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The Toronto Star

Saturday, October 4, 2003

Some fear older organizations in peril: Rise in anti-Semitism behind "new era"

Power struggle "crisis" worries [Canadian] Jewish groups

by Oakland Ross
Weature Writer

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 respond.

Maxyne Finkelstein"We're 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 ourselves."

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.

Frank DimantFrank Dimant, executive vice-president of B'nai 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 emergency cabinet.

"I don't think there will be a CIC or a CJC," he said. "I hope the dismantling ... will be done with dignity."

The membership 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 conflict.

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 firm.

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 the subject.

Israel AsperA 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 operations.

"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 reorganizing Jewish advocacy efforts in the country.

"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 issues."

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.

"It's our 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 reality."

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 other organizations.

"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 Canada.

"Everybody involved in cabinet understands their own limitations and knows you have to be inclusive, or nobody will support what we are doing," she said.


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 activities.

"Of course," he said. "That is the prime raison d'être for the move."

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 control.

"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 Jewish 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 different basis."

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 community."

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.

Daniel PipesHere 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.

"What happened 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 granted."

Meanwhile, there are indications that anti-Semitic opinions and activities are on the increase, both in Canada and elsewhere.

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 Jewish community."

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.

"Totally," 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 Canada?

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 equal amounts.

"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 are self-appointed."

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 entities."

The above press release is reproduced without editing other than typographical
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