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

Canada Votes at the UN: A Response to Jon Allen

Dec. 3, 2020

By MICHAEL MOSTYN

In his Nov. 25 defence in the CJR of Canada’s recent vote for what is, in fact, an anti-Israel resolution at the United Nations, Jon Allen failed to properly address a number of key issues.

First, it is surprising to see Mr. Allen express consternation at the idea of Canada changing its vote from last year, when Canada altered its vote in favour of the same resolution. Since the days of the Liberal government under Paul Martin, Canada decided against voting any longer for one-sided, polemical anti-Israel resolutions at the UN. Last year’s vote for the resolution in question was a shocking departure from that principled policy, and so Canada’s vote against the resolution this year would have been an expected course-correction.

Second, we should not pretend that the problem with the resolution is its support for Palestinian self-determination or a Palestinian state. Israel itself has recognized the inevitability of that proposition on multiple occasions, including making generous offers in 2000, 2001, and 2008 for the creation of a Palestinian state. Tragically, the Palestinian leadership consistently rejected these offers because – bottom line – they refuse to accept the idea of a Jewish state. The persistent Palestinian rejection of Jewish self-determination is the core of the conflict, which this UN resolution only exacerbates.

The resolution makes peace far less likely by pre-determining that all areas east of the June 4, 1967 lines (also called the “Green Line”) are “the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem,” which therefore – absurdly – includes the holiest sites in Judaism: the Western Wall and Temple Mount, plus the Jewish Quarter of the Old City; and everything else, east to the Jordan River.

Crucially, and contrary to what Mr. Allen writes, Canada’s support of this resolution contradicts a key element of our own foreign policy. After all, in its official policy on “Support for a Comprehensive Peace Settlement,” Canada declares adherence to UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, which call for negotiations between the parties to determine the status of the territories. Since its self-defensive war in 1967, Israel has abided by 242 and 338 as the internationally accepted formula for peace-making.

However, the controversial UN resolution Canada just supported (co-sponsored by North Korea!) violates this formula, thereby contradicting our own policy against prejudging the outcome of negotiations. Oddly, Mr. Allen, a former Canadian ambassador to Israel, has failed to acknowledge this glaring inconsistency.

Third, Mr. Allen ignores the context in which this resolution was presented at the UN. It was part of a suite of 17 resolutions targeting the world’s only Jewish state, compared to just seven resolutions dealing with the rest of the world. Our government has repeatedly recognized that this anti-Israel obsession at the UN is harmful to the cause of peace, which renders its partial participation with its “yes” vote on this one highly controversial resolution all the more galling.

Ironically, while peace and normalization between Israel and its Arab neighbours – the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan – being just the latest examples – are moving in one positive direction, typical anti-Israel forces in the West, including at the UN, insist on moving in a negative direction.

Mr. Allen is also mistaken that a significant portion of Canadian Jews shares his views. Rather, the position of B’nai Brith and the other major Jewish Canadian organizations represents an overwhelming consensus in our community, as shown by the hard data.

In 2018, the last year in which Canada opposed this resolution, a survey of Canada’s Jewish population by Environics, the University of Toronto and York University found that 45 percent of Canadian Jews felt that Canada’s support for Israel was “about right”; 36 percent felt it was not supportive enough; and just six percent felt it was too supportive (13 percent did not know or did not answer).

On this particular issue, Mr. Allen has positioned himself among that six percent. At B’nai Brith Canada, we are proud to represent the more than eight in 10, and we will continue to do so, advocating for our government to adhere, consistently, to its espoused principles.

Michael Mostyn
Michael Mostyn

Michael Mostyn is CEO of B’nai Brith Canada.

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.