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The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs: Stoking Islamophobia and racism?

Image: Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse

A group that stokes Islamophobia and defends an explicitly supremacist organization shouldn't be part of a Public Consultation on Systemic Discrimination and Racism in Québec. The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) should be removed from the "list of selected organizations" for this important initiative.

While groups participating in the recently launched consultation are supposed to "develop concrete proposals to combat systemic discrimination and racism," last summer CIJA campaigned aggressively against a Green Party of Canada resolution calling on the Canada Revenue Agency to revoke the charitable status of an explicitly racist organization. The Green's motion described the Jewish National Fund's (JNF) "discrimination against non-Jews in Israel through its bylaws which prohibit the lease or sale of its lands to non-Jews." Owner of 13 per cent of Israel's land -- mostly seized from Palestinians in 1948 -- the JNF systematically discriminates against the 20 per cent of non-Jewish Israeli citizens. JNF racism is not the all too common "personal" or even "structural" variety, rather a legalistic discrimination outlawed in Canada six decades ago.

CIJA and the JNF Canada often work together and sponsor each other's events. Additionally, JNF Canada CEO Lance Davis previously worked as CIJA's National Jewish Campus Life director.

Beyond defending racist land-use policies in Israel, CIJA has stigmatized marginalized Canadians by hyping "Islamic terror" and targeting Arab and Muslim community representatives, papers, organizations, etc. In response to a truck attack in Nice, France, last year CIJA declared "Canada is not immune to…Islamist terror" and in February they highlighted, "those strains of Islam that pose a real and imminent threat to Jews around the world."

In a bid to deter organizations from associating with the Palestinian cause or opposing Israeli belligerence in the region, CIJA demonizes Canadian Arabs and Muslims by constantly accusing them of supporting "terror." Last week the lobbying arm of Canada's Jewish Federations said it was "shocked" Ottawa failed to rescind the charitable status of the Islamic Society of British Columbia. CIJA alleges that the Vancouver area mosque supports Hamas, which the federal government considers a terrorist organization but Palestinians (and most of the world) consider a political/resistance organization.

In 2014 CIJA pushed to proscribe as a terrorist entity Mississauga-based IRFAN (International Relief Fund for the Afflicted and Needy). The Jewish group's press release about the first Canadian-based group ever designated a terrorist organization boasted that "current CIJA board member, the Honourable Stockwell Day...called attention to IRFAN-Canada's disturbing activities nearly a decade ago."

In the early 2000s pro-Israel groups and the Conservative Party accused a charity that supported thousands of orphans in a dozen countries of working for Hamas. But, a Canada Revenue Agency audit failed to substantiate the claim. As the two-year audit was about to wrap up at the end of 2004, Stockwell Day and the Canadian Coalition of Democracies (CCD) held a press conference where they accused IRFAN of being a front for Hamas, which prompted a defamation suit (CCD eventually retracted the allegation while Day was protected by parliamentary privilege).

When Day's Conservatives later took power the CRA renewed their investigation of IRFAN in what appeared to be an effort to prove that Muslim Canadians financed "Hamas terror." In 2011 the CRA revoked the group's charitable status, claiming "IRFAN-Canada is an integral part of an international fundraising effort to support Hamas." A big part of the CRA's supporting evidence was that IRFAN worked with the Gaza Ministry of Health and Ministry of Telecommunications, which came under Hamas' direction after they won the 2006 Palestinian legislative election. The Canadian organization tried to send a dialysis machine to Gaza and continued to support orphans in the impoverished territory with the money channelled through the Post Office controlled by the Telecommunications Ministry.

This author cannot claim any detailed knowledge of the charity, but on the surface of it the charge that IRFAN was a front for Hamas makes little sense. First of all, the group was registered with the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank when the Fatah-controlled PA was waging war against Hamas. Are we to believe that CRA officials in Ottawa had a better sense of who supported Hamas then the PA in Ramallah? Additionally, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) viewed the Canadian charity as a legitimate partner. In 2009 IRFAN gave UNRWA $1.2 million to build a school for girls in Battir, a West Bank village.  

In a sign of how the campaign against IRFAN stigmatized a marginalized group, the CRA's findings were used to smear the 2012 edition of the Reviving the Islamic Spirit conference in Toronto because IRFAN was one of 17 sponsors of one of the largest Muslim gatherings in North America.

While quick to attack Arabs and Muslims' support for "terror" or "anti-Semitism," CIJA clams up when explicit Jewish Islamophobia is brought to their attention. In 2012 the Canadian Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-CAN) asked for CIJA's help with an aggressively anti-Muslim textbook used at Joe Dwek Ohr HaEmet Sephardic School in Toronto. It described Muslims as "rabid fanatics" with "savage beginnings," but CIJA refused to respond.

In a more recent example of the group stoking anti-Muslim sentiment, CIJA aligned itself with the backlash against the term "Islamophobia" in bill M-103, which called for collecting data on hate crimes and studying the issue of "eliminating systemic racism and religious discrimination including Islamophobia." CEO Shimon Fogel said the "wording of M-103 is flawed. Specifically, we are concerned with the word 'Islamophobia' because it is misleading, ambiguous, and politically charged." It takes chutzpah for a Jewish community leader to make this argument since, as Rick Salutin points out, anti-Semitism is a more ambiguous term. But, Fogel would no doubt label as anti-Jewish someone who objected to the term anti-Semitism as "misleading, ambiguous, and politically charged."

An initiative promoted by committed antiracist campaigners, the Public Consultation on Systemic Discrimination and Racism in Québec is important. It should not include a group that stokes Islamophobia and defends an explicitly supremacist organization.

Image: Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse

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