right now there’s just no clear indication of where Biden wants to go,” Bolton said.

Despite Trump’s current allegations of voter fraud, both agreed the transfer of power will take place.

“It will happen, but there may be some wild rhetoric first,” Bolton said. “A president has to operate on the basis of facts, but this president does not.”

The State of the Union event raised $3.3 million.

Contentious Video Resurfaces in Ottawa Schools

Nov. 5, 2020

By STEVE ARNOLD

A video labelled antisemitic and anti-Israel has resurfaced in an Ontario school three months after the education minister ordered it removed.

Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce

Now, Stephen Lecce is demanding the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board explain why his orders were not followed. At the same time, pro-Israel groups want to know how the offensive film got into classrooms in the first place.

“This is totally unacceptable. This anti-Israel and antisemitic video should never have been shown to Ontario’s students,” Lecce said in a statement to the CJR. “The revised version was provided to school boards with clear instructions on how to immediately implement the changes in course. A memo was also sent to all school boards, asking them to confirm they had implemented the changes.

“The board will need to answer for why this video is still being used, given the explicit direction to delete it,” he added.

Lecce ordered the video removed from the curriculum last July.

“I am again calling on all school boards to ensure the new version of the course be used and to respect the very legitimate concerns by so many parents, who are deeply concerned with the content of this biased video,” Lecce’s statement said.

The untitled video was created and distributed by e-Learning Ontario for an online Grade 10 civics course. It was one of four for the course available to all school boards in Ontario.

In it, a youth calling himself Naj declares: “The issue here is that the current occupation of the Palestinian land by the Zionists have (sic) violated the human rights of the Palestinians.

“The Gaza militants have retaliated by firing rockets at Israel. This conflict continues to rage on because the Israelis live as occupiers while the Palestinians live under occupation.

“This needs to change. The government of Israel needs to be pressured into ending this occupation by people around the world whether they’re civilians or politicians.”

In his statement, Lecce said: “We must fight antisemitism in all of its forms. I stand with Ontario’s Jewish community, who simply want to have their kids go through our public education system free of discrimination, bullying, and intimidation.”

The video first surfaced in July in the York Region school system. Thornhill MPP Gila Martow raised the issue with Lecce and he moved the same day to have the item removed.

It reappeared this month in Ottawa, where a parent whose child had been assigned to watch and comment on the video contacted Friends of the Simon Weisenthal Centre and the on-campus group Hasbara Fellowships Canada.

“It is imperative that the province ensure that each and every student exposed to this grossly one-sided video be presented with a balanced and informed perspective,” said Daniel Koren, executive director of Hasbara Canada. “We have dozens of Hasbara high school interns who would be happy to explain why this video is flawed, historically inaccurate, and most importantly, dangerous.”

FSWC also issued a news release “expressing its concern and frustration that the offensive, deeply misinformed video was still being used in the classroom.”

FSWC also commended the principal and the Ottawa school board for their quick action to remove the video.

Concern over the video prompted the New York-based Lawfare Project, in partnership with the Toronto law firm RE-LAW LLP to file an access to information request with the provincial government for all records related to the video.

“We’re doing this to get answers to how this got on the platform in the first place,” lawyer David Elmaleh said in an interview. “This video has a heavily biased perspective that is anti-Jewish being taught to our students.

“Our students should not be taught this kind of antisemitic and racist content,” he added.

Among the questions the Jewish and pro-Israel civil rights litigation fund wants answered are how the video got on the learning platform in the first place; who sourced it; how is the selection of such material overseen, and how it re-emerged after Lecce ordered it removed.

UPDATE: In a statement to the CJR, the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board said: “Last week, a video log (vlog) was presented in a grade 10 Civics class about Israel and the Palestinian Authority and was intended to show a student response to this situation. Unfortunately, this video was antisemitic and we apologize that it was presented. The vlog was originally included as part of a package of course materials provided by the Ministry of Education for use within the eLearning course. During the summer, we became aware of this vlog and the concerns about this content. The content was removed and we are now trying to determine how that content resurfaced. We have also sent a notification to all principals on this matter to ensure this situation does not happen again.

“This incident is another important reminder about our collective responsibility to create a learning and working environment that is built on the respect for the human rights and dignity of all people, is free from discrimination and harassment, and that values diversity and inclusion,” the OCDSB went on. “In response to this incident, we invited the Superintendent of Instruction to join the class and lead a discussion with students about this video and how that connects to broader human rights issues. Although dialogue surrounding Israel and Palestine have a place in civics and global education, one-sided learning and antisemitic theories do not have a space in any OCDSB classroom.”

Editorial: Avera Mengistu is Still a Hamas Prisoner. Why?

Sept. 9, 2020 – There is a common myth in Israel that it will never desert one of its own. Israel has cooperated beyond courage to bring back those killed on the battlefield. IDF officials have negotiated in the past with Egypt, Jordan, the PLO, even terrorist groups, often trading hundreds of captive Palestinian terrorists and enemy combatants for the body of one IDF fighter.

Recall Gilad Shalit, the IDF soldier who, in June 2006, was captured by Hamas terrorists entering Israel near the Kerem Shalom crossing through their intricate tunnel system. Shalit was kidnapped and held prisoner for more than five years.

Israel and the Shalit family, which had resources thanks to campaigns in Jewish communities worldwide, kept his name and his plight at the centre of events. In October 2011, following tense and often fractious negotiations through intermediaries, Shalit was finally released in exchange for some 1,000 Arab and Palestinian prisoners held by Israel, 280 of whom were serving life terms for carrying out deadly attacks against Israeli targets.

The treasuring of each Israeli citizen was, and continues to be, the truest test of Israel’s character.

Sadly however, in the case of Avera Mengistu, the credo of “no Israeli left behind if captured by enemy combatants” does not seem to hold true. Some feel racism is to blame.

Mengistu and his large family arrived in Israel from Ethiopia in 1991 when he was five years old. Theirs was not an easy life. His father found it difficult to find work and the only income for the clan came from Avera’s mother, who cleaned homes in Ashkelon, near the Gaza border.

Avera’s life went from bad to worse following the death of his beloved eldest brother. He turned to friends for money, and his mental health became fragile to the point where he underwent psychiatric treatment. In March 2013, the IDF determined that Avera was not fit for military service. During this time, his mental health deteriorated even more.

A few months later, in circumstances that remain vague, Avera was seen near the Zikim beach on the Israeli-Gaza border. An IDF unit thought he was one of many Sudanese refugees who were trying to get into Gaza. He was last spotted near the security fence, and by the time Israeli border guards arrived, he had disappeared into Gaza. He has not been seen since.

There were some minor attempts to have him returned to Israel. All failed. In an interview with Al Jazeera, a senior Hamas official acknowledged that Avera was in Gaza. He claimed the Ethiopian was wearing a uniform, was mentally healthy, and was part of ongoing negotiations relating to the 2014 Gaza-Israel truce talks.

And this is where Avera’s fate has largely stood to this day. Unlike the case of Shalit, there has been little mass public outcry from Israeli authorities for his release. His family, who are among the poverty-stricken Ethiopians in Israel, have no resources to fight for his release.

There is an inescapable feeling that the reason Avera’s case is not being handled with the determination and seriousness of other kidnapped Israelis is because he’s Ethiopian – and Black. Indeed, one of Avera’s brothers, Yalo, noted in an interview with Ha’aretz that “it’s more than racism. I call it ‘anti-Blackism.’ I am one million percent certain that if he were white, we would not have come to a situation like this.”

Hamas has also not lost sight of the fact that Avera’s case has garnered little attention, though there have been sporadic reports of Hamas demands for a prisoner exchange with Israel for his release. Notably, Hamas has used the racial bias issue as a propaganda chip. On its Twitter platform, a Hamas message claimed “obviously the real Israeli motto is ‘leave no Ashkenazi (white Israeli) man behind.’”

This is a sad story of one man suffering from severe mental health problems. It seems sadly clear that both Israel and Hamas view the situation through the colour of his skin. It’s time that both sides see Avera as a man who must be returned to his family. His life matters and we cannot be silent.

Jewish/Palestinian Equality, Yes! A Joint Jewish/Palestinian state, Impossible!

By BOB KATZ

The writer Peter Beinart, a well-known and influential progressive Zionist, who had long advocated a two-state solution, recently reconsidered his principles. In a controversial and much-discussed essay, published in Jewish Currents in early July, he proposes an altogether different paradigm.

In his carefully written, well-researched essay, Beinart concludes that the traditional view of Zionism was no longer viable, a two-state solution was unachievable, and the only alternative to Israel becoming an apartheid state would be for it to forge an alliance with the Palestinians and create a unified state in which all citizens were equal. Most importantly, he emphasizes that if Israel continued to govern close to three million non-citizen, non-voting Palestinians on a fraction of the West Bank, it would be unable to avoid the “apartheid” label. And once the world came to regard Israel as an apartheid state, its days would be numbered.

Beinart recognizes that a one-state solution would require difficult compromises. At the same time, he points to the existence of two states within Belgium, notes South Africa’s successful transition to democracy, and proposes the example of the peace accord that ended the Troubles in Northern Ireland. 

Far from persuading me to abandon Zionism and accept a one-state solution, Beinart’s essay left me all the more convinced of the importance of Zionism, and the necessity of a two-state solution. At the same time, I am in full agreement with his bleak view that, if annexation continues, whether creeping or formal, Israel will fit the definition of apartheid, in which case it will not be able to survive the type of international condemnation that led to the end of apartheid in South Africa.

Beinart describes the logic and benefits of a unified Jewish-Palestinian state but does not offer a plan to bring about a union. Instead, he points to the largely successful integration of Palestinian Israelis into the pre-1967 borders and observes that, given Israel’s control of the West Bank, “Israel-Palestine is already binational.” He posits that education and income parity would lead to workable compromises for all Palestinians. Over the past 53 years, Israel and the Palestinians have failed to negotiate a two-state solution. There is no reason to assume that the two sides – three if you consider Gaza a separate entity – will do any better negotiating a one-state solution.

Beinart’s assertion that it would be feasible for Jews and all Palestinians to unite within a peaceful state, such as exists in present day Israel, ignores the fact that the Palestinians who hold Israeli citizenship have a very different recent history than the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank. It would require the integration of dispossessed people who have long seen the PLO and Hamas as their only prospects for freedom from a Zionist tyranny.

Beinart dreams of a unified state with a constitution in which both Jews and Palestinians would have equal rights. Even with constitutional protections, it is not hard to imagine both sides attempting to dominate the other. Whatever constitutional rights Armenians once had in the Ottoman Empire were extinguished by 1923 with virtually no intervention from the outside world. Iran was a multi-cultural state until it felt a need to deal with apostates such as their Baha’i, Zoroastrian and Jewish minorities. In Iraq, Sunnis persecuted Shiites until Saddam Hussein was overthrown, at which time the Shiites persecuted the Sunnis. And everyone persecuted the Kurds.

The author argues that extremists would be mollified in a state in which all peoples were full citizens with equal rights. A quick change of heart would be inconceivable. A unified state would have to persuade crazed Jewish settlers and suicidal Hamas fighters to set aside their murderous practices in the interests of peace with their mortal enemies.

Beinart’s essay does not deal with a division of so-called “holy sites.” The tombs of Hebron are sacred to Jews and to Muslims. A binational state of Israel would have to reconcile the legitimate concerns of Hebron’s Palestinians, whose Jewish extremist persecutors have erected a statue to honour Baruch Goldstein as well as the fears of indigenous Jews who remain haunted by the 1929 Hebron Massacre. Beinart also ignores the interests of fundamentalist Christians, who believe that only if there is a Jewish state in Israel can there be a Second Coming. 

Beinart discusses Gaza, pre-1967 Israel, and the West Bank as if they were in a bubble, free from external forces. Guaranteeing the security of Jews in a binational state would require more than a peace between Palestinians and Jews. Just as many Jews deny the rights of Palestinians in the interests of a truly Jewish state (see: Israel’s Basic Law, enacted in 2018), many Muslims dream of an all-Muslim Middle East. In 1948, five Arab nations attacked Israel with the stated purpose of preventing a Zionist entity from existing in the Middle East. 

The principal reason the Egyptian and Jordanian governments currently recognize Israel is because, at least for now, cooperation is a more viable alternative than war. The principal reason the Sunni states, which are still at war with Israel, no longer emphasize destroying the Zionist entity is because, at least for now, they are more worried about Iran. There is no reason to assume that Iran would be any better disposed to a Jewish power-sharing relationship in a binational Israeli-Palestinian state than they are to sharing power with the indigenous Jews who still live within their borders. 

Beinart’s bubble ignores the fact that members of non-Islamic religions are in decline in most Middle Eastern states. The Christian population in all of the Sunni states has shrunk dramatically in the past century. Lebanon has been shattered by sectarian wars. Christians leave their homelands because they believe that they live in countries that, with the possible exception of Syria, want the Middle East to be entirely Muslim, as the Prophet Muhammad ordained. In Egypt, there have been frequent slaughters of Coptic Christians, whose population has declined by roughly 25 percent in the past 60 years. In a unified state, Jews would be a tiny minority surrounded by a sea of Islamic states that have rarely shown good will to their Jewish populations.

Beinart proposes post-apartheid South Africa as a model of a successful binational state and points out that white Afrikaners’ fear of violence proved unwarranted once the majority Black population gained equal rights. The example of South Africa becomes less compelling when one considers how badly integration fared in Rhodesia, South Sudan, the former Ethiopia, or post-partition Pakistan. Bi-nationalism also failed in Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, Iraq, and Yemen.

Northern Ireland is for Beinart another example of an apparently intractable conflict resolved once a peace accord was in place. However, the issues that divided Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland were very different than the issues dividing Jews and Palestinians. In Northern Ireland, historical grievances notwithstanding, the two adversaries were English-speaking, white-skinned Christians. Neither party was divided by differing Biblical commandments or shared holy sites.

Moreover, the example of Northern Ireland’s generally, successful transition to coexistence becomes less compelling when contrasted with the example of the former Yugoslavia, where a functional, post-war coexistence collapsed into mayhem following the 1980 death of Marshal Tito. 

In Northern Ireland, with Ireland to the south and England to the east, Catholics and Protestants each had neighbors with an interest in “their people” and keeping the peace. Israel does not have any neighbours who see the Jews as “their people.” 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu required three elections before he could form a precarious coalition with “Alternate” Prime Minister Benny Gantz. Although Likud’s and Kahol Lavan’s ideologies are similar, they are just barely cooperating. And neither party was willing to cooperate with HaReshima HaMeshutefet (the Joint List). A country that could not welcome Israeli Arabs from HaReshima HaMeshutefet into a coalition would be even less likely to accept Fatah as a partner—or Hamas as the opposition. 

I am in strong agreement with Beinart’s belief that unless a just and democratic solution is found for the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, Israel will become an apartheid state, subject to constant security threats from within and without its borders. I have a keen recollection of how the collective efforts of the Commonwealth turned South Africa into a pariah state, even as Margaret Thatcher, the British prime minister, emphasized that they were “our kith and kin.” There is no prospect of a successful binational Jewish-Palestinian state! The future of Israel and Zionism depends on Jews and Palestinians each being able to live in prosperous democratic states of their own. 


Bob Katz is a member of Canadian Friends of Peace Now’s national board and chairperson of the Toronto chapter.