Canada and Canadian Jews: Israel’s best friends

While 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.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper_311 (photo credit: Daniel Munoz/Reuters)
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper_311
(photo credit: Daniel Munoz/Reuters)
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).