Since I wrote last week, the Harper government's bizarre embrace of Canadian Jewry continues to tighten. On Dec. 16, Jason Kenney, Minister of Citizenship, Immigration, Multiculturalism, was in Jerusalem speaking at a conference on combatting anti-Semitism. All Canadians should know that Kenney and his government will not abide anti-Semitism. That, of course, is in sharp contrast to all other Canadian political parties that do abide anti-Semitism.
Kenney's stated message was his government's opposition to those who "advocate the destruction of Israel and the destruction of the Jewish people." That is in sharp contrast to those Canadian parties that do not oppose those who advocate such destruction.
To demonstrate its firmness, Kenney announced that the "Canadian government has now…implemented a zero tolerance approach to anti-Semitism in Canada. What does this mean? In part it means we have eliminated any government funding relationship with organizations…who are taking a leadership role" in the campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel. That's why, he said, "we have defunded organizations most recently like KAIROS who are taking a leadership role" in this campaign.
KAIROS is a Canadian NGO whose mission is social justice and support for oppressed groups. What's distinct about it is that it's the only such organization supported by just about all Canadian churches. When KAIROS was abruptly defunded by CIDA early in December, officials claimed it no longer fit CIDA priorities. But on the basis of a few other hints, I reached a different conclusion. The Conservatives simply can't stomach KAIROS' support of Palestinians, even if that support is restricted to those who protest peacefully against Israeli actions. Now Jason Kenney has confirmed my deduction.
But hold on. There are a couple of problems with Kenney's statement. First, it's completely false. Not only does KAIROS not lead a BDS campaign against Israel, it does not endorse one. Any check of their website would instantly see that they explicitly do not support such campaigns. What they do scrupulously support is the legitimate right of the Israeli people to a safe and secure state.
Second, how is it tolerable for a government minister to baldly accuse an organization of being anti-Semitic without a single shred of evidence, which is of course non-existent. And don't tell me that's not what Kenney deliberately implied. The Anglican Church immediately issued an angry statement condemning Kenney's accusations as false. So too did the United Church, whose spokesperson pointed out that KAIROS' policies are approved by its Board, on which 11 Canadian churches are represented. "So in a sense," he observes, " what Mr. Kenney is doing is accusing Canadian churches of being anti-Semitic."
Of course the Harperites insist that anyone who criticizes the Israeli government in any way is an anti-Semite. Yet if Kenney had bothered to look around him in Jerusalem, he would have discovered a slew of Israeli writers, commentators, scholars, soldiers, human rights activists and others who routinely and severely criticize their own government. Imagine NOT criticizing an extremist Israeli government led by Benjamin Netanyahu, a radical nationalist; Avigdor Lieberman, who supports ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians; and the ultra-Orthodox Shas party.
Or he could have met with Prof. Neve Gordon, a nice Jewish boy who's also chair of the Department of Politics and Government at Ben-Gurion University in Israel. They could have discussed Gordon's advocacy of an international boycott against Israel "to save Israel from itself". But perhaps Gordon too is anti-Semitic.
If I were KAIROS, or any of the mainstream churches that support it, I'd feel that I'd been slandered, libelled and maligned by my own government, for no reason other than to make some political points with Canadian Jews.
What my fellow Jews in Canada make of this extraordinary campaign of seduction by the Harper government is not yet clear. I'm especially curious--and nervous-- about the position of the Canadian Jewish establishment and the small number of organizations that claim to speak for us all. Is the romancing of Canadian Jews by the Harper government requited?
As United Church spokesperson Bruce Gregerson points out, to charge KAIROS with anti-Semitism "with so little thought cheapens the reality of anti-Semitism in the world and diminishes the very careful attention that it deserves". I've yet to see a Canadian Jewish "leader" make this all-important point. Did Kenney's despicable accusation of anti-Semitism against KAIROS not somewhat trouble the Canadian Jews in the audience who have actually worked with KAIROS?
Real enemies of anti-Semitism do not throw the term around recklessly.
In the United States, the leading Jewish neoconservatives made an unholy alliance with evangelical Protestants whose ultimate vision was a Jew-free world--Hitler's demented goal finally realized. What they had in common was support for the state of Israel-at least for the moment.
Are Canadian Jews now going to be seduced by a government that uses anti-Semitism for political reasons? That maliciously accuses decent men and women of being anti-Semitic? That identifies legitimate, democratic criticism of Israeli governments with anti-Semitism?
Is there not one among them who will say to this Government: We reject your right to play the anti-Semitic card for your own crass political purposes.
There's another way to make this point as well. Harper has rejected KAIROS' request for $7-million over the next 4 years for a series of important human rights projects across the world, including the Middle East. A self-respecting Jewish community would make sure that this fine, dedicated NGO and those it serves will receive the funds it needs. What an honourable message that would send this holiday season.