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Kathleen Wynne: Please refuse 'honour' from Israel lobby group

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On May 4, individuals representing Independent Jewish Voices -- Canada,  Women in Solidarity with Palestine, Dykes and Trans People for Palestine, and Palestine House sent a very similar letter to this one to Premier Kathleen Wynne. In that letter, we requested a meeting with Premier Wynne to discuss this issue further. After waiting nearly four weeks for a response, we decided to publish a letter publicly, with additional support from Palestine solidarity organizations active in Ontario. 

Dear Premier Kathleen Wynne,

We are residents of Ontario, concerned about issues of justice and peace in the Middle East.  We have grave concerns regarding the award you are receiving at the upcoming Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) Words and Deeds Leadership Award Dinner on Monday, June 22 at the Fairmont Royal York Hotel in Toronto. We strongly feel that by accepting this award, you contravene the stated principles that led the people of Ontario to elect you as their Premier.

While we agree that your skills as a leader are formidable, we are surprised that given your commitment to diversity and fairness, and your consistent acknowledgment of Indigenous rights, you would agree to accept an award from an organization that openly supports policies denying the human rights of the indigenous Palestinian people, many of whom live and vote in the province of Ontario.  In addition, accepting this award ignores the many thousands of Jews in this province whose views and loyalties are not represented by CIJA's extreme Zionist agenda. 

CIJA describes itself on its website as a "non-partisan organization creating and implementing strategies to improve the quality of Jewish life in Canada and abroad, increase support for Israel, and strengthen the Canada-Israel relationship." Two of the three ways in which CIJA describes itself are revealing. It appears that the organization prioritizes its promotion of the Israeli state in Canada. It is, in essence, a lobby group for the Israeli government. Moreover, CIJA promotes the idea that critics of the Israeli state are "anti-Semites" in an effort to falsely equate criticism of Israel's unjust laws and policies with a hatred of Jews.  Given growing criticism of Israel's apartheid-like treatment of the Palestinians under its sovereign control, we believe it is unseemly for the Premier of Ontario to accept this award from an organization dedicated to uncritically supporting a government that engages in such behaviour.

CIJA also portrays itself as the single representative voice of Canadian Jews, a claim that has been vigorously challenged.  CIJA's Board of Directors and spokespeople are not elected and are in no way accountable to the diverse Jewish communities in Canada. The only qualification for being appointed to CIJA's Board of Directors appears to be an unquestioning support for the Israeli government.

In a recent column in the Ottawa Citizen, Carleton University Professor Andrew Cohen commented that "CIJA seems congenitally unable to utter a discouraging word about Stephen Harper, Benjamin Netanyahu or the State of Israel -- while allowing Canadians to think its view reflects a consensus among Canadian Jews. It does not." In fact, its claim of non-partisanship is dubious, according to Cohen, since CIJA's positions have become so intertwined with those of the Conservative government, it is nearly impossible to differentiate between the two.

CIJA claims on its website that it advocates for "freedom, human rights, social justice, and support for the People and the Land of Israel." However, its terminology indicates no recognition that this land is home to Jews, Palestinians, Druze and many migrant workers without status. It is telling that CIJA uses a biblical lexicon to describe the region encompassing present-day Israel and Palestine. "The Land of Israel" is the biblical term for the ancient kingdom of the Hebrews, which encompassed all of the West Bank and Gaza.

Furthermore, CIJA's website makes prominent use of the biblical term "Judea and Samaria" to describe the occupied West Bank. This is the term used by those who consider the West Bank to belong exclusively to Jews by virtue of a God-given decree. The claims of the Palestinian people who have lived on this land for hundreds of years, whose villages have been destroyed and whose houses have been bulldozed, are systematically ignored by CIJA.  For whose human rights does CIJA advocate, and which people in "the Land of Israel" deserve freedom, social justice and support?

CIJA also supports policies that directly contravene Canada's official positions. For example, CIJA appears to consider the Jordan Valley -- located deep in the occupied West Bank -- to be an integral part of the State of Israel. CEO Shimon Fogel responded to the United Church's charge that Israel's illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank are a root cause of ongoing conflict, by stating that "The root cause is not Israel's presence but the rejection of Israel's presence in the territories." Unlike CIJA, Canada sees Israel's attempt to establish a permanent presence in the territories as illegal.

Meanwhile, CIJA refuses to acknowledge many Jewish voices that are critical of Israel's unjust laws and policies towards the Palestinians, and rejects the idea that these Jews have any place in the broader Canadian Jewish community.  Surely this position contravenes your own stand on the importance of diversity in our province.

By accepting an award from CIJA, you would be sending a message to Ontarians that you find CIJA's behaviour acceptable. It is far from acceptable for CIJA to claim to act on behalf of Canadian Jews without any semblance of accountability, while denying a voice to many Jews who diverge from their political views. It is far from acceptable for CIJA to uncritically support the behaviour of the Israeli government and military against Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza and within its borders  --  behaviour which human rights experts around the world have repeatedly identified as criminal.

For the sake of a just and lasting peace in Israel and Palestine, acknowledging the diversity of opinions among Jews and other residents of Ontario that differ from CIJA's, we urge you to please refuse this dubious "honour".

With hope and determination towards a just and peaceful future for all,

Concerned residents of Ontario representing:

Independent Jewish Voices – Canada

Dykes and Trans People for Palestine

Palestine House

Women in Solidarity with Palestine

Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East

Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid – Toronto

Association of Palestinian Arab Canadians

Canada Palestine Association

United Network for Justice and Peace in Palestine/Israel - Toronto

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