Tag Archives: United Jewish Appeal of Greater Toronto

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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Challenging illegal Israeli military recruitment in Canada

The campaign to oppose illegal Israeli military recruitment in Canada has received a significant boost. A parliamentary petition calling for an investigation into IDF recruitment has quickly surpassed the number of signatures required to be presented in the House of Commons.

Submitted by Rabbi David Mivasair and sponsored by NDP MP Matthew Green, the petition “calls upon the Minister of Justice to undertake a thorough investigation of those who have recruited or facilitated recruiting for the Israel Defense Forces, and if warranted lay charges against those involved in recruiting and encouraging recruiting for the IDF.” In 48 hours over 1,000 individuals have signed the petition, which is twice what’s required for it to be read in Parliament. The government then has to respond.

The 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, filmmaker Ken Loach, author Yann Martel, former MP Jim Manly, 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.

It is a crime to recruit anyone for a foreign military or to encourage any person to serve in a foreign military. The Foreign Enlistment 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.”

On several occasions the Israeli consulate in Toronto has advertised that they have an IDF representative available for personal appointments for those wishing to join the IDF. In 2019 the consulate announced, “an IDF representative will conduct personal interviews at the Consulate on November 11-14. Young people who wish to enlist in the IDF or anyone who has not fulfilled their obligations according to the Israeli Defense Service Law are invited to meet with him.” Subsequently, United Jewish Appeal of Greater Toronto and Federation Combined Jewish Appeal Montréal publicized a webinar last June by Nefesh-B’Nefesh titled “Joining the IDF”, which claimed to offer participants “everything you need and want to know about joining the IDF.”

As part of drawing attention to the recruitment, Justice Minister David Lametti received a formal complaint and letters from nearly 1,500 individuals. Additionally, the chief of staff for the office of the RCMP Commissioner, Rob O’Reilly, received a packet of evidence and 900 emails regarding illegal Israeli military recruitment in Canada.

The campaign has been widely covered in left Canadian and pro-Palestinian media. “Why is the Israeli military still recruiting in Canada?” (Canadian Dimension), “Canadians should not be recruited to fight for the Israeli army” (Rabble), “Canadians recruited for Israeli war crimes” (Spring), “Toronto schools push students to join Israeli military” (Canada Files), “What Constitutes Recruiting” (Jewish Independent), “Civil society groups demand action on illegal Israeli military recruiting in Canada” (Rabble), “National Campaign Against IDF Recruiting Begins in Canada” (Washington Report on Middle East Affairs), “Justice minister asked to investigate alleged illegal recruiting in Canada by Israeli Military” (Canada Talks Israel Palestine), “Canadians call on justice department to investigate IDF recruitment in Toronto schools” (Mondoweiss), “Israel illegally recruits Canadian citizens to its army” (Electronic Intifada), “Open letter declares opposition to the Illegal Recruitment of Canadians by the IDF” (Canada Files), “Campaign to stop Israeli military recruitment in Canada gathers pace” (Middle Eastern Monitor) are some of the articles published on the campaign.

In Québec Le Devoir discussed the campaign on its front page and in a follow-up article while Journal de Montréal also ran a story on the challenge to Israeli military recruitment in Canada. But, in English Canada the dominant media has ignored the evidence presented to the justice minister and RCMP. A number of reporters expressed interest in the campaign but got cold feet or were stopped by their editors from covering the public letter and evidence compiled. In February Davide Mastracci wrote a powerful article about how “Media Is Ignoring Alleged Illegal Israeli Army Recruitment In Canada”.

The lack of corporate media attention partly reflects the silence of the anti-Palestinian lobby. Generally quick to denounce pro-Palestinian activists “toxic obsession with Israel”, the Israel lobby have failed to find fault with a campaign suggesting they are engaged in criminal activity. They understand that publicly denouncing the anti-recruitment campaign would draw attention to an issue difficult to defend. The potential illegality of the recruitment is embarrassing and promoting a foreign army rests uneasily with even right-wing nationalist thinking, which is generally sympathetic to an anti-Palestinian outlook. Prominent military historian Jack Granatstein, for instance, told an interviewer, “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.”

At the same time, the Israel lobby doesn’t want to stop convincing young people to join the IDF. According to 2017 statistics from the IDF, 230 Canadians served in the Israeli military. In 2020, 9 per cent of “lone soldiers” in the Israeli military were from Canada according to the IDF. Canadians staff West Bank checkpoints and ships enforcing the blockade of Gaza.

About 3,500 “lone soldiers” serve in the IDF. This is significant but a relatively small proportion of the 150,000 enlisted in the Israeli military.

But “lone soldiers” are of value beyond their military capacities. Foreigners volunteering to fight for Israel are a powerful symbol to pressure/reassure Israelis weary of their country’s violent behavior.

“Lone soldiers” also intensify the Zionist ethos within much of Canada’s Jewish community. If a friend or family member is willing to give up two years of their life to ‘protect the Jewish people’, goes a certain Zionist logic, I should at least donate to an Israel focused group, lobby a politician, undermine a pro-Palestinian professor, etc.

The campaign to oppose Israeli military recruitment in Canada challenges this ideological climate. Bringing the issue into the House of Commons is an important step in disrupting a dynamic where a young Torontonian can be in charge of overseeing Palestinian misery. Please sign the parliamentary petition.

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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?

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