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

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.

Canada Repeats Last Year’s UN Vote on Palestinian Self-Determination

Nov. 20, 2020

By RON CSILLAG

In a repeat from a year ago, Canada has voted for a United Nations resolution that refers to “occupied Palestinian territory” – including east Jerusalem and its holy Jewish sites.

Canada voted for the annual resolution on Nov. 19. The measure was adopted 163 to five at the UN’s Third Committee and will now go to the General Assembly for a final vote.

Titled “The right of the Palestinian people to self-determination,” the resolution was opposed by Israel, the United States and the Pacific island nations of the Marshall Islands, Nauru, and the Federated States of Micronesia.

Since 2006, over Liberal and Conservative governments, Canada had voted against the measure and has generally sided with Israel or abstained in its votes on the basket of about 20 resolutions introduced at the UN annually this time of year on “The Question of Palestine.”

But a year ago, Canada’s abrupt about-face on this one resolution sent shock waves through the Jewish community and strained relations with Israel. Canada’s move was widely denounced in Israel advocacy circles and was seen as all the more dramatic because it skipped over abstention and went to support.

Others questioned whether it meant a shift in Canada’s Middle East policy.

At the time, Israel said it had no advance warning of Canada’s change of vote, adding that it was considering lodging a formal complaint against Canada.

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.”

It further “reaffirms the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination, including the right to their independent State of Palestine; [and] urges all States 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.”

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.”

In its explanation of its vote, Canada said it is a “strong ally and close friend of Israel” and is “committed to the goal of a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East, including the creation of a Palestinian State, living side-by-side in peace and security with Israel.”

This country’s support for the resolution “is a reflection of our longstanding commitment to the right of self-determination for both Palestinians and Israelis,” said the explanation, known as an EOV.

The resolution focuses on two issues, the EOV stated: “The right of self-determination of the Palestinian people, and the need for all countries to do what they can to support the successful creation of a Palestinian state, living in peace and security with its neighbour Israel.

“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.’ 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 said Canada “does not and will not support any resolution that unfairly singles out Israel for criticism. Our votes on these resolutions across the UN system reflect this principle. We will continue to oppose these resolutions and initiatives which do not speak to the complexities of the issues or seek to address the actions and responsibilities of all parties, including the destructive role in the conflict of such terrorist organizations as Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and Hezbollah, that have refused to accept the legitimacy of the State of Israel and routinely use violence targeting civilians.

Canada said it welcomes the recent announcement by the Palestinian Authority to resume coordination with Israel. “We continue to insist that real progress will depend on mutual recognition and trust, and a firm rejection of extremism and terrorism. We know that lasting peace and security starts with direct talks, and the concessions and compromise that always accompany successful negotiations. Canada urges both sides to return to negotiations.”

In a statement, newly-elected Liberal MP Ya’ara Saks (York Centre) defended the government’s voting record on Israel at the UN: “The systematic singling out of Israel at the UN is unfair and unjust, which is why we have the strongest record of any Canadian government in opposing the annual UN resolutions that single out Israel, having voted against almost 90 percent of them since 2015. We are the only Western country alongside the U.S. that systematically votes against these resolutions.

“Israelis and Palestinians want and need a resolution to the conflict firmly rooted in the principle of ‘two states for two peoples.’ Their future depends on it and the new developments of the recent accords show us what can be achieved when states work together.

“The Canada-Israel relationship is stronger and deeper than can be defined by one vote. It is an unbreakable bond that makes both countries better, safer, and more prosperous,” said Saks. “That’s why the government is right now engaged in Canada-Israel collaboration and innovation, and increasing our efforts internationally to promote Holocaust remembrance and combat the global rise of antisemitism.

“I’ve made our community’s position clear to the government, and will always work to further strengthen the Canada-Israel relationship,” Saks stated.

Three days before the vote, Canada’s major Jewish advocacy groups, B’nai Brith, Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center (FSWC), and the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), wrote to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Foreign Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne, urging Ottawa to return to its “principled and unequivocal opposition” to this year’s batch of resolutions.

The day after Canada cast its ballot this year, Michael Levitt, president and CEO of FSWC, stated, “We are dismayed by Canada’s decision to undermine its longstanding policy of rejecting one-sided and prejudicial anti-Israel resolutions at the UN. By supporting this resolution, Canada is providing ammunition to those who seek to delegitimize and demonize the State of Israel, which ultimately sets back the prospects for peace in the region.”

Shimon Koffler Fogel, CIJA President and CEO commented: “The government of Canada has now doubled down on its incomprehensible support for a resolution that simply expands the anti-Israel narrative within the United Nations system – an aberration in the voting pattern established and re-affirmed by successive Canadian governments for almost two decades until the Liberal government changed its vote last year.”

Notwithstanding other “praiseworthy” initiatives by the Liberals, this vote “will undermine the Jewish community’s confidence in this government – its willingness to stand by its principles as they relate to Israel, as well as its relationship with the Jewish community here in Canada.”

Wondered B’nai Brith Canada’s CEO Michael Mostyn, “Does support for this resolution bring us any closer to a durable and sustaining peace?”

In its own statement, the progressive group JSpaceCanada, sounded a different tone, saying Canada “has once again demonstrated that supporting Israel and recognizing the rights of Palestinians are not mutually exclusive. This year, Canada reiterated its opposition to the annual slate of anti-Israel resolutions, while also re-affirming its support for Palestinian self-determination. While imperfect, the resolution Canada voted for signals that the two-state solution remains a key priority for Canadian foreign policy. With the looming threat of annexation and continued impasse on peace negotiations, it is critical that the international community advance the need for a just peace based on mutual recognition.”

Montreal-born Hillel Neuer, head of UN Watch in Geneva, employed stronger language, saying the Liberal government “has joined the jackals at the UN” by voting for the resolution.

Israel’s embassy in Ottawa had no comment when asked for its position on the Nov. 19 resolution.

The day before that vote, Canada sided with Israel on a UN resolution that recognizes Palestinians’ sovereign rights to natural resources on the West Bank and east Jerusalem.

The measure calls on Israel, “the occupying Power,” to “cease the exploitation, damage, cause of loss or depletion and endangerment of natural resources in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including east Jerusalem, and in the occupied Syrian Golan.”

The resolution was approved by a vote of 156 to six. Opposing it were Canada, Israel, the United States, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia and Nauru.

Earlier this month, Canada voted with Israel on five Palestinian-related resolutions and abstained on two others.