Canadian flag at Parliament in Ottawa 370.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
As Jewish activists from around the world depart from Jerusalem with the closing
of the annual General Assembly, a degree of pessimism is only natural in light
of alarming trends throughout Diaspora.
Incidents of violent
anti-Semitism continue to make news in Eastern Europe and in advanced
democracies like Australia. Religious freedoms face growing assault in Europe,
whether it’s a German court banning brit milah or a Polish law prohibiting
As a Canadian, I attended the GA with pride – given
that Canada is widely perceived to be Israel’s most reliable friend. But
challenges remain. In particular, the merging of anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism
has led to the disturbing reality that those who would never boycott Jews as
individuals advocate such measures against the Jewish state.
constitutes a dual threat; while targeting Israelis for economic punishment,
anti-Zionism aims to limit our own freedoms as Jewish Canadians.
live in Toronto and not Tel Aviv, but we see our destiny as indivisible. The day
it becomes illegitimate to publicly stand with Israel in Canada is the day
Jewish Canadians are no longer fully free to live as Jews.
challenges are not unique to Canada, the way in which Canadian Jewry has
responded is worth sharing.
FIRST, 10 years ago, after extensive research
and intensive reflection, we launched an educational approach called “Shared
Values.” Shared Values is about tailoring our message to the interests and
worldview of our target audience: non-Jewish Canadians in positions of
By emphasizing the values Israelis and Canadians share –
openness, pluralism, family and democracy – we open the door to discussing more
substantive pro-Israel messages that require Canadians to first understand
Israel’s culture, love of family and commitment to freedom.
has played a significant role in building the Canada-Israel relationship. It
helped inspire the “Brand Israel” initiative undertaken by the Israeli
government, as well as the approach adopted by the Israel Project with whom we
shared our research.
Shared Values works. It has even become the
definitive model for pro-Israel advocacy around the world.
have worked to ensure that support for Israel in Canada reflects no single
political ideology. It is widely known that Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s
Conservatives are pro-Israel. But Canada’s left-of-center parties have shown
extraordinary support for the Jewish state, too. On the key issues – including
increasing Iranian sanctions and disavowing BDS – Canada’s Liberal and labor
parties have been remarkably supportive of Israel.
With few exceptions,
the level of anti-Zionism that routinely rears its head in European Leftist
politics has failed to come to Canada. Our objective is to ensure that the
Canada-Israel relationship remains strong regardless of who is in government,
and that support for Israel never becomes a wedge issue.
THIRD, WE are
working to deepen bilateral ties beyond politics – an effort that has gained
momentum. Recently, the Association of University and Colleges of Canada signed
a five-year accord with the Association of Presidents of Israeli Universities,
paving the way for faculty and student exchanges, joint research projects, and
The same is true in various economic sectors where
we have broadened the set of pro-Israel stakeholders by extending bilateral ties
into new areas.
Fourth, we have empowered the Jewish community to counter
anti-Israel boycotts through pro-Israel “BUYcotts,” which mobilizes Canadians to
support Israel with their consumer choices. This has created a direct incentive
for Canadian businesses to sell Israeli products and has enabled the Jewish
community to take constructive action against the BDS movement.
proud that “BUYcott” has become a Jewish Canadian export and is now used by
pro-Israel activists in the United States and around the world.
are emphasizing that the Jewish community has been an historic contributor to
Canada’s development and continues to be a leader in Canadian civil society. In
so doing, we speak to our fellow Canadians not just as Jews but as Canadians.
This is crucial in an ongoing threat to the freedoms of the Quebec Jewish
community in the form of a proposed provincial law to ban the wearing of
religious symbols, including the kippah, by government employees.
strategically opposing the so-called “Charter of Quebec Values” by emphasizing
that it undermines the very social unity it seeks to enshrine. In making the
case against the Charter to Quebec media and government, we speak as Quebeckers
who have called Quebec home for more than two centuries, not as a besieged
minority seeking to change Quebec society.
The Jewish community has
earned accolades for offering a sober, reasonable and compelling case against
restrictions to religious freedom.
As Jewish Canadian advocates, we often
say we can’t afford to do what feels good; we need to achieve meaningful
results. The above educational initiatives have certainly borne results – and I
offer them in the hope that they will prove similarly useful for our extended
Jewish family throughout Diaspora.
The writer is a board member of the
Center for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), the Canadian Jewish community’s
central advocacy organization. The above is adapted from his November 11 remarks
before the Knesset Aliya, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs Committee.