Globe & Mail: Coalition warns of rising anti-Semitism, but critics say group shows Israeli bias

A multi-party coalition of current and former parliamentarians has concluded that anti-Semitic incidents are on the increase across Canada and have been fostered by a climate that is receptive to attacks on Israel, particularly on university campuses. But critics say the work of the Canadian Parliamentary Coalition to Combat Anti-Semitism (CPCCA) was nothing more than a poorly disguised attempt to suppress legitimate criticism of the Jewish state.

GLORIA GALLOWAY – Globe and Mail, Jul. 08, 2011

OTTAWA— The final report of the coalition, which has been investigating the nature and extent of anti-Semitism in Canada since November, 2009, was issued on Thursday – more than a year later than promised.

The coalition was formed outside the official workings of Parliament after 11 MPs, at the request of Immigration Minister Jason Kenney and Liberal MP Irwin Cotler, attended an International Parliamentary Coalition conference in London on combatting anti-Semitism around the world.

The group’s work has drawn criticism because central to its inquiry was acceptance of a new definition of anti-Semitism from the London conference, that, in addition to expressions of hatred toward Jews and Jewish institutions, includes certain undefined forms of verbal and physical attack against the state of Israel.

“Criticism of Israel is not anti-Semitic,” Mario Silva, the former Liberal MP who chaired CPCCA, told a news conference. “But we are also saying that it’s wrong to single out Israel disproportionately and with opprobrium …”

Over 10 days of hearings between November, 2009, and February, 2010, the CPCCA’s 22 members heard from 74 witnesses, including federal and provincial cabinet ministers, diplomats, university administrators, academics, chiefs of police, journalists and other interested individuals.

But many groups that do not embrace the new definition of anti-Semitism – including Independent Jewish Voices Canada, Seriously Free Speech, and Canadians for Peace and Justice in the Middle East – were refused the opportunity to testify.

“The groups basically that we did not hear from were groups predominantly of individuals who started from the premise of condemning the particular coalition of parliamentarians to combat anti-Semitism,” said Mr. Silva. “I personally feel I didn’t want to give a platform to individuals who had no time for us. Why should we have time for them?”

The Harper government has been a staunch and unapologetic supporter of Israel since it came to power in 2006. In May, Mr. Harper blocked the inclusion in a G8 statement of a call for Middle East peace talks based on a return to Israel’s 1967 borders, an idea pressed by U.S. President Barack Obama.

Among dozens of recommendations, which are not binding on the government, the coalition said that police forces across Canada should be better trained to deal with anti-Semitism; the Immigration Department should take into account rising international anti-Semitism when designating source countries for refugees; and the Foreign Affairs committee of the House of Commons should study the United Nations’ criticisms of human rights violations by Israel.

Conservative MP Scott Reid, chair of the coalition’s steering committee, said at the news conference that it is deplorable that the UN repeatedly attacked Israel but overlooked human rights abuses in other countries.

Sid Shnaid, the co-chair of Independent Jewish Voices said the report simply repeats all of the misconceptions with which the committee began its work two years ago.

One major concern of the CPCCA was an event known as Israeli Apartheid Week that has been held on Canadian university campuses. The report said the committee was told this is an aggressive campaign to make pariahs of the Jewish state and its supporters.

“We had got several testimonies from students, particularly Jewish students, who were scared,” Mr. Silva said. “They were quite fearful of attending classes and going to their campuses because of the fact that they felt they were being targeted for being supportive of Israel.”

But Mr. Shnaid said many Jewish students who are members of his organization are also involved with Israeli Apartheid Week and there is nothing anti-Semitic about it.

“What [the coalition members] are talking about is people who are very unhappy with the high level of organization of Palestinian solidarity efforts on campuses and they are trying to dismiss and discredit them in any way that they can,” said Mr. Shnaid, whose group promotes a just resolution to the dispute between Israel and Palestine.

The coalition includes MPs from three of the four federal political parties that were elected to sit in the House of Commons in 2008. MPs from the Bloc Québécois who were initially part of the coalition dropped out last year, saying the CPCCA was “biased” in favour of Israel and against Palestinians.

Mr. Reid’s office provided the administrative support for the coalition’s work. It is rare for an independent body of Parliamentarians to appoint themselves to work on a project and to get government resources.

The coalition was not compelled to explain its sources of funding.

Mr. Reid, the Conservative MP who chairs the CPCCA’s steering committee, said the final cost, not including expenses covered by taxpayers, was about $100,000, which was raised through anonymous donations from individual Canadians.

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