Tag Archives: B’nai B’rith

Israel lobby paralyzed by anti-recruitment campaign

What are the primary Israel lobby groups in Canada afraid of?

When their favoured colonial outpost in the Middle East is maligned the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, B’nai B’rith and Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre (FSWC) are usually quick to attack. In recent months they’ve put out statements labeling a modest NDP resolution a “toxic obsession with Israel”, a University of Toronto graduate students’ motion “institutional anti-Semitism” and a small restaurant’s Instagram posts and “I Love Gaza” sign “antisemitic statements” and “antisemitic tropes”.

But when a Member of Parliament sponsors a House of Commons petition suggesting the Israel lobby is breaking Canadian law by promoting recruitment into a military that “has repeatedly contravened the Fourth Geneva Convention, and illegally attacked Syria and Lebanon” they respond with … silence. No press releases, no tweets, nothing. Nor did they bother to offer a comment when the Canadian Jewish News wrote about NDP MP Matthew Green’s parliamentary petition calling for an investigation into illegal recruitment for the Israeli military.

An MP sponsoring a parliamentary petition suggesting Israel lobby criminality is certainly more significant than the University of Toronto graduate student union passing a resolution or a sandwich shop putting a pro-Palestinian message in their window. So why aren’t they bemoaning Green’s “bias”, “obsession”, “defiance of IHRA definition of anti-Semitism”, etc.?

It’s not fear of confronting Green. When he tweeted about Israel demolishing a COVID testing centre in the Palestinian city of Hebron in the summer CIJA and B’nai B’rith attacked Green.

The lack of reaction isn’t about who sponsored the petition but rather the subject. The Israel lobby doesn’t want to draw attention to an issue that divides their conservative base.

The parliamentary petition is part of a multi-faceted campaign that began in the fall with a formal complaint and open letter signed by Noam Chomsky, Roger Waters, author Yann Martel, poet El Jones and more than 150 others. The letter called on the federal government to apply charges under the Foreign Enlistment Act against those recruiting Canadians for the Israeli military.

For over six months CIJA, B’nai B’rith and FSWC have ignored suggestions their crew is engaged in criminal activity despite the campaign generating nearly two dozen stories, a response from the justice minister and multiple action alerts, including a parliamentary petition that has garnered nearly three times the signatures required to be read in Parliament in its first week.

How to explain their lack of reaction?

Discomfort with the legal question partly explains their silence. Drawing on information accessible through a simple Google search, the Israeli consulate, United Jewish Appeal of Greater Toronto and Federation Combined Jewish Appeal Montréal have all violated the Foreign Enlistment Act over the past year and a half. Additionally, Hebrew Academy, TanenbaumCHAT and other Toronto and Montréal schools have enticed youngsters into the Israeli military in possible contravention of the law. A proper police investigation would likely uncover far more evidence regarding violations of the Foreign Enlistment Act.

Nonetheless, it’s exceedingly unlikely anyone will be prosecuted, let alone convicted, for these violations of Canadian law. There is little political will to do so in relation to Israel and no one has ever been convicted under the legislation. So, the discomfort is not about anyone fearing spending time in jail but rather the bad press that comes from potentially breaking the law.

Tied to this is the political logic underpinning the Foreign Enlistment Act. While the 1937 act was written to stop leftist Canadians from fighting against Franco’s fascists in Spain, the Foreign Enlistment Act is the successor to an 1870 British act that applied in Canada. That legislation was the outgrowth of rising nationalism in Europe (which later stoked Zionism). It’s common for governments to seek to deter their citizens from joining other countries’ militaries.

On top of the Foreign Enlistment Act, the Canadian government restricts registered charities from supporting other countries militaries. Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) guidelines note, “increasing the effectiveness and efficiency of Canada’s armed forces is charitable, but supporting the armed forces of another country is not.”

Promoting a foreign army rests uneasily with right-wing nationalist thinking, which is generally sympathetic to an anti-Palestinian outlook. In a 2014 interview about Canadians fighting in Israel, Syria and elsewhere, prominent military historian Jack Granatstein, said “in my view no one who is a Canadian should be able to enlist in some other country’s military and keep his Canadian citizenship.” That would put a stop to recruitment for the IDF!

The lack of response to Green and the recruitment campaign is also influenced by other considerations such as the fact the parliamentary petition was submitted by a Rabbi (David Mivasair) and has yet to penetrate the most important media. (The campaign has generated significant coverage in left, pro-Palestinian, Jewish and mainstream Québec outlets, but none in major English Canadian media.)

More than other Palestine-related demands, the anti-recruitment campaign puts the anti-Palestinian lobby on the backfoot. Part of its power is in its Canadian centric demand, which offers a broader lesson for pro-Palestinian campaigners.

Though little discussed, the most important support Canada has offered Israel in recent decades is tax deductible charitable donations. Since the federal government introduced deductions for charities in 1967 billions of dollars in subsidized donations have gone to Israel. In 1991 the Ottawa Citizen estimated that Canadian Jews sent more than $100 million a year to Israel and possibly as much as $200 million (with inflation this number would have doubled). Assuming $100 million has been sent to Israel yearly since 1967 and with approximately 30% of the $5.4 billion total subsidized by the taxpayer that’s around $1.7 billion in Canadian public support.

But there’s little discussion of the public funds that have gone to Israel through charitable donations in recent years. With the exception of the campaign to revoke the charitable status of the Jewish National Fund of Canada, which won a partial victory recently, there’s been almost no activism targeting Canadian charitable support for Israel. This despite some of these donations violating Canadian charity law. Funds supporting West Bank settlements, explicitly racist institutions and the Israeli military probably contravene CRA regulations. Without any direct pressure from the Palestine solidarity movement, Beth Oloth Charitable Organization lost its charitable status two years ago for “increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of the Israeli armed forces” and funding projects in the occupied West Bank. A registered charity since 1980, the Toronto-based organization had $61 million in 2017 revenue.

While not against current CRA regulations, there’s a strong argument to be made against Canadian taxpayers subsidizing donations to hospitals, universities, etc. in “Israel proper”. Is it right for all Canadians to pay a share of some individuals’ donations to a country with a GDP equal to Canada’s? How many Canadian charities funnel money to Sweden or Japan? Is the Israeli government subsidizing Canadian orchestras, museums, guide dog centres, nature conservatory, universities, hospitals, etc?

(Canadian Friends of the Israel Guide Dog Center for the Blind, Canadian Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, Canadian Friends of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, Canadian Association For Labour Israel and Canadian Friends of the Israel Museum are among the many registered charities that raised over a quarter billion dollars for Israel-focused projects in 2018.)

Irrespective of CRA regulations, activists who promote the aims of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement should push to outlaw donations to Israel until that country complies with international law. As they’ve done with other countries, federal government sanctions on Israel should seek to cut off the flow of money from Canada (in compliance with international law).

Drawing attention to subsidized charitable donations, like IDF recruitment, puts the Israel lobby in an uncomfortable position. It is rooted in Canadian law and the Canadian centric nature of the demand undercuts their tired talking points, particularly the idea Israel is being ‘singled out’ unfairly. In fact, these issues demonstrate how the Israel lobby “singles Israel out” sometimes in contravention of Canadian law and often on the taxpayers’ dime.

 

If you are a citizen or permanent resident of Canada please sign the parliamentary petition calling for an investigation into illegal Israeli military recruitment.

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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.

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