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Now magazine
Toronto, February 15, 2001

VOL. 20 NO. 25

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Unholy row

B'nai Brith tears strip off Jewish congress

NOW MAGAZINE (Toronto) | FEB 15 - 21, 2001 |

By Enzo Di Matteo

The Demon FarberJewish community leaders, especially those connected to the country's two pre-eminent Jewish organizations, are not in the habit of airing their dirty laundry in public. It's an unwritten rule. But that all changed in the aftermath of the Israeli elections last week when B'Nai Brith went to press with a story in its official organ, the Jewish Tribune, blasting Canadian Jewish Congress bigwig Bernie Farber -- and on the front page, no less.

"Entire Jewish Community Embarrassed By CJC," the Tribune headline blared. The two groups, of which B'Nai Brith tends to be the more conservative, have had tense relations on and off for years.

The latest fracas began when CBC Newsworld was at the CJC's Lipa Green building on Bathurst to film the reaction of locals, regular folk coming in from off the street to watch election results trickling in via satellite from Israel.

Some hell broke loose, apparently, when it was discovered that B'Nai Brith executive vice-president Frank Dimant had been invited by the CBC to come and offer comment.

The Tribune article claims that Farber got the CBC to drop Dimant from a list of speakers scheduled to talk about the results just minutes before the network was scheduled to go live to air.

There were reportedly heated exchanges. Or so the story goes.

"It was humiliating," says Dimant.

Farber, on the other hand, offers a decidedly different version when reached by NOW.

Higher-ups in the CJC are handling calls on the matter, but Farber, for his part, says the Tribune piece "is nothing but self-serving, purposeful misinformation."

Farber figures he should at least have been offered the opportunity by the Tribune to respond to the allegations. There is no byline on the piece. Dimant says he didn't write it, but won't tell who did. "It was a combination of people." The eyewitness quoted is not identified.

The only other person quoted in the piece, B'Nai Brith senior vice-president Rochelle Wilner, did not respond to NOW's request for comment.

Most of the players involved in this unfortunate mess are unwilling to say much -- on the record, at least.

Talk to CJC reps and they'll tell you that all they wanted was for the CBC to add CJC president Moshe Ronen to the list of commentators, not drop Dimant -- a misunderstanding, as it were.

Talk to the CBC and they'll tell you they were pressured to drop Dimant or face the prospect of being asked to leave the building and pull the plug on the live telecast. The network ended up interviewing Ronen.

"We were put under a great deal of pressure," says one CBC source. "We were live on air, the election returns were coming in. There weren't any slots left (for interviews). Somebody was going to have to go."

Exit Dimant.

B'Nai Brith has asked the Jewish Federation of Greater Toronto to investigate and wants a public apology from the CJC.

Ronen, according to another source, has already had lunch with Dimant and offered a full and personal apology. Ronen did not return NOW's calls.

But political tensions between B'Nai Brith and the CJC have long simmered below the surface.

B'Nai Brith's leadership is generally more conservative -- Dimant himself flirted with the idea of running for the Canadian Alliance last fall -- while the CJC is decidedly more centrist.

This latest dust-up probably has more to do with the two organizations' opposing views on Israeli politics and Canadian Jewry's role in them than with their vying for media coverage. The issue of an undivided, totally Jewish Jerusalem, it seems, is as divisive in some parts of the Jewish community as it is between Jews and Palestinians.

Last month another conflict arose between the two groups over a pro-Israel ad that ended up running in the country's three major Jewish newspapers: the Tribune, the Suburban and the Canadian Jewish News.

The B'Nai Brith leadership, including Dimant and Wilner, signed the full-page ad that proclaimed, among other things, "the enduring and timeless link between Jerusalem and the Jewish people (and) a united Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty."

Ronen and other Congress officers, however, made the decision not to sign, saying that issues of sovereignty and security, both central to ongoing Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, are for Israelis to decide.

The Congress's brain trust also expressed concern about the timing of the ad, which ran only a week before the Israeli election.

Says Rubin Friedman, the CJC's Ottawa-based national communications director, "Our opinion was that it would not be appropriate in the time just before the election."

Then there was the reception ultra-conservative Zionist Natan Sharansky, a member of the Israeli Knesset, received on a recent visit to Toronto.

Sharansky was in town for a One Jerusalem rally. A press conference originally slated to take place at the Village Shul was moved outside at the 11th hour.

Dimant cites the community's confusion over the CJC leadership's decision not to endorse the Jerusalem ad as a contributing factor in the shul's decision.

The shul released a statement explaining that it "didn't want to convey the mistaken impression that the shul officially aligns itself with any political view." A dinner at the shul for Sharansky did go ahead as scheduled.

Mordechai Bookbinder, a spokesperson for the shul, says the ad flap had nothing to do with the decision. And that's all he'll say.

"There was a great rabbi who wrote about the laws of gossiping, (which) can be more divisive than what may or may not have happened," he says.


Related files on this website:

For Bernie Farber's role in securing Canada's 1992 illegal deportation of David Irving, by the use of documents forged by the Board of Deputies of British Jews about him, see Global Vendetta

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