Saturday, October 4, 2003
fear older organizations in peril: Rise in
anti-Semitism behind "new era"
struggle "crisis" worries
by Oakland Ross
RISING bloodshed in the
Middle East and dwindling support among
Canadians for the Israeli side have
provoked a "crisis" among Canada's 370,000
Jews, causing widespread unease and
sometimes sharp disagreement over how to
in a new era," Maxyne Finkelstein,
executive vice-president of the United
Israel Appeal Federations Canada,
(right), said in an interview.
"It's important for us to renew
But this very renewal is already
leading to distress and dissension in some
quarters of Canada's Jewish community.
At the centre of the storm is an ad hoc
body called the "emergency cabinet," a
self-appointed group of 15 prominent
Canadian Jews who some believe are seeking
to hijack two of the country's leading
Jewish advocacy organizations or even to
drive them out of existence.
The emergency cabinet was set up
informally about 18 months ago by a group
of influential men and women concerned
about the worsening conflict in the Middle
East, a rise in anti-Semitism worldwide
and a feeling Canadians are becoming less
sympathetic to Israel.
Since then, the body has increased in
influence and formalized its association
with the UIA Federations Canada, which
funds the two organizations considered by
some to be under threat.
They are the Canada-Israel Committee,
which lobbies in Canada on behalf of
Israel, and the Canadian
Jewish Congress, which has a more
general mandate to promote various Jewish
interests and projects in Canada.
Dimant, executive vice-president of
Brith Canada - a separate Jewish
organization not directly affected by the
current turmoil - described the so-called
emergency cabinet's largely secret
manoeuvrings as "a hostile takeover." He
predicted that both the CIC and the CJC
will soon cease to exist, replaced by some
structure more firmly controlled by the
dozen or so individuals who make up the
"I don't think there will be a CIC or a
CJC," he said. "I hope the dismantling ...
will be done with dignity."
list of the emergency cabinet reads
like a Who's Who of power and
influence among the Jewish community.
Some members are well known for their
hawkish opinions favouring Israel in
the long and bloody Middle Eastern
The cabinet is chaired jointly by
Gerald Schwartz, CEO of Onex Corp.,
Larry Tanenbaum, chairman of Maple
Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd., and
Stephen Cummings of Montreal. Other
well-known members include media magnate
Israel Asper, executive chairman of
CanWest Global Communications Corp.;
Heather Reisman, CEO of Indigo
Books and Music Inc.; Stephen
Reitman, executive vice-president of
Reitmans Canada Ltd.; Senator Leo
Kolber of Montreal, and Brent
Belzberg, founding partner of Torquest
Partners, Inc., a Toronto money-management
The Star attempted to contact several
members of the group in order to discuss
their involvement with the emergency
cabinet, but only Belzberg responded
personally and he declined to speak about
spokesperson for CanWest Global
Communications in Winnipeg passed along a
reporter's request for an interview to
company chairman Asper (right), who
turned it down.
"He regards this as his private
business and he does not discuss his
private business with the media," said
Geoffrey Elliot, CanWest's
vice-president for corporate affairs.
Dimant at B'nai Brith criticized
members of the executive cabinet for not
being more open about their aims and
"Too much of
the activities of the super cabinet are
shrouded in secrecy," he said.
Hershell Ezrin, CEO of GPC
International, a public-relations firm,
has been engaged to act as a consultant to
the body as it examines ways of
advocacy efforts in the
"They tell us what their priorities
are, and we model them against similar
organizations in different fields," Ezrin
told the Star. "I can tell you,
even among the group that's there, they
have differing views about lots of
Senior officials at the UIA Federations
Canada, which controls the budgets of the
two organizations said to be threatened,
told the Star that the CIC and the
CJC are to be restructured to better meet
the needs and purposes of the Jewish
community. But the officials said the two
agencies will not be abolished.
"It's not a consideration at this
point," Finkelstein said. "These
organizations have good profiles."
But she said that many Canadians seem
to be misinformed about what is happening
in the Middle East and that this situation
must be countered.
responsibility to make sure that the
proper information gets out," she said.
"I think, honestly, the Palestinian
cause has been portrayed in a very
sympathetic light in Canada, to a point
where it's unfair to Israel. At times,
it's a complete distortion of
She said that current Jewish advocacy
efforts, regarding Israel and other
issues, are being hampered by conflicts
among various constituent organizations
that sometimes have differing views or
mandates. The CIC, for example, must
strive to balance the opinions of the CJC,
the UIA Federations Canada, B'nai Brith
and the Canadian Zionist Federation, among
"Let's have a structure where more
policy development is done at a table with
individuals," she said. "You bring the
best resources to the table."
She said this would not result in a
narrowing of opinion or a centralizing of
control over Jewish advocacy efforts in
"Everybody involved in cabinet
understands their own limitations and
knows you have to be inclusive, or nobody
will support what we are doing," she
BUT at B'nai Brith - an agency that raises
all its own funds, unlike the CIC and the
CJC, which are beholden financially to the
UIA Federations Canada - Dimant predicted
that the small group of powerful
individuals who sit on the emergency
cabinet are bent on increasing their
influence over the organization and its
"Of course," he said. "That is the
prime raison d'être for the
In fact, he said, the dismantling of
the CIC has already begun. This past
summer, for example, the Quebec branch of
the CIC was folded by the Montreal Jewish
Federation, which set up a new body to
lobby in favour of Israel in the province
- a body that, unlike its predecessor, is
directly under the federation's
"We said (at the time) this was the
beginning," Dimant said. "Quebec was the
prototype for the dismantling."
Finkelstein concedes that these changes
have taken place in Quebec but denied they
are a precedent for what may now happen to
advocacy organizations in the rest
of the country.
"It was a very different situation,"
she said of the decision to abolish the
CIC in Quebec. "It was just run on a very
Like other members of the Jewish
community interviewed for this story,
Finkelstein said that recent events in
Canada and abroad have sown deep anxiety
among Canadian Jews, leading to what she
called "a crisis in our international
community and in our Canadian
This trend began in 2000 with the
launching of the second Intifada, or
Palestinian uprising, in the Holy Land.
The following year, Israel was starkly
isolated at a United Nations conference in
Durban, South Africa, that was aimed at
combating racism worldwide.
in Canada, pro-Palestinian demonstrators
prevented former Israeli prime minister
Benjamin Netanyahu from delivering
a speech last fall at Montreal's Concordia
University. Earlier this year, security
concerns at first made it impossible for
Daniel Pipes, (right), a
pro-Israel academic from the United
States, to give an address at York
University, although he was eventually
able to do so.
at Concordia University was, to many
people, appalling," said Finkelstein.
"The Jewish community has for a long
time been pretty passive. What happened
at Concordia was a real shock. It made
us realize you can't take anything for
Meanwhile, there are indications that
anti-Semitic opinions and activities are
on the increase, both in Canada and
During 2002, the B'nai Brith League for
Human Rights received reports of 459
anti-Semitic incidents in Canada, an
increase of 60 per cent over the previous
year and the highest number of such
incidents ever recorded in any one year in
the two decades that B'nai Brith has
monitored such activity.
"The past three years have been
extraordinarily tough on Jews in Canada
and around the world," said Keith
Landy, national president of the
Canadian Jewish Congress.
"Every Jew has felt
under attack in some form."
Landy said he is aware the organization
he leads is being scrutinized by the
powerful emergency cabinet, but he
predicted the CJC will survive, more or
less in its current form.
"The Canadian Jewish Congress is
determined to remain a national,
independent, democratic organization," he
said. "There are different views out
there, but the strength of the congress
has been recognized and I trust it will
continue to be recognized."
His counterpart at the CIC sounded a
similarly defiant note.
"I think that the CIC enjoys the
confidence of its constituency," said
Shimon Fogel, executive director of
the CIC. "We're an agent for the organized
Fogel dismissed fears the emergency
cabinet or some other group would impose
its will on the CIC.
"The idea that some entity could come
forward and articulate what we should do
or not do is just so foreign to me that I
cannot imagine it."
But in fact such an entity already
exists: the UIA Federations Canada, which
provides 100 per cent of the operating
funds for the CIC and for the CJC,
amounting to about $5 million annually. By
holding the purse strings, the UIA
Federations Canada implicitly controls
both organizations. Simply by shutting off
funds, it has the ability to impose its
will whenever it chooses.
said Finkelstein of the UIA Federations
Canada. "They've always been our agents
and that's what they are. We've always
had the ability to fund and not to
fund.... We actually have a contract
with the CIC that we have the capacity
to terminate or continue."
But who controls the UIA Federations
The organization receives donations
each year from about 60,000 individuals or
corporations spread around the country,
but not all of these stakeholders give in
"I think, if you track what most
charities find, a large amount of what
they raise comes from a small cadre of
donors," said Shoel Silver,
president of the UIA Federations Canada
and the sole ex officio member of the
emergency cabinet. He said this pattern
holds true for his organization, but he
declined to name major donors or provide
details of individual contributions.
In regard to the so-called emergency
cabinet, however, he said the group's role
is more than merely advisory.
"In the current situation, in the
discussion of structure, it is more than
that," he said. "They aren't elected. They
Over at B'nai Brith, Dimant put the
matter another way.
"It's the funders who will determine
the policy," he said. "They will be
deciding policy for all those