A New Organization Reflects Political Diversity among Canada’s Jews

Yakov Rabkin
December 2006

Published in Siafu (Montreal) in December 2006.

A New Organization Reflects Political Diversity among Canada’s Jews

Yakov M. Rabkinð

Nearly a year ago, a group Jewish activists and intellectuals started a new organization, the Alliance of Concerned Jewish Canadians (ACJC). What are they concerned about?  Mostly about events taking place in and around Israel. When Elie Barnavi, former Israeli ambassador in Paris, refers to the obsession of Jewish communities with the State of Israel, his characterization may well be more encompassing than he intended. In fact, it includes both Zionist advocates of Israeli policies and Jews who are among the sharpest critics of Israel.

Jewish communities remain quite diverse. There is little consensus neither on central issues of Jewish life nor on Judaic legitimacy of Zionism and the Zionist state. For example, Zionist activists from Côte-St-Luc have little in common with the Hasidic Jews in Outremont, mostly aloof from, and often hostile to, Zionism. It is ironic that these visible but rarely audible Jews have been targets of attacks meant to protest against Israel’s actions against the Palestinians.

The practical impact on Israel of Jews who live outside it is negligible at best. Jews are no longer the main source of political and financial backing for the State of Israel: Christian conservatives in the United States and elsewhere have taken the centre stage as the most powerful source of unconditional support for Israel. It would appear that the Zionist narrative has also penetrated Canada’s elites. There has formed a class divide: business executives and bankers tend to give more support to the State of Israel than ordinary Canadians. Moreover, they believe that by supporting Israel they support the Jews since the media constantly call Israel “the Jewish state”. This dangerous term blurs the distinction in the public’s mind between Jews and Israelis, and threatens the Jews and, more generally, the intercommunal harmony in our country.

This is due to the work of certain Jewish organizations, which occupy the central stage in the public domain while de facto relegating other Jews to virtual silence. Ironically, these organizations display little appreciation of Israel’s civil society, where there are fewer taboos, and attacks on government policies and even on Zionism are common and legitimate. These “Jewish leaders” are out of touch with “the Jewish street”. For example, they enthusiastically endorsed George W Bush in the presidential elections in 2004 while 75% of American Jews voted against him, just as did 75% of American Muslims. A similar situation exists in Canada. Just as in many other religious and ethnic communities, these spokesmen fail to reflect the diversity of the Jews they pretend to represent. It is in order to reflect the political diversity of Canadian Jews that the ACJC was formed.

In its official document, the ACJC states that “the lives of Jewish Canadians, as well as the lives of Israelis, have been adversely affected by the policies carried out by the various governments of Israel. Despite growing international opposition to these policies, Israel continues to pursue a primarily military strategy while claiming to speak in the name of Jewish people around the world.” It urges “Jewish Canadians to take a greater role in supporting and promoting a peaceful and just resolution of the Israel/Palestine conflict”. ACJC condemned Israel’s military actions in Lebanon, continued occupation of  Palestinian territories and emphasized the legitimacy of proposed boycott initiatives against Israel. At the same time it applied to join the Canadian Jewish Congress, an umbrella organization that is meant to represent the entire gamut of Jewish opinions in this country. The application was initially rejected, citing the ACJC support for the boycott. However, it is being reconsidered, largely due to the publicity that the rejection has received in the press, including The Gazette and Canadian Jewish News. Whatever the outcome, the new organization has attracted members from Nova Scotia to British Columbia and continues to expand.

ð The author is Professor of History at the Université de Montréal ; his most recent work A Threat from Within : A Century of Jewish Opposition to Zionism (Fernwood, 2006) has been nominated for the Governor General Award. This book is also available in Arabic, Dutch, Italian, Spanish and, naturally, in the original French under the title Au nom de la Torah : une histoire de l’opposition juive au sionisme (PUL, 2004).

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A New Organization Reflects Political Diversity among Canada’s Jews