Embassy Mag: Liberal’s refusal to sign off on final report highlights continuing controversy over anti-Semitism group

A group of Canadian parliamentarians studying anti-Semitism in Canada released a report last week concluding that anti-Semitism is a growing threat in Canada. It recommended, among other things, the establishment a national definition of what constitutes an anti-Semitic crime and standards for data reporting.

July 13, 2011 – By Kristen Shane – EmbassyMag.ca

The Canadian Parliamentary Coalition to Combat Anti-Semitism report drew instant praise from Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, Jewish human rights group B’Nai Brith and others who have warned about the dangers of letting anti-Semitism fester in Canada.

However, the fact one of the coalition’s Liberal members refused to have her name added to the final report has only added to the controversy that has dogged the panel since its inception two years ago. Bloc Québécois MPs left the inquiry partway through, saying it had a pro-Israel bias, while numerous groups have alleged they were intentionally excluded because their views went against what the members wanted to hear.

As a result, critics say the CPCCA’s report is not an objective assessment of the state of anti-Semitism in Canada, and they have raised questions about the benefits of such a politically-charged exercise.

Long time coming

Canadian parliamentarians formed the CPCCA in March 2009 after 11 MPs returned from attending a London, UK, conference of international parliamentarians fighting anti-Semitism.

Twenty-one MPs from the then-four parties in Parliament and one senator—Liberal Jerahmiel Grafstein, who has since retired—formed the coalition to study the state of anti-Semitism in Canada and propose solutions. Besides the inquiry, the coalition also organized a second international conference on anti-Semitism in Ottawa last fall.

The coalition is not a standing committee of Parliament, but it did receive in-kind donations from Parliament to use committee rooms and resources such as translation services during the inquiry.

Conservative MP Scott Reid, who chaired the CPCCA’s steering committee, said it received about $100,000 in individual—not corporate, trade union or advocacy group—cash donations to fund the inquiry.

The CPCCA received more than 150 written submissions from the public, of which it invited some individuals and groups to present orally during 10 public hearings starting in November 2009.

The coalition heard from 74 witnesses, including ex-officio member Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, academics, police chiefs and university administrators.

While hearings wrapped up in February 2010 with a report expected to be published that spring, it was not released until July 7 at a press conference on Parliament Hill. Inquiry chair Mario Silva, a Liberal MP defeated in the last election, said in an interview with Embassy that MPs under the constant threat of an election volunteered their time to write the report while also organizing the international conference in the fall, so it took longer than expected.

While the report concluded that anti-Semitism is an increasing problem in Canada, especially on some university campuses, it also noted that it’s hard to regionally compare the extent of anti-Semitic crime. It recommended Canada establish a national definition of what constitutes an anti-Semitic crime and lay out standard data reporting.

The report recommended withholding government funding for NGOs “that preach hatred or antisemitism.” The Harper government has recently cut or threatened to cut funding to several NGOs the government has labelled anti-Semitic, including the Christian aid group KAIROS—which has vehemently denied the charge.

The report recommended Citizenship and Immigration Canada “review, and take into consideration rising international antisemitism when designating source countries and targeting specific countries/people for resettlement.” It also said human rights should be part of newcomer education.

Reaching outside Canada, the report urged the House Foreign Affairs committee to study “the equity of the United Nations Human Rights Council, particularly regarding its over-emphasis of alleged human rights abuses by Israel, while ignoring flagrant human rights abuses of other member states.” It proposed that the Canadian government “spearhead initiatives to reform the International Human Rights regime.”

Using a European Union definition, the report said anti-Semitism may be expressed as hatred toward Jews that could target individual Jews or their property, but “such manifestations could also target the state of Israel conceived as a Jewish collectivity.”

At the same time, Mr. Silva noted, “criticism of Israel is not anti-Semitic, that’s in the report. But we are also saying that it’s wrong to single out Israel disproportionately and in opprobrium, let alone denying its right to exist and seeking its destruction—those types of rhetoric we think is anti-Semitic.”

Allegations of bias

But critics say the few lines in the report distinguishing between anti-Semitism and legitimate criticism of Israel are not reflected in the overall document.

“I don’t know if that report made that distinction enough,” Alia Hogben, executive director of the Canadian Council of Muslim Women, told Embassy.

By referring to Israel as a “Jewish collectivity” in the anti-Semitism definition, it means the state can’t be criticized, said Ms. Hogben. But Israel should be allowed to be criticized by the same standards of any state, she said.

Her group testified orally before the panel, but several others with similar criticisms of the CPCCA’s definition of anti-Semitism who presented written briefs say they were shut out. One person who says he was excluded is Thomas Woodley, president of Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East.

“The whole process that they followed in this didn’t really feel like it gave a fair shake to diverse viewpoints,” said Mr. Woodley. “They picked and chose the people that testified, and then, of course, they’ve woven together the testimony that they appreciated.

“It’s not to say that everyone was excluded,” he added, “but certainly I think some of the key people you could say would be opposed to the conflating of criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism…were excluded from the proceedings.”

University of Guelph professor Michael Keefer compiled a book with submissions to the CPCCA from more than a dozen individuals and groups that were not subsequently invited to speak, including CJPME, the Canadian Arab Federation and retired Jewish sociologist Joanne Naiman.

Mr. Silva told the news conference last week that the CPCCA considered both written and oral testimony in its report. Members worked on consensus to decide who could come speak. The panel didn’t hear from groups that were dominated by people who started with the premise of condemning the CPCCA, said Mr. Silva.

“They weren’t prepared at all, in fact, to even have any positive contribution, even state the fact that anti-Semitism is a problem,” he said. “They’d rather just focus on attacking the work we were doing.”

Ruth Klein, national director of the League for Human Rights of B’nai Brith Canada, a Jewish advocacy group, appeared before the coalition but said she had colleagues who submitted briefs and weren’t asked to appear. She disagreed that there was exclusion.

“The people who didn’t come to give oral testimony were really wanting to talk, as I understand it, about more traditional anti-Semitism,” she said. “And I think what was different about this inquiry was there was an interest in more modern-day manifestations.”

Amid the controversy, Bloc Québécois inquiry members quit last March. The party’s then-whip Michel Guimond told Le Devoir the Bloc considered the CPCCA partisan and that it presented “only one side of the coin.” He said the Bloc asked the CPCCA to hear from the Canadian Arab Federation and CJPME, but was refused.

Mr. Silva alleged that unlike other members, who participated as individuals and not on behalf of their parties, the Bloc’s presence was centrally controlled.

“[The decision to quit] was not necessarily an indication of all the Bloc members,” he said.

The Globe and Mail reported last week that some MPs who remained on the coalition said they argued that dissenting groups should participate, but that they were overruled.

Mr. Silva said he approached the Bloc about accommodating more hearings if that would mean party members would return, but they refused.

Bloc spokesperson Karine Sauvé said in an email to Embassy that was wrong, but didn’t elaborate. The two Bloc MPs who sat on the CPCCA before the party left it, Luc Desnoyers and Ève-Mary Thaï Thi Lac, were not re-elected.

Besides the Bloc, Liberal MP Joyce Murray’s name also disappeared from the CPCCA’s final report, while it had appeared on all previous press releases.

In a statement to Embassy, Ms. Murray said because of the election, all CPCCA members were never brought together to discuss the latest version of the report.

She commended some of the report’s recommendations, but said, “My name is not on the report because I did not approve this draft. I asked that it not be released until the Committee could complete its review and consider some revisions.”

Ms. Klein of B’Nai Brith praised the inquiry for recommending education and intercultural dialogue, and that a government pilot project be made permanent that helps vulnerable communities finance security assessments and improvements to their facilities.

The report noted that anti-Semitism in Canada “is increasingly focused on the role of Israel in the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians in the Middle East.” Some people who don’t distinguish between Jews and Israelis see Jews as legitimate targets in the fight to create a Palestinian state or to eliminate Israel, it added.

Mr. Kenney, Canada’s immigration minister, released a statement last week applauding the CPCCA for its work. Ms. Hogben of the Canadian Council of Muslim Women felt that given the government’s strong pro-Israel stance, “I think a lot of weight will be given to [the report].”

http://embassymag.ca/page/view/semitism-07-13-2011

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