Policy and prejudice: De-funding Canadian aid projects

| January 18, 2010
Late last year, Minister of International Cooperation Bev Oda cut Canada's 30 years of association with non-profit advocacy group, KAIROS, without explanation. When pressed, Oda said that the program didn't meet CIDA's current priorities. Another less pragmatic reason surfaced later when Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism Jason Kenney explained to the audience at the Global Forum for Combating Anti-Semitism in Jerusalem: "We have articulated and implemented a zero tolerance approach to anti-semitism. What does this mean? It means that we eliminated the government funding relationship with organizations... who promote hatred, in particular anti-semitism. We have de-funded organizations, most recently like KAIROS."

The "de-funding" itself is worrisome, but the reasons given are even more so because they seem to be driven not by truth or by what's best for Canada, but by demagoguery and partisanship.

Kenney's office justified the "defunding" by citing "critical comments" made by NGO Monitor (NGOM) and demands from B'nai Brith and Canadian Christian College (CCC) president Charles McVety (Toronto Sun). All three of Kenney's sources are politically motivated and interconnected. They recycle and repeat one another's single lens views without consideration to other perspectives or narratives. Their primary concern is to remain on message with Israeli foreign policy and support the ultra-far-right Israeli parties no matter what Israeli government is in power.

NGOM started as a joint project of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (JCPA) and B'nai Brith International, with funds from the Wechsler Family Foundation (U.S.). It operates out of the JCPA whose president is U.S.-born Dore Gold, former Foreign Policy Adviser to both Benjamin Netanyahu and Ariel Sharon, and former ambassador to the United Nations for Israel. NGOM's editor is Gerald M. Steinberg, a professor at right-wing Bar-Ilan University and a columnist for the Jerusalem Post.

Although using language that would appear neutral, NGOM is a highly partisan organization that weakens universal human rights by its fixation on shielding Israel from accountability and charging some of the most respected international human rights organizations with bias against Israel. According to NGOM, these include Christian Aid, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Oxfam, the Center for Constitutional Rights and Médecins Sans Frontières.

Turning its attention to NGOs within Israel, NGOM is no less unyielding in its hardline position, as illustrated by the recent release of a joint report with the Institute for Zionist Strategies (IZS) entitled "Trojan Horse: The Impact of European Government Funding for Israeli NGOs." This report targets Israeli organizations such as B'Tselem, Machsom Watch, Physicians for Human Rights, Breaking the Silence (army veterans), Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions and others, because they "oppose the policies of the democratically elected government on many issues." Political dissent, which flourishes in Israel, is considered rebellion by NGOM.

Complaining that these NGOs receive funding from European governments, NGOM demands transparency, although there is little transparency about the origin of its own funding. Gershon Baskin, Director of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information, found that the discussion during the follow-up NGOM/IZS conference had anti-democratic elements in that options considered were either to make it illegal for foreign governments to fund "political" organizations in Israel or to force these NGOs to declare themselves as "agents of a foreign government." Baskin remarked: "I do not know who made them [NGOM] judge and jury on the matter. NGOM is clearly politically motivated, and I believe that there is no element of transparency in their political agenda."

B'nai Brith (BB) presents itself as a Jewish advocacy and community volunteer service organization, but on their website, "advocacy for Israel" is their number two "prime issue." BB allied itself to extremists within the evangelical right because in the pursuit of its religious goals it does not recognize the applicability of UN resolutions, international treaties or, for that matter, Canadian (or U.S.) law and policy.

In 2006, Charles McVety, president of Canada Christian College hosted the first event (Israel You're Not Alone) of a newly created coalition called Christians United for Israel (CUFI). CUFI counts amongst its members such extremists as John Hagee, Pat Roberston and the late Jerry Falwell. In fact, Frank Dimant, BB Canada's Executive Vice President, shared the podium with McVety and Hagee, and thanked them both in these terms: "But we (Jews) and Israel are not alone because of you and the tremendous leadership of Dr. McVety and Dr. Hagee" (Jewish Tribune, May 25, 2006).

Hagee's expressed views on Islam are ignorant and hateful. He stated on National Public Radio, that "those who live by the Qur'an have a scriptural mandate to kill Christians and Jews... it teaches that very clearly.... There are 1.3 billion people who follow the Islamic faith, so if you're saying there's only 15 per cent that want to come to America or invade Israel to crush it, you're only talking about 200 million people. That's far more than Hitler and Japan and Italy and all of the Axis powers in World War II had under arms."

Being vocal in his support of Israel doesn't mean that Hagee's view of Jews is any less offensive. He has made numerous statements that could be interpreted as antisemitic. Hagee believes that Adolf Hitler carried out a divine plan to lead Jews back to Palestine to form the state of Israel:

"Theodore Herzl is the father of Zionism. He was a Jew who at the turn of the 19th century said, this land is our land, God wants us to live there. So he went to the Jews of Europe and said 'I want you to come and join me in the land of Israel.' So few went that Hertzel went into depression. Those who came founded Israel; those who did not went through the hell of the holocaust."

All Jews belong nowhere else but in Israel, says Hagee. This racist (anti-semitic?) notion of an imposed residence to suit the eschatological views of millennialists stands in contradiction to the freedom of choice that Canadians take for granted, as well as the human rights and multiculturalism values that Canadian society has embraced.

McVety's support for Israel-right-or-wrong is a Bible mandate. Like other Christian Zionists, he sees the two-state solution to the Palestine/Israel conflict as anathema; he supports the expansionist policies of the Israeli government and directs funding and assistance toward the political agenda of the most extreme settlers in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT).

On May 4, 2008, McVety appointed Dimant as the Department's inaugural chair for the new CCC department "dedicated exclusively to the study of the modern State of Israel." In the audience sat Kenney, representing the Conservative government. Dimant asked God "to save us from those who want to divide the Land of Israel, who want to divide Jerusalem, who want to take Jews out of Judea and Samaria. We look to God and to you, our friends, to keep Israel modern and united, with a united Jerusalem, the eternal capital of Israel." Dimant was amongst the government's 2008 appointees to the Cross-Cultural Roundtable on Security.

Kenney did attempt to backtrack on the KAIROS anti-semitism connection, but he didn't seem serious when he quoted from Toronto Star columnist Rosie DiManno's misleading translation of his own words: "Cutting through the semantics and carefully couched language, that all adds up to a federally funded humanitarian agency taking a leading role in divestment, sanctions and targeted boycotts of Israel -- which is what Kenney said."

DiManno's research is obviously limited to those sites that support Israel-right-or-wrong, in other words highly partisan, something she accuses KAIROS of being... a case of the pot calling the kettle black.

KAIROS has denied having "a leading role in divestment, sanctions and targeted boycotts of Israel." In fact, DiManno probably mistakenly attributed to the NGO KAIROS The Kairos Palestine Document written by Palestinian Christians who call for "divestment and... an economic and commercial boycott of everything produced by the occupation" as a form of peaceful resistance to liberate "both the perpetrators and the victims of injustice."

But even if Kenney's office is correct, Canadians should worry that Canadian policy could be developed using the opinions of highly prejudiced organizations and individuals instead of through careful consultation with experts whose agenda is not tainted and/or with experts having different viewpoints. The intricate and ideologically driven alliance between the political elites, Israel's unconditional supporters and Christian Zionists (with their armageddonian plan for the world) leads ultimately to a non-rational basis for policy formulation in that it forgoes pragmatic analysis in favour of partisanship, ideology and religious belief.

Given all the facts, most Canadians would favour a saner, more even-handed approach.

Bahija Réghaï is former president of the National Council on Canada-Arab Relations -- NCCAR.

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