AIPAC North: "Israel Advocacy" in Canada (Part 1 of 3)

June 26, 2006 (ZNet)

Part 2 / Part 3
The establishment of the so-called Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee (CJPAC) in late 2005, just in time for the federal election of January 2006, has elicited heated debate within Canada's Israel lobby. B'nai Brith Canada's Jewish Tribune, for instance, first reported the development under the headline "Mystery surrounds Jewish political committee CJPAC," and has since been harshly critical of the initiative. CJPAC claims to success following the election did little to change this. In a March 2006 story titled "CJPAC's wall of silence not in spirit of lobbyist's code of conduct," Tribune correspondent Julie Lesser blasted the organization for "continu[ing] to maintain a wall of silence surrounding the availability of basic information to the public." In early May (p.3), Lesser upheld the point, stressing that "CJPAC remains an organization that conducts business under a veil of secrecy."

Amidst a mix of inattention and controversy, CJPAC is moving forward with its "multi-partisan" lobbying work. Exactly what this involves remains unclear. What is tolerably clear is that CJPAC constitutes yet another Canadian foothold for the US-Israeli alliance. In fact, it appears to have emerged under the direct guidance of this alliance's North American powerhouse, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).

The creation of CJPAC is part and parcel of the dramatic restructuring which the Canadian Jewish establishment has undergone in recent years. This restructuring, which began in earnest in 2002, has weakened B'nai Brith's position in the community, hence the criticism from the Tribune. But the changes have been far from progressive. For decades, elements of corporate Canada represented by a fundraising federation structure closely tied with the United States and Israel have been increasing their control over mainstream Canadian Jewish organization. Newly organized as the Canadian Council for Israel and Jewish Advocacy (CIJA), they have now entrenched their position.

Through the strength of the federation system, and under the direct supervision of CIJA, mainstream Canadian Jewish organization has been further centralized and, in significant part, converted into a streamlined "Israel advocacy" apparatus. This apparatus has been steered into close alignment with the US-Israeli alliance. Its principal focus is an effort to weaken solidarity with the Palestinian people and solidify official Canadian rejection of basic Palestinian rights. However, it is active on a number of related fronts, and has been involved in supporting the US-led invasion of Iraq, helping to lay the political groundwork for possible aggression against Iran, and opposing progressive social movements at the grassroots level (particularly on campuses).

Canada's new Israel advocacy apparatus has too strong a base in the Canadian establishment, and is too thoroughly supported from the United States and Israel, for its work to be stopped entirely. But its own polls reveal that Canadian public opinion is opposed to its agenda. Organized solidarity with the Palestinian people continues to persevere and grow. Predictably, the Israel advocacy apparatus is meeting this challenge with political attacks and institutional bullying. Those who take a principled stand in support of the struggle for democracy in Israel-Palestine – CUPE Ontario has, to its great credit, become notable in this respect – are faced with tremendous pressure to back down.

This article seeks to broaden discussion of why mainstream Canadian Jewish organizations are helping to apply this pressure. More generally, it provides some basic context regarding the politics, strategies and institutions which define Canadian Israel advocacy.

Zionism, corporate power and Canadian Jewish organization: A brief history

The recent restructuring of mainstream Canadian Jewish organization has been dramatic. But it merely marks the culmination of processes that have been apparent for many decades. These include the weakening of working class organization within Canada's Jewish community, the expanding power of the community's corporate establishment, and the deepening institutional influence of both Zionism and US structures over mainstream Canadian Jewish organizations. Before exploring the unfortunate culmination of these processes from 2002 onwards, their history requires some attention.
Canadian Zionism: "an attractive 'package deal'"

Given how central the development of Zionism is to this history, it is worth reviewing some basic features of the movement that resulted in the creation of the Israeli state. This movement emerged in late 19th century Europe, shaped by the twin realities of violent, racist persecution of Jewish communities within Europe, and European conquest of vast territories elsewhere in the world for settlement and profit. Zionism proposed an answer to Europe's "Jewish question." The Zionist movement would spearhead the creation of a European Jewish colony on a suitable piece of territory. Its leadership briefly flirted with pursuing its ambitions in Argentina or Uganda. But the first Zionist Congress set the movement's sights on what it described as "the colonization of Palestine,"[1] and it is around this plan that the movement actually developed.

Zionism was a response to anti-Semitism, but hardly an anti-racist one. It generally accepted the idea that Jews are "alien" to the societies in which they live as a minority religion or ethnicity, a key premise of narrow, anti-Semitic nationalist movements. More clearly still, its answer to Europe's Jewish question relied upon a racist dismissal of the existing society in Palestine and the surrounding region. Theodor Herzl, the founder and lead organizer of the fledgling movement, stressed that the Zionist state in Palestine "should there form a portion of the rampart of Europe against Asia, an outpost of civilization against barbarism."[2]

This approach brought Zionist strategists into direct collaboration with the leading racist statesmen of the time. In European officials, including the most vicious anti-Semites, key Zionist leaders saw potential allies. Herzl, for example, met and dealt with the Czarist Interior Minister responsible for the infamous 1903 pogrom in Kishinev; the Zionist zealot Ze'ev (Vladmir) Jabotinsky repeated the pattern a few years after the First World War by dealing with the reactionary Ukrainian exile government that was responsible for massacring thousands of Jews. Jabotinsky's maneuvers gained nothing while associating the movement with a hated and collapsing government, and he was soon after removed from the Zionist Executive. But at the 12th Zionist Congress, he defended himself in words that would echo through much Zionist and Israeli policy: "In working for Palestine I would even ally myself with the devil."[3]

This approach played out most successfully in relations with imperial Britain, putting Canadian supporters of the movement in an extremely comfortable position. In 1917, with the empire of Palestine's Ottoman rulers in collapse, British Foreign Secretary Lord Balfour declared his country's support for "the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people."[4] British troops soon entered Palestine and subjected it to a new regime of military rule. The Zionist movement had secured a key ally, and Canadian Zionists began receiving official support. Thereafter, Canadian Prime Minister Mackenzie King would himself occasionally attend the annual conference of the Zionist Organization of Canada (ZOC), and otherwise generally sent either Cabinet ministers or a supportive telegram. As historian Gerald Tulchinsky explains, "Loyalty to Zionism, to the British Empire, and to Canada was an attractive 'package deal' for Canadian Jews, with no apparent drawbacks."[5]

Canadian Zionism was extremely focused on fundraising. It leadership was dominated by the business community, its priorities set mostly from abroad. From 1921 on, the fundraising that defined the movement was managed through the Canadian component of a United Palestine Appeal (UPA) campaign directed by Keren Hayesod (the "Foundation Fund"), an agency responsible for financing and coordinating Zionist settlement in Palestine.

Identification with Zionism was convenient, but did not encompass all Canadian Jewish organization. The urban Jewish establishment, such as it was, was only loosely associated with Zionism through the early 20th century. In the Jewish community's two main population centres, Montreal and Toronto, the federations representing this sector were established in 1916 as the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies, the precursor of Montreal's Allied Jewish Community Services (AJCS) and Toronto's United Jewish Welfare Fund (UJWF). Independent organizations also flourished amongst Jewish workers, particularly prominent in the garment industries of Montreal, Toronto and Winnipeg. These included mutual aid associations known as Landsmanshaften, unions of workers and the unemployed, and a rich variety of radical political organization. A more comprehensive organization also emerged briefly in 1919 before being stably reconstituted in 1934: the Canadian Jewish Congress (CJC). The early CJC, which described itself as a parliament for all Canadian Jews, had a mixed class composition and a significant degree of political diversity.[6]

Many Canadian Jews rejected Zionism as unfeasible, in favor of class solidarity, or out of loyalty to a project of internationalist struggle for progressive social change. Sometimes, these currents ran directly against the Zionist leadership. In 1937 Montreal, for example, a mass meeting of Jewish leftists and trade unionists denounced the "chauvinist propaganda" generated around Palestine's anti-Zionist revolt of 1936-1939, and called for "solidarity of the Jewish and Arab toiling masses."[7] Sentiments of solidarity based in class analysis offered limited, but important, support for anti-colonial struggle in Palestine.

But class-based notions of solidarity between oppressed people remained weak on the question of indigenous struggle. Zionism, after all, reflected a broad European consensus regarding the moral soundness of colonizing inhabited territory. And in Canadian society, itself the product of just such a process, sustained resistance to this was rare. It became weaker still as the base of Canadian Jewish working class radicalism eroded. The shared Yiddish language and culture on which this base relied faded with generational turn-over. Cultural integration into the Canadian mainstream was furthered by the Canadian Jewish upward class mobility that drove a widespread shift from the manufacturing sector into the professions, particularly from the 1940s on. And Zionism continued to gain ground.
Catastrophe and the growth of corporate Zionism

As these processes took their toll, an independently terrible blow came from the tragic developments in Europe. The Nazi push towards genocidal anti-Semitism, culminating in the mass slaughter of 1939-1945, had a crippling effect on international Jewish political life. It annihilated the principal base for Jewish working class radicalism, and also the most relevant context for its largely progressive nationalist varieties. Jewish radicalism's East European centre of gravity was mostly obliterated. In the wake of this slaughter, thousands of survivors languished in displaced persons camps throughout Europe, and the West remained unwelcoming. Jewish immigration to Canada was prohibited during the time of the worst atrocities, and a 1946 Gallup poll put Jews second from the top of the list of immigrant ethnicities unwanted by the Canadian public (after Japanese).[8] Zionism offered an answer to the question of refugees' resettlement, and a perceived opportunity for Jewish national revival in the aftermath of tragedy. By the late 1940s, Canadian Jewish identification with the Zionist project had become extremely widespread.

The thoroughly colonial parameters of this project were by this time well established, and it was within these that the Zionist state developed. The Zionist leadership clung to the idea of creating a Jewish demographic majority on lands where the vast majority of indigenous society was not Jewish. In the midst and under the cover of a war with neighbouring Arab states in 1948-1949, Zionist militias took this idea to its inevitable conclusion. More than 700,000 indigenous Palestinian Arabs were evicted from their homes in a campaign that involved both direct massacres – by the paramilitary Irgun and Stern Gang (as in the village of Deir Yassin) as well as by the Haganah, the precursor of the Israel Defense Forces (as in the village of Duwayma) – and the fostering of a general climate of panic. By 1949, Zionist forces controlled 78% of mandatory Palestine, declaring it the State of Israel. They razed some 400 Palestinian villages to the ground. This process remains infamous to Palestinians as Al Nakba (The Catastrophe).[9]

The Israeli legislature, the Knesset, quickly entrenched Zionist aims for Palestine into the new state system. The Israeli state flatly denied the right of Palestinians displaced in 1948-1949 to return to their homes. It thereby violated the inalienable right of return, enshrined in international law for all refugees, while defying United Nations Resolutions 181 and 194, which specifically guarantee full residency and citizenship rights to the indigenous inhabitants of 1948 Palestine. Those who had been completely displaced from Israeli-controlled territory were barred from returning, their land and possessions expropriated as "absentee property." Those who had been displaced from their homes but remained in the State of Israel generally gained Israeli citizenship, but of a distinctly second-class variety. Many of these were internally displaced people who were prohibited from returning to their homes, and as their property was expropriated, these Palestinian citizens of Israel were classified as "present absentees" – present in the state, absent as far as their pre-1948 homes were concerned. As the Israeli government gained control of increasing territory, the Knesset ensured that this land would be settled in line with Zionist objectives. In its first few years, it passed legislation vesting the World Zionist Organization, the Jewish Agency (JA) and the Jewish National Fund (JNF) with quasi-state powers over immigration, settlement and land development. These agencies openly discriminated against indigenous Palestinians in favor of Jewish settlers. The Knesset further facilitated Zionist settlement by passing a "Law of Return" which granted any Jewish resident of any country in the world the right to settle Palestinian land in accord with a presumed ancestral title.[10]

Canadian Jewish support for this colonization entailed moral and political disaster. It also strengthened the position of corporate interests in the community. The Zionist Organization of Canada, for its part, remained business-dominated, thanks in part to a mid-1940s purge of labor Zionist youth by ZOC president and wealthy Toronto stockbroker Sam Zacks. Longtime Zionists were also now joined by stronger rival organizations. In 1951, a National Conference for Israel and Jewish Rehabilitation was formed, bringing together ZOC, B'nai Brith, the Canadian Jewish Congress (then under the presidency of whisky tycoon Samuel Bronfman), and the Canadian Council of Jewish Welfare Funds (representing local federations). The conference launched a new umbrella fundraising campaign, the United Jewish Appeal (UJA). Despite attention to Jewish refugees' resettlement and local services, fundraising for the Zionist project quickly rose to the top of the list of UJA's priorities. Fundraising for Israel was still coordinated by the Keren Hayesod under its renamed United Israel Appeal (UIA) campaign. Canadian fundraising, principally through UIA, ensured a steady flow of financial support for the discriminatory settlement projects of the Jewish Agency and Jewish National Fund.

In the coming decades, the Israeli state consolidated its base and moved to expand. In 1967, in the course of a war with neighboring Arab states, Israel occupied the remaining 22% of mandatory Palestine, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, as well as the Sinai Peninsula and the Golan Heights. The war was a major setback for the currents of pan-Arab nationalism anchored by Nasserite Egypt. As against rising international anti-colonial upsurge, the Israeli victory was widely applauded in the West. Post-war trends in Canadian Jewish organization thus intensified, out of identification with Israeli power and a desire to guard against backlash to the occupation of more Arab territory.
A new lobby develops

After 1967, fundraising for Israel skyrocketed. Bronfman coaxed increasing funds from the Jewish community's growing corporate establishment just as WASP Canadians made unprecedented campaign contributions. With the Zionist settlement apparatus restructuring towards expansion into the newly occupied territories, Canadian financial support for the deepening colonization of 1948-occupied territory proceeded apace. This fundraising also played an important international role. Canadian Zionism functioned as an organizational bridge between the US United Jewish Appeal (UJA) campaign, to which its federations were linked, and the fundraising campaigns in Europe and elsewhere, conducted through Keren Hayesod (active in Canada through the UIA). This unique position allowed Canadians to play an important part in international Zionist work. But while redoubled support for Israel put renewed momentum behind fundraising, political advocacy around Canadian foreign policy also became a more serious consideration.

Political lobbying was coordinated through a new Israel advocacy organization, the Canada-Israel Committee (CIC). The CIC was established as a tripartite alliance. One component was the new Canadian Zionist Federation (CZF), a representative of all of Canada's explicitly Zionist groups, formed after 1967 under pressure from Jerusalem. The second component was B'nai Brith Canada, which emerged as a force in coming decades both through CIC and through its League for Human Rights (LHR, the counterpart of the US Anti-Defamation League). The third component was the self-described Canadian Jewish parliament, the CJC, preeminent in CIC lobbying though its partners formally had equal status.[11]

Corporate influence defined the development of this new arrangement. The financial whims of the fundraising federation system determined the allocation of resources to CIC, CJC and other Canadian Jewish groups. Somewhat unreliable, this relationship was stabilized with the establishment in 1974 of a National Budgeting Conference (NBC). The NBC brought together Canada's eleven leading federations and the UIA to coordinate and manage the allocation of funds. This same decade, the Canadian federation structure folded into the US Council of Jewish Federations (CJF). By 1978, the finances of mainstream Canadian Jewish organization were directed by NBC from the new Toronto headquarters of the CJF. In the 1980s, the federations also secured themselves formal representation within the CIC.

Simultaneously, the federations strengthened their control by "merging" with local operations of the CJC. This effectively eliminated the possibility of challenging the fundraiser-dominated leadership from within the Jewish mainstream. When Toronto's UJWF made this move in 1976, Toronto Congress people blasted it as "a Welfare Fund takeover in disguise," sure to worsen the "situation in which the Ministry of Revenue became the dictator of Parliament." Retiring CJC Vice-President Saul Hayes likewise lamented "the narcissism and self-infatuation of the Welfare Funds."[12] Nonetheless, the merger took place, creating what has evolved into the United Jewish Appeal (UJA) Federation of Greater Toronto. Similar mergers took place elsewhere, from Winnipeg to Montreal.

In the final decades of the 20th century, the United States and Israel moved into tight alliance. Every year from 1976 on, Israel was the lead recipient of US foreign aid.[13] The US supported Israel as it maintained its artificial Jewish demographic majority, attacked the refugee-led Palestinian resistance, and expanded settlements further into occupied territory. Israel continued the tradition of Zionist collaboration, joining the US in supporting the contra war against Sandinista Nicaragua, the South African Apartheid regime, and brutal dictatorships from Zaire (Congo) to El Salvador.[14] Through the Jerusalem-based parent organization of Canada's United Israel Appeal, and through membership of the fundraising federations which directed it in the US Council of Jewish Federations, the Canadian Jewish establishment was tied to both sides of this alliance. And as the century wound down, mainstream Canadian Jewish organization was pulled into increasing alignment with it.

On to Part 2 / Part 3

[1] "The Basle Declaration," passed at the First Zionist Congree (1897), as printed in Walter Laqueur and Barry Rubin's co-edited The Israel-Arab Reader: A Documentary History of the Middle East (Facts on File, Inc., 1985): p. 11.

[2] Theodor Herzl, The Jewish State (Henry Pordes, 1993): p. 30.

[3] Walter Laqueur, A History of Zionism (Schocken Books, 1976): p. 123; and Joseph B. Schechtman, Rebel and Statesman: The Vladimir Jabotinsky Story (Thomas Yoseloff, Inf., 1956): p. 399.

[4] "The Balfour Declaration," as printed in The Israel-Arab Reader: p. 18.

[5] Gerald Tulchinsky, Branching Out: The Transformation of the Canadian Jewish Community (Stoddart, 1998): p. 148.

[6] On this organizational history, see, e.g., Tulchinsky, Branching Out; Daniel Stone, ed., Jewish Radicalism in Winnipeg, 1905-1960 (Jewish Heritage Centre of Western Canada, 2002); and Daniel Elazar & Harold Waller, Maintaining Consensus: The Canadian Jewish Polity in the Postwar World (Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, 1990).

[7] Tulchinsky, Branching Out: p. 125.

[8] Ibid., p. 264.

[9] For details regarding the Nakba, see Walid Khalidi, All that remains: the Palestinian villages occupied and depopulated by Israel in 1948 (Institute for Palestine Studies, 1992).

[10] See Uri Davis, Apartheid Israel: Possibilities for the Struggle Within (Zed Books, 2003).

[11] On the development of this lobby, see David Goldberg & David Taras, ed., The Domestic Battleground: Canada and the Arab-Israeli Conflict (McGill-Queen's University Press, 1989); Ronnie Miller, From Lebanon to the Intifada: The Jewish Lobby and Canadian Middle East Policy (University Press of America, 1991); and Elazar & Waller, Maintaining Consensus.

[12] Elazar & Waller, p. 213-214.

[13] Noam Chomsky, The Fateful Triangle: The United States, Israel and the Palestinians (Black Rose Books, 1999): p. 10.

[14] See, e.g, Chomsky, The Fateful Triangle; and "Special - The Israeli Connection: Guns and Money in Central America," NACLA Report on the Americas, March/April 1987, Volume XXI, #2.