Saks Calls on O’Toole to Condemn ‘Vile’ Theories; Conservative Tweets Hail Party’s Record; O’Toole Calls Out Liberals on IRGC

Dec. 17, 2020

By RON CSILLAG

Newly-minted Liberal MP Ya’ara Saks (York Centre) has written to Opposition Leader Erin O’Toole asking that he condemn “vile antisemitic theories” surrounding billionaire philanthropist George Soros “promoted” by some Conservative MPs.

Yaara Saks
Yaara Saks

“Since the onset of the pandemic, several members of your caucus have promoted baseless conspiracy theories and hateful rhetoric,” Saks wrote in her letter to O’Toole on Dec. 14.

“I refer to the misinformation around George Soros and the vile antisemitic theories about the World Economic Forum. To date, you have yet to publicly denounce this behaviour or reprimand your members,” Saks wrote.

The latest episode took place in the House of Commons on Dec. 8 when someone called out “George Soros” as Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland was speaking.

Following question period, Liberal MP Omar Alghabra said it was Conservative member John Brassard (Barrie-Innisfill) who had shouted Soros’s name.

“Maybe he wants to explain what he said here in the chamber,” Alghabra said.

Soros is a frequent lightning rod for antisemitic tropes and conspiracy theories. A Hungarian Holocaust survivor, he’s a heavy funder of liberal causes and a favourite target of the far-right, which accuses him of helping fellow financiers plot a global takeover in a “new world order.”

Freeland wrote about Soros during her previous career as a journalist and has met with him since entering politics.

After being accused by Alghabra, Brassard was defiant.

John Brassard
John Brassard

“There was nothing in what I said that was in any way antisemitic, and I am not going to sit here and take what they are doing in this situation lightly,” he told the House.

“I encourage you, Mr. Speaker, to listen to what was said. There was nothing in there that was in any way antisemitic, and I am not going to sit here and take what they have to say.”

In August, British Columbia Conservative MP Kerri-Lynne Findlay apologized after retweeting a video of Freeland interviewing Soros when she was a journalist with the Financial Times in 2009.

Findlay said Freeland’s closeness with Soros should alarm every Canadian, and that Freeland listened to him “like student to teacher.”

Findlay said she had “thoughtlessly” shared the video, whose source “promotes hateful conspiracy theories…I have removed the tweets and apologize.”

In her letter, which does not mention Brassard or Findlay by name, Saks said “this kind of misinformation amplifies the rise in antisemitism and antisemitic conspiracies that have arisen during the COVID pandemic and that Jewish Canadians know all too well. It threatens the safety of Jewish Canadians and subjects them to hostility, prejudice, and discrimination, but its ultimate result is the erosion of public trust in democracy. As Members of Parliament, we have an obligation to take a stand to ensure that the rights of all Canadians are upheld. The failure to address antisemitism within your caucus remains unacceptable.”

Saks, who won York Centre in October’s byelection, called on the Tory leader “to condemn this antisemitic rhetoric and uphold the rights and trust of Canadians.”

Erin O'Toole
Erin O’Toole

Neither O’Toole nor Brassard returned the CJR’s requests for comment. As of this writing, Saks’ office says it has not had a reply from O’Toole.

The day after Saks sent her letter, Winnipeg-area Conservative MP Marty Morantz issued a series of tweets championing his party’s support for Israel and Canadian Jewry:

• “Conservatives have unequivocally supported Canada’s Jewish community and the state of Israel. Any statement to the contrary is misleading and wrong.

• “Under our Conservative leadership, Canada became the Chair of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA). As Chair, Canada committed to an ambitious campaign to raise Holocaust awareness and fight antisemitism at home and abroad.

• “I’m proud to work with elected officials from around the world as part of an Online Antisemitism Taskforce. Our taskforce aims to work with online platforms like Facebook and Twitter so that hateful antisemitic comments are treated as hate speech and dealt with appropriately.

• “Let’s look at the Liberal record. The Liberals voted against Israel at the United Nations General Assembly and committed new funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency. This is an organization whose schools have been used as storage facilities for Hamas rockets to be used against Israeli civilians, and whose facilities have served as breeding grounds for anti-Israel and antisemitic sentiments. The Liberals have doubled down on these anti-Israel activities, even after badly losing their [bid for a UN Security Council seat],” Morantz tweeted.

And in a conference call with ethno-cultural media earlier this month, O’Toole took the Liberal government to task for failing to list the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a terrorist entity.

O’Toole reminded reporters that in 2018, the House of Commons passed a Conservative motion supporting the designation of the IRGC as a terrorist group, “and the Liberals themselves voted for it, and then they did nothing on it.” 

The Liberals “have dragged their feet for several years. It will really take a change in government to have this issue taken seriously,” he said.

In 2012, under the Stephen Harper government, Canada listed a subgroup of the IRGC, the Quds Force, as a terrorist organization.

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

Interview: Rabbi David Hofstedter, Founder of RoadMetric

Dec. 16, 2020

By DAN FLATT

Earlier this month, RoadMetric, an artificial intelligence (AI) powered traffic management solution, was acquired by Australian company Redflex. RoadMetric is headquartered in Jerusalem and founded by Toronto-based Rabbi David Hofstedter (shown above), with clients around the world. Rabbi Hofstedter is also the founder and CEO of the real estate and property management company Davpart Inc and is well known in Israel and beyond as the founder of The Dirshu Organization, providing scholarships to encourage Torah study.

The CJR interviewed Rabbi Hofstedter to learn more about this deal and his own unique path to success as a pioneer in the growing fields of AI and computer vision, and a community leader.

CJR: It’s not every day that we interview a rabbi about the acquisition of his technology company. Can you tell our readers about your career path and how you combined these two very different callings? How have these two aspects of your life complemented each other?

Rabbi Hofstedter: As a child of Holocaust survivors, the notion of not only living one’s life but also fulfilling one’s obligation in life was instilled in me at a very early age. This belief was reinforced during my teenage years and as a young adult studying in yeshivos. My marriage to a woman who is also a child of Holocaust survivors reaffirms our life’s mission, and that is to utilize all that has been bestowed upon us, whether financial, intellectual or any other benefits which shines G-d’s light upon the world.

I wouldn’t classify myself as a technology founder. My business involvement is primarily in real estate, as CEO of Davpart Inc. The establishment and my involvement in RoadMetric relates fundamentally to its enormous capability in protecting and saving lives.

Can you explain what RoadMetric’s technology does and how its primary customers use it?

Roadmetric is a leader in advanced vision analytics and leading-edge artificial intelligence tools which law enforcement agencies around the world use to run the full gamut of enforcement from traffic violations to security threats. Our advanced technology is a powerful tool maintaining road safety and the prevention of loss of life. Law enforcement agencies equipped with our cameras and video surveillance systems are able to track reckless driving, infractions such as speeding, running red lights and stop signs.

Municipalities can equip their buses and track any vehicles driving into bus lanes. Security forces of all kinds can track suspicious drivers and vehicles. Our cameras record the infractions, have advanced license plate reading capabilities, can upload the information and alert officers, and issue tickets immediately and seamlessly

RoadMetric has operations in both Toronto and in Israel. What have been the challenges and opportunities of building a company in these two countries?

RoadMetric’s headquarters is in Jerusalem, Israel. We do business around the world. I am located in Toronto. Certainly, the logistics challenges of maintaining quality control and our corporate culture have been enormous.

What can you tell us about RoadMetric’s acquisition by Australia’s Redflex? How did this deal come together? Will members of the RoadMetric team continue to build the product at Redflex?

The Redflex acquisition was a natural fit. We had been working with them for some time as we were integrating our systems to serve customers across North America. It became apparent that joining together would provide the best platform for RoadMetric to grow and expand to the next level.

Tell us more about your work with the Dirshu Organization.

It has been my life’s mission and passion. But if I begin to describe it, it would fill volumes. 2019-2020 was a particularly significant year for Dirshu. During the period between December and February, we celebrated the Dirshu World Siyum highlighting the enormous accomplishments of our participants. Events reaching massive crowds around the globe, including Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Paris, London, Manchester, Johannesburg, Newark, and many more were hosted.

The Dirshu World Siyum, in addition to providing a rallying point for our dedicated scholars, particularly those who struggle financially in spite of the generous scholarships that we provide, served as a phenomenal unifier for the Jewish people.

What advice would you give to young tech entrepreneurs building solutions with AI, Computer Vision and related technologies?

This is a new, fascinating and exciting area of business but nevertheless it is a business just the same. It is governed by the same business principles and regimen that govern all businesses.

 • To learn more about RoadMetric and its recent acquisition, you can read the official press release here.


Dan Flatt
Dan Flatt

Dan Flatt is a Toronto-based entrepreneur, business consultant and recovering lawyer writing about technology and business topics for the CJR. He is the founder and “chief neighbour” of Naborino, a platform (launching soon in Toronto) that will help neighbours in residential buildings to build community with each other and access unique group buying opportunities.

Dayeinu: Enough About the UN Vote

December 11, 2020 –

By ZACK BABINS

For most of 2020, same-sex marriage in Israel was effectively illegal. 

Well, that’s not quite true, and I apologize for the sensationalism. The truth is that same-sex marriage has never been legal in Israel. It’s “recognized,” which isn’t quite the same.

LGBTQ+ Israelis, or any Israelis who, for whatever reason, don’t want to submit to the Orthodox rabbinate’s dictums, have long had to travel to other countries to get married and return to the country – which, for obvious reasons has been quite impossible since March.

I didn’t learn this information from this news outlet, or any other outlet or organization that seeks to serve the Canadian Jewish community.

Instead I heard about the United Nations vote.

I also learned that – despite the ink spilled here and elsewhere – not a single Israeli citizen in Israel or in the Diaspora was in any way physically or tangibly harmed by Canada’s single vote at the UN General Assembly last month in favour of Palestinian self-determination (one of about 20 anti-Israel resolutions, all of which Canada voted against).

In fact, to my shock and surprise, the State of Israel was not un-existed overnight as a result of Canada voting for a resolution that did not explicitly include the phrase “Jewish self-determination.” It seems that the State of Israel, the very real embodiment of “Jewish self-determination,” does not require a UN vote to continue existing.

But I didn’t hear about that. I heard about the UN vote.

I didn’t hear about a high-ranking Conservative member of Parliament who fashions himself a friend of Israel, yet only a few months ago, retweeted wild and false antisemitic conspiracy theories about George Soros, raging on about a “Great Reset” by “global financial elites” – two phrases that have meant “Jews” since at least the proliferation of the antisemitic forgery Protocols of the Elders of Zion in the early 20th century. I heard about the UN vote.

In fairness, I heard a little bit about Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appointing Irwin Cotler as Canada’s Special Envoy on Preserving Holocaust Remembrance and Combatting Antisemitism.

This is the first time Canada has had such an office. I applauded that move, as all Canadian Jews should have. I would say dayeinu, it would have been enough. But then, of course, the UN vote. That one UN vote.

The fact is, nobody else cares about the UN vote.

Israelis don’t seem to care about Canada’s vote at the UN. Their life didn’t change from one day to the next. Israelis don’t care that the vote was 163-5 instead of 162-6.

Palestinians certainly don’t care about Canada’s vote at the UN. They’re worrying about the pandemic. They worry about their jobs and their families. They care about creeping annexation, and worse.

Most Canadians, and frankly, a great many Canadian Jews, shouldn’t care about the UN vote either.

There is a global pandemic raging hotter and more destructively every single day, with cases climbing into thousands. Our families and our loved ones are in physical danger every day. Vaccines are coming but it is far from over.

We should be – many of us are – more worried about our employment and our businesses that may not survive the second wave without significant government intervention. We should be – and many of us are – worried about our own mental health – shaky at the best of times thanks to thousands of years of persecution. 

Our concern should lie with the subset of our local communities, the anti-maskers and anti-vaxxers, the rebels without a clue, who refuse to take the most basic of safety measures to protect all of us. And some of us are deeply concerned about the fact that these lunatics are being joined and lauded by white supremacists and neo-Nazis like Paul Fromm, who showed up to defend a Toronto barbecue restaurant operating illegally.

When I think about my political priorities as a Jew living in Canada, I don’t think about the UN. I think about my job and rent I have to pay. I think about being able to afford a Jewish life in an unaffordable Jewish community. I think about being able to return to a physical minyan or the JCC without fearing a security threat like we see all around the world, in Halle, in Pittsburgh, in Poway, and many more places, to say nothing of the fact that our Muslim brothers and sisters have been gunned down in this country while praying.

I think about a country whose most vulnerable citizens don’t have clean drinking water. I think about living in an environment in which I and my future children can breathe. I think about an Israel that is safe, secure, democratic, Jewish and tolerant, and I work and worry to make that Israel more real than it is now.

But I didn’t hear about any of that. Because, of course, I heard about the UN vote.


Zack Babins
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.

Vera Schiff, Holocaust Survivor, Named to Order of Canada

Dec. 9, 2020

By SUSAN MINUK

A tattered diary no bigger than a credit card inspired Holocaust survivor Vera Schiff to spend a lifetime spreading her message of tolerance and gratitude across Canada.

Her efforts to educate students have not gone unnoticed. On Nov. 27, Schiff was named to the Order of Canada – among 114 new appointments.

Schiff (née Katz), 94, was honoured for her “illustrious career as an author, historian and public speaker who is nationally recognized for sharing her moving experiences of the Holocaust,” said a statement from Governor General Julie Payette.

It came as a surprise,” Schiff told the CJR. “I am very honoured and humbled. To be recognized gives me a great deal of satisfaction and gratitude to the government of Canada and those who recommended me.”

Vera Schiff

Schiff was born in 1926 in Prague, Czechoslovakia, to Elsie and Siegfried Schiff. Raised with her sister Eva, her childhood was a happy one. On March 15, 1939, the German army invaded and occupied the country and her life was forever changed. Schiff and her family were deported in 1942 to Terezin (Theresienstadt), where only Schiff survived from among about 50 members of her extended family.

She found the strength to move forward after discovering her mother’s small journal.

“I think she found comfort in entering these little day-by-day pains from Terezin,” said Schiff. “It’s my greatest treasure, the only thing I have from her.”

In the book, Elsie offered her daughter valuable life advice.

“She knew I would need medical attention and said after my recovery [that] I should go back to school to acquire skills and knowledge to make my way through life, and to become a contributing member to society,” Schiff recalled. “Every time I am at a crossroad, I turn to the diary. And although it’s always the same, I somehow know what she would have hoped me to do. The last page was a letter to me… a blueprint on how to live my life.”

Schiff met her future husband, Arthur Schiff, in the Theresienstadt ghetto (see B&W photo with story). After the war, they settled in Prague, and then moved to Israel in 1949. In 1961, they came to Toronto, where Schiff worked as a medical technologist at Toronto General Hospital and Arthur was a pharmacist. She and her husband have two sons, six grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. Arthur died in 2001.

In recognition of her contributions to literature, Schiff was awarded an Honourary Doctorate of Letters from the University of New Brunswick in 2012, and this summer, received an Honourary Doctor of Letters degree during a virtual convocation ceremony at Thompson Rivers University in British Columbia.

Schiff has published seven books. Theresienstadt: The Town the Nazis Gave to the Jews won the Elie Wiesel History of the Holocaust Award.

She was also a Czech language court interpreter during the trial of Toronto’s neo-Nazi Holocaust denier, Ernst Zundel in the 1980s. “He said the Holocaust did not exist – it was a Jewish invention,” Schiff recalled. “I couldn’t believe in my lifetime people would deny what I lived through.”

Schiff’s message never wavers. “Each and every one of us must do his share to make this world a better place. I tell students to remember: Freedom is not a gift, it is a privilege. We are very fortunate in Canada to live in a wonderful country with freedom and dignity. We must preserve it and pass it on. It is our duty.”

Schiff remains steadfast in her quest to educate Canadians. Since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, she has adapted to new technology and continues to educate students by Zoom.

Cotler’s ‘Cameo Role’ in Bringing Sadat and Begin Together Finally Told

Dec. 8, 2020

By JANICE ARNOLD

MONTREAL—Irwin Cotler may have been the matchmaker between Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin, the unlikely couple who forged the historic peace treaty between Egypt and Israel.

Forty-three years later, Cotler, who was named Canada’s first Special Envoy for Preserving Holocaust Remembrance and Combatting Antisemitism by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau last month, is revealing for the first time his “accidental cameo role” in helping to bring together the two Middle East antagonists.

Irwin Cotler
Irwin Cotler

In 1977, Cotler, then a McGill University law professor and leader of Canadian Professors for Peace in the Middle East, was doing work at the Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, a think tank in Cairo, and travelling in Syria and Jordan – unusual at the time.

The centre’s president, Boutros Boutros-Ghali (who would later become Secretary-General of the United Nations) was close to Sadat’s office and told Cotler that the Egyptian president was curious about Begin, the Likud leader who had become prime minister in June that year, ending the monopoly on power the Labour Party had had since Israel’s founding.

Sadat wanted to meet Cotler to discuss the new political landscape, knowing his close connections to Israel and understanding of the Arab world. 

Cotler would have a few meetings; by around the third, the Egyptian ruler got down to business.

“Sadat asked me two questions,” Cotler told the CJR in an interview soon after his federal appointment. “One, did I think this government [Israel] wanted to make peace with Egypt? I said yes. Two, did I think he could make peace with the new prime minister? I said, ‘I don’t know Begin personally, but I know him to be a committed democrat and parliamentarian and think he would want to make peace with the largest and strongest Arab country.’

“Sadat then asked me to deliver a message to Begin. He wanted to reach out to Begin through informal channels, through someone, he said, the Israelis trust and I trust.”

Sadat’s confidence was flattering, but in truth, Cotler had no channel to the Israeli prime minister. Back in Israel, Cotler attended a meeting of young Knesset members convened by Jewish Agency official Uri Gordon. Cotler spoke in Hebrew about his having been in Egypt and in Syria three times. In the audience was Ariela Zeevi, Begin’s parliamentary secretary, whom Cotler did not know – yet.

“She passed a note to a colleague that I must be a spy,” Cotler recalled. “Afterward, she asked me more about Syria, and I shared with her that the Jewish community there had toasted Begin’s election, hoping their liberation would soon come.

“She said to me, ‘you have to tell the prime minister that,’ and a few days later, she arranged a meeting with Begin. I gave him Sadat’s message that he was prepared to enter peace negotiations on two conditions: that Israel withdraw from the entire Sinai and that Israel recognize the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people.

‘’Begin right off said he could not agree to that, and I said that these were only conditions for starting talks. Then he asked me if I thought peace could be made with Sadat, and I said yes.”

Cotler said he knew that Boutros-Ghali, who was minister of state for foreign affairs by then, was keen on peace, as was Sadat’s chief of staff, Tahseen Bashir. He also pointed out that Sadat’s wife, Jihan, was urging him to come to terms with Israel.

So it was that on Nov. 19, 1977, Sadat stunned the world by becoming the first Arab leader to officially visit the Jewish State. The peace agreement was signed in March 1979 and came into force the following year. It has held for 40 years.

Despite characterizations to the contrary, Cotler said Sadat and Begin did hit it off personally, and that, he believes, was crucial to the eventual agreement.

In appreciation of Cotler’s little known part, Montreal Consuls General David Levy of Israel and Hossam Moharam of Egypt hosted a virtual tribute to him on the anniversary of the groundbreaking détente.

Another match was also made as a result of Cotler’s unplanned encounter with history: Ariela Zeevi’s initial suspicion about the bachelor Canadian professor melted away. They started seeing each other and were married on the very day the peace treaty was signed.

Ariela brought into the marriage a young daughter who is today a member of the Knesset for the Blue and White party, Michal Cotler-Wunsh, elected in March.

Cotler, of course, was a Canadian Liberal MP from 1999 to 2015, serving as justice minister and attorney general in Paul Martin’s government. Boutros-Ghali went on to lead the UN in the 1990s, and Tahseen Bashir became Egypt’s Ambassador to Canada in the 1980s.

In thanking Cotler, Levy said the Israeli-Egyptian agreement laid the foundation for the recent normalization of relations with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Sudan.

When the pandemic is over, Cotler hopes he can facilitate a meeting between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, now that the latter has signaled he wants to reopen talks.

Cotler denies IHRA Definition Will Suppress Israel Criticism

Dec. 7, 2020

By JANICE ARNOLD

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Justin Trudeau’s Curious Politics at the UN – Redux

Dec. 2, 2020

By DOGAN D. AKMAN

Successive Canadian governments, including the current one, never cease to refer to Israel as their strong ally and close friend.

Yet, on Nov. 19, Canada voted, for the second consecutive year, in favour of a United Nations resolution titled “The right of the Palestinian people to self-determination.”

The preamble of the resolution, as are all such anti-Israel UN measures, refers to all sorts of international instruments, conferences, and whatnot to assert “the need for respect for and preservation of the territorial unity, contiguity and integrity of all of the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem.” As well, it:

• “Reaffirms the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination, including the right to their independent State of Palestine; and

• “Urges all states in the region 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.”

This is an absurd resolution.

First, no country, including Israel, has denied the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination.

Second, none of the emanations of the UN system need to support and assist the Palestinian people in the early realization of their right to self-determination, since Israel and the United States, besides proposing and signing the Oslo Accords as the step towards Palestinian self-determination, offered two peace treaties with very generous terms in 2000 and 2018.

Third, the Palestinians have, to date, rejected every single peace offer that would have enabled them to become an independent state.

Fourth, the Palestinians never stopped claiming their entitlement to the entire territory between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.

Fifth, as a matter of fact and law, the Palestinians do not have legal title to any of the so-called “Palestinian territory,” including any part of Jerusalem, save for personal land owned by individual Palestinians.

Finally, the lands in question are and remain set aside for the Jewish people pursuant to Article 80(1), Chapter XII of the United Nations Charter.

This article recognizes the continuing validity of the “Mandate for Palestine” established by the League of Nations, which incorporated the terms of the Balfour Declaration of 1917. It goes beyond that to establish an internationally recognized right of the Jewish people – as the people indigenous to the lands covered by the Mandate – to establish their Jewish homeland which, in 1948, became the State of Israel.

As a matter of fact, to this very day, the Jewish people are entitled to settle on any part of this land.

Yet, the UN resolution Canada favours makes no mention of the inalienable legal rights of Israel and of the Jewish people to the lands in question.

Neither does it require – nay, demand – that the Palestinian people, in the early realization of their right to self-determination, cease to engage in terrorism against Israel and school their children to hate Jews and Israelis.

It does not call on Palestinians to take every confidence-building initiative towards negotiating a peace treaty with Israel in good faith, without making egregious claims that would lead negotiations nowhere.

Finally, it does not call for abiding by the terms of the Oslo Accords, and in particular, by the formal written assurances and undertakings given by former PLO leader Yasser Arafat to the late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in consideration of the accord, which have never been honored.

Why would Canada vote for this anti-Israel, mendacious and misleading resolution? Perhaps Canada’s explanation of its vote, known as an EOV, can shed some light.

“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 states.

The assertion that Canada disagrees with some elements of the preamble is an understatement if ever there was one. Surely the government has an obligation to identify these elements, and the same obligation to identify the substantive parts of the preamble with which it agrees.

One may wonder that if Canada does not agree with the entirety of the preamble, why bother voting for the resolution itself?

Finally, the government’s indifference to the misstatement of the law with respect to the alleged illegal occupation is shocking – particularly since Canada’s official position has always been that in the context of the two-state solution, and in accordance with section 80(1) of the UN Charter, the boundaries of each state have to be determined through negotiations.

Nevertheless, the EOV goes on to state: “The vote today is a reflection of our longstanding commitment to the right of self-determination for both Palestinians and Israelis.” 

Yet, the resolution is silent on Israel’s self-determination.

And if the Palestinians have not secured self-determination, is that Israel’s fault? The alleged illegal occupation has nothing to do with it.

Adds the EOV: “Canada will support this resolution because of its focus on these important core issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

This is surely nonsense. The only issue addressed in this resolution is Palestinian self-determination, implicitly twinned with the pre-requisite of ending the so-called illegal occupation of “Palestinian Territory.”

The government then grandly states: “We will continue to oppose resolutions and initiatives which do not speak to the complexities of the issues.” The resolution it supported can hardly be characterized as speaking to the complexity of any issue.

Would Canada vote for this kind of resolution against any other of its strong allies and close friends? I think not.


Dogan Akman
Dogan Akman

Dogan D. Akman is an independent researcher and commentator. He holds a B.Sc. in sociology, an M.A. in sociology/criminology and an LL.B in law. He held academic appointments in sociology, criminology and social policy; served as a Judge of the Provincial Court of Newfoundland and Labrador, and was Crown Counsel in criminal prosecutions and in civil litigation at the Federal Department of Justice. His academic work is published in peer-reviewed professional journals while his opinion pieces and other writings are to be found in various publications and blogs.

Complex Yet Critical: Where Does the Jewish Community’s Relationship with the Trudeau Government Stand?

Dec. 1, 2020

By ZACHARY ZARNETT-KLEIN

The multicultural mosaic of Canadian society is a critical pillar, one that makes our country unique. It adds to the vibrancy and richness of the fabric of our great nation. However, it also results in ongoing complexity as communities navigate their relationship with each other and with the federal government.

It’s first important to recognize that the Jewish community, like other ethnocultural groups in Canada, is not monolithic. To assume so would be to take a reductionist perspective. The pursuit of unity of purpose, despite disparity of opinion, is a lofty yet laudable objective.

On Nov. 25, the government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appointed human rights advocate and former Justice Minister Irwin Cotler to the newly-created post of Special Envoy on Preserving Holocaust Remembrance and Combatting Antisemitism.

Based on Cotler’s impressive body of work in law, academia, and politics, he’s an excellent, unifying choice. I want to fully acknowledge the importance of this announcement. While we wait to learn details of his mandate, we should watch his work closely and contribute when possible.

However, I cannot help but be troubled by this announcement’s timing, as it comes on the heels of Canada’s jarring vote at the United Nations on an Israel-related resolution.

Each year, the UN General Assembly considers the same basket of 20 or so motions on the “Question of Palestine,” but which serve to single out Israel, apply an unfair double-standard in assessing its policies, or worse.

One such resolution, which Canada approved, affirms Palestinian self-determination, but without reference to the same rights for Israel, and defies Jewish connections to what it classifies as “East Jerusalem,” including the Western Wall.

The vote marked the second consecutive year that Canada opposed Israel on this key resolution, while supporting Israel on most others.

This was a break from 14 years of Canadian foreign policy that refused to support UN motions singling out Israel, and which the Trudeau government upheld during its first term. Many community members feel betrayed by this policy reversal, since Liberal candidates in the last election promised to keep with this longstanding government position.

At this juncture, it is appropriate to consider where the Jewish community’s relationship stands with the federal government. On one hand, Cotler’s new post is good news. On the other, some might view this gesture as a cynical attempt to regain Jewish trust, after strong disappointment from a broad coalition of Jewish advocacy groups and community members with Canada’s UN vote reversal.

To navigate this relationship going forward, it’s important for us to own our end of the partnership. First, I would argue that based on Jewish history, including the Holocaust, it is often difficult for Jews to be fully trusting of government actions, especially after that trust is tarnished. I am hopeful that through this new post, more Canadians will become aware of key aspects of Jewish history, and that governments will become more sensitive to the caution inherent in our trust.

It is also important that our community be empowered and know our worth. We are worth, simultaneously, having our past recognized and our future protected. Grassroots community members deserve greater opportunities for direct engagement with government officials as a complement to the commendable advocacy work undertaken by Jewish organizations. We should feel supported unreservedly, without grounds for doubt in the government’s intentions.

Finally, it is important to remind ourselves of the inextricable link between the Holocaust, antisemitism, and the modern State of Israel. Israel’s founding and continued vitality represent a haven for Jews around the world. Any attempts to recognize the impact of the Holocaust and antisemitism are half-hearted without support for the State of Israel. This is the message we should continue to convey to our elected officials and to our neighbours.

Canadian Jewry’s relationship with the government of Canada is both complex and critical, and vice-versa. Despite challenges, we must not walk away, and we trust that our partners likewise engage in good faith. Let’s continue striving for better.


Zachary Zarnett-Klein
Zachary Zarnett-Klein

Zachary Zarnett-Klein is a university student from Toronto. His passions include community involvement, civic engagement, and human rights.

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

Nov. 30, 2020

By JANICE ARNOLD

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

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

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

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

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

Rabbi Sarna

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Calling all Canadian and Israeli R&D, Tech Companies

Nov. 30, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

Natan Sharansky and Irwin Cotler: ‘Mr. No’ and ‘Getting to Yes’

By GIL TROY

My wife jokes that the two reasons she failed to learn constitutional law at McGill University’s law school are named Irwin Cotler and Natan Sharansky.

In the mid-1980s, Cotler, her constitutional law professor, was busy flying to Moscow and missing lectures in an effort to free Sharansky from the Gulag. Today, I joke that two of the reasons I don’t get a lot of sleep are named Cotler and Sharansky.

At the age of 80, the indefatigable Cotler sets such a high standard of productivity and impact, you want to keep up. Just yesterday, he was named by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as Canada’s first Special Envoy on Preserving Holocaust Remembrance and Combatting Antisemitism. Meanwhile, his younger 72-year-old friend, Sharansky, and I just finished a three-year-marathon writing and rewriting and more rewriting project, which resulted in our new book, Never Alone.

These days, I hope, young people will joke that two of the reasons they balance their deep pride in being Jewish and Zionist with a broad commitment to human rights and fixing the world are named Cotler and Sharansky, too.

Sadly, in our either-or world, these human rights activists and traditional liberals risk being unfashionable. Beyond supporting Israel, they dare to be complex thinkers. When people demand they choose liberalism or nationalism, identity or freedom, Jewish particularism or universalism, they answer, “yes, both.” They understand that to row effectively, you need two oars; that for a bird to fly, let alone soar, it needs two wings.

In the late 1970s, Cotler, already a renowned McGill law professor and human rights lawyer, started representing Sharansky, essentially deputized by Natan’s wife, Avital. Back then, even some Israeli operatives read Zionism too narrowly. As we describe in Never Alone, these Zionists-with-blinders feared that Sharansky’s work with the Soviet human rights icon Andrei Sakharov and the broader dissident movement endangered the Refusenik movement’s fight for free emigration for Soviet Jews to Israel. The Israelis didn’t understand that to the KGB, seeking to leave was as threatening as speaking out. Still, they pressured Avital, suggesting she divorce her husband because the KGB was going to jail him, and Israel wouldn’t be able to protect him because he crossed some line They also pressured Cotler, among others, to stay away from Sharansky. None of them broke.

While appealing to international tribunals and Soviet courts, snaring the Communist dictators in their own hypocrisies, Cotler helped score a huge victory. Two months after Sharansky’s arrest in 1977 on trumped-up charges of espionage, rumours were flying about him in the West. Cotler and other lawyers, especially his Harvard law school colleague Alan Dershowitz, turned to Dershowitz’s former student, Stuart Eizenstat, then U.S. President Jimmy Carter’s chief domestic policy adviser. Eizenstat convinced Carter to break from standard American policy and declare that Sharansky wasn’t an America spy. Denying one accusation risked implying that others might be guilty. Carter’s bold statement helped tremendously.

For all their similarities in vision and ideology, for all their contributions to Zionism and human rights, there’s a profound difference. Our book is divided into three parts – 9-9-9 – for Sharansky’s nine years in Gulag, nine years in the Israeli government (he served in four cabinets, including as interior minister and deputy prime minister), and nine years as head of the Jewish Agency for Israel. He often jokes that he doesn’t know where he suffered most, but usually replies, “in politics.”

Not that he wasn’t effective. His many accomplishments range from helping Russian immigrants settle, to furthering Israel’s privatization, to building bridges between Israeli Arabs and Jews, the ultra-Orthodox and others, and between Israel and the Diaspora.

Still, Sharansky hated being a politician: the compromising, the posturing, the nattering. He jokes it was easy in prison. “All you had to say was ‘no.’” He describes his political “failure” by saying: “I was in four prisons and never resigned; I was in four governments and resigned twice.”

By contrast, Cotler served for 16 years as a Member of Parliament, as a Minister of Justice and Attorney General for three of those, and thrived. He retired, somewhat reluctantly, in 2015 at age 75, having been selected by his peers as Canadian Parliamentarian of the Year. Recalling that when he was 11, his father told him the Parliament represented vox populi, Cotler said: “This is the voice of the people. This is the seat of governance. This is where the laws of the country are made. This is where the national debates take place. This is where coalitions can form across party lines on certain cases and causes and move them forward.”

Note the power of programming. Sharansky survived in the Gulag as “Mr. No.” Cotler thrived as a lawyer, professor, activist, and parliamentarian by getting to Yes. Democracy in general and human rights work in particular requires both skill-sets – from different practitioners. You need Sharansky-dissidents taking those stands as outsiders, and you need Cotler-lawyer-legislators as insiders building the platforms on which those stands are made – as well as the safety nets to save the dissidents when necessary.

I have benefited immensely by learning from both. Their lives prove that when you belong to the Jewish people you are Never Alone – and that no matter how brave or visionary you are, you cannot accomplish much alone. You need teamwork, people with different skills, changing the world step by step, insiders and outsiders, “Mr. No” and “Getting to Yes,” working together.


Gil Troy
Gil Troy

Recently designated one of Algemeiner’s J-100 – one of the top 100 people “positively influencing Jewish life” – Gil Troy is a Distinguished Scholar of North American History at McGill University, and the author of nine books on American history and three books on Zionism. His book, Never Alone: Prison, Politics and My People, co-authored with Natan Sharansky, was recently published by PublicAffairs of Hachette.

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.

Liberals Defend Canada’s UN Vote Against Israel

Nov. 24, 2020

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

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

Michael Chong
Michael Chong

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

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

Bob Rae
Bob Rae

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

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

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

Chrystia Freeland
Chrystia Freeland

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– By CJR Staff

Anti-Social Media: When Mud is Thrown in All Directions

Nov. 23, 2020

By DAVE GORDON

If there was social media 3,000 years ago, Jews would have been bitterly divided over King David. The big scandal would be that he sent Uriah, husband of Batsheva, to purposefully die on the battlefield in order to take her as his own.

There would be a camp defending him: He’s a holy leader, the Messiah will come from him, he built Jerusalem! And a camp boiling with rage: He’s a misogynist, narcissist, evil, a murderer!

And it would fire from both ends; anyone who says otherwise is a traitor to our people. 

Surely we’re nodding, as though we’re reading a biting Onion satire serving as painful metaphor.

Something similar occurred lately to one of our community members, Rafi Yablonsky, who wrote about the blowback from his Facebook post congratulating Kamala Harris on her election as U.S. Vice-President. The epithets hurled at him were disgraceful – a shameful lack of civility and respectful discourse.

He should be – we all should be – rightfully outraged. 

With due respect to Rafi, whom I admire for his invaluable Jewish community service, I have an addendum. I believe he ought to have also chided his own side, even if in passing, so as not to give the impression such behaviours are limited to the right.

He complains there are Jews who are labeled “heretics” for not supporting Donald Trump, while I contend, at the same time, that it’s important to know there are Jews who are labeled heretics (and much worse) for supporting Trump.

He inadvertently provides evidence for this, in his “two kinds of Jews” theory:

“There are Jews who, ignore, or worse, laud and emulate his [Trump’s] hatred towards women, minorities, immigrants, members of the LGBTQ+ community, and anyone who opposes him. These sentiments stem mainly from his decision to move the American Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, and several other pro-Israel policy shifts. And then there are the rest of us.” 

So, one is either a Trump-supporting Jew who encourages hate in all its forms, or a morally upstanding anti-Trump Jew. This us/them black/white characterization is overly-simplistic, lacks crucial nuance, and implicitly paints “other” Jews as terrible people.

I have met scores of kind, good-hearted Jews who support Trump.

There are swaths of LGBTQ+, Latinos, Blacks and women who voted for him, too. Are they all hate-enablers?

No one can judge another’s character based simply on where their X is on their ballot. What I know about any given Trump voter is virtually nothing, because I do not have a looking glass into the heads of 73 million people. And neither does anyone else.

Here’s what some might find unbelievable. For every tweet, policy or malapropism that is perceived to be anti-woman, anti-minorities, or anti-LGBTQ+, there are Trump supporters who can explain a completely opposite perspective that they believe invalidates the accusation. And as we’ve undoubtedly heard, there are supporters who vote for policy over personality.

That doesn’t make them bad people. Misguided, perhaps. Uninformed, perhaps. Or, to their minds, wise. Whichever the case, they, like anyone, deserve to be treated with dignity.

So while Rafi is correct to reproach Trump-supporters who were disrespectful, it’s an error of omission to avoid mentioning the same issues that exist on the opposing end. 

I cannot count the number of times I have seen Trump and those who support him called Nazis, haters, and racists. This is especially true from the six “A’s:” activists, academia, athletes, artists, authors and anchors. The most recent example is CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, who equated Trump with Nazis. Comparisons like these are being normalized; trivializing the Shoah by the day.

And to paraphrase Rafi, “there are Jews who ignore, or worse, laud and emulate this hatred.” I’ve seen Jews on social media compare Trump to Hitler, and compare his Jewish supporters to kapos, and not a peep – not even a “thumbs down” – from their friends. 

Just after the election, a prominent and respected member of our community stated on his Facebook wall that he believes Trump is “evil.” (What does that make Heinrich Himmler? “Super-evil?”) This individual also said Trump’s supporters are evil, and asked to be unfriended from anyone who supports the president.

By his reckoning, a person cannot simultaneously be a decent human being, and still think Trump may have accomplished some good (or at least, believe him better than the alternative). 

One must pass a “political purity test” even to be virtual friends with him.

How does unity, so vigorously preached, spring from such intolerance? 

So it’s clear: My political positions are complicated. I might be seen defending conservative positions online, but I also hold many classic liberal beliefs, and surprisingly, a couple of leftist ones.

I would sooner enjoy a dinner with a mensch with whom I differ than have so much as a l’chaim with a shmuck who votes like I do. 

This isn’t achieved through “othering,” which actually goes beyond just Trump, or Obama, or any politician. On social media, going as far back as the day I first signed in to Facebook in 2007, I saw disdain and derision in place of disagreement, on both sides. Particularly during election years. It got personal.

Obsessed as we are when Israel is demonized, and when Jews as a whole are dehumanized, somehow there’s no overlap in lesson when we do this to our fellow. 

In the early 20th century, author Evelyn Beatrice Hall, writing about the French philosophe Voltaire, to whom the quote is often misattributed, famously wrote, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” 

The 21st century needs an updated version: “I disapprove of what you say, and I will admonish those who demean you for saying it.”


Dave Gordon
Dave Gordon

Dave Gordon’s writing has appeared in more than 100 media outlets around the world, including the National Post, Toronto Star, Washington Times, BBC, Montreal Gazette, and Baltimore Sun. His website is www.DaveGordonWrites.com 

Ajax Councillor Apologizes for Linking Israel with Nazi Street Name

Nov. 19, 2020

By STEVE ARNOLD

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

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

Ashmeed Khan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shaun Collier

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s Not About Antisemitism. it’s About Free Speech

Nov. 18, 2020

By AMOS GOLDBERG

On Oct. 26th, Ontario adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) definition of antisemitism through an Order in Council. 

On the face of it, what could be more appropriate than adopting a clear definition of antisemitism that helps fight this scourge? It would seem obvious that all decent people should unite in this just and essential fight.

Unfortunately, this definition – and especially the 11 examples appended to its original text – help very little, if at all, to fight antisemitism. Rather than helping to stamp out antisemitism, several of these examples actually serve to curb free speech on Israel and its policies against the Palestinians, shaping the debate over Israel-Palestine in a way that practically silences the Palestinian voice.

Let’s take a look at one example: “Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor” is considered antisemitic. The first question that comes to mind is: if denying Jews the right of self-determination is antisemitic because it’s a universal right, how should we define denying the Palestinian right for self-determination? Why is denying Palestinian self-determination a legitimated political opinion and, in fact, Israel’s practical policy, while denying Jewish self-determination is considered antisemitic? The second question that comes to mind is that almost all countries on the globe are accused of being racist. Why should Israel be shielded from such legitimate allegations?

But there is more to it. The reasons almost all Palestinians, including the most devoted supporters of the two-states solution, reject Zionism is not because they are antisemites, but because they experience Zionism as oppressive and colonial. None other than the great Zionist leader Ze’ev Jabotinsky, the forefather of the ruling Likud party, acknowledged this already in his 1923 article “The Iron Wall.” There, he asserted that like all colonized peoples, the Palestinians reject Zionism because they oppose what they perceive – and from their perspective rightly so – as foreign invaders. Following Jabotinsky, we can say that denying Jews’ right to self-determination in Palestine as such is not antisemitic even for ardent Zionists like Jabotinsky. One can certainly reject this view but there is nothing antisemitic in it.

Insisting on the opposite practically delegitimizes, silences and criminalizes all Palestinians (and very many non-Zionist Jews) who, as Jabotinsky observed, reject Zionism for understandable (even if rejectable) reasons. Opposing Zionism is hence a legitimate view secured by the right of free speech and, in fact, a legitimate Jewish opinion.

This is only one of many examples of how the definition actually prevents free speech and an honest discussion on Israel-Palestine while disguising itself as a fight against antisemitism. In fact, the definition actually distorts the very essence of this fight. Most scholarly accounts of modern antisemitism connect it to the rise of nationalism and the emergence of the nation-state. Fighting antisemitism is about protecting a vulnerable minority against the violent homogenizing tendency of the majority society. The IHRA definition does precisely the opposite. It protects a powerful state, Israel, from criticism of its well-documented violations of the human rights of its vulnerable minority and occupants. In short, the IHRA definition has become a powerful silencing mechanism that serves only to increase the massive power imbalance between Israel and the Palestinians.

Kenneth Stern, who, 15 years ago, was the lead author of the IHRA definition (for research, not legislative purposes) and is now one of its chief critics, has written: “I’m a Zionist,” but “anti-Zionists have a right to free expression.” The IHRA definition has been deployed to undermine that right, he asserts. We should be very attentive to his words and call on the Ontario legislature to take great care in how it interprets this harmful definition. 


Amos Goldberg
Amos Goldberg

Amos Goldberg is a Holocaust historian at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Among his recent publications are Trauma in First Person: Diary Writing During the Holocaust; and his co-edited volume with Bashir Bashir: The Holocaust and the Nakba: A New Grammar of Trauma and History.

‘Nazi’ Street Name to Change; Debate Spills Over to Israel

Nov. 18, 2020

By STEVE ARNOLD

A Toronto suburb will strip the name of a Second World War Nazi from one of its streets.

Ajax town council voted narrowly Monday night to remove the name Langsdorff Drive from a residential street and, instead, honour an Allied serviceman.

It took a petition campaign by a local resident, the intervention of B’nai Brith Canada, and an emotional appeal from a Holocaust survivor, among others, to convince four of the seven council members that honouring a Nazi in Canada was wrong.

But the lengthy debate was marred by comments from one councillor who opposed the name change because Palestinians are “currently being oppressed by the Jewish State of Israel.”

From the start, the debate was sharply divided. Supporters of German navy Captain Hans Langsdorff claimed he was an honourable man who was respected by his enemies. Those demanding the name change, however, argued Langsdorff’s personal qualities didn’t outweigh the fact he fought for the regime responsible for one of history’s greatest crimes against humanity. 

Max Eisen, one of only three from an extended family of 70 to survive the Holocaust, told the councillors that experience leaves “no room for our enemies to be honoured in Canada. For me, it would represent a terrible thing if this motion fails.”

Rabbi Tzali Borenstein of the Chabad Centre of Durham Region argued the Holocaust is a wound that has never healed for the Jewish community and is torn open repeatedly in an age of growing antisemitism. That, he said, makes it wrong to honour anyone who played even a small role in the Nazi regime.

“Being a Nazi is never right,” he said. “To honour someone with a street name is to be on the wrong side of history.”

Coun. Ashmeed Khan (Ward 2) noted repeated references to the need for reconciliation between former enemies and said the lack of reconciliation for “oppressed” Palestinians is why he supports keeping the Nazi street name.

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

“I cannot support changing this street name and changing history,” he added. “I say the same thing I said about [the street] Graf Spee Lane: Mr. Mayor, when does this stop? When do we stop pandering to a handful of people?”

On Tuesday, Adam Wiseman, the Jewish Ajax resident whose petition campaign started the renaming effort, bristled at Khan’s remarks and fired off an email inviting the councilor to clarify his comments or apologize to Durham’s Jews.

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

“You also mentioned that the city should not ‘pander’ to a small number of people,” Wiseman wrote. “Do I really need to point out why there are so few Jews in Canada?  Are you familiar with the quote ‘None is too many’ in reference to Canada sending ships full of Jewish refugees back to Nazi Germany to be slaughtered?” 

At the heart of the debate is a residential street named in 2004, and dedicated in 2007, for Langsdorff, a career officer of the German navy. In 1939, in command of the warship Admiral Graf Spee, he was ordered into the South Atlantic Ocean where he sank nine Allied merchant ships carrying desperately needed supplies to Britain.

In December, however, he was trapped off South America by three British ships, including HMS Ajax, for which the town is named. In a brawl known as the Battle of the River Plate, the Graf Spee was damaged and limped into Uruguay’s Montevideo harbour for repairs.

Ordered out of the neutral country after three days, and knowing that a superior British force was waiting for him, Langsdorff ordered his 1,000-member crew off the vessel and blew it up. Three days later, in a Buenos Aires hotel, he wrapped himself in the ship’s battle flag and shot himself in the head.

The Town of Ajax, in Durham Region, east of Toronto, was founded in 1941 and has a policy of naming its streets after the ships and sailors of the River Plate battle. An attempt to name one street for Langsdorff’s ship was reversed earlier this year. It currently has a list of 160 names that could be used. The decision to name a street for Langsdorff required making a specific exception to that rule.

Langsdorff’s supporters have noted that he saved the lives of his crew, of hundreds of Allied sailors, and the crews of merchant vessels he allowed to escape before sinking their ships. Those actions, say his supporters, show Langsdorff was never an ardent Nazi and, in a spirit of reconciliation, should be honoured by his former enemies.

Jim Devlin, a member of the Ajax branch of the Royal Canadian Legion, argued that point, saying Langsdorff’s membership in the Nazi Party shouldn’t be held against him.

“I am in no way standing up for Nazis,” said Devlin, a Canadian army veteran. “I believe Hans Langsdorff was a navy man first and foremost and if he was a Nazi, it was just a formality. His treatment of prisoners was that of an officer with honour.”

Supporters also argued that since Langsdorff died in 1939, he could not have known about Nazi plans to exterminate Jews.

Local amateur historian Kevin Nesbitt argued, for example, that since the real atrocities of the Holocaust didn’t start until 1941 or 1942, “it’s highly unlikely Langsdorff knew or ought to have known about them.”

Wiseman, the Ajax resident whose petition campaign started the renaming effort, rejected those arguments.

“I understand the desire to find something good here, but it isn’t there in Hans Langsdorff,” he said. “Right up to the end he fought for the Nazis and their cause.”

Where others point to Langsdorff’s personal conduct, Wiseman points to the sailor’s suicide note, in which he remarked: “I shall face my fate with firm faith in the cause and the future of the nation and of my Fuehrer.” Langsdorff also lauded Adolf Hitler as “a prophet, not a politician.”

B’nai Brith, which supported the renaming motion, praised the town’s decision.

“Today is a proud day for Ajax, for Ontario’s Jewish community, and for Canada as a whole,” CEO Michael Mostyn said in a news release. “Taking action against the glorification of Canada’s enemies and a man who fought for the most evil regime in history sends the right signal to those concerned about the rise of hate in our time.”

Monday’s motion by councillors Lisa Bowers and Sterling Lee directs town staff to hold an open house for residents of Langsdorff Drive and to report back to council with a recommended course of action to rename the street.

The Ajax controversy is the latest development in a series of debates over Nazi symbols in Canada. B’nai Brith has been working with the town of Lachute, Que. to prevent a local ceremony honouring a Nazi pilot; has been helping residents in Puslinch, Ont. opposed to a roadway named Swastika Trail; and is partnering with the Canadian Polish Congress to remove monuments honouring Nazi collaborators in Edmonton and Oakville, Ont.

On the Record: Canadian Jewish Musicians of Note

Nov. 17, 2020

Ofra Harnoy – (Jan. 31, 1965 – ) Cellist

By DAVID EISENSTADT

Listening to Ofra Harnoy, the Israeli-Canadian cellist’s new album, On The Rock, brought back a memory.

In the spring of 1998, I was working on a Temple Sinai Brotherhood fundraiser with Lew Rasminsky, Allan Kalin and Frank Berns. We were fortunate to book Harnoy, then a young cellist with a serious pedigree. She delivered an extraordinary concert that left the Temple Sinai audience breathless.

“The only time I really feel that I’m making music,” Harnoy told Tim Janof at cello.org, “is when I’m performing. I love the vibrations of the audience, when they hold their breath through the silences, which is when I really feel a bond. It’s an incredible experience.” 

Her family immigrated to Canada from Hadera, Israel in 1971 for her father, Jacob Harnoy, to enroll in a master’s of engineering program at the University of Toronto. 

Harnoy began her studies at six with her violinist father. When she was given her first student-size cello, she thought her legs were supposed to go through the instrument’s F-holes.

As a teenager, she studied with respected masters Jacqueline du Pré, Pierre Fournier, Vladimir Orloff, William Pleeth and Mstislav Rostropovich.

Her soloist debut with an orchestra came at 10, and at 17, she won the International Concert Artists Guild award at Carnegie Hall in 1982.

She has performed on five continents and played for princes, presidents and prime ministers. A five-time Juno Award winner as Best Classical Soloist, she received the Grand Prix du Disque. In 1995, she was named to the Order of Canada.

Harnoy has collaborated with Jesse Cook, Placido Domingo, Loreena McKennitt, Igor Oistrakh, and Sting. 

About her recording Ofra Harnoy & The Oxford String Quartet Play The Beatles, she said: “The album is a compilation I recorded when I was 16 or 17. The arrangements are beautiful sounding, somewhat like Schubert string quartets with a cello solo. I was hesitant when [the] CD first came out, since many people concluded that I must not be a serious classical musician.”

By the early 2000s, she had recorded 43 albums and was touring 10 months of the year. From 2004 to 2011, Harnoy focused less on music while raising her two children and caring for her mother, who died of leukemia in 2011.

Her last performance included scheduled concerts with pianist Anton Kuerti in 2011. But the rigours of touring and recording had taken their toll. Harnoy battled an acute shoulder injury and required reconstructive surgery. During that period “many felt she’d fallen off the classical radar,” wrote Classical MPR’s Julie Amacher.

In 2017 and 2018, she reconnected with childhood sweetheart Mike Herriott, a multi-instrumentalist, arranger and co-producer whom she married and who helped in her recovery. Harnoy returned to the stage with an official comeback performance in November 2018. She released her 44th album, Back to Bach, in early 2020.

“One day when I was in the stage of coming back to playing, Mike pulled out his trumpet and we took some music and said, ‘Let’s see what it feels like to play together,’” she told an interviewer. “And neither of us could believe the musical connection that we had. We think exactly the same musically. We breathe the same musically. And that was like, ‘Wow. We need to do something like this.’”

As TheWholeNote related, “In bringing her vision to life, Harnoy also wanted to experience with using brass instruments instead of the traditional string or pipe organ accompaniments, so Herriott created complex brass arrangements and performed all the parts himself – piccolo trumpet, trumpet, flugelhorn, French horn and trombone. There are literally only a handful of individuals in the world who could have accomplished what Herriott has so deftly done on the remarkable project. This recording is a triumph and a must-have for any serious collector.”

Harnoy now lives in St. John’s, Nfld. where her husband grew up. In September, she released On The Rock, celebrating the sounds and spirits of Newfoundland.

The album features many Newfoundland musicians, including Alan Doyle formerly of Great Big Sea; fiddler Kendel Carson; vocals by Ofra’s daughter, Amanda Cash; vocalist Fergus O’Byrne; and St. John’s jazz chanteuse Heather Bambrick, the morning JAZZ.FM91 host. 

“The more I explore this beautiful island and get to know the people, food and the culture, the more I feel Newfoundland is becoming a part of me,” she said. “Through these songs, I can really express the wonderful connection I have with my new home.”


David Eisenstadt
David Eisenstadt

David Eisenstadt is Founding Partner of tcgpr.com, the Canadian Partner firm of IPREX Global Communication. He’s a graduate of Carleton University’s School of Journalism and the University of Calgary.

JNF Montreal Launches $1M Prize to Make Israel a Climate Change Leader

Nov. 16, 2020

By JANICE ARNOLD

MONTREAL—Jewish National Fund (JNF) of Montreal is aiming high in its Negev campaign this year. The goal is nothing less than to solve the global climate crisis.

A planned $1 million (U.S.) prize to encourage Israel to take the lead in combating climate change was announced at JNF Montreal’s virtual Negev gala on Nov. 11.

The campaign, chaired by Jonathan Goodman, founder and CEO of Knight Therapeutics Inc., aims to enable the prize to be awarded annually.

The Climate Solutions Prize will go to the Israeli researcher or not-for-profit organization which proposes an innovation that promises to have the greatest impact in the world, as judged by an expert panel.

Israel, it is believed, is well placed to make such a breakthrough given its strength in technological development and entrepreneurial spirit. However, most investment has been going into the information, medical and financial fields, Goodman points out, and less into green technology.

“Climate change was not a primary concern for me until my (teenaged) son Noah told me it is his priority,” Goodman said. A JNF youth group is playing a strong role in this project.

JNF Montreal Negev 2020-2021 honoree Jeff Hart, president of Victoria Park Medispa, said the prize “will leverage Israel’s special ability to solve seemingly impossible challenges in order to bring literal tikun olam – healing of the world.”

Given its 119-year history of making the desert bloom and more recent environmental leadership, JNF is considered to be in a position to oversee this initiative. Israel is experiencing the harmful effects of climate change, evidenced by record-breaking temperatures and, in Tel Aviv, unprecedented flooding, for example, Hart said.

The campaign will continue through to late spring, and it is hoped the first prize can be awarded next fall, in a live ceremony to be broadcast worldwide, said Hart.

A related $100,000 prize to recognize a Quebec organization making an outstanding contribution to mitigate climate change, which might lead to a partnership with Israel, is also planned.

Despite the gravity of the subject, the Zoom gala was filled with humour. The emcee was Andy Nulman, co-founder of the Just for Laughs festival, who alternately could be seen in a parka and tuque against a frozen background and in a tank top in a room on fire.

Hart got into the lightheartedness by wearing a T-shirt with the logo, “There is No Planet B.”

The biggest laughs were generated by the guest speaker Yossi Abramowitz, aka “Captain Sunshine,” who was live from Israel even though it was the wee hours of the morning there.

That didn’t dampen his exuberance for his mission to power Israel – and the rest of the world – by renewable energy, in particular the power coming from the sun.

A Boston native, the activist and entrepreneur made aliyah in 2006 with his wife, Rabbi Susan Silverman (sister of comedian Sarah Silverman), and immediately co-founded the Arava Power Company in the Negev Desert, which set up Israel’s first grid-connected solar field, proving many doubters wrong.

His aim is 100 percent daytime reliance on solar energy from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea.

Since 2013, Abramowitz has been president and CEO of Energiya Global Capital, which supports affordable solar power projects outside Israel, especially in developing countries, including Rwanda and Burundi.

He would like to see Israel become “the energy superpower of goodness in the world…the renewable light unto the nations.”

Abramowitz thinks the JNF prize will leverage more investment from the government and private sector in sustainability, as was the case in Arava.

Abramowitz recalled how the then California Senator Kamala Harris and her husband Doug Emhoff privately visited Arava in 2017 and were highly impressed with the development of solar energy.

He likes to think the “seeds were planted” for the Joe Biden-Harris platform, which emphasizes renewable energy, “or at least was nurtured around our Shabbat table.”

“It’s time the Jewish people steps up, not just for ourselves, but everyone,” Abramowitz said. “We’re a global people that has always strived to be ethical. And this [the climate crisis] is the big one.”

More information is available at climatesolutionsprize.com.