Category Archives: Jewish National Fund

Pro-Israeli Groups Weaponize Jewish Cultural Initiatives to Amplify Their Anti-Palestinianism

Should “Jewish Heritage Month” be used as a cover for Israeli nationalism and to suppress Palestinian protest?

A recent incident at a Toronto high school demonstrates the depravity of the pro-Israel lobby. It also illustrates their use of Canadian cultural and “diversity” initiatives to promote a country that declares itself to be the exact opposite of diverse.

Amidst the recent slaughter of nonviolent protesters in Gaza, a half-century illegal occupation of the West Bank and weekly bombings in Syria, an Israeli flag marked with “Jewish Heritage Month” was hoisted in the main foyer of Forest Hill Collegiate Institute. After a couple days the flag created by Israeli nationalist students was moved – possibly due to complaints from other students – to a less prominent location where Jewish Heritage Month events were taking place. In response B’nai Brith, Hasbara Fellowships, Simon Wiesenthal Centre for Holocaust Studies and Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) all claimed persecution. “Discrimination has absolutely no place in our schools”, noted a CIJA spokesperson with regards to moving the Israeli flag to a less prominent location in the school. For their part, the Wiesenthal Center said our “objective is to ensure that TDSB [Toronto District School Board] adheres to its own values of equity and inclusivity for all students” while B’nai Brith’s press release decried the “Jewish students who have had their heritage denigrated.” That group then published a story titled “Forest Hill Collegiate Has History of Alienating Jewish Students, Former Pupil Says.”

After the uproar the flag was returned to the Forest Hill Collegiate Institute’s main foyer and the TDSB apologized. At an assembly to discuss the matter, in which the principal and TDSB representative spoke standing behind a podium adorned with an Israeli flag, a student apparently yelled “Free Palestine”. B’nai Brith immediately denounced the brave, internationalist-minded high schooler, tweeting: “This morning, before an assembly about the removal of a #JewishHeritageMonth banner at Forest Hill Collegiate, a student yelled ‘Free Palestine’ during the morning announcements. We have been assured that this was not approved by the school and that an investigation is underway.”

In another Twitter post B’nai Brith claimed the Israeli flag flap made a “mockery of Canada’s first Jewish Heritage Month.” Their statement highlights a mindset that views gaining official sanction of cultural initiatives as a way to strengthen their campaign to support a violent, European colonial outpost in the Middle East.

Earlier this year the House of Commons unanimously adopted May as “Jewish Heritage Month”. The motion was sponsored by York Centre MP Michael Levitt who is chair of the Canada Israel Interparliamentary Group and a former board member of the explicitly racist Jewish National Fund. Two weeks ago the Liberal MP issued a statement, partly rebutting the prime minister, that blamed “Hamas incitement” for Israeli forces shooting thousands of peaceful protesters, including Canadian doctor Tarek Loubani.

The bill’s other sponsor was Linda Frum. Last year the Conservative Party senator called Iran “one of the most malign nations in the world” and labeled a Palestinian-Canadian’s 2014 art exhibit at Ottawa’s city hall “a taxpayer-funded tribute to a Palestinian terrorist” and “the murder of innocent civilians.”

Leaving aside the background of those driving the initiative, the likely political effect of creating Jewish Heritage Month should have been obvious. The Canadian Jewish News report on the House of Commons resolution noted that May was chosen to celebrate Jewish Heritage Month because of the “various events on the Jewish calendar, including the UJA Walk for Israel, the Toronto Jewish Film Festival, Jewish Music Week and Israel’s Independence Day.” Similarly, when Ontario adopted May as Jewish Heritage Month in 2012 United Jewish Appeal Federation of Greater Toronto president Ted Sokolsky linked it to the group’s Israel campaigning. He said, “this announcement will call for an extra celebration at this year’s UJA Walk with Israel, which for 45 years has taken place in May.”

Despite the initiative being steeped in colonialist politics, the NDP voted in favour of the bill creating Jewish Heritage Month. During discussion of the motion NDP MPs Jenny Kwan and Randall Garrisson claimed it would enhance cultural/religious understanding. Garrisson said, “Jewish heritage month will help contribute to better understanding of just how diverse we Canadians are, and in doing so contribute to building a Canada free from hatred and division.”

Of course, this would be a laudable goal, but putting up an Israeli flag in a public high school while that country is murdering unarmed Palestinian demonstrators can only cause hatred and division. And it is an affront to thousands of Jewish-Canadians who do not support Israel.

The flag flap at Forest Hill Collegiate illustrates how pro-Israel groups have weaponized Jewish cultural initiatives to amplify their anti-Palestinianism. Those who seek justice for Palestinians need to recognize this fact and figure out way

Freedom for Palestine: Another New Democratic Party Resolution

At next week’s New Democratic Party convention in Ottawa Palestinian rights are set to be a major flashpoint. The NDP Socialist Caucus has submitted a resolution calling on the party to:

actively campaign in support of the demand of Palestinian unions, civil society and unions across Canada and around the world which call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against the Israeli state until it dismantles the apartheid wall, allows refugees to return home, ends its demolition of Palestinian homes and olive groves, lifts the siege of Gaza, ends its occupation of Palestinian lands, and terminates its apartheid practices.

A more moderate “Palestine Resolution: renewing the NDP’s commitment to peace and justice” has been endorsed by two dozen riding associations. The motion mostly restates official Canadian policy, except that it calls for “banning settlement products from Canadian markets, and using other forms of diplomatic and economic pressure to end the occupation.”

Already the Canadian Jewish News, Electronic Intifada, National Post, Ottawa Jewish Bulletin, Toronto Star, Le Devoir, Mondoweiss, Canada Talks Israel Palestine and Rabble have published stories regarding the resolutions. The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs has called on the party leader to “push back against marginal elements within the party” promoting Palestinian rights while the more explicitly antidemocratic Canadian Friends of Simon Wiesenthal has “Urged NDP to Disallow Anti-Israel Resolution at Upcoming Convention”.

Unfortunately, corporate-media-focused party operatives may heed the CIJA/Wiesenthal call. Party insiders will no doubt do everything in their power to avoid discussing the Socialist Caucus BDS resolution and will probably seek to block the Palestine Resolution from being debated publicly on the convention floor. If their backroom procedural shenanigans fail to stop the resolutions from a public airing expect a great deal of concern about associating with the international BDS movement.

For NDPers scared of BDS here is an alternative resolution that places no demands on Israel:

  1. The NDP will refrain from excluding electoral candidates who speak up for Palestinian rights.

(During the 2015 federal election the NDP responded to Conservative party pressure by ousting as many as eight individuals from running or contesting nominations to be candidates because they defended Palestinian rights on social media.)

  1. NDP MPs will refrain from participating in any Israel parliamentary group until the party is represented on a Nigerian, Algerian or Spanish parliamentary group.

(Vancouver Island MPs Randall Garrison and Murray Rankin are currently members of the Canada Israel Inter-parliamentary Group.)

  1. The NDP foreign critic will refuse requests to participate in all expense paid trips to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s annual

(Hélène Laverdière spoke at the 2016 AIPAC conference in Washington DC.)

  1. NDP MPs will participate in all expense paid lobbying trips to Israel at no greater rate than Paraguay, which is of similar size and distance from Ottawa.

(A 2014 calculation found that 20 NDP MPs had been to Israel with a Zionist lobby organization and 13 months ago recently elected party leader Jagmeet Singh went on an organized trip to the country.)

  1. NDP officials will abstain from attending events put on by explicitly racist organizations.

(In 2016 Hélène Laverdière participated in an event in Jerusalem organized by the openly racist Jewish National Fund while NDP MP Pat Martin spoke at a JNF event in Ottawa to “recognize and thank the people that have helped to make JNF Canada what it is today.” Owner of 13 per cent of Israel’s land – which was mostly taken from Palestinians forced from their homes by Zionist forces in 1947-48 – the JNF openly discriminates against the 20% of Israelis who are not Jewish. Its website notes that “a survey commissioned by KKL-JNF reveals that over 70% of the Jewish population in Israel opposes allocating KKL-JNF land to non-Jews, while over 80% prefer the definition of Israel as a Jewish state, rather than as the state of all its citizens.”)

My alternative resolution makes no demands of Israel so it’s hard to link it to the BDS bogeyman. Best of all, the party has the power to immediately implement this small gesture of support for the long-suffering Palestinians.

I will be speaking about “What’s Wrong with NDP Foreign Policy?” on the sidelines of the convention.

Jewish National Fund: Teaching Children an Exclusive, Religious/Ethnic Nationalism

What do you call an organization that teaches children an exclusive, religious/ethnic nationalism and promotes war and other forms of violence to get its way?

Most people would say an extremist group or a right wing cult. Many would think of groups like the Ku Klux Klan.

But, while the KKK had a Youth Corps where children were taught “patriotism” and “Christian values” but weren’t “brainwashed”, in the words of a spokesperson, we are talking about a group the Canada Revenue Agency considers worthy of awarding tax deductions for “charitable” donations.

The Jewish National Fund would also deny “brainwashing” children, but it has long tried to convince young minds of its colonial worldview.

A recent ad in the Canadian Jewish News promoting JNF Montréal’s Tu Bi’Shevat Tree A Thon pictured a smart phone with the headline “VERSION 2.0 BYOC” (Bring Your Own Cellphone, for those who remember the pager). According to the ad, “students earn community service hours” for participating in the JNF fundraiser.

For its part, JNF Toronto hosts Step Up for Tu Bi’Shevat dance parties. According to a summary of the 2014 event, “over a 150 children between grades 1-8 came out to vibe, groove, dance and move for Israel.”

The registered Canadian “charity” offers various other youth outreach initiatives to help build the “bond between the Jewish people and their land.” The JNF has produced puzzles and board games as well as organizing a Youth Summer experience program. According to JNF Canada’s Education Department, the group “educates thousands of young people in Israel and abroad, helping them forge an everlasting bond with the Land of Israel.”

The JNF has long promoted an expansionist vision of “Eretz Yisrael”. The current map on JNF Blue Boxes encompasses the West Bank while the first map on the Blue Box, designed in 1934, “depicted a borderless area that reached from the Mediterranean into Lebanon and Jordan.”

Blue Boxes are the mainstay of JNF youth outreach. Over the last century millions of them have been distributed around the world. An official description explains:

Since its debut in 1901 as JNF’s official fundraising ‘pushke,’ the Blue Box has represented JNF and its efforts to develop the land and roads, build communities, strengthen agriculture, and create water reservoirs in Israel. It is also a vehicle for educating Jewish youth and involving them in these efforts in order to foster their Zionistic spirit and inspire their support for the State of Israel. For many Jews, the Blue Box is bound up with childhood memories from home and the traditional contributions they made in kindergarten and grade school.

While youth pursuing “community service” sounds nice, the JNF is a racist, colonial, institution that has no place in the 21st century. An owner of 13 per cent of Israel’s land and with influence over much of the rest, the JNF discriminates against Palestinian citizens of Israel (Arab Israelis) who make up one-fifth of the population. According to a UN report, JNF lands are “chartered to benefit Jews exclusively,” which has led to an “institutionalized form of discrimination.”

For their part, JNF Canada officials are relatively open about the discriminatory character of the organization. In 2009 JNF Canada’s head Frank A. Wilson explained, “JNF are the caretakers of the Land of Israel on behalf of its owners, who are the Jewish people everywhere around the world.”

In addition to racist land-use policies, JNF Canada lobbies for war. After Israel killed 2,200 mostly Palestinian civilians in Gaza in 2014 it brought former IDF chief of staff and defence minister, Shaul Mofaz, to speak in Toronto. In 2007 it sponsored a cross-Canada speaking tour by Colonel Ze’ev Raz who led Israel’s 1981 bombing of Iraq’s nuclear reactor. The aim of the tour was to build momentum for an attack against Iran. “Sanctions against Iran are not effective,” Raz explained. “Sanctions are too vulnerable to cheating. The only solution to the Iran problem is for there to be an effort of the U.S. and other forces to invade Iran from the ground.”

Branding itself as “100% Israel”, the JNF offers other groups “Zionist speakers”. In 2009 JNF Canada announced an “Ambassadors” program to send 15 to 20 volunteers to Israel annually who would be trained “to become representatives for JNF and Israel, to communicate the virtues of the Holy Land to organizations that don’t normally hear about the JNF in Canada, such as church groups.”

With 11 offices across the country, JNF Canada has raised $73 million since 2014. Similar to other formerly powerful, but now discredited institutions, the JNF seeks to convince vulnerable young minds of its racist worldview.

It’s time to free the children and abolish the JNF. Or at least revoke its tax status.