Category Archives: Israel Lobby

NDP votes for Palestine

 

On Saturday New Democratic Party members delivered a victory for Palestinian rights and a blow to the Israel lobby in Canada.

Over 80% of convention delegates voted for a resolution calling for “Ending all trade and economic cooperation with illegal settlements in Israel-Palestine” and “Suspending the bilateral trade of all arms and related materials with the State of Israel until Palestinian rights are upheld.”

A few hours after the vote CBC News Network’s ticker said NDP members “voted to sanction Israel over settlements” and a subsequent clip on their site was titled “Would Singh make delegate resolution on sanctioning Israel an NDP position?”. Numerous outlets also picked up The Canadian Press’ report that “a resolution that demands Canada suspend arms dealing with Israel and halt trade with Israeli settlements passed with 80 per cent support.”

In response, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) put out a churlish release titled “NDP resolution highlights an ongoing toxic obsession with Israel”. If anyone missed the point in the headline, the release condemned the party’s “toxic obsession with Israel”, “pathological preoccupation with Israel” and “obsessive concern with Israel”, which they labeled “shameful”. On Twitter Rabbi David Mivasair derided CIJA’s release as the “definition of hypocrisy”, adding that the “Israel lobby in Canada, whose entire raison d’etre is to push Israel on us, says NDP is ‘obsessed with Israel’.”

CIJA’s post-resolution release and reaction to the NDP convention more broadly highlights how Israel has lost progressives and its lobby is ever more reliant on intimidating those who support Palestinian rights by calling them anti-Semitic. More than a month before the NDP convention CIJA began publicly pressuring the party leadership to suppress a resolution critical of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) anti-Palestinian definition of antisemitism. The ferocious campaign to suppress NDP members’ ability to debate a document designed to suppress discussion of Palestinian rights succeeded in scaring the NDP leader into erasing the long-oppressed Palestinians (theIHRA resolution never made it to the debate stage). A week ago Jagmeet Singh was asked on CBC’s The House about resolutions submitted to the NDP convention regarding “Canada’s relationship to Israel and the Palestinian territory”. Instead of responding to the question, he mentioned “anti-Semitism” four times. Asked again about “resolutions that in a sense condemn Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians”, Singh again failed to mention Palestine or Palestinians. Instead, he talked about “increased hate crimes also against people of the Jewish faith”.

The disastrous interview generated a burst of criticism regarding the party leadership’s anti-Palestinianism and gave momentum to pro-Palestinian forces within the party prior to the convention. In a significant reversal, the morning after the convention vote Singh defended the resolution that CBC’s chief political correspondent Rosemary Barton described as “your party voted overwhelmingly to slap sanctions on settlements and to ban arms sales to Israel.” Marshaling the legitimacy of “human rights groups”, Singh said it was important to “apply pressure on Israel to respect the rights of Palestinians.” While he equivocated somewhat in fully endorsing the Palestine Resolution, Singh repeated the importance of applying “pressure” on Israel three times.

An empty vessel on this issue, Singh goes wherever pushed. That’s the case for most of the NDP caucus. Two days ago MP Charlie Angus tweeted, “I keep getting mentioned by some who want the NDP to oppose the international definition of anti-semitism. This is not the way to go. I support motions calling for justice for the Palestinian people. But I also remain deeply concerned about the growing threat of anti-semitism.”

As far as I can tell no one said Angus backed the anti-IHRA definition resolution. Rather they pointed out that in January a Conservative member of the Ontario Legislature and a top Israeli diplomat both used the IHRA definition to attack Angus for sharing a Guardian article critical of Israel’s failure to vaccinate Palestinians for Covid 19. Angus’ name was raised as a concrete example of how the IHRA definition tramples on Palestinian rights. But, Anguscowardly threw those who defended him from smears under the Israel lobby bus.

Still, Angus’ formulation is worth reflecting on. With most of the backlash focused against the anti-IHRA definition resolution the Palestine Resolution seemed reasonable. Multi-pronged campaigns can be effective.

It took immense effort by a broad array of activists to get more than 30 (Palestine Resolution) and 40 (IHRA resolution) riding associations, as well as numerous other groups, to endorse these resolutions but it was worth it. The NDP convention confirms there is significant popular support for Palestinian rights. Polls have shown that Canadians are widely sympathetic to bringing pressure to bear on Israel for its colonization. My bet is that most of the 15% of NDP delegates who voted against the Palestine Resolution did so out of concern for the backlash, not the substance of the resolution.

While the Palestine resolution was a win for Palestinian rights and blow to the Israel lobby, it was also a small victory for grassroots democracy and proof that people can be mobilized by calls for justice in international affairs.

Comments Off on NDP votes for Palestine

Filed under Canada and Israel, Israel Lobby, NDP

Why couldn’t Jagmeet Singh say “Palestine”?

On CBC’s The House on Saturday Jagmeet Singh was asked about resolutions submitted to next week’s NDP convention regarding “Canada’s relationship to Israel and the Palestinian territory”. Instead of responding to the question, he mentioned “anti-Semitism” four times. Asked again about “resolutions that in a sense condemn Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians”, Singh again failed to mention Palestine or Palestinians. Instead, he talked about “increased hate crimes also against people of the Jewish faith”.

Singh’s complete erasure of the long-oppressed Palestinians is hard to listen to. After an outpouring of criticism, he took to Twitter to calm an enraged party base with a clarification that included some customary Israel/Palestine talking points.

While the House interview was appalling, Singh’s anti-Palestinian record is long-standing. In the summer he refused to endorse a pledge, supported by 70 MPs, to oppose Israel’s plan to annex the Palestinian West Bank. During the 2019 election the party leadership blocked a half-dozen candidates from running partly or entirely because of their support for Palestinian rights. A year earlier Singh explicitly rejected a call from 200 prominent individuals, labour leaders and party members — including Roger Waters, Noam Chomsky, Linda McQuaig and Maher Arar — for the NDP to withdraw from the Canada Israel Interparliamentary Group (CIIG). At the 2018 convention Singh mobilized his family and dozens of members of his community to vote against allowing debate on the modest “Palestine Resolution: renewing the NDP’s commitment to peace and justice”, which was unanimously endorsed by the NDP youth convention, many affiliated groups and two dozen riding associations.

Singh has been decidedly deferential to leading anti-Palestinian lobby group the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA). Last month he stoked a CIJA attack against leftist NDP MP Niki Ashton and Singh previously participated in a CIJA “antisemitism” smear against Dimitri Lascaris, one of Canada’s most effective advocates for Palestinian rights. At a December 2019 event with CIJA Singh said he considered the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) anti-Palestinian working definition of anti-Semitism a useful “guiding educational lens”. In an article breaking down that CIJA meeting Sheryl Nestel explained, “the overwhelming takeaway from the CIJA podcast is that Singh is intent on demonstrating the degree to which he identifies with Israel. The NDP leader’s aim, it seems, was to quell any concerns that CIJA and its supporters might have about the possibility of his extending solidarity to the Palestinians.”Prior to becoming leader of the party, Singh went on a CIJA-sponsored trip to Israel.

Singh’s response to the CBC represents an over-the-top bid to appease CIJA, which has been running an aggressive campaign to pressure the NDP leadership to suppress debate regarding a convention resolution critical of the IHRA’s anti-Palestinian definition of antisemitism. But, his clarification on Twitter suggests Singh and his handlers know he went too far in appeasing those promoting what Israel’s leading human rights group B’Tselem recently dubbed “A regime of Jewish supremacy from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea: This is apartheid”.

Most delegates to NDP conventions are not anti-Palestinian bigots. So, it is a bad idea to generate a burst of criticism regarding the party leadership’s anti-Palestinianism days before you are angling to suppress debate of pro-Palestinian resolutions. To succeed in suppressing debate at the convention requires delegates to be naïve/trusting in the leadership. If it wasn’t already clear to anyone mildly engaged in NDP affairs, the leadership prefers to align with right wing anti Palestinian groups that smear progressives than a membership increasingly supportive of Palestinian rights.

It will be interesting to see what the NDP leadership is prepared to do to block members from debating widely supported pro-Palestinian resolutions at the convention. Hopefully, Singh’s House interview riles up delegates to aggressively challenge the NDP leadership and do what’s right.

 

 

Join more than 900 individuals who have emailed the NDP leadership asking them to resist efforts to suppress debate on Palestinian rights at the convention. On April 5 the Canadian Foreign Policy Institute is hosting an online event on “Palestine Solidarity: Why the NDP Convention Matters.”

 

Comments Off on Why couldn’t Jagmeet Singh say “Palestine”?

Filed under Canada and Israel, Israel Lobby, NDP

Israel lobby’s bid to suppress NDP debate reflects their strength and weakness

At the upcoming NDP convention the social democratic party’s members should have the opportunity to vote on two widely endorsed pro-Palestinian resolutions. But Canada’s pro-Israel lobby groups are pressuring the party leadership to suppress debate regarding a resolution critical of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) anti-Palestinian working definition of antisemitism. They want to suppress NDP members ability to debate a document designed to suppress discussion of Palestinian rights!

Recently B’nai B’rith sent a statement to party leader Jagmeet Singh urging him “to ensure that resolutions rejecting the IHRA definition of antisemitism are, themselves, rejected.” An earlier Times of Israel oped titled “NDP radicals should stop politicizing antisemitism” claimed former NDP MPs Svend Robinson and Libby Davies were “peddling” “antisemitism” by promoting the anti-IHRA resolution. For their part, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) has put out a statement criticizing the NDP, tweeted about it and published an op-ed critical of the party’s IHRA resolution. CIJA also sponsored a letter signed by 100 Jewish organizations pressuring Singh to suppress the anti-IHRA resolution.

Employing progressive sounding language claiming Jews should define their own oppression, the letter signers completely ignore Palestinians whose rights the IHRA definition tramples on. A member of the Ontario Legislature and top Israeli diplomat have already used the IHRA definition to attack NDP MP Charlie Angus for sharing a Guardian article critical of Israel’s failure to vaccinate Palestinians. Recently Israeli MK Michal Cotler-Wunsh — daughter of Irwin Cotler — wrote that the International Criminal Court investigation into Israeli crimes violates the IHRA definition.

On its face the Israel lobby’s bid to subvert NDP democracy is an over-the-top reaction to a somewhat symbolic resolution. They have escalated the IHRA issue to the point where it has drawn significant attention and anyone committed to party democracy will demand it be debated.

More broadly, their frenzied response is out of proportion with the seeming consequences if it passes. A powerful state, Israel is not on the precipice of collapsing because of pro-Palestinian NDP resolutions. Its GDP per capita is greater than France and Japan and only $500 less than Canada’s. The economic divide between Israel and Gaza is almost certainly the largest of any bordering peoples on the planet. In the military sphere, Israel is one of nine countries that possesses nuclear weapons. It has the sixth or seventh strongest armed forces in the world with far and away the deadliest destructive capacity in the region. Additionally, the USA, the global hegemon, is legally required to guarantee Israel’s military supremacy over the rest of the region!

In the country in which the IHRA resolution outburst is taking place, the government is firmly anti-Palestinian. The Trudeau government has expanded a trade agreement that treats settlements in the occupied West Bank as part of Israel, turns a blind eye to the illegal recruitment of Canadians for the Israeli military and subsidizes hundreds of millions of dollars in donations annually to Israeli charities, including some that support the IDF, West Bank settlements and explicitly racist organizations. In November leading anti-Palestinian activist Irwin Cotler, who Hill Times recently counted among the 50 most influential Canadians on foreign policy, was appointed Special Envoy on Preserving Holocaust Remembrance and Combatting Antisemitism.

Canada’s main opposition Conservatives are more supportive of Israel and the sovereigntist Bloc Québecois has more MPs than any party on the Canada Israel Interparliamentary Group. After a battle over Palestinian rights that nearly split the Green party, the Israel lobby’s preferred candidate recently became its leader. Last week Annamie Paul attended an Israeli Wine and Canadian Cheese lobbying event hosted by CIJA, Hillel Ottawa and Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee (CJPAC).

In the economic sphere the lobby is well placed as well. A number of the 100 richest Canadians are proud pro-Israel activists while I’m unaware of any on that list who are openly pro-Palestinian.

At the institutional level CIJA, B’nai B’rith, Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center, Honest Reporting Canada, StandWithUs, Christians United for Israel Canada, Israel on Campus, etc., all have more money and staff than ever before. The same goes for softer arms of the lobby such as United Jewish Appeal Toronto and Federation Combined Jewish Appeal Montréal, as well as Leo Baeck, Hebrew Academy and other private Jewish day schools as well as Hillel and CJPAC.

The lobby’s institutional capacities have enabled their NDP campaign, of course. But just because you have the power to create a political storm doesn’t mean you have to. So why intervene so forcefully in NDP affairs?

Despite working on behalf of a powerful state backed by the global hegemon, the Israel lobby is vulnerable on the ideological plane. The facts on the ground are overwhelming and polls show Canadians are increasingly sympathetic to Palestinians. As such, the Israel lobby has become ever more dependent on intimidating people from discussing what B’Tselem recently dubbed “a regime of Jewish supremacy from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea” by weaponizing anti-Semitism.

The lobby’s substantial power rests uneasily alongside the injustice they seek to maintain. Like most bullies they get angry when their target wants to talk. They don’t want to hear the other’s point of view. Hopefully, NDP members stand up to the bully and do what’s right.

 

 

On April 5 the Canadian Foreign Policy Institute will be hosting a discussion on “Palestine Solidarity: why the NDP convention matters

 

Comments Off on Israel lobby’s bid to suppress NDP debate reflects their strength and weakness

Filed under Israel Lobby, NDP

Israel lobby group has no credibility to lecture NDP on racism

 

It’s heating up. With a month to go before the NDP convention the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) has twice attacked Palestine solidarity and the left of the party.

In a Twitter thread on Tuesday the official advocacy arm of Canada’s Jewish federations promoted the idea that Canada’s first ever openly gay member of parliament and a 20-year MP were “antisemitic.” CIJA attacked Svend Robinson and Libby Davies for sponsoring a resolution against the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) anti-Palestinian definition of antisemitism to the April NDP convention. In a series of aggressive tweets CIJA linked to a Times of Israel story titled “NDP radicals should stop politicizing antisemitism” that claimed Robinson and Davies “peddled” “antisemitism.” The logic (if you can call it that) is that it is anti-Jewish to oppose a definition of anti-Semitism designed to maintain the subjugation of Palestinians.

Former Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL) head Sid Ryan recently reported that 55 NDP electoral associations, the president of CUPE Ontario, leadership of OFL, several District Labour Councils, Independent Jewish Voices, Palestine House, Palestinian Canadian Congress, Just Peace Advocates, several NDP MPs and many more have endorsed the anti-IHRA resolution. “There has never been this much broad based support for a resolution submitted to a NDP convention in its 60 year history”, Ryan wrote on Facebook.

At the same time another resolution to the convention dubbed the “Palestine Resolution” has been supported by 33 riding associations and numerous groups. It calls for “ending all trade and economic cooperation with illegal settlements in Israel-Palestine” and “suspending the bilateral trade of all arms and related materials with the State of Israel until Palestinian rights are upheld.” The resolution effectively urges the NDP to adopt the policy recommendations of the Canadian Labour Congress on the issue.

In a sign of the pressure CIJA is putting on the party leadership to suppress the IHRA and Palestine resolutions, they released a statement that targeted Davies and Robinson. In a release last week that was a clearly designed to marginalize the left within the NDP, CIJA CEO Shimon Fogel noted: “Jeremy Corbyn is toxic. The invitation to the disgraced leader [a March 20 webinar between MP Niki Ashton and Corbyn] is more evidence that Svend Robinson, Niki Ashton, Libby Davies and a few others want to take the NDP in a direction that is antithetical to basic Canadian values. This small group is actively undermining NDP leadership.”

While a definition of anti-Semitism designed to maintain Palestinian subjugation is obviously odious, the anti-IHRA campaign makes me somewhat uncomfortable. It’s too defensive. Rather than being on the backfoot, anti-racists should loudly proclaim that lobbyists for Israel’s “regime of Jewish supremacy” (B’Tselem) have zero credibility on racism.

Alas, Canadian political culture is what it is. CIJA is not done attacking the NDP. As the convention approaches expect op-eds, tweets, press releases, etc. that seek to link Davies, Robinson, Ashton or the NDP more generally to real or perceived anti-Semitism. At recent conventions CIJA has organized breakfasts and brought in ‘progressive’ Israeli officials. How this plays out during this virtual convention is unclear.

In deference to CIJA and the dominant media, expect the party leadership to seek to suppress the IHRA and Palestine resolutions. At the 2018 convention the Palestine Resolution, which was endorsed unanimously by the NDP youth convention and by over 24 riding associations, was blocked from even being discussed by the party hierarchy. (The resolution mostly restated official Canadian policy, except that it called for “banning settlement products from Canadian markets, and using other forms of diplomatic and economic pressure to end the occupation.”) NDP House Leader Guy Caron mobilized an unprecedented number of current and former MPs, including Alexandre Boulerice, Randall Garrison, Craig Scott, Tracey Ramsey, Hélène Laverdière, Murray Rankin and Nathan Cullen, to vote against even debating the most widely endorsed foreign policy resolution at the convention. Additionally, members of Jagmeet Singh’s family, Stephen Lewis foundation’s Janet Solberg, Broadbent Institute’s Rick Smith and their allies all attended the early morning session to stop the Palestine Resolution from being discussed at the main plenary.

Internationalists participating in the upcoming convention should plan to overcome every trick in the book from the party hierarchy to suppress Palestine solidarity. Courage anti-racists!

Comments Off on Israel lobby group has no credibility to lecture NDP on racism

Filed under Israel Lobby, NDP

B’nai B’rith smear doesn’t change facts about university funding

Gerald Schwartz and Heather Reisman donate $100 million to University of Toronto

B’nai B’rith is at it again. The racist group is smearing a pro-Palestinian voice for pointing out a simple truth about Canadian life.

Last week the anti-Palestinian organization released a statement headlined “Carleton University Should Condemn Antisemitism, Take Action on Professor’s Remarks”. The alleged offence was that sociology professor Nahla Abdo stated that pro-Israel individuals gave significant sums to Canadian universities and sponsored many buildings. She pointed out that this funding gave them influence and that Jewish studies operates as “basically Israel studies”. One can listen to her full, altogether benign, comment 118 minutes into a broader discussion on Zionism.

Notwithstanding B’nai B’rith’s statement, it is a fact that pro-Israel individuals have contributed far more to Canadian universities than pro-Palestinian voices and that this has strengthened anti-Palestinian forces in those institutions. Here are some examples:

  • At Carleton there is an Azrieli School of Architecture and Urbanism, David J. Azrieli Pavilion and Azrieli Theatre named after the Israeli-Canadian real estate magnate who gave the university millions of dollars. One of the richest Canadians prior to his death, David Azrieli 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. A real estate developer in Israel, Azrieli made a controversial donation in 2011 to Im Tirtzu, a hardline Israeli-nationalist organization (deemed a “fascist” group by an Israeli court).
  • The Azrieli family put up $1 million to establish a Jewish Studies program at Concordia. An orchestrator of opposition to Palestinian solidarity activism at the Montreal university through the 2000s, Concordia Jewish studies professor Norma Joseph was also “instrumental” in setting up the Azrieli Institute of Israel Studies. In 2011 Azrieli gave Concordia $5 million to establish the first minor in Israel Studies at a Canadian university. After attending an Association for Israel Studies’ conference organized by the Azrieli Institute, prominent anti-Palestinian activist Gerald Steinberg described the institute as part of a “counterattack” against pro-Palestinian activism at Concordia.
  • The Israeli nationalist tilt of McGill’s Jewish studies is actually inscribed in a major funding agreement. In 2012 the estate of Simon and Ethel Flegg contributed $1 million to McGill’s Jewish Studies department partly for an “education initiative in conjunction with McGill Hillel.” But Hillel refuses to associate with Jews (or others) who “delegitimize, demonize, or apply a double standard to Israel; support boycott of, divestment from, or sanctions against the state of Israel.”
  • The University of Toronto’s Jewish studies was financed by the Tanenbaums. One of the wealthy donors that replaced the Canadian Jewish Congress with the even more staunchly anti-Palestinian Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, Larry Tanenbaum and his brother have given the University of Toronto at least $10 million and helped raise $10 million more for the university’s Anne Tanenbaum Centre for Jewish Studies and other initiatives. Last summer the University of Toronto law school rescinded a job offer to Valentina Azarova to head its International Human Rights Program after pressure from David Spiro, a former co-chair of CIJA Toronto and nephew of Larry Tanenbaum. Spiro was hostile towards Azarova because of her defence of Palestinian rights.
  • The Anne Tanenbaum Centre for Jewish Studies has close ties with the University of Toronto’s Andrea and Charles Bronfman Chair in Israeli Studies. Alongside funding for the Anne Tanenbaum Centre, the famously Zionist Bronfman family provided $1.5 million to create the Andrea and Charles Bronfman Chair in Israeli Studies.
  • The Bronfman Chair in Israeli Studies is now part of the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs, which was set up in 2010 with $35 million from Barrick Gold founder Peter In 1999 the Canadian Jewish News reported on a sizable donation Munk made to Israel’s Technion university and a speech in which he “suggested that Israel’s survival is dependent on maintaining its technological superiority over the Arabs.”
  • In 2019, power couple Gerald Schwartz and Heather Reisman donated $100 million to the University of Toronto in the institution’s largest ever donation. Schwartz and Reisman created the Heseg Foundation for Lone Soldiers, which provides millions of dollars annually for non-Israelis who fight in that country’s armed forces.
  • Supporter of Israel Seymour Schulich is almost certainly the leading private donor to universities across the country. The mining magnate claims to have donated more than a quarter billion dollars to universities, including a $20 million gift to Israel’s Technion. There is a Schulich School of Law at Dalhousie, Schulich School of Engineering at the University of Calgary, Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry at the University of Western Ontario, Schulich School of Business at York as well as the Schulich Library of Science and Engineering and Schulich School of Music at McGill.

The above list is by no means exhaustive. But does this generosity come with strings attached? Certainly, it’s not uncommon for pro-Israel voices to publicly call on the Jewish community to withhold donations to universities to pressure them to clamp down on pro-Palestinian activism. When former Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu’s September 2002 speech at Concordia was canceled due to protests, at least one major university donor backed out. Some board of governors’ members cited this as a rationale for a major clampdown on student rights. (See my Playing Left Wing:From Rink Rat to Student Radical for more detail.) Marcel Dupuis, the university’s director of corporate and foundation giving, conceded to the Montreal Gazette that “donors and alumni are saying ‘if you don’t get things in order, we’re pulling the funding.’” Later Concordia Rector Frederick Lowy further elaborated that there “have been repercussions already on fundraising.”

The Asper foundation sponsored Netanyahu’s failed visit to Concordia. In a rant against the supposedly anti-Israel media a few weeks later, Izzy Asper, owner of Canada’s largest media conglomerate, said: “We should withhold our financial support from those institutions [universities] that fail this obligation of educational integrity [to train reporters to support Israel].” This was a threat that Asper could deliver on. In 1999 he gave $2 million to the University of Manitoba, then the largest donation in the university’s history, for an Asper Chair in International Business and Trade Law as well as other funding for an Asper Centre for Entrepreneurship and other initiatives.

No matter what B’nai B’rith says, it is altogether uncontroversial to say that money from pro-Israel Canadians has bolstered anti-Palestinian forces on Canadian campuses.

Comments Off on B’nai B’rith smear doesn’t change facts about university funding

Filed under Israel Lobby

Israel lobby attacks progressive internationalism

On Wednesday the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs attacked the left wing of the NDP. In a release titled “Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) appalled that disgraced former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn invited to spread toxicity in Canada”, CIJA CEO Shimon Fogel noted: “Jeremy Corbyn is toxic. The invitation to the disgraced leader is more evidence that Svend Robinson, Niki Ashton, Libby Davies and a few others want to take the NDP in a direction that is antithetical to basic Canadian values. This small group is actively undermining NDP leadership which is working hard to keep the NDP focused on the very important issues that Canadians care about.”

What prompted this release is an upcoming webinar NDP MP Ashton has organized with Corbyn to raise funds for the Progressive International, which came out of a 2018 meeting organized by Bernie Sanders’ movement. “Progressives of the world unite”, is a slogan of an initiative that includes Noam Chomsky, Cornel West, Naomi Klein and Yanis Varoufakis.

CIJA’s release is an explicit effort to marginalize the left within the NDP in the lead-up to the party’s April convention, which will deal with widely backed resolutions in favour of Palestinian rights and against the IHRA’s anti-Palestinian definition of anti-Semitism.

CIJA’s release could also be read as a call on the NDP leadership to purge the left of the party. Perhaps the official advocacy arm of Canada’s Jewish federations feels emboldened to interfere in internal NDP affairs by recent actions of the party leadership. Ashton was recently demoted from her critic duties and a number of leftists, including former head of the Ontario Federation of Labour Sid Ryan, were blocked from running for the party during the last federal election. The initial reaction to the Ashton–Corbyn webinar from NDP leader Jagmeet Singh and the party-aligned Broadbent Institute suggests CIJA may have willing allies inside the party in demonizing the left, just as happened in Britain. Working alongside the right wing of the Labour Party, the Israel lobby in the UK played a pivotal role in destroying the progressive movement Corbyn galvanized.

While this brazen interference in a left political party by supposedly non-political lobby groups may be shocking to some, it follows on efforts to destroy student unions. B’nai B’rith has been campaigning aggressively to defund student unions and associated organizations. In 2019 B’nai B’rith created a coalition of anti-Palestinian groups that called on Ontario students to take up “a unique opportunity to deny funding to” student associations. They are currently pressing the University of Toronto’s administration to withhold its graduate students’ union funding. B’nai Brith has also been granted intervener status on the side of the Doug Ford Conservatives in a court case between the Canadian Federation of Students/York Federation of Students and Ontario regarding the government’s move to force universities to grant opt outs for various student fees. To get a sense of the scope of their intervention into student life, B’nai Brith CEO Michael Mostyn declared, “non-essential campus services have every right to function and provide the services they wish to, but they do not have the right to force their hands into anyone’s pockets…. CFS claims to represent all students, but we are here to give voice to the thousands of students who do not feel represented by them and have made it clear that they want no part in funding what this organization is financing. The court must also take their perspective into account, and we will do our part to ensure that it does.”

Of course these are the same tired old arguments right wing employers’ organizations have long used against worker’s attempts to organize effective unions.

But pro-Israel lobby groups’ chutzpah in attacking the left and union solidarity goes even further. During the remarkable student strike in Québec in 2012 B’nai B’rith “condemned” protesters purported “hate …that has outraged the Jewish community.” In 2016, the Canadian Jewish News reacted strongly after delegates at the NDP convention supported the leftish Leap Manifesto. They published an editorial and front-page story expressing concern at the growth of the left within the party.

It seems these pro-Israel lobby groups fear progressive challenges to the status quo. Perhaps they understand that these movements/politicians empower “internationalist” forces. Perhaps they fear solidarity — what we want for ourselves we wish for all — in political movements and unions inevitably leads to solidarity with all oppressed people, including Palestinians.

Whatever the reason, these groups have chosen to become overt enemies of people who are trying to build a better, fairer world where social justice for all reigns supreme. They have declared war on everyone who believes the world needs radical change — socialists, environmentalists, anti-racism activists, union organizers and more. They have chosen to be part of the problem, not the solution. Sad, but true.

 

Comments Off on Israel lobby attacks progressive internationalism

Filed under Activism, Israel Lobby

Jewish Federations at helm of anti-Palestinian activism

UJA Toronto’s 2016 Walk with Israel

Oddly the most significant institutional purveyor of anti-Palestinianism in Canada operates largely below the radar of solidarity activists. In fact, some even seek to exculpate the Jewish Federations’ support for racism, colonialism and an apartheid state.

In a recent column critical of the Conservative party aligned Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) Andrew Cohen makes a remarkable claim about United Jewish Appeal/Combined Jewish Appeal of Toronto, Montréal, Winnipeg, Windsor, Calgary, Edmonton, Hamilton, London, Ottawa, Vancouver and Atlantic Canada. In “Unelected, Unaccountable, Untroubled: CIJA Says What it Wants, Then Says it Speaks For Us”, Cohen suggests Canada’s Jewish Federations may not be fully aligned with CIJA, which they fund as their official lobbying arm. The article was shared uncritically by a number of pro-Palestinian activists.

But, beyond financing the country’s leading Israel lobby group, the Federations fund and organize significant other anti-Palestinian activity. Around a quarter of the money the Federations raise is sent to Israel, a country with a $43,641 per person GDP (higher than France and Japan). UJA Toronto has organized an annual Walk with Israel for nearly a half-century while CJA Montréal also puts on an Israel Day rally. Additionally, during the 2014 war on Gaza that left 2,200 Palestinians dead UJA Toronto co-sponsored an event titled “We Will Not be Silent: A March Against Global Anti-Semitism.” The Times of Israel reported: “The purpose of the march was passionately summed up in Bill Glied’s closing remarks: ‘Thank God for the IDF. Thank God for Israel. And remember together we must stand. Never again!’”

UJA Toronto operates an Israel Engagement program. A year ago they announced that an eight-year veteran of the IDF, Eyal Shmueli, was their new Israeli emissary and the keynote speaker at UJA Toronto’s 2020 fundraising appeal closing was noted anti-Palestinian Bari Weiss.

The Federations provide tens of millions of dollars to private schools that promote the Israeli nationalist narrative. In 2018 UJA Toronto gave the principal of Robin Hebrew Academy, Claire Sumerlus, an Israel Engagement Award. Many of the schools they fund have students sing the Israeli national anthem and fly the Israeli flag. On Israel’s 70th anniversary two years ago UJA Toronto director of corporate communications, Dan Horowitz, described the Zionist ethos at one of those schools: “I drove my daughter to her Jewish day school and, upon dropping her off, I was amazed to see a veritable sea of blue and white flooding the playground, with boys and girls dressed in only those colours.”

As I recently detailed, a number of Toronto schools openly promote the Israeli military. The largest recipient of UJA Toronto school funding, TanenbaumCHAT, organizes “IDF days”. Canada’s largest private high school also has fundraisers for Israeli military initiatives and former and current Israeli soldiers talk to the students about the IDF, which sometimes appears part of the Israeli consulate’s recruitment drives.

In the Fall UJA Toronto held a webinar with Brant Slomovic, author of a recent photo book on non-Israelis fighting in the occupation force. UJA/CJA also directly promotes IDF recruitment. UJA Toronto’s website advertised a June 4 event titled “Nefesh B’Nefesh VIRTUAL Webinar: Joining the IDF.” The promotion explained that individuals would learn “everything you need and want to know about joining the IDF.” CJA Montréal promoted a similar event that took place three days later.

According to the Foreign Enlistment Act it is illegal to recruit for a foreign military. The act states, “any person who, within Canada, recruits or otherwise induces any person or body of persons to enlist or to accept any commission or engagement in the armed forces of any foreign state or other armed forces operating in that state is guilty of an offence.” (There is an ongoing campaign calling on the federal government to apply charges against those recruiting Canadians for the Israeli military.)

UJA Toronto has sought to suppress the speech of those supporting Palestinian rights. In the summer it supported a bid to bankrupt Foodbendors due to the small Toronto restaurant’s support of the Palestinian cause. In another instance, the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg canceled its sponsorship of a 2019 event by Lex Rofeberg because the fourth year rabbinical student was a member of the anti-occupation (though not anti-Zionist) US Jewish group IfNotNow (Rofeberg wasn’t even going to speak about Israel). In 2009 UJA Toronto demanded the cancellation of an international conference put on by academics at Queen’s and York Universities titled “Israel/Palestine: Mapping Models of Statehood and Paths to Peace.”

Last year UJA Toronto had a whopping $209 million in revenue and $668 million in assets and planned gifts that were, at least in part, accumulated through its charitable tax status. Also subsidized by the state, CJA Montréal is about half the size and the other federations are smaller.

Despite the heft of the national network of UJA/CJAs, there has been little public criticism of the Federations’ anti-Palestinianism. While the left compares Israel to apartheid South Africa — it is worse in many ways — there is a trepidation about directly challenging Jewish institutions that enable this racist and colonial behaviour. Imagine if during the struggle for racial equality in South Africa in the 1980s an organization in Toronto organized an annual Walk for South Africa, funded a major South African apartheid lobby group and various initiatives that promoted the South African military. There would certainly have been statements of condemnation and demonstrations at their office. Yet UJA Toronto does this and more to support an apartheid state with almost no protest.

It’s long past time to directly challenge the Jewish Federations. It’s time for those who care about peace and international justice to treat the Federations the same way they would any organization that promotes racism and colonialism.

Comments Off on Jewish Federations at helm of anti-Palestinian activism

Filed under Canada and Israel, Israel Lobby

B’nai B’rith smears leading Palestine solidarity activist

B’Tselem report

Recently Israel’s largest human rights organization concluded the country was run based on a “regime of Jewish supremacy”. B’Tselem wasn’t only referring to the occupied West Bank but an “apartheid” system in place from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea.

A week after B’Tselem’s report was released, one of Canada’s leading lobbyists for the “regime of Jewish supremacy” smeared maybe the country’s most effective activist in challenging Canadian complicity in that racism as, well surprise, surprise … racist. B’nai B’rith put out a press release attacking Karen Rodman for “promoting the sale of Israeli wine … only because the winemaker is an Arab, rather than an Israeli Jew.”

The release is cringe worthy. It’s hard to believe a more sober minded individual within the multimillion-dollar organization failed to intercede. But the truth is much of what B’nai B’rith produces reeks of an unsophisticated bully emboldened by a complicit political culture. A number of blogs promoting the “regime of Jewish supremacy” picked up B’nai B’rith’s release declaring: “Antisemitic BDSers support selling wine from Israel — as long as it isn’t from Jews”; “Anti-Semitism: BDS Activist Promotes Israeli Wine Produced by Arabs, Not Jews”; “A ‘wineing’ hypocrisy: The BDS movement in Canada”.

Rodman’s role in selling a few bottles from a Palestinian-owned winery is not, of course, why B’nai B’rith is targeting her. That self-declared human rights organization sees it as an opportunity to attack BDS and, more particularly, to undermine Rodman’s effective activism on a series of fronts.

A former United Church of Canada minister, Rodman has campaigned to expose a 1970s agreement the church made with B’nai B’rith to inform it about Israel-related affairs or possibly even to seek their consent before implementing policy approved by the grassroots. She was also the key player in last summer’s No Canada on United Nations Security Council campaign. Rodman compiled the research contrasting Canada’s viciously anti-Palestinian voting record at the General Assembly with its competitors for the seats Ireland and Norway. She also tracked down the contacts for all the UN ambassadors and coordinated an action alert that saw over 1,300 individuals deliver letters urging them to vote against Canada’s bid due to its anti-Palestinian record. Flustered by the campaign, Canada’s representative at the international organization wrote a last-minute response to all UN ambassadors. (Another 1,000 letters were sent to UN ambassadors about other elements of Canadian foreign policy.) The security council loss was embarrassing to the Trudeau Liberals and was also a blow to the “regime of Jewish supremacy” and its Canadian lobby.

More recently, Rodman has spearheaded the campaign to challenge illegal Israeli military recruitment in Canada. Canadians have been recruited to fight in Israel’s military for three quarters of a century and only recently has there been an organized effort to stop the practice. The campaign launched with an open letter signed by numerous prominent individuals demanding the Trudeau government take action on recruitment for the Israeli military and over 2,000 emails have been sent to Justice Minister David Lametti and RCMP Commissioner Rob O’Reilly calling on them to investigate the matter. Adding further pressure, Member of Parliament Mario Beaulieu is participating in an upcoming webinar on the subject.

While one may be tempted to call B’nai B’rith’s attack on Rodman a new low, it is not. The group’s fanaticism in promoting hate is long-standing. In October 2018 B’nai Brith sponsored an event in Vancouver with Ben Shapiro — a former Breitbart News editor. Shapiro has said the “Palestinian Arab population is rotten to the core”, “Arabs like to bomb crap and live in open sewage” and Islam is an “ideological representation of third worldism … and poverty.” In response to a 2012 United Church resolution calling for a boycott of products from illegal Israeli settlements, B’nai Brith CEO Frank Dimant issued statement claiming the minimal act of solidarity with the besieged Palestinians was tantamount to “calling for ethnic cleansing of Jews from these areas.”

Just like White supremacists accuse people of colour of racism when they call for equality, B’nai Brith accuses others of what it promotes. It backs extremist elements of the “regime of Jewish supremacy” while labeling those challenging racist governance as racist. People of good conscience will see through this and demonstrate solidarity with Karen Rodman.

Comments Off on B’nai B’rith smears leading Palestine solidarity activist

Filed under Canada and Israel, Israel Lobby

Judge cozies up to Israel lobby in conflict of interest

Thomas Cromwell

Even the appearance of a conflict of interest should be enough to dissuade any prudent public official, especially a judge, from an action.

As such, it’s baffling that former Supreme Court Justice Thomas Cromwell would accept an invitation to speak at two Israel lobby groups’ conference while overseeing an inquiry into whether a former official of the organizations acted improperly.

In a report on conflicts of interest within the public service a government commission of inquiry explained, “A perceived or apparent conflict of interest can exist where it could be perceived, or appears, that a public official’s private interests could improperly influence the performance of their duties — whether or not this is in fact the case.”

On February 9 Cromwell is scheduled to be the keynote speaker at a Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA)/United Jewish Appeal of Greater Toronto conference on “The Rule of Law in Times of Crisis.” At the same time he is speaking at this forum, Cromwell is overseeing an investigation into a highly politicized dispute over a job offer that was rescinded by the University of Toronto law school. Last summer Valentina Azarova had an offer to head its International Human Rights Program withdrawn after reported pressure from Tax Court of Canada judge David Spiro, former co-chair of CIJA Toronto and chair of UJA Toronto’s Public Affairs Committee. Spiro was hostile towards Azarova because of her defence of Palestinian rights.

Spiro’s influence over the University of Toronto largely comes from his family’s wealth. His uncle, Larry Tanenbaum, owner of the Toronto Raptors, financed the University’s Anne Tanenbaum Centre for Jewish Studies. One of the wealthy donors that founded CIJA, Larry Tanenbaum and his brother have given the University of Toronto at least $10 million and helped raise $10 million more.

The Azarova incident has drawn widespread condemnation. Over 1,000 academics and lawyers signed an open letter in support of Azarova while Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and others have criticized the university. The Canadian Association of University Teachers Council recently moved closer to taking the rare step of censuring — which includes a call for academics to boycott — the University of Toronto over the affair. Spiro’s conduct in the affair is being investigated by the Canadian Judicial Council, which may remove him as a Tax Court of Canada judge.

Within the University of Toronto, the issue is a hot potato. The individual initially appointed to lead the inquiry resigned under pressure and Cromwell was picked to replace them.

Cromwell’s participation in an event put on by two organizations with close ties to an individual at the centre of an investigation he’s overseeing raises serious questions about his impartiality in the Azarova inquiry. And there’s another reason why Cromwell should not participate in this conference on the “Rule of Law”. Le Journal de Montréal recently reported on UJA Toronto’s role in possibly criminal acts. On 4 June UJA Toronto publicized a webinar by Nefesh-B’Nefesh titled “Joining the IDF”, which claimed to offer participants “everything you need and want to know about joining the IDF”. Yet the Foreign Enlistment Act clearly outlaws recruiting for a foreign military. It states: “Any person who, within Canada, recruits or otherwise induces any person or body of persons to enlist or to accept any commission or engagement in the armed forces of any foreign state or other armed forces operating in that state is guilty of an offence.” Evidence of UJA Toronto’s violation of the Foreign Enlistment Act was recently delivered to the RCMP and over 700 people have written a letter to press the RCMP commissioner to investigate the matter.

A few days ago lawyer John Philpot informed Cromwell about UJA Toronto’s role in illegal recruitment for the IDF and that speaking at the conference would impact the perception of his role within the Azarova inquiry. Writing on behalf of Just Peace Advocates, Canadian Foreign Policy Institute and Palestinian and Jewish Unity, Philpot asked Cromwell to withdraw from the CIJA/UJA Toronto conference.

I followed up to ask Cromwell if he was aware that an individual at the centre of the investigation he lead had been a top official of both CIJA and UJA Toronto and whether he was being paid to speak at the CIJA/UJA event. He answered “no” to both questions. In response I asked, “in light of David Spiro’s former position as CIJA Toronto board member and UJA Toronto Public Affairs Committee chair are you considering withdrawing as keynote speaker?” He didn’t respond to my email by the time the story went to press.

So, readers will be left wondering why a former Supreme Court Justice would address a conference put on by two organizations with close ties to an individual at the centre of a highly politicized investigation he is overseeing?

Comments Off on Judge cozies up to Israel lobby in conflict of interest

Filed under Israel Lobby

Toronto schools push students to join Israeli military

Canadian law makes it illegal to recruit soldiers for a foreign state. But, the line between enticing impressionable young people to oppress Palestinians and formal recruitment is unclear.

Today an open letter signed by Noam Chomsky, Roger Waters, filmmaker Ken Loach, author Yann Martel, former MP Jim Manly, poet El Jones and more than 150 others was delivered to Justice Minister David Lametti calling on the federal government to apply charges under the Foreign Enlistment Act against those recruiting Canadians for the IDF.

The formal legal complaint names Israeli government officials operating in Canada. But, some Toronto schools that entice impressionable young minds into joining the IDF also deserve attention.

Whether or not there is a formal plan, this is how it appears to work: the elementary schools hold performances by Israeli military bands, organize fundraisers for groups supporting non-Israeli ‘lone soldiers’ and celebrate the IDF in other ways. As the kids move through high school, former and current Israeli soldiers talk to them about the IDF, which sometimes appears part of the Israeli consulate’s recruitment drives.

Netivot HaTorah elementary school promotes the IDF and non-Israelis who join it. A January Netivot HaTorah Facebook post explained that a “‘donut day’ fundraising initiative raised over $750 for an organization called Garin Chayalim — a program that supports IDF lone soldiers.” A decade ago the school’s president, Dov Rosenblum, reportedly boasted to the Canadian Jewish News that “at least 15 alumni serve in the IDF.”

Bialik Hebrew Day School also promotes the IDF. Its website notes, “Tzedakah programs such as Shai Le’chayal help students feel a sense of responsibility to the Israeli community by sending gifts to Israeli soldiers. Similarly, having the opportunity to interact with IDF Band soldiers, who visit to perform for the school, reinforces these feelings.”

The Toronto Heschel School had the IDF Nachal Band play last September and organizes other initiatives supportive of the Israeli military.

At Leo Baeck an Israeli emissary spends a year at the Toronto elementary school and when they return, noted the Canadian Jewish News, “engages with students by way of live video chat from their Israel Defence Forces barracks dressed in their military uniforms.” Students also pay “tribute to Israel’s fallen heroes” and fundraise for Beit Halochem Canada/Aid to Disabled Veterans of Israel, which supports injured IDF soldiers.

Leo Baeck and the other elementary schools feed students to high schools that promote the IDF and joining that force. The IDF Orchestra has performed at TanenbaumCHAT and Canada’s largest private high school organizes fundraisers for Israeli military initiatives. Last week its Facebook described “an effort to raise money for the IDF. Thanks to the enthusiasm and generosity of our students and staff, we are happy to report that members of an army base in the south of Israel now have a nice spot to sit and enjoy their version of ‘10-minute break.’”

The school holds regular “IDF days.” A summary of one in January noted, “Shavuah Yisrael continued today with @IDF day. The @tanenbaumchat community — under the leadership of our Schlichim [Israeli emissaries] Lee and Ariel — showed their support for the Israel Defence Forces by wearing green, eating green and donating green! Proceeds from the delicious green-sprinkled donuts that were sold during 10-minute break are being donated to help the well-being of Israeli soldiers on active duty on behalf of TanenbaumCHAT thru the Association for the Soldiers of Israel – Canada.”

The school’s website advertises a fund that assists students wanting to join the IDF. It notes, the “Continuing Studies in Israel Judy Shaviv Memorial Fund ‘Keren Yad Yehudit’ assists graduates to serve in the IDF, study or volunteer.”

The high school also celebrates graduates who have served in the IDF and has them speak about joining the Israeli military. According to its site, “During Shavua Israel (Israel Week) in February 2020, Seth Frieberg ’08 [graduate] spoke to students about his experiences as a Lone Soldier in the Israel Defense Forces. Bringing into focus his personal connection to Israel, he noted that ‘this was basically 14 months where every day I was doing something that, for me, was a meaningful and substantial way to give back to Israel.’”

Alongside the Israeli Consul General, serving Israeli colonels have also spoken at the school. In May 2019 Colonel Barak Hiram spoke to the students about “being a new recruit and a seasoned commander in the Golani Brigade.”

Serving IDF soldiers also speak at Toronto’s Bnei Akiva. Some of the high school teachers biographies state that they served in the Israeli military and the school celebrates the Israeli military in other ways. “Love Bnei Akiva?! Love the IDF?! Come run the Jerusalem Marathon with us! Bnei Akiva has partnered with Tikvot and together we are raising funds to help injured IDF soldiers and terror victims recuperate!”, reported a 2018 school Facebook post.

Bnei Akiva honours alumni who served in the IDF on its webpage. “Bnei Akiva Schools is proud to honour our alumni who have served courageously in the Israel Defense Forces”, its website explains. Its LinkedIn profile notes, “upon graduation, students typically spend at least one or more years of study in Israel, and many serve in the IDF.” The school’s Wikipedia page is even more blunt: “the school strongly encourages graduates to attend the IDF in Israel.”

The World Bnei Akiva movement has an academy in Israel that offers six-month preparation for non-Israelis planning to join the IDF. To get a sense of the religious movement’s anti-Palestinian outlook, the secretary-general of World Bnei Akiva, Rabbi Noam Perel, called for revenge after the 2014 murder of three Israeli teens. “The government of Israel is gathering for a revenge meeting that isn’t a grief meeting. The landlord has gone mad at the sight of his sons’ bodies. A government that turns the army of searchers to an army of avengers, an army that will not stop at 300 Philistine foreskins,” Perel wrote on Facebook in reference to the biblical tale of David, who killed 200 Philistines and gave their foreskins to King Saul as the bride price for his daughter. “The disgrace will be paid for with the blood of the enemy, not with our tears,” Perel concluded.

Bnei Akiva School and TanenbaumCHAT entice their students into joining the Israeli military while the aformentioned elementary schools prepare young minds to revere the IDF. It’s unclear whether Bnei Akiva School and TanenbaumCHAT’s actions – a formal investigation would no doubt uncover a great deal more evidence – contravene Canada’s Foreign Enlistment Act.

Legal questions aside, should Ontario schools funnel youngster into a foreign military engaged in a brutal 50-year occupation?

 

Please take a minute to email Justice Minister David Lametti to ask him to investigate recruitment in Canada for the Israeli military.

 

Comments Off on Toronto schools push students to join Israeli military

Filed under Canada and Israel, Israel Lobby