AIPAC North: "Israel Advocacy" in Canada (Part 2 of 3)

June 26, 2006 (ZNet)

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The Emergence of CIJA

In 1998, Canada's UIA and the CJF's Canadian region merged to form the United Israel Appeal Federations Canada (UIAFC). Under the increasing power of these groups, working class culture and organization had already been marginalized within the Canadian Jewish mainstream. A Toronto respondent to a study published in 1990 by the deeply conservative Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs explained that "there is little respect for the poor" in mainstream Jewish organization, "and not only are they not represented, they are not missed."[1] As for Israel-Palestine, the establishment's uncritical support for Israel had already been tested by the massacres of Palestinian refugees in 1982 Lebanon and the brutal repression of the 1987 uprising in the occupied West Bank and Gaza. It had held firm.[2] This support so thoroughly permeated mainstream organization that the same Jerusalem Center study identified "public support for the Palestine Liberation Organization cause" as a way for Montreal Jews to lose established community affiliation.[3] At the turn of the century, Canada's mainstream Jewish organizations thus found themselves under the consolidated control of a corporate establishment loyal to Israel and tied to the United States.
Apartheid and rebellion

Soon after the UIA/CJF merger, a new phase of Palestinian resistance was initiated in the West Bank and Gaza. This resistance must be understood in context. The preceding half century had seen the Israeli state develop a regime of systematic ethnic and national discrimination that is properly described as apartheid. With the Jewish "Law of Return" still in force, the Palestinian refugee population displaced since 1948 continued to languish in exile, living in refugee camps in neighbouring countries and in dispersion elsewhere. Non-Jewish indigenous inhabitants of the territory Israel had occupied in 1948 remained second-class citizens. While allowed to vote and run in elections for the Knesset, many such citizens were internally displaced people whose property had been expropriated. Palestinian citizens of Israel were kept under direct Israeli military governance until 1966, and targeted for discrimination through the system of settlement and development policies that privileged Jewish settlers from abroad above the land's indigenous inhabitants. Since 1967, moreover, Israeli policies of occupation and discriminatory settlement had extended further into territory including the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem. (For a thorough analysis of the basic development of this system, see Apartheid Israel: Possibilities for the Struggle Within, written by Uri Davis, a Jewish dissident of Israeli citizenship. For an online comparison with apartheid South Africa, see Chris McGreal's recent article for the Guardian.)

Throughout this process, the indigenous people of Palestine demonstrated a steadfast determination to assert their human and national rights. With a strong base in the refugee camps of countries like Jordan and Lebanon, the Palestine Liberation Organization had earned itself a central place in regional struggles against imperial domination. The Palestinian national movement struggled in the harshest of circumstances. It faced brutal repression, including massacres of Palestinians in 1970 Jordan (during Black September) and 1982 Lebanon, then under Israeli occupation (at Sabra and Shatilla). Yet Palestinian resistance continued.

In 1987, the population of the West Bank and Gaza launched a period of popular rebellion that included strikes, boycotts, organized defiance of curfew and stone-throwing at occupation forces, all sustained through the development of a solid foundation of popular organization. The rebellion was suspended in 1993 by the US-brokered Oslo Accords, which established a new Palestinian Authority (PA) with limited authority in the West Bank and Gaza. Nonetheless, through the 1990s, Israel continued to confiscate Palestinian land, demolish Palestinian homes and expand Jewish settlements into the 1967-occupied territories. Oslo and the PA had brought the Palestinians neither sovereignty nor restitution. And in September 2000, they once again rose in revolt.

The rebellion of 2000 onwards, the Al-Aqsa Intifada, drew renewed international attention to the Israel-Palestine conflict. It illustrated a striking picture. On the one side was a state based on systematic ethnic discrimination and endowed by US support with the world's fourth-strongest military; on the other was a stateless people, its land occupied by tanks and soldiers, its communities under attack from helicopter gunships, its movements resisting further dispossession with the weapons of the poor. Official Western support for the former was strong, the more so as Israel positioned itself at the vanguard of the United States' post-9/11 "war on terror." But progressive social movements, including many in the West, chose to pick a different side.
Canadian echoes

The Canadian political scene reflected these split loyalties. The tension surfaced dramatically in the fall of 2002. Israeli repression of the Palestinian uprising was in full swing, and the Israeli military's virtual destruction of the West Bank city of Jenin the preceding spring was fresh in people's minds. In this context, the right-wing Asper Foundation sponsored a visit to Montreal of Israel's former Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. Netanyahu is an avid militarist, a proponent of Israeli expansion and an established lightning rod for opposition to Israeli Apartheid. In November 2000, a planned speaking engagement of his at the University of California, Berkeley, was effectively prevented by grassroots opposition. Through North America, the sentiments driving such opposition had begun to coalesce into a vibrant Palestine solidarity movement. In Montreal, this movement had taken hold quite strongly at Concordia University. Bringing Netanyahu to the campus in spite of this could have been a symbolic victory for opponents of the movement, and the Israel advocacy group Hillel invited him and scheduled an appearance. The scheduled date was the occasion for a massive Palestine solidarity demonstration at Concordia. Its strength forced the event's cancellation.

UIAFC and its allies viewed this growing Palestine solidarity movement with great concern. At issue was a matter of fundamental Zionist strategy. Economically and politically, the Israeli system depends on its international base of support, without which it could not maintain its Zionist character against indigenous resistance. Put simply, local solidarity with the Palestinian struggle represented a potential challenge to Israel's Canadian base of support.

By the time the Al-Aqsa Intifada erupted, this Canadian base of support had become quite significant. Beneath a thin cover of feigned neutrality, official Canadian support for Israel against the Palestinians had developed through various policies. For example, Canadian UIA and UJA fundraising was classified as "charitable" and tax-exempt, despite the fact that these funding drives provided financial backing for the campaign of ethnic discrimination being waged by Israel's JA and JNF authorities. Through the 1990s, the Canadian government had added to this an additional set of policies and agreements supportive of Israel, notably the Canada-Israel Free Trade Agreement (CIFTA) and the Canada-Israel Industrial Research and Development Fund (CIIRDF). CIFTA, which minister of international trade Art Eggleton signed in 1996 with his Israeli counterpart (Natan Sharansky), is Canada's only free trade deal with a country outside of the Western hemisphere. As CIFTA's enabling legislation passed through the House of Commons, Eggleton testified to a House committee that the agreement applied to all Israeli-controlled territory, including the areas under direct military occupation since 1967.[4] CIFTA came into effect in January 1997, and the next month, Eggleton traveled to Israel (with the representatives of 50 Canadian corporations) where he signed the CIIRDF.[5] The Canadian and Israeli governments agreed to put an annual $3 million each into CIIRDF, which subsidizes Canadian and Israeli corporations working on joint projects.[6] A detailed analysis of Canada's pro-Israel trade policies is beyond the scope of this article. Suffice it to say that with Palestine solidarity growing, Israeli allies like UIAFC had much to defend.

Particular concern had been generated by campus activism. Campus social movements did not have access to the policy-making establishment, but were gaining ground on the level of political culture and creating a potential long-term problem. As a result of grassroots Palestine solidarity campaigning, the director of Hillel Ottawa lamented, "Zionism is no longer a warm, fuzzy word." Moreover, the problem was spilling off of campuses and into society at large. The Israeli manufacturing base exemplified the very reality being challenged by movements against corporate globalization, and the Palestinian struggle was a clear point of reference for those sympathetic to moves towards resistance in the region. Israel's virtual integration with the United States also made it and its policies a natural target for movements resisting the US-led military aggression raging from Afghanistan to Iraq. In alliance with these currents, Palestine solidarity continued to spread.

Around the time of Netanyahu's botched visit, trade union involvement in the Palestine solidarity movement was also beginning to show promise. In late 2002, for example, the Centrale des syndicates du Québec (CSQ) joined in calling for a province-wide boycott of Israeli products. The threat that this could develop into a viable challenge to Canadian policy was apparent. For the likes of UIAFC, this challenge could not be allowed to develop unchecked.
The tycoons respond

Towards the end of 2002, UIAFC brought together a meeting of the community's leading tycoons. These included Israel Asper, CEO of CanWest Global; Gerry Schwartz, co-founder with Asper of CanWest Global and CEO of Onex Corporation; Heather Reisman, CEO of Indigo/Chapters Books; Brent Belzberg, owner of Torquest Partners; Sylvain Abitbol, president and CEO of NHC Communications Inc.; and a range of other powerhouses within the federation system. The group dubbed itself the "Israel Emergency Cabinet." It approached the polling firm Government Policy Consultants (GPC) under CEO Hershell Ezrin, and together, they developed a strategy.[7]

At issue, as Hershell Ezrin explained, was how the "anti-Israel sentiment that has emerged in Canada over the past two years" could be beaten back. After months of closed-door discussions with the Cabinet, UIAFC president Maxyne Finkelstein unveiled their plan. It was a new "functional framework" for Jewish establishment advocacy and governance, involving the creation of new structures and the reorganization of existing ones. This would coordinate grassroots opposition to Palestine solidarity organizing and escalate lobbying efforts to maintain and expand official support for Israel in its fight against the Intifada. The centrepiece of the new arrangement would be a board of 18-22 people organized as the Canadian Council for Israel and Jewish Advocacy (CIJA). Finkelstein explained that "the emergency cabinet will continue to function in an oversight capacity until [CIJA] is running and it will morph into CIJA." By January 2004, this had taken place, and Ezrin was appointed as the new organization's CEO.

To address UIAFC concern about "the growing anti-Israel agitation at universities," CIJA launched a National Jewish Campus Life (NJCL) initiative. Campus advocates were flooded with funds. The UJA Federation of Greater Toronto alone allocated $1 million for 2003/2004 campus advocacy work. NJCL centralized and coordinated strategy nationally, bringing together 30 Hillels and allied organizations to form the Canadian Federation of Jewish Students (CFJS); the group's founding conference boasted the attendance of Foreign Affairs Minister Bill Graham. Resources were channeled into training student organizers. By the summer of 2004, Brent Belzberg explained that "More than $200,000 has been spent subsidizing the visits to Israel of campus leaders." With the force of UIAFC resources, Israel advocates offered concerted opposition to Palestine solidarity and, by extension, to anti-war movements and the left generally. For the first time ever, Hillel got directly involved in student elections. To ensure student activities were in order, NJCL hired professional Israel advocacy specialists, one each for Montreal, Winnipeg, Vancouver and London, three for Toronto, and a national coordinator.

Israel advocacy strategies varied. In certain instances, they were based on a high degree of militancy, indeed of militarism. This was apparent on campuses where the Zionist base was strong, such as Toronto's York University. York had a strong base of Zionist students, and the Israel advocacy apparatus had real institutional strength at the administration level. For example, York's fundraising body, the York Foundation, includes on its board of directors Julia Koschitzky, co-founder of the Emergency Cabinet and director of CIJA, Howard Sokolowski, who "raised an unprecedented $65,000,000 for the Israel Emergency Fund" through the UJA's 2003 campaign, and Honey Sherman, who went on to become the co-chair of UJA 2006. The York Foundation was founded in 2002 under the presidency of Paul Marcus, a former director of the B'nai Brith Institute for International Affairs. In late 2004, in fact, Marcus was personally joined by York president Lorna Marsden on a supportive visit to Israel.

In the spring of 2003, a dynamic anti-war movement had taken shape on York's campus. The base of support for this movement was strong, and, like its organizing core, identified support for the Palestinian struggle with opposition to US-led military aggression (as it was unfolding in Iraq). Elements of the Hillel structure organized a pro-war, anti-Intifada opposition in response. The momentum of this opposition was built up by UIAFC funds, which sent fully 500 York students on a 10-day subsidized trip to Israel in the summer of 2003 through a program widely regarded as "helping them better deal with anti-Israel agitation on campus." The academic year 2003/2004 saw many students around the campus wearing Israeli military paraphernalia. The year was kicked off by an "Israel Defense Forces Appreciation Day" in October, which featured the major of an illegal West Bank settlement speaking to an assembled crowd of students wearing Israeli military accessories. A militarist tone pervaded Israel advocacy at York throughout the year.

Elsewhere, more sober strategies prevailed. Even at York, a common front approach to Israel advocacy was adopted to maintain a space for liberal Jewish students within the Hillel structure. 2003/2004 Hillel@York events regarding such topics as "Israeli feminism" and "Eco-Zionism" filled this role. On other campuses (and later at York), Israel advocacy took on an entirely different tone. "Peace is the word for national campus group" – so read the headline of a Canadian Jewish News story on NJCL strategy. The tactic was to diffuse grassroots Palestine solidarity with talk of "dialogue" and "peace," leaving aggressive advocacy to deepen Canadian support for Israeli Apartheid to professional lobbyists.

According to the "peace and dialogue" strategy, a visceral connection would be created between students and Israel through a focus on Israeli music, culture, food and sports. This superficially depoliticized base of support for Israel neither relied upon nor could be shaken by the factual specifics of the Israel-Palestine conflict. This strategy for diffusing Palestine solidarity took hold early at Concordia. The same Hillel which had, the previous year, associated itself with the chauvinism of Netanyahu and shrugged off criticism of on-campus recruitment for the Israeli military, peppered the academic year 2003/2004 with events like "Coexistence Day." (The year before, when the Concordia Student Union suspended Hillel for engaging in campus recruitment for Israeli occupation forces, Hillel's lawyer had explained that such recruitment was fully in accord with "Jewish students' constitutional rights of speech, assembly and religion.")

As students and their professional advisers escalated Israel advocacy work, coordination with faculty also began to formalize. In fall of 2003, the Canadian Jewish News reported that three Toronto professors – Ed Morgan and Kenneth Green from the University of Toronto and Irving Abella from York – "applied to the new Canadian Council for Israel and Jewish Advocacy for seed funding" in order "to launch an organization to counter the upsurge of anti-Israel feelings on Canadian campuses." Morgan, appointed CJC national president in 2004, had helped to organize a series of speaking engagements by pro-war Canadian Alliance MP Stockwell Day during the previous spring's invasion of Iraq. (Day had appeared at a CJC luncheon, at York University and at the Community Hebrew Academy of Toronto, CHAT.) Morgan was not bluffing when he said the group would have to fight "the entrenched Canadian prejudice against arguments about world politics that do not denounce the United States." Abella, for his part, has since become chair of Hillel of Greater Toronto's central council.

The structure of grassroots opposition to Palestine solidarity was beginning to fall into place. But for all UIAFC's desire to respond in kind to its grassroots challengers, the real object of its defense was the policy regime of Canadian support for Israel against the Palestinians. Through CIJA, lobbying efforts to maintain and expand this were therefore intensified.
AIPAC and UIAFC's lobbying "agents"

UIAFC's main base, recall, is one section of a US-dominated federation system. (North American fundraising muscle is presently organized into the regional categories "West," "Southeast," "Northeast," "Central" and "Canada.") So it is no surprise that the prints of AIPAC – the lead US/Israel advocacy group and head of a system of political action committees, PACs – were all over the new arrangement. CIJA's political advocacy arm worked directly under the AIPAC umbrella. It was established as the Canadian Council for Israel and Jewish Advocacy Public Affairs Committee, CIJA-PAC. Beginning in 2003, it attended each annual AIPAC conference. "AIPAC plays an advisory and mentoring role for CIJA-PAC," Canadian Jewish News reporter Paul Lungen later explained. The group's success was consistently measured against its mentor's example. By the fall of 2004, Sylvain Abitbol bragged that "with 2,000 members today CIJA-PAC is almost comparable on a per capita basis to the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee." Reliance on "charitable" dollars prevented CIJA-PAC from participating fully in electoral politics. But the "ultimate goal" of this lobby, Hershell Ezrin explained, "would be to act as a partisan entity that would support candidates."

Existing mainstream Jewish organizations were made appendages to this system. The CJC, that self-described parliament, plunged still deeper below its high-sounding democratic rhetoric. Notwithstanding the continued inclusion of certain progressive groups in the rank-and-file, these were utterly disempowered, with CJC's leadership and its decisions put under the direct scrutiny and control of CIJA's tycoons. "It was absolutely clear," CJC-Quebec executive chair Victor Goldbloom explained, "that what was once a horizontal relationship between Congress and the federation structures would now be a vertical one." CJC affiliate Rivka Augenfeld, according to the Canadian Jewish News, added that "the whole turn of events confirms what so many already suspected: that 'people with money run the community. When people criticize the Jewish community for being like that, what are you going to say?'" While formalizing the elimination of CJC democracy, UIAFC also doubled its budget, and likewise for the Canada-Israel Committee.

The Canada-Israel Committee was meanwhile disbanded as an alliance and reconstituted under a CIJA-picked board. Neither the Canadian Zionist Federation nor B'nai Brith were to have a formal role within the CIJA framework, and both were pushed out of the CIC. The CZF failed to raise a commotion. B'nai Brith kicked up an ineffectual but embarrassing fuss before signing a fall 2004 agreement of mutual respect and cooperation with CIJA (this has been far from stable). CIC national board member and former Quebec chair Thomas Hecht provided the following interpretation of the organizational shift: "it's the federations who are taking over and the heavy hitters in the federations who will have control of advocacy."

UIAFC agreed, but downplayed the change by shrugging off the existing groups' pretense at Jewish representation. "They've always been our agents and that's what they are," UIAFC president Maxyne Finkelstein told the Toronto Star. "We've always had the ability to fund and not to fund … We actually have a contract with the CIC that we have the capacity to terminate or continue."[8] Whether out of arrogance or honesty, Finkelstein had made a crucial point that should not be forgotten.
A warm reception from the establishment

If, as Michael Benazon wrote for Canadian Jewish Outlook, this leadership was "alienating itself from the aspirations, values, and perceptions of Canadian Jews," it was aligning itself precisely with those of corporate Canada. As the National Post explained in its coverage of a 2002 opinion poll, "Canadian business leaders want increased integration with the United States."[9] Israel advocates championed this cause, and not just on Israel-Palestine. Consider the spring of 2003, when the Canadian government backed off from the US-led invasion of Iraq (considering open support for the unpopular war too costly). National Post business section headlines reported corporate concerns under titles like "Strained US relations 'need repair.'"[10] In this setting, three prominent Canadians joined to organize a pro-war rally. According to the Canadian Jewish News, they were showered with offers of corporate sponsorship. The trio were Richard Diamond, president of the Young Liberals and a member of UIAFC's national youth executive; Mark Waldman, a US-Israel lobbyist with the group Access Middle East and co-founding director of CIJA; and Josh Cooper, a Canadian Alliance hopeful who would go on to head CIJA-PAC and its "multi-partisan" successor, CJPAC. Corporate support for their apparatus came readily.

UIAFC's lobby was well-positioned. The Canadian political establishment emerged from the spring 2003 invasion of Iraq eager to make it up to its superpower ally. This commitment was apparent in the coming years (and nearly explicit) from Haiti to Afghanistan. With its rock-solid corporate base and call for integration with US policy, the campaign to boost support for Israel boasted significant achievements.

In early December 2004, Globe and Mail columnist John Ibbitson reported that the mix of US pressure and CIJA advocacy had begun to generate results. "For years," Ibbitson wrote, "Canada has joined the overwhelming majority of nations in General Assembly resolutions criticizing Israel's occupation of Palestinian territories, its violence against civilians, its nuclear-weapons program." Ibbitson explained that while only a tiny cluster of US allies voted with Israel against these resolutions, the Canadian government was moving into line with them. "Prime Minister Paul Martin has been under intense pressure to make Canada's Middle East policy more overtly pro-Israel," he continued, especially from lead campaign contributor Gerry Schwartz, "a financial backer of the powerful new Canadian Council for Israel and Jewish Advocacy." Domestic corporate pressure worked in concert with President Bush's pending visit. "Air Force One was already en route to Ottawa, and the government was running out of time. … And so, this week, Canada voted against or abstained on resolutions affirming Palestinian rights and criticizing Israel, in each case breaking with the majority."[11] Canada's pro-Israel partisanship has steadily increased since.

In addition to increasing its overt diplomatic support, the Canadian government expanded its system of preferential trade policies towards Israel. In April 2005, Israel's current Prime Minister (then Deputy Prime Minister) Ehud Olmert visited Canada. In Ottawa, he signed a five-year renewal of the CIIRDF with Industry Minister David Emerson. Two months before, officials from CJC's Ontario Region announced the hiring of two new lobbyists, one for Ottawa and one for Queen's Park, who no doubt worked to ensure that Israel made the most of Olmert's trip. Olmert visited Toronto, where he met Premier Dalton McGuinty at Queen's Park to sign an Ontario-Israel Memorandum of Understanding. He and McGuinty thereby established a regime of deepened economic cooperation through which at least a dozen joint projects would be launched. On the Toronto leg of his trip, Olmert made sure to reserve time for a public appearance at Chapter's Bookstore, where he was joined by Heather Reisman, the chain's CEO and a CIJA co-founder, Marc Gold, then chair of the Canada-Israel Committee, and Mark Waldman, then head of CIJA-PAC. When the Deputy Prime Minister visited Queen's Park, he publicly presented McGuinty with a gift. Joking to the assembled reporters, Olmert asked: "Do you want us to hug?"

With the Canadian and Israeli establishments cozying up, there is good reason to credit CIJA for its role as matchmaker.

On to Part 3

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[1] Daniel Elazar and Harold Waller, Maintaining Consensus: The Canadian Jewish Polity in the Postwar World (Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, 1990): p. 196.

[2] See David Goldberg & David Taras, ed., The Domestic Battleground: Canada and the Arab-Israeli Conflict (McGill-Queen's University Press, 1989); and Ronnie Miller, From Lebanon to the Intifada: The Jewish Lobby and Canadian Middle East Policy (University Press of America, 1991).

[3] Elazar & Waller: p. 106.

[4] Atif Kubursi and Michael Lynk, "Canadian-Israeli free trade: a step backward for peace," The Globe and Mail, November 5, 1996 (A17).

[5] Reuters Staff, "Canada minister to lead trade delegation to Israel," Reuters News, February 17, 1997; David Israelson, "Trade mission to Israel aims at boosting business," The Toronto Star, February 17, 1997 (E3); and Enchin Harvey, "50 firms on trade trip to Israel: Bombardier, Spar seek contracts in wake of free-trade agreement," The Globe and Mail, February 24, 1997 (B4).

[6] David Harris, "Israel, Canada sign research funding pact," The Jerusalem Post, February 25, 1997 (04).

[7] York University professor David Noble deserves credit for initiating important research and discussion around this issue. See his "The New Israel Lobby in Action," Canadian Dimension, November/December 2005.

[8] Oakland Ross, "Power struggle 'crisis' worries Jewish groups," Toronto Star, October 4, 2003 (A01).

[9] Drew Hasselback, "CEOs call for greater US integration," National Post/Financial Post, July 30, 2002 (FP1).

[10] Peter Morton, with files from Theresa Tedesco and Tony Sekus, "Business event of winter season," National Post/Financial Post, with files from Canadian Press, April 8, 2003 (FP1).

[11] John Ibbitson, "In case you missed it, our Mideast policy has shifted," Globe and Mail, December 3, 2004 (A4).