Charles Bronfman Launches Israeli-Diaspora Project to Counter ‘Growing Rift’

Dec. 14, 2020

By JANICE ARNOLD

MONTREAL— Over the past few years, Charles Bronfman has warned of a growing rift between the Diaspora and Israel that threatens to undermine the interdependence on which the Jewish state was founded and that enabled Jews around the world to hold their heads high.

In a videoconference hosted by Congregation Shaar Hashomayim on Dec. 8, the billionaire philanthropist spoke about his newest project, “Enter: The Jewish Peoplehood Alliance,” which aims to forge a new relationship based on mutual respect between Israelis and Jews around the world.

The emphasis is on educating the young, starting with Israeli teenagers, in the hope of bringing about attitudinal change that will find practical expression in the next generation of the country’s leaders.

Bronfman was in conversation with American journalist and Middle East scholar David Makovsky, a former editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post and diplomatic correspondent for Haaretz, now a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Based in Israel and supported by private foundations, the Alliance launches its first program in Israeli high schools in January when up to 500 students will be paired virtually with their Jewish peers in the United States, Canada and England. Ostensibly, the purpose is to practise their English, a compulsory subject in Israel.

The more subtle goal is to give the youths an opportunity to get to know each other on a personal level and realize that they have much in common, not the least, Jewish “peoplehood.”

The Alliance’s chief executive is Alon Friedman, previously director of Hillel Israel. The co-chairs of its advisory committee are Dan Shapiro, a U.S. ambassador to Israel during the Obama administration and now a distinguished visiting fellow at Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies, and Dan Meridor, a former senior Likud cabinet minister.

Bronfman, 89, is the co-founder of Birthright Israel, which has given over 750,000 young Jewish adults a free 10-day trip to Israel since the program began in 1999.

He feels Birthright’s most effective aspect has been the mifgashim (encounters) between the participants from abroad and their Israeli counterparts, who join them on the tour.

“The myths are dispelled. They find the Israelis don’t have horns and those from the Diaspora aren’t (made of) gold,” Bronfman said. “They come from different political and social systems, but they have the same values; they are all Jews and they love each other.”

The Alliance is diverging from the traditional role of Israel as “host” of these experiences and putting exchanges on a more equal footing. Diaspora Jews’ awareness of Israel has evolved, but Israelis remain largely stuck in the past in how they see their brethren abroad, Bronfman thinks.

“Israelis and Diaspora Jews do not know each other as human beings. The relationship was built on myths and falsehoods from the beginning. They were the poor cousins and we the rich cousins. They said, ‘Give us the money and bugger off, we’ll do our own thing…’

“Then Israel became this unbelievable start-up nation and now has a GDP almost equal to Canada. We need a new relationship as equals; we have to get together empathetically and try to find out what we can do together…We must be interdependent, or the dreams of our forebears will be shattered.”

Part of the Alliance’s mission statement is to “ensure the Jewish people remain a dynamic, diverse global community that is united, secure and inclusive.”

Whatever their religious, ideological or national identities, Bronfman believes all Jews share a bond. The Alliance is working with the Museum of the Jewish People in Tel Aviv to develop cultural programs that foster ties across the spectrum.

“I’m more of a secular Jew, but I love being Jewish, I love the traditions and values,” said Bronfman. “Most of my friends are Jewish. I can kibbitz with Jews in a way I can’t with Gentiles. It’s just so nice.”

Bronfman said he remains a Canadian nationalist, even though he has made his principal residence New York for a quarter-century. But that does not diminish his sense of Jewish belonging.

Defining who is Jewish is difficult, he said, hinting that the community could benefit from a big tent. “Intermarriage in the U.S. is over 50 percent, but I think 70 percent [of those] are bringing up their families Jewish. It’s not so terrible.”

Bronfman, long associated with the Labour Party leadership, has been critical of the government of Benjamin Netanyahu, especially policies affecting the non-Orthodox. He alluded to the claim that this is making it increasingly tougher to find rapprochement between Israel and the Diaspora.

“I hope, out of the chaos that is the Israeli government, that one of these days there will be a government we can all be proud of,” he said.

Wishing Biden and Harris Well Online? Buckle Up…

Nov. 17, 2020

By RAFI YABLONSKY

My parents were born in Israel. I was born in Israel. All four of my grandparents were Holocaust survivors who immigrated to Israel. All four of my wife’s grandparents are Holocaust survivors who immigrated to Canada. My wife’s grandfather, Bill Glied, with whom I sat at the verdict of Reinhold Hanning, one of the last Nazis to be tried for war crimes, had spent the last two decades of his life pursuing Holocaust education and telling his story to thousands of students. I have spent my adult life working in the Jewish community, raising millions of dollars for Israel and Jewish communal organizations.

And somehow, here was a comment on my Facebook post telling me that I was no longer Jewish, no longer Israeli.

What was my crime? My unforgivable sin, according to too many commenters?

After four years of the bigotry and venom that Donald Trump and his followers unleashed on the world, and after nearly four days of vote counting, Joe Biden had been declared President-elect in the United States. His running mate, Kamala Harris, had made history by becoming the first woman and first person of colour to hold the title of Vice President-elect.

Her election is an inspiration to millions of young girls across the United States. I was elated to see an end to the sexism, misogyny, homophobia, and racism coming from the White House. I didn’t think too much of it. Maybe that would be the end of the happy story. 

I put up a brief post on my Facebook wall – a picture of the VP-elect, and a message of congratulations.

I didn’t expect what was to come. 

I didn’t expect to be bombarded with over 100 comments attacking me. I didn’t expect to be sworn at, to be told that I was anti-Israel, antisemitic, and a Nazi party supporter to boot.

A sampler:

– For a Jew like you to support Biden is like supporting Nazi Germany.

– Congratulations on cheating.

– F**k you Rafi, you’re pathetic.

Paraphrasing, one commenter said I’m not Jewish. I’m not Israeli. I’m a Canadian communist for supporting Biden/Harris.

I founded the Hasbara at York group, a student organization at the university which focuses on Israel education. I’ve been called a fascist and a racist for supporting Israel in the past. I’ve been called an occupier and Nazi for supporting Israel. I’ve never had my Jewishness negated by a fellow Jew.

I didn’t expect to have my Judaism diminished. And I certainly didn’t expect that an old friend I’ve known for almost two decades would like that comment. 

I received a number of messages of support. From friends, from family, from current and former members of Parliament and heads of major Toronto Jewish institutions. But I barely slept that night. This was the first time I’ve blocked people on Facebook. I had to “unfriend” someone in real life. 

The truth is, I cannot remember a time when the Jewish community has been this starkly divided, and never this viscerally. Our community is drenched in sinat chinam, baseless hatred. Donald Trump has divided the Jewish community into two kinds of Jews. There are Jews who, ignore, or worse, laud and emulate his 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. 

My grandparents who, thank G-d, survived Auschwitz, used to tell me how in the cattle cars, there were Jews of every denomination, from every corner of the political spectrum. Their destination didn’t care if they were secular or Hasidic, right or left wing. They were just Jews destined for the same fate. 

Jews argue. We disagree with each other. It’s a trait that is deep and celebrated in our history and our texts. But the Talmud tells us kol Yisrael arevim zeh bazeh – all of Israel is responsible for one another. We are not the enemy. But there is a part of our community – one that has been growing over the past four years – that treats any Jews who dislike Donald Trump as heretics. 

In the days since Biden and Harris were elected, there’s been a lot of calls for unity. I think that’s great. We are in desperate need of reconciliation, in the Jewish community as much as the rest of society. But reconciliation and unity doesn’t mean we meet in the middle. 

We meet in a place that respects women, Indigenous peoples and people of colour – and we in the Jewish community must dig particularly deep for Jewish women, and Jewish women of colour. We meet in a place that accepts and celebrates the LGBTQ+ community and the Jews who I’ve marched with in the Toronto Pride Parade when Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (QAIA) tried to have us barred from participating.

I replied to that Facebook commenter, saying that while I pitied him, I didn’t think his support for Trump had cost him his Judaism. I still think about all the negative comments I received over the past few days and I hope daughters never see what their fathers wrote. I hope they instead see Harris shatter the glass ceiling and be encouraged to follow their dreams. 

And more than anything else, I hope that those Jews who have taken to dismissing our Jewishness remember that kol Yisrael arevim ze bazeh and that we are all Jews and will always be family.


Rafi Yablonksy
Rafi Yablonksy

Rafi Yablonsky holds a BComm from York University and worked in the hi-tech industry before working at United Jewish Appeal as Manager of Strategic Initiatives. Rafi has worked as the Toronto Director of Chai Lifeline, as campaign director at JNF Toronto, and most recently, at the Baycrest Foundation as Manager of Major Gifts.

Foodbenders Faces Business License Probe

Nov. 2, 2020

Foodbenders’ woes keep piling up.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shai DeLuca
Shai DeLuca

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

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

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

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

– By CJR Staff

Supreme Court Paves Way for Libel Action Against B’nai Brith

Oct. 16, 2020

OTTAWA — The Supreme Court of Canada has greenlighted a libel action brought by a pro-Palestinian activist against B’nai Brith Canada, Canadian Press reported Oct. 15.

As usual, the high court gave no reason for declining to hear an appeal from B’nai Brith. The development clears the way for lawyer Dimitri Lascaris to pursue a libel case against the Jewish advocacy group.

The matter goes back to August 2016 when B’nai Brith published an article alleging Lascaris supported terrorism following a trip he made to Israel.

The article, and a subsequent tweet, charged that Lascaris had used social media “to advocate on behalf of terrorists who have murdered Israeli citizens.”

Lascaris initiated a libel case against B’nai Brith, which sought to dismiss the action using anti-SLAPP legislation, a legal tool designed to prevent use of courts to silence speech that is deemed to be in the public interest.

B’nai Brith succeed in Ontario’s Superior of Court of Justice but that decision was overturned by the province’s Court of Appeal, which reinstated Lascaris’s action.

He is seeking $220,000 in compensatory and punitive damages, plus costs.

Lascaris was the recent runner-up for the federal Green Party leadership. He has a long history of pro-Palestinian activism, including representing organizers of the annual al-Quds Day rally in Toronto.

This is not the first time B’nai Brith’s reliance on Ontario’s anti-SLAPP law faltered.

In January, an Ontario court dismissed a motion from the Jewish group, which sought to squelch a defamation lawsuit brought against it by the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW).

CUPW had made common cause with its Palestinian counterpart, the Palestinian Postal Service Workers Union, which B’nai Brith said “supports terrorism and the elimination of Israel,” and that CUPW’s leadership “had aligned itself with the path of violence and extremism.”

A judge dismissed B’nai Brith’s request to have the case thrown out under the anti-SLAPP law, saying that, in fact, CUPW’s defamation suit “appears to have merit.”

B’nai Brith is appealing the ruling to the Ontario Court of Appeal. The organization had no comment on the Lascaris matter.

– By CJR Staff

Azrieli Music Prizes Concert to be Live Streamed for Free

Oct. 8, 2020

By JANICE ARNOLD

MONTREAL— The biennial Azrieli Music Prizes (AMP) concert – the world premiere of the most recent winning compositions of orchestral Jewish music and Canadian art music – goes virtual this year due to the pandemic.

The concert is scheduled to be live streamed from the Salle Bourgie of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts on Oct. 22 at 8 p.m.; on the classical music channel Medici TV, and on the AMP Facebook page, free of charge.

Le Nouvel Ensemble Moderne (NEM), which is resident in the U of M’s music faculty, will be making its debut on Medici TV under the direction of its founder, Lorraine Vaillancourt. Soprano Sharon Azrieli, who created and heads the AMP project, and Hungarian-Canadian mezzo Krisztina Szabò join NEM as soloists.

The performances are part of the total prize package each AMP laureates receives, valued at over $200,000, including $50,000 cash. Two later international performances and a recording of the winning works, to be released on the Analekta label, round out the package.

Keiko Devaux, the inaugural winner of the new Azrieli Commission for Canadian Music, is cited for her work, Arras, which “weaves together the tapestries of her French and Japanese-Canadian heritage.” She is currently completing a PhD in composition at the U of M.

“These collective sonic memories that we have held onto, shared, diffused and celebrated together are what define the Canadian sound to me,” she said.

Yotam Haber’s Azrieli Commission for Jewish Music winner is Estro poetica—armonico III, written for mezzo-soprano solo, chamber orchestra and pre-recorded audio, reflects his interest in the music of the Jewish community of Rome.

“As a composer of Israeli background, I have spent years thinking about how I should look back at my past while looking forward at my future,” he said. “I wished to compose a work using text by modern Israeli poets sung by a mezzo-soprano in conjunction, or in opposition to, traditional cantillation and liturgical texts found in the Leo Levi recordings, virtually always recited by men,” he explained.

Haber is an associate professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City Conservatory.

Yitzhak Yedid, winner of the Azrieli Prize for Jewish Music, wrote KadoshKadosh and Cursed, which consist of 20 tableaux, or musical scenes, that bridge very different musical traditions.

“My attempt in this composition, and my endeavour for over a decade, has been to broaden the esthetic resources of Western art music through the incorporation of musical elements of Sephardic Jewish music,” explained Yedid, whose ancestry is Syrian and Iraqi. The result is “a strange, surreal atmosphere.”

He is currently a lecturer in composition and piano at the Queensland Conservatorium of Griffith University in Brisbane, Australia.

In addition, Canadian composer Jonathan Monro has created a new arrangement for NEM and soloist Azrieli of Pierre Mercure’s classic song cycle Dissidence, which expresses modern humanity’s search for happiness through faith, which is also on the program.

Established in 2014 by the Azrieli Foundation, the biennial AMP accepts nominations for original works from individuals and institutions of all nationalities, faiths, backgrounds, and affiliations, which are then submitted to its two expert juries.

“The three AMP prize packages, valued at $200,000 per laureate, currently makes it the largest music competition for music composition in Canada and one of the largest in the world,” said Azrieli.

Leila Khaled and the Corruption of the Academy

Sept. 14, 2020 – By DAVID ROYTENBERG

On Sept. 6, 1970, 50 years ago last week, Leila Khaled, a Palestinian refugee from Haifa, participated in the hijacking of El Al flight 219 from Amsterdam to New York. The crime was part of a coordinated attack involving 600 passengers on four commercial jets from four airlines, all bound for New York.

Leila Khaled
Leila Khaled

The Israeli pilot and crew overpowered the hijackers. Khaled’s accomplice wounded two members of the flight crew and was himself killed. Khaled was handed over to the British authorities when the Israeli pilot landed at Heathrow.

The hijacking was the second one for Khaled, who was also involved in an attack on TWA flight 840 on Aug. 29, 1969. In that earlier act of terrorism, a flight bound for Tel Aviv was diverted to Damascus by six attackers.

With three other aircraft captured on Sept 6, 1970 on the ground in Beirut and Amman, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), which was responsible for all of the hijackings, demanded Khaled’s release in return for the release of British hostages. On Sept. 10, the PFLP highjacked a British VC10 to Amman, and on Sept 12, they blew up the airliner. They were holding 300 hostages in Jordan and Lebanon, and by Oct. 1, the UK surrendered to their demands. Khaled, two-time air pirate, was set free. She never stood trial and never expressed any regrets.

More shocking than the fact that she was never tried is that Khaled has spent the 50 years since she escaped justice being treated as an honoured spokesperson for the Palestinian people and their cause. In recent years, she has been a globetrotting advocate of the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign against Israel.

In 2013, B’nai Brith Canada protested when a student group invited Khaled to speak via remote video link at a conference at the University of British Colombia. The organizing group was “Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights,” registered with the Alma Mater Society affiliated with the UBC.

Six years ago, Michael Mostyn, CEO of B’nai Brith Canada wondered, as did many others, “at a time when we’ve just seen a terrorist tragedy in Boston, and arrests here in Canada due to a bombing plot … which has all been speculated to be a product of homegrown radicalization, why would we [allow] a public institution in Canada to bring in a convicted terrorist to speak to students?”

Khaled, now 76, was back in the news this week because San Francisco State University (SFSU), also funded with public dollars, is implicated in a Zoom panel discussion hosted by the university’s “Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diasporas Studies” program, and scheduled for Sept. 23. University president Lynn Mahoney defended the panel, which is entirely composed of anti-Zionists, as promoting “diversity.”

As news spread of the planned anti-Israel event, held with SFSU’s endorsement, protests were heard from many quarters, but none as poignant as a letter from Rodney Khazzam, who was a child hostage on the flight Khaled hijacked on Sept 6, 1970.

In his letter to the SFSU president, Khazzam bluntly states that Khaled “attempted to kill me, an innocent, civilian child at the time. I am alive because of the heroic pilot who thwarted the hijacking. … When she realized she was being captured and her plan was being foiled, she detonated a grenade and indiscriminately attempted to set if off onboard. By sheer fortune, all her attempts failed.”

In March 2019, SFSU settled two lawsuits alleging that it failed to prevent an atmosphere of antisemitism on campus. This time, the welcome extended to a life-long member of a terrorist organization dedicated to Israel’s annihilation suggests that the university has not made the changes necessary to prevent antisemitism.

More broadly, the celebration of violence in the academic sphere reveals a profound moral rot, not just at SFSU, but at other universities that welcome unrepentant terrorists.

Addendum: Rodney Khazzam has begun a petition calling on SFSU president Lynn Maloney to cancel Khaled’s appearance.

The aircraft Khaled helped commandeer were “all passenger planes filled with civilians. These were not war planes. Would it be OK for a 9/11 hijacker to teach university students has one survived?” the petition asks.

Khaled, it goes on, is being given the “honour” of speaking at the university “for one reason only: She is an infamous female hijacker/terrorist. That is her claim to fame…It is deplorable to see a State university in America rolling out the red carpet for this woman, to speak and influence college kids on campus. We must sign and stop this from happening.”

The petition is at: 

https://www.gopetition.com/petitions/stop-hijackerterrorist-leila-khaled-from-speaking-at-sfsu.html


David Roytenberg
David Roytenberg

David Roytenberg is a computer consultant living in Ottawa.  He is Secretary of MERCAZ Canada and chair of adult education at Kehillat Beth Israel congregation.