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 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.