Who today in Canada speaks out for Canadian Jewry?
By Alan Simons
This month’s United Church of Canada’s resolution to boycott Israeli products had a far reaching affect on Canadian Jewry. Unfortunately, the diaspora’s overwhelming response overlooked one important question. Was there anything more that could have been done to prevent the resolution being passed?
Previously, in this decade, three other resolutions similar in nature against Israel, protesting its occupation of Palestinian territories and treatment of Palestinians, took place. All failed. What made 2012 different?
Canadian Jewish Congress (CJC) for nearly 100 years was in the forefront of being regarded as the designated Canadian Jewish voice by non-Jews in this country and abroad. It had a profound role in the defeat of the three previous resolutions, completely reversing a 60 per cent for / 40 per cent against vote prior to the resolutions being passed.
To the dismay of many, the CJC was disbanded in 2011 and today its responsibilities have been assumed by the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA).
The CJC stood far above its rivals in areas of communication, public affairs, advocacy and government relations. Over the years its education, heritage and outreach programmes received much admiration, especially in the area of fighting antisemitism. CJC was regarded by non-Jews as the primary lobby group for the Jewish community in Canada. Non-Jews had enormous respect for CJCs dedication, especially in the fields of social justice and human rights. Keith Landy, a Toronto lawyer and former CJC president said at the time that CJC was not only “revered” but “used as a model by numerous ethnic groups as a way of supporting their communities and reaching out.”
On the fringe of being marginalised
By and large, for the first time in decades, Canada’s Jewry are on the fringe of being marginalised. Many are reluctant to talk in public about the lack of leadership in the diaspora in the areas of social justice and human rights. And as for the United Church of Canada, they must be breathing a sigh of relief not to have CJC on their backs.
Having said that, even without “Canada” in its name, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs is a formidable and powerful organisation, especially it would seem, in the area of dialogue. Last week they took the remarkable decision of asking the Jewish community “to consider imposing an immediate moratorium on all dialogue and partnership activities between the institutions of the Canadian Jewish community and the United Church of Canada, its regional conferences, local presbyteries and individual congregations.”
They added: “This moratorium specifically includes bilateral discussions involving the United Church and Jewish communal institutions, broad interfaith groups in which the church is one of several partners, and educational activities. We ask the rabbinic and lay leadership of the Canadian Jewish community to respect the highest degree of solidarity with this moratorium.”
I wonder what CIJA has in store for us when we find out that the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), with approximately 618,000 members across Canada, “representing workers in health care, education, municipalities, libraries, universities, social services, public utilities, transportation, emergency services and airlines,” vote for sanctions against Israel at their next national convention.
“Non-Jews do not want to hear our complaints. They want to know our solutions”
As Frank Luntz, the US-based political and business pollster has pointed out, “The ability of Jews to understand and connect with people transcends international boundaries. It is in our culture and in our blood. But we have developed some very destructive communication habits that have seriously undermined our efforts and the causes we believe in. Our words lose their resonance and our style and tone offend. We assert when we should inform. We reject when we should interject. We push people away when we should pull them in. . . Non-Jews do not want to hear our complaints. They want to know our solutions.”
To quote Rabbi Reuven Bulka, former co-president of the Canadian Jewish Congress (CJC) and previously an official guest at The United Church of Canada’s General Council: ”Maybe there’s a lot more dialogue that needs to go on in terms of understanding the complexities of the Middle East.”
Representatives of Canada’s Jewish community, take note! Who today has a steady hand on the tiller?
(Photo Credit: the United Church of Canada)
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Paul Sandor (Toronto)
AUGUST 28, 2012 @ 14:42
Such a “moratorium” will extend and deepen the sense of “otherness” and help the radicals in the United Church to marginalize and eventually demonize Jews even more. I agree-maintaining communication is key.