are now as many versions of the story
as there are people to tell
Toronto, February 17, 2001
[Images added by
Jewish 'voices' in
incident highlights bad feelings between
CJC and B'nai Brith
ON the day Israelis
voted to significantly change the
political climate of their country, a turf
war on Toronto's Jewish landscape was
As part of its Israeli election
coverage, CBC Newsworld prepared to air a
live interview from the Lipa Green
building on Bathurst Street, with
representatives from three of the city's
small Jewish organizations.
The fourth talking head was scheduled
to be Frank Dimant, executive
vice-president of B'nai
Brith Canada, one of the two large
Jewish groups based in Toronto, the other
being the Canadian
Jewish Congress (CJC).
did not sit well with the CJC and its
executive director, Bernie Farber
Mr. Farber apparently threatened to
eject the news crew upon learning a member
of his organization would not be allowed
to participate in a panel discussion being
held inside a building funded by his
group. (A CJC source says the threat only
came after a CBC producer made
remarks to Mr. Farber.)
According to the CBC (whose
spokespeople said they did not know who
owned the building and frankly did not
care), the producer insisted on keeping
the three lesser-known speakers to bring
in fresh viewpoints on the issue.
With one spot available, minutes from
airtime and fearing the show was on the
verge of collapse, the decision was made:
Mr. Dimant was out and Moshe Ronen,
president of the CJC, was in.
Days later, The Jewish Tribune,
a bi-weekly newspaper published by B'nai
Brith, reported a one-sided account of the
incident on its front page under the
headline "Entire Community Embarrassed by
There are now
as many versions of the story as there
are people to tell it. Whatever the
truth, what is truly "embarrassing,"
according to some in the Jewish
community, is the endless squabbling
between two organizations whose goals
may be getting lost in their battle for
the media spotlight.
Just weeks ago, the Tribune accused its
rival paper, the Canadian Jewish News, of
pandering to the CJC when it ran a picture
of that organization's members but cropped
out representatives of B'nai Brith.
Some within the CJC say Mr. Dimant is
stirring the pot and using his power with
the Tribune to take cheap, unsubstantiated
shots at their group. They say the CJC has
never publicly denounced B'nai Brith.
There are also tales of bickering over
the order of speakers at public events,
bickering over the CJC trying to exclude
B'nai Brith from events, and bickering
that B'nai Brith shamelessly throws up
signs at joint rallies.
Caught in-between are members of the
Jewish community who say they must ensure
they have placated both groups so as not
to incur their ire.
childish. It's a battle of egos," said
an observer who doesn't work for either
group. "We're talking about huge egos.
People who live and breathe to see
themselves in the press.
-- anti-Semitism, an attack on a
synagogue -- you'll be sure they will
be tripping over themselves to see who
gets more media attention."
A senior police official said working
with the two groups on hate crimes was
like "walking on glass."
Both groups would help the police but
then lobby to be the only one credited
publicly, he said.
"There seemed to be a lot of rivalry
between the two organizations," he
For years the CJC was the only game in
town when it came to representing the
views of the Jewish community. B'nai Brith
Canada relegated itself mostly to youth
issues, sponsoring baseball and soccer
But in the late 1970s, when B'nai Brith
created the League
of Human Rights, an organization
meant specifically to deal with
anti-Semitism, the two groups began to
compete for territory.
B'nai Brith's change in focus made the
differences between the two groups largely
structural. The CJC, with offices
throughout Canada, has an open membership
and is bankrolled by the United Jewish
Appeal, the largest fundraising
organization for Jewish causes.
Conversely, B'nai Brith, also national
in scope, is limited to members only and
funded by private donations and membership
Observers say the battle for headlines
is partially fuelled by the
"B'nai Brith is a self-funding
organization. The more prominence, the
more they raise money," said another
observer. "As for the CJC, if the UJA
feels congress is not pulling their
weight, they may cut them back."
The result is that independent groups
that have sought assistance from either
organization are pressured into taking
sides and have ended up "caught in an ugly
political crossfire," said Dave
Gordon, publisher of Afterword, a
national Jewish newspaper.
"Although Afterword is an independent
entity, it seems it's still a constant
political tightrope walk whenever we need
to call on an organization for any sort of
He said he has received flak over
something as benign as renting a hall at
one organization's building. "It was
perceived by the other organization as
taking allegiance to a side."
Some say the
conflict is a result of a personal
dislike between the left-leaning Mr.
Farber and the right-of-centre Mr.
Mr. Dimant said his main problem with
the CJC is its alleged unwillingness to
allow others to speak for Jews.
"CJC claims to be the only
spokes-organization for the Jewish
community. And while it's a fine
organization, it's not the only
spokes-organization," Mr. Dimant said.
He referred to the CBC incident as
"regrettable and distasteful" but added
"there have been incidents of this type in
Mr. Farber refused to speak at any
length about the CBC incident or the
relationship with B'nai Brith, saying
only, "We are saddened by any attempt to
make a public issue of supposed
inter-organizational wrangling. There are
too many serious issues confronting the
Jewish community for us to dignify these
petty and divisive allegations with any
With Canada's Jewish population
estimated at about 400,000, some may
question the need for two large
organizations representing such a small
But Robb Ritter, executive
director of the Canada-Israel Committee,
said both have a valuable contribution to
make and both are members of his
organization, which must reach a consensus
before issuing statements.
But he agreed "the interests of our
community would be best served if these
two valuable organizations would
collaborate instead of compete."