Maybe the news from Israel and Palestine has become too toxic for even the most cautious of Canadian federal politicians. 

EU representatives for instance recently refused to meet with the openly racist and Jewish supremacist Israeli national security minister, Itamar Ben Gvir. (Will Canada do the same if that same situation comes up?)

Another Israeli minister, Amichai Chikli, who has advocated for the elimination of the Palestinian identity, was slated at press time to visit a private Christian college near Toronto at the invitation of controversial evangelical minister, Charles McVety without first informing the Canadian government. 

The House of Commons Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development stated in May it will hold hearings to study “the actions Canada should take to foster peace, protect civilians, combat terrorism and uphold respect for human rights and international law in the region.”

This came about following some skillful negotiations on the wording by NDP MP Foreign Affairs Critic Heather McPherson who had introduced the original motion and managed to cobble enough Liberals to get on board and have it passed six-to-three with the Conservatives completely opposed.

The key thing, yet to be determined, is who will be invited to appear before the Foreign Affairs Committee.

In the committee’s own words, witnesses are expected to appear from “Canadian civil society, international humanitarian organizations, as well as Israeli and Palestinian human rights and peacebuilding organizations. ” Following that, the committee will report its findings to Parliament.

Hailing the decision, the Montreal-based Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East is urging that in addition to hearing from human experts with knowledge and expertise on the ground in Israel and Palestine the study should also “prioritize Palestinian voices as the group which is oppressed and marginalized.”  

This is where the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), the premier lobbying organization for Israel in Canada, becomes very nervous. 

After losing the battle to stop the hearings in its tracks, CIJA is seeking a restriction on certain kinds of witnesses for the hearings.

Presumably, CIJA will be sending its CEO Shimon Fogel to speak on its behalf. (CIJA did not respond to my emailed inquiries for comments).

One can infer that the organization prefers not to have witnesses offering blunt talk about how Israel privileges its Jewish residents at the expense of Palestinians or that Israel is a by-product of settler colonialism and today functions as an apartheid state under international law.

One CIJA spokeswoman on Twitter speaks about how the hearings “will normalize extremist groups and views that the government has previously neglected.” 

She adds that it “puts the Jewish community in Canada at risk by fuelling tensions with other groups.” 

But such inflammatory talk is rejected by JSpaceCanada, which calls itself “Jewish progressive Zionist, pro-Israel, pro-peace and pro-democracy.” It supports the hearings and is on record opposed to the current status quo occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. 

The Liberals under Justin Trudeau are very pro-Israel. They are on record in support of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism which conflates criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism.

Plus, the UN representative Bob Rae, for instance, boycotted the May 15 UN commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the Nakba to mark the expulsion of approximately 750,000 Palestinians from their homes into exile by Zionist militias during the founding of Israel as a Jewish majority state.

Canada, like many of its western allies in the US and EU countries, is tied to Israel for geo-political reasons. Our country also has a free trade agreement with Israel.

One interpretation is that the appearance of hundreds of thousands of Israeli Jews within Israel opposing the gutting of an independent Israel Supreme Court by the new far-right government, led by Benjamin Netanyahu, has given the Canadian government permission to embark upon a closer scrutiny of Canada’ s relationship with this new administration in Tel Aviv.

Canada, for instance, provides millions in humanitarian assistance to Palestinians living in the occupied territories.

Also, the CIJA which has never taken a critical standing on anything coming out of Israel, appears out of step with the current mood within the Canadian Jewish community according to recent polling — and that may be understood by the federal government.

JSpaceCanada and the New Israel Fund of Canada jointly discovered in a 2023 survey of Canadian Jews that about 59 per cent of them believe that the Israeli government is heading in the wrong direction in a host of areas in like the Supreme Court, the promotion of gender separation and anti-LBGTQ measures, the expansion of illegal Jewish settlements on the West Bank and its annexation. (Technically, this new government has already de facto annexed the West Bank, according to Israel international legal specialist, Michael Sfard).

In face of campus pro-Palestinian rights activism, the CIJA was formed in 2004 under a slightly different name, the Canadian Council for Israel and Jewish Advocacy, to provide a more muscular approach to advocacy and lobbying for Israel than its disbanded but also Zionist and more democratic predecessor, the 100-year-old Canadian Jewish Congress.

CIJA acts more like a corporate public affairs firm and is frequently called “secretive.”

Its CEO Shimon Fogel has been described as among the top 100 lobbyists in Ottawa by The Hill Times. He has played a major role in the adoption by both the federal government and various provinces of the IHRA definition.

On its web site the CIJA is officially described as the “advocacy agent” of the local Jewish federations across Canada, providing services including education for local Jewish communities. 

There are about 400,000 Jews in Canada, according to most reports.Yet, by CIJA’ s own admission it only represents more than “150,000 Jewish Canadians affiliated with the federations.”

That number 150,000 includes anyone who has anything to do with a Jewish institution. 

“So, if you go swimming at a JCC (Jewish Community Centre), you are included. Does that constitute consent to representation? I doubt it. The recent JSpace/New Israel Fund survey reports that over 30 per cent of Canadian Jews think the institutional Jewish community is too supportive of Israel,” said Sheryl Nestel, a retired University of Toronto sociologist and a member of Independent Jewish Voices. 

Earlier in 2004, CIJA CEO Shimon Fogel referred to the occupied West Bank as “disputed,” a description not recognized by any international legal body. It also contradicts CIJA policy of a two-state solution.

The other aspect of the CIJA are the people on its board who are less circumspect than Shimon Fogel.

One is the Israel based David Weinberg (no relation) whom has been cited by Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East, for taking extremist positions including calling for the seizure of the Muslim administrated Temple Mount Al-Aqsa Mosque compound.  Weinberg is a senior fellow of the far-right Kohelet Policy Forum, whose policies have influenced the agenda of the current Israel government.

Another CIJA board member and its director of research, is Becca Wertman-Traub was formerly the managing editor and Canada Liaison for a Jerusalem-based research institute NGO Monitor that regularly “monitors and harasses” Israeli and Palestinian human rights activists and organizations, reported Yossi Melman, a columnist for the Israeli daily, Haaretz. 

The question is where does CIJA and Wertman Traub stand on the worrisome anti-NGO bill in the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, that targets foreign financial support including Canadian taxpayers.

The CIJA also called for the second extradition of Carleton University professor Hassan Diab, now back in Canada, to France following a sham trial in absentia in Paris that ignored a previous judicial ruling in that country that there was no evidence linking him to a 1980 bombing of a synagogue. Not all Jews in Canada agree with this stance including Bernie Farber, the founder of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network and a former chief executive officer for the Canadian Jewish Congress. Farber told the Globe and Mail in April that he regrets his original support for the first 2014 extradition of Diab to France, has apologized to the professor’s family and now calls the 2023 French prosecution of Diab “a shanda” (Yiddish for a disgrace of scandalous proportions). 

Today, the CIJA stays “above the fray” (the words of one observer) in promoting a pro-Israel tone inside the Canadian political class and the local Jewish community much like a sedative, in encouraging silence and acquiescence. Meanwhile other more combative pro-Israel organizations like B’nai B’rith or Honest Reporting, target via social media what they perceive as anti-Israel utterances by either politicians or the media.

But, the kickstarting of the parliamentary hearings represents a sign that CIJA is starting to lose its edge.

Dimitri Lascaris, a pro-Palestinian rights activist and lawyer follows CIJA closely. He says in an interview that CIJA is in danger of becoming “obsolete” in face of a shift within the Canadian Jewish community.

“(CIJA must) adapt, to the new reality, which is that people are waking up all around the world, to what the state of Israel has become, ” said Lascaris. “There must be people within (CIJA) that are aware of this. I am sure that is causing some internal fractures, but I don’t think we have seen much of that in the public sphere, yet.”

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