In attacking the Canadian Union of Public Employees for standing in solidarity with Palestinians Robyn Urback tweeted, “Points for alleging a Jewish conspiracy, but if CUPE really wanted to go full antisemitic trope, they should have mentioned something about poisoning the wells.” Below her message Urback quote tweeted a colleague stating, “CUPE Ontario says it’s targeted by ‘trolls’ – ‘a highly organized pro-Israel lobby,’ which targeted [Union president] Fred Hahn and CUPE 3906 for ‘recognition of Palestinians’ rights under international law to resist occupation through armed struggle.’”
But Urback knows full well there are many organizations backed by substantial wealth promoting Israel. This is not a trope. This is reality that is easily fact checked and should have been by any honest journalist.
In a sign of her dishonesty, Urback previously wrote about a lobby sponsored trip to Israel she participated in. Urback went on BirthRight, a program that pays for young Jews to go Israel to become “intellectual ambassadors” for the country.
The preeminent force in the “highly organized Israel lobby” is the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs. CIJA has over 40 staff and a $10 million budget. In addition, B’nai B’rith has a handful of offices across the country. For its part, Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center Canada’s budget is $7-10 million annually. These groups work closely with StandWithUs Canada, CAMERA, Allied Voices for Israel, Israel on Campus, Honest Reporting Canada and other Israeli nationalist political organizations. Additionally, more than 200 registered Canadian charities assist projects in Israel and engage in at least some pro-Israel campaigning domestically. There are also numerous Jewish private schools, summer camps and community centres that actively promote Israel.
All these groups are backed by substantial wealth. Patron of CIJA, the Jewish federations of Toronto, Montréal, Winnipeg, Windsor, Calgary, Edmonton, Hamilton, London, Ottawa, Vancouver and Atlantic Canada raise $200 million annually and have over $1 billion in assets.
A large amount of private wealth strengthens Israel lobby groups’ influence. Since 2013 the chief fundraiser for the Trudeau Liberals has been Stephen Bronfman, scion of an arch Israeli nationalist family. Bronfman has millions invested in Israeli technology companies and over the years the Bronfman clan has secured arms for Israeli forces and supported its military in other ways. Bronfman openly linked his fundraising for Trudeau to Israel. In 2013 the Globe and Mail reported: “Justin Trudeau is banking on multimillionaire Stephen Bronfman to turn around the Liberal Party’s financial fortunes in order to take on the formidable Conservative fundraising machine…. Mr. Bronfman helped raise $2-million for Mr. Trudeau’s leadership campaign. Mr. Bronfman is hoping to win back the Jewish community, whose fundraising dollars have been going more and more to the Tories because of the party’s pro-Israel stand. ‘We’ll work hard on that,’ said Mr. Bronfman, adding that ‘Stephen Harper has never been to Israel and I took Justin there five years ago and he was referring at the end of the trip to Israel as ‘we.’ So I thought that was pretty good.’”
Other notable Canadian moguls have long histories of ensuring ties between Israel and Canada. Worth more than $3 billion prior to his death, David Azrieli was among the richest Canadians. In his youth he served in the paramilitary Haganah group during the 1948 war. His unit was responsible for the Battle of Jerusalem, including forcibly displacing 10,000 Palestinians. Azrieli was also a real estate developer in Israel and in 2011 he made a controversial donation to Im Tirtzu, a hardline Israeli-nationalist organization (deemed a “fascist” group by an Israeli court).
In recent years Canadian-Israeli billionaire Sylvan Adams has plowed hundreds of millions of dollars into various sports and cultural initiatives to rebrand Israel.
Other Canadian billionaires Larry Tanenbaum, Mark Scheinberg, David Cheriton, Mitch Garber, Daryl Katz, Seymour Schulich, as well as the Zekelman, Reichmann and Sherman families, all back Israel. Again, none of this a conspiracy theory or antisemitic trope. It is simple reality and easily fact-checked if one is interested.
It is good, not bad, that a union leader mentions powerful lobbyists influencing Canadian politicians to take certain policy positions. Democracy requires shining a light on such lobbying. Is Urback against this very common practice of good journalists?
Canadians politicians express unmatched fidelity to a state all leading human rights groups say is committing the crime of apartheid. Trudeau’s government organized a pizza party for Canadians fighting in the Israeli military, sued to block proper labels on wines from illegal settlements and announced that should Canada win a seat on the United Nations Security Council it would act as an “asset for Israel” on the council. In recent days Canadian politicians have fallen over themselves to express support for Israel as that country obliterates Gaza, kills dozens in the West Bank and bombs Lebanon, Egypt and Syria.
There’s nothing conspiratorial or untoward about citing the role of a “highly organized Israel lobby”. In fact, there would be nothing conspiratorial or untoward to describe it as a “highly organized Jewish Israel lobby”. A slew of self-described Jewish organizations are deeply involved in anti-Palestinian campaigning and no other lobby focused on a country/ethnicity/religion is near as well-resourced or organized as the above mentioned Canadian Jewish groups.
That’s not to say there aren’t other political and cultural forces shaping Canadian backing for Israel. Zionism began in Canada in the latter half of the 1800s as a Christian movement and there’s still Christian Zionist forces. At the turn of the 20th century Canada became staunchly pro-Zionist due to its close ties to the British empire and Washington’s perspective has significant influence today. There’s also a European ‘settler solidarity’ element to Canadian Zionism and Israel advocates wield a unique and powerful stick: The ability to play victim and smear those advocating for justice as racist.
Robyn Urback knows full well there’s a “highly organized Israel lobby”. Her claim that CUPE is anti-Jewish to mention this is ridiculous. It is also bad journalism and most likely a projection of her (perhaps unintentional) anti-Palestinian racism.