By CHARLES BYBELEZER
It is unacceptable that CIJA continue to be given carte blanche to set, unilaterally, Canada’s Israel advocacy policy.
PHOTO: REUTERS/CHRIS WATTIE
According to its previous website, CIJA’s primary function prior to the overhaul was to “coordinate the advocacy work of established Jewish organizations – among them: Canada- Israel Committee (CIC), dedicated to strengthening and supporting all aspects of the Canada-Israel relationship; Quebec-Israel Committee (QIC), dedicated to communicating issues of Jewish concern to all parts of Quebec society; Canadian Jewish Congress (CJC), working to promote civil discourse and address incidents of anti-Semitism and all issues affecting the quality of Jewish life in Canada.”
The word “coordinated” is somewhat misleading, however, as historically the CIC, QIC and CJC operated independently in accordance with their respective, long-established directives. The Canadian Jewish Congress, for example, pursued its own agenda since its founding in 1919.
However, this status quo was shattered last year when these organizations were abolished to make way for the Center for Israel and Jewish Affairs. As a result, CIJA is now uniquely positioned to set its own, uncontested policies vis-à-vis Canadian Israel advocacy.
This massive centralization was done unilaterally and in virtual secrecy, and stimulated a public outcry from a multitude of stakeholders in the Israel-advocacy community.
One needs only to consider CIJA’s conceptualization of its work to understand the backlash.
CIJA’s mission statement was drafted by its leadership upon its inception in 2004. The resulting internal document, colorfully coined the “The 10 Commandments,” summarizes CIJA’s ideology and modus operandi.
Below are four of CIJA’s “commandments:” #5: Do not directly attack or assign blame to the Palestinians or their leadership; #6: Do not ask Canadians to pick a side in the [Israeli-Palestinian] conflict; #7: Do not ask the government of Canada to appear – or be – more favorable to Israel; #9: Do not attack the media for being biased against Israel.
As a result, CIJA, which commands a budget of approximately $11 million per annum and which now constitutes the Canadian Jewish community’s lone “official” body tasked with defending Israel, operates under an ambiguous mandate whose fundamentals contradict the very essence of pro-Israel advocacy.
Which brings us to the statement CIJA issued recently.
On September 2, CIJA’s national leadership met with King Abdullah in Jordan. In its account to the Canadian public, CIJA conveyed two main messages: Jordan needs money to provide for Syrian refugees, and Israel must make peace with the Palestinians in order to enhance its ability to deal with the Iranian nuclear threat.
With respect to the latter, according to CIJA, “King Abdullah expressed the belief that achieving peace on the Israel-Palestinian front will make immeasurably easier the task of confronting other – even existential – challenges facing the region, including the ability to garner support from other Arab nations in relation to the Iranian nuclear threat.”
It is one thing for the Center to promote the resumption of the peace process, which is the official position of Israel’s government; however, doing so by invoking the Jordanian monarch, whose repression of Palestinians is rampant, is at best ignorant, and at worst deceitful.
Instead, the Center should have questioned Abdullah’s motives, given that his country regularly strips Palestinians of their Jordanian citizenship and that his legislature recently passed a law limiting Palestinian parliamentary representation to eight percent, despite Palestinians comprising as much as 60% of the population.
Coupled with Abdullah’s purported concern for Syrian refugees, the Center also should have inquired as to why Jordan refuses to allow any Palestinian refugees from Syria enter the country.
In this regard, it is inappropriate to begin with for a pro-Israel advocacy group unconditionally to abide by Jordan’s request for financial aid while Abdullah persists in his policy of restricted diplomatic relations with Israel. The correct course of action would have been to convey the Center’s readiness to solicit funds on Jordan’s behalf, on condition that Abdullah immediately name and dispatch a Jordanian Ambassador to Israel, a position that has remained vacant for more than two years.
Lastly, it is completely unsuitable for a pro- Israel body to propagate the canard that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the Middle East’s central dispute and that solving it will somehow cure the region’s ills. To do so in the context of the Iranian nuclear threat is inexcusable.
Does the Center really believe that the “Arab Spring,” or resulting “Islamic Winter,” had anything to do with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; or that Syrian President Bashar Assad is murdering his people in droves because of Israel’s alleged “occupation” of the West Bank; or that Iran would forgo its nuclear ambitions if only the Palestinians could be persuaded to make peace with Israel? Moreover, Israel already has the tacit approval of the region’s Sunni governments to strike Shi’ite Iran’s nuclear facilities – and this has nothing to do with “Palestine” and everything to do with the region’s primary conflict, the Sunni-Shi’ite divide.
By ignoring Abdullah’s hypocrisy; by assuming his positions uncritically; and by not raising important issues, CIJA’s mission to Jordan effectively served Abdullah’s interests above and beyond Israeli and Jewish interests.
And herein lies the essential problem: Irrespective of intent, CIJA often fails in its chief duty to serve Israeli and Jewish interests.
This past June, CIJA sent a delegation to Ramallah to meet with Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas and other top-ranking Palestinian officials; this despite the PA’s refusal for the past three years to negotiate with Israel’s elected leadership, and at a time when the PA was threatening to renew its unilateral bid to achieve statehood recognition at the UN.
According to CIJA CEO Shimon Fogel, “the rationale for us to meet with [the] Palestinian leadership… was to update ourselves on the positions and concerns of the Palestinians as they relate to Israel, and the potential for a return to direct negotiations.”
Yet less than a month before CIJA’s meeting in Ramallah, Abbas sent a widely publicized letter to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu reiterating his conditions for returning to peace talks; namely, that Israel recognize the 1967 borders as the basis for negotiations, halt all settlement construction and release Palestinian prisoners. Israel, by contrast, as well as the Middle East Quartet, has repeatedly called for a resumption of negotiations without preconditions.
Apparently, though, CIJA did not get the memo. Instead, its visit served to legitimate Abbas’ intransigent demands.
Another example of CIJA’s objectionable judgment is an article published in July in The Jerusalem Post by Richard Marceau, a senior adviser to CIJA. Entitled “Israel: An inspiration for smaller nations,” Marceau’s main point was that French-speaking residents of the Canadian province of Quebec, who on whole are markedly anti-Israel, should no longer view the Jewish state negatively, but rather use the country’s success at nationbuilding as a template for their own efforts to promote sovereignty for Quebec. In Marceau’s words, “for a Quebec nationalist, Zionism and its creation of the State of Israel are awe-inspiring.”
At first glance, the article seems well-intentioned – to bridge the Quebec-Israel/Jewish divide. But upon closer inspection, it is apparent that the article is subversive, as it undermines a core domestic interest of Canadian Jewry.
The vast majority of Canadian Jews opposes Quebec’s secession from Canada. In fact, in the last referendum held in Quebec in 1995, more than 97 percent of the Jewish population of Montreal, where nearly all of the province’s Jews reside, voted “No” to Quebec’s separation from Canada. This led former Quebec premier and Parti Quebecois leader Jacques Parizeau famously to attribute the referendum’s loss to the “ethnic vote,” widely interpreted at the time as a reference to the province’s Jews.
That CIJA would employ as senior counsel an avowed separatist – in defiance of the interests of Canadian Jewry, in general, and Canada’s second largest Jewish community, in particular – is destructive. That CIJA allowed Marceau’s article to appear under its auspices only six weeks before Quebec’s September 4 election – which again brought the nationalist Parti Quebecois to power – is unconscionable.
These three examples – Jordan, Ramallah and Quebec – which only cover the past 10 weeks, are representative of why many Canadian Jews opposed last year’s overhaul of the Israel advocacy community, and why they remain skeptical of CIJA’s ability to effectively promote pro-Israel and pro-Jewish positions.
Accordingly, it is unacceptable that CIJA continue to be given carte blanche to set, unilaterally, Canada’s Israel advocacy policy. In this respect, it is imperative that checks and balances be introduced, in particular as regards CIJA’s funding, to ensure CIJA’s accountability to the full spectrum of Canada’s diverse and staunchly pro-Israel Jewish community.
The writer recently made aliya from Canada.
Center for Israel, Jewish Affairs’ misguided policyWhile Canadian leaders get the lion’s share of credit for their courageous positions on Israel, the Canadian Jewish community has made an important and effective contribution toward educating fellow Canadians on these matters.
By any measure, Canada has become one of Israel’s best friends in the world. From United Nations votes on Israel, to international efforts to curb modern anti-Semitism, and the effort to halt Iran’s threatening nuclear program – Canada is in the lead. Canadians are widely supportive of these policies.
While Canadian leaders, especially Prime Minister Stephen Harper, get the lion’s share of credit for their principled and courageous positions on Israel and Middle East issues, the Canadian Jewish community and its advocacy agencies have made an important and effective contribution toward educating fellow Canadians on these matters.
Israel and Jewish causes have benefited from unparalleled support from Canadian governments and from all federal political parties – most intensively over the past eight years. Not coincidentally, it was exactly eight years ago that the Canadian Jewish community reorganized its advocacy efforts into one unified and coordinated operation. The benefits of this move have been overwhelming, and the results outstanding.
By consolidating the Canada-Israel Committee, the Canadian Jewish Congress, the Quebec-Israel Committee and the University Outreach Committee into one professionally managed and nationally supervised agency, the voice of Canadian Jews has grown stronger and more credible.
Our community now benefits from strategic advocacy planning on the national level, sophisticated outreach abilities, and very effective lobby mechanisms – in addition to better operational accountability and cost savings.
The umbrella agency created in 2004 as the Canadian Council for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) has now morphed into the Center for Israel and Jewish Affairs (the Center), under the auspices of the Jewish Federations of Canada.
Within these new frameworks, regional delivery mechanisms have also been crafted allowing for flexibility in recognition of Canada’s immense diversity. Local partner councils manage both local programming and the interface with local campus programming. The Center’s Canadian Rabbinic Caucus ensures that synagogues of all streams are represented in the community’s united advocacy efforts.
The Center’s national staff is in constant contact with professionals at the national and local levels in Jewish communities, and participates in a range of national planning tables to ensure that our expertise is both shared and enhanced. The Center’s program and budget are approved by its members, who are in turn named by Federations and Jewish communities across Canada.
Creating these checks and balances and multi-layered community interface points were among the core reasons for the organizational reforms of 2004 and 2011.
In short, the model works, and the results speak for themselves.
In this context, the article penned by Charles Bybelezer in The Jerusalem Post criticizing Canadian pro-Israel advocacy (“The Center for Israel and Jewish Affairs’ misguided policies,” October 11) appears totally disconnected from reality.
It’s hard to understand what that writer thinks might be gained for Canada or for Israel by disseminating outright falsehoods regarding the Center’s positions on matters of public policy. For the record: The Center does not “propagate the canard that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the Middle East’s central dispute”; it does not have a “mission statement” with 10 apologetic “advocacy commandments”; and it is certainly not shy of confronting Israel’s detractors in Canada or the Middle East.
What the Center does advocate – to great acclaim in the Jewish advocacy world and with great success in Canada – is a “shared values” approach to Israel advocacy. By highlighting shared values between Israelis and Canadians, we have been empowered to speak about Israel in a way that Canadians find meaningful and that demonstrably shifts public opinion on the subject in Israel’s favor, and served as the inspiration for similar work by several major American advocacy organizations.
Indeed, the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs itself has adopted this approach with a “Brand Israel” campaign that is premised substantively on our pioneering work regarding how best to win support for Israel among target audiences, and the Center’s BUYcott and Size Doesn’t Matter Programs are being used internationally as a best practice standard.
Mr. Bybelezer objects to the Center’s recent meetings with King Abdullah of Jordan and Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority.
One wonders if Mr. Bybelezer realizes that no such meetings could or would have taken place without the knowledge and support of both the Canadian and Israeli governments.
Or if he realizes that these meetings have had useful results. Or if he knows that the leaders of Canadian Jewry have long conducted such semi-diplomatic forays in the region, including a meeting by the leadership of B’nai Brith Canada with the late King Hussein of Jordan in 1989 – five years before the signing of the Jordan-Israel peace agreement.
What I cannot countenance is Bybelezer’s bizarre and unfair attack on one of the Center’s senior professionals, Richard Marceau. A lawyer and former parliamentarian, Marceau was the main force behind Canada’s official Yom HaShoah commemoration legislation, for which he received the Saul Hayes Award from the Canadian Jewish Congress.
Marceau has for the past six years been a leading advocate in Canada’s Jewish community. He is held in the highest esteem by politicians from across Canada’s political spectrum, including senior ministers within Stephen Harper’s government.
Richard’s personal background and network only enhance his effectiveness and credibility, and no one who has seen him at work would consider him anything less than a blessing for Canadian Jewry. It is outrageous – and frankly, un-Canadian – to suggest that Marceau’s views on Quebec’s political future disqualify him from playing a pro-Israel advocacy role.
In the end, what matters is this: Jewish Canadians want to feel safe in Canada, and want to see our profound attachment to Israel reflected by the support our government extends to that country. The Center for Israel and Jewish Affairs is committed to continuing its work in pursuit of these objectives with great efficacy.
The writer is CEO of the Center for Israel and Jewish Affairs (Canada).