On this episode, we focused on the final days of the Canadian Jewish Congress. We spoke with Bernie Farber (former CEO of the CJC) & Dan Freeman-Maloy (Jewish academic, writer, and activist) about the CJC’s history, how the Jewish Federations replaced it with CIJA (an Israel advocacy group), and what this means for our present moment.
Sam Bick:I’m Sam.
David Zinman:I’m David.
Sam Bick:And this is Treyf.
David Zinman:Welcome, everyone, to the 29th episode of the Treyf podcast. It’s the 29th, right?
Sam Bick:I hope so.
David Zinman:Okay. I’ll edit this out if it’s not correct.
Sam Bick:Great. We’re inching closer and closer to double chai.
David Zinman:What is double chai?
David Zinman:Okay. I’m not excellent at the math – I went to an Orthodox high school.
Sam Bick:Self-burn. But … I mean, 18 and 18.
David Zinman:Yeah, I know, I get the concept.
David Zinman:So, Sam, before we talk about all the things that we are supposed to be talking about today, I just wanted to apologize – I was criticizing you for telling me that I should be watching Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and I stopped because it was really bad. And you told me to keep on going, so I kept on going. And I did not like what I saw, but I just got to the fourth season, and I finished it, and it was really good. So I’m sorry, and thank you for pushing me through.
Sam Bick:Persistence pays off. And for folks who don’t know what Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.is, it is, I believe, an ABC television program …
David Zinman:In collaboration with Marvel Studios.
Sam Bick:… that addresses this government – non-governmental entity called S.H.I.E.L.D.
David Zinman:I love that I’ve put you in the situation of having to explain this show. So apologies to all our listeners for deviating from our focus temporarily.
Sam Bick:I think we have a name for this segment. You know what it is.
David Zinman:I don’t know what it is.
Sam Bick:It’s David’s Comic Book Corner.
David Zinman:Oh, man – David’s Comic Book Corner would have gone very differently than this. All right, we can retool the segment for the future.
Sam Bick:Sounds good.
David Zinman:Definitely have a lot of gripes for David’s Comic Book Corner.
Sam Bick:All right. So we’re moving away from Marvel cinematic universe to a different kind of universe. And that other universe is the world of institutional Judaism in Canada.
David Zinman:Part of the history of the Canadian Jewish community that we don’t feel is being told particularly well, or hasn’t been told particularly well over the past ten years.
Sam Bick:I think, David, we should reflect for a second on how good that seg was.
David Zinman:That was very well done, very well done. At the end of the year I might nominate that for best segue.
Sam Bick:I mean, I think it’s a frontrunner already.
David Zinman:So on the show today we spoke with two people about the period of time that we’re describing as the destruction of the Canadian Jewish Congress. Sam, do you want to maybe give people a bit of backstory on what that group is?
Sam Bick:Yeah, sure. So the Canadian Jewish Congress has been around since 1919. It served as the principal gathering point for most Canadian Jewish organizations, and also was a lobbying organization – but over the course of the decades had different functions and served different roles when different people were in charge.
David Zinman:Yeah. And what we wanted to talk about on the show today is its destruction – why it no longer exists, and what the organizations were that destroyed it and what was motivating them in that.
Sam Bick:And in that regard, we got in touch with two very distinct people – the first is Bernie Farber, who was once the chief executive officer of the Canadian Jewish Congress, and Dan Freeman-Maloy, who is a PhD student, activist, academic.
David Zinman:Yeah, and it was interesting to speak with Bernie Farber, because I know when we were both growing up he was sort of the face of the institutional Jewish community at that point – the Canadian Jewish Congress was the top of the structure at that period of time. Sam, when you were growing up, did you have any interaction with the CJC era of Canadian institutional world?
Sam Bick:No. I mean, it wasn’t as present as, for example, the Federations were. It felt like the Federation was the way that we interacted with the powers that be in the community. And not surprisingly, I don’t think that we learned a great deal about the history of Canadian Jewry, right, or Quebec Jewry, for example. We really – our historical focus on school was always on Israel, and it was always on the Holocaust, and we didn’t really learn that much about the original institutions that emerged in Canada, or in Quebec.
David Zinman:Yeah. And I mean, in Montreal, the Jewish Federation here was recently celebrating its 100th anniversary. And it’s part of what inspired us to put out this episode, because the Jewish Federations were the ones that decided to destroy the Canadian Jewish Congress and replace it with an Israel lobby. And we wanted to talk a bit more about what happened, and remind everybody of the role the Federation played.
Sam Bick:With that being said, this is your episode of Treyf for the 29th of Iyar, 5777.
(Music plays: Mourner’s Kaddish by Socalled)
INTERVIEW WITH BERNIE FARBER
Bernie Farber:Okay, so I’m Bernie Farber. I am presently the executive director of the Mosaic institute. In the past, for almost 25 years, I worked with – actually, more than 25 years – I worked with the Canadian Jewish Congress, the last seven years of which I was its chief executive officer.
David Zinman:Well, Bernie, thanks so much for coming on the show.
Bernie Farber:Well, I’m happy to do this.
David Zinman:So to start off, I feel that we should say that as a leftist Jewish podcast, there are some political differences that we have with each other; but we’re not here to talk about any of those questions today, we’re not here to have any debates. We’re here to talk about the Canadian Jewish Congress.
Bernie Farber:The late, lamented Canadian Jewish Congress.
David Zinman:Yeah. And so I’m wondering if, just to get it started, you can talk about when you first got involved with the CJC?
Bernie Farber:Well, I got involved with the CJC in 1984. And actually, I came out of the union movement, so we may not be as far apart on leftist politics as you think. I was working – I had been seconded to OPSEU, which is the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, after working ten years as a social worker with Children’s Aid Society. And I was directed to Canadian Jewish Congress from the late Hy Hochberg, who was the president and CEO of the Ottowa Jewish Federation. And at the time, they were looking for a lobbyist to work at Queen’s Park, and I took on that position and went from there to the community relations committee of Canadian Jewish Congress. And from there the rest is history – I ended up being the international director, and eventually its CEO.
So a long history working with what I believe was an honorable organization whose major focus really was human rights. You may recall at the time that there were two or three different organizations that reportedly represented various factions within the Jewish community. In terms of advocacy for Israel, there was an organization known as the CIC, which was the Canada Israel Committee, and then of course there was Hillel and other groups – which, actually, I believe worked rather well. And so its dissolution, I think, surprised a lot of people in the end, but I guess we’ll get to that part later on.
Sam Bick:Yeah. Before we get to the dissolution, I guess – could you talk about what your understanding of the CJC was when you were part of it, how that related to the vision of the Congress before you joined, and how that changed over time?
Bernie Farber:I grew up in Ottawa. The Jewish population of Ottawa was about 3,000 when I grew up there in the 50s and 60s. And Canadian Jewish Congress was an iconic organization, was a legendary organization. It was referred to as the “Parliament of Canadian Jewry.” And believe it or not – I think your younger listeners will kind of get a little bit of a kick out of this – more than any other Jewish organization that I could think of anywhere – and that would, by the way, include the United States – it did have a grassroots feel to it. We had over 300 people as part of the executive of Canadian Jewish Congress. It always had this ability to go back to its grassroots, which was what very much I enjoyed about the organization itself – that it wasn’t top-down, it was really bottom-up.
By the time it dissolved, there were many changes that Congress had to go through, most of it funder-demanded, in terms of people who funded UJA and that type of thing. But in its essence, Canadian Jewish Congress really was exactly what its name implied: It was a congress of Canadian Jews. So that was my vision when I started in ’84 – I saw it as a human rights organization, a civil rights organization. And as the years went by, mainly we tried to stick to that. We weren’t always successful, and there were justifiable criticisms of CJC. And to this very day I am very close to a number of those leaders, because of the work that we did maybe 20 years ago.
David Zinman:As the Federations, like you were saying, representing the funders in the Jewish community, started to exert more influence over the CJC’s operations, how did that materialize in your job? What was your relationship like with the Federations during that time?
Bernie Farber:Well, I was a little bit shielded, I have to say, because there were some very strong … See, the thing about Congress was that it always had a buffer of what I would call strong lay leadership. UJA had a completely different philosophy, a completely different way of operating. They were professionally driven, and Congress was very much lay-driven. And they – because it’s a force of personality, they were able to shield Congress for a very long time. When these strong personalities began to pass away, began to move on, we had less of that ability to be shielded from the moneyed people, from those providing resources, and it became quite clear to me, at least, before I left, that it was going to be their way or the highway. It became clear that they wanted to have an advocacy organization that was both a strong advocacy voice for Israel plus maybe doing some human rights work – that’s when the shift really happened, and that’s where, at least for me, it became clear that I was no longer going to be part of that kind of an advocacy organization.
Sam Bick:Could you maybe identify around what time period this started to happen …
Sam Bick:… and give your version of how this happened?
Bernie Farber:Well, I think mid-2000s – probably after Keith Landy’s presidency – things began to … how shall I say this? To turn in a direction that, at least for me, was quite uncomfortable – so it was about 2005, 2006. And by the way, the interesting part is, it was around the time that I became CEO of Canadian Jewish Congress. And by 2008, it became pretty clear that things were changing rapidly. We had, for the first time, a co-presidency, and it was at that time that the first iteration of the CIJA was set up in the mid-2000s. And that was the beginning of the end for Canadian Jewish Congress, and for CIC, and for all the other Jewish organizations. The first iteration was really an umbrella in which all the Jewish groups would come together, and whose funding would be funded through that umbrella. That’s all it was supposed to be. In the long run, of course, it turned into what some have even called a corporate takeover.
David Zinman:So just getting back to that period of the takeover – about a month and a half, it happened in July of 2011 when CIJA formally took over and then dissolved the Congress – and about a month and a half before that happened, I think it’s important to say that you stepped down as CEO to run for the Provincial Liberals in Thornhill. And for a time, CIJA was actually saying publicly that you were technically on leave with them, being, I guess, your new boss. And I imagine that quite a bit was going on behind the scenes at that time. Can you just talk a bit about what happened after your campaign ended – were you working for CIJA for a bit?
Bernie Farber:Never. So let’s go back a bit – by 2010, the rubber was hitting the road in terms of what was going on and what was going to occur. And it was becoming increasingly clear to me that we were going to have this one marketplace where everything was going to take place under one roof. There would no longer be a CJC, there would no longer be a CIC. Plus it became clear to me that the emphasis was shifting very much to the right, in which the entire emphasis was going to be on Israel advocacy. But my experience, and my passion, was always in the human and civil rights area.
So when this was becoming clear to me, I was approached by the Ontario Liberals to run in Thornhill, which was not just a heavily Jewish riding – which, of course, it is – but it was a very heavy conservative riding. As a matter of fact, my wife said to me after the election – I think as a way to try to mollify me, to a certain extent – because it was pretty close, really.
David Zinman:Yeah, six percent.
Bernie Farber:She said, “Moshe Rabeinu could have run as a liberal in Thornhill and he would have lost.” And she was quite right. But that aside, it was an opportunity for me. I mean, I was going into it to win, but I had to have kind of a plan in case things didn’t work out. And I was owed a leave of absence, which I took at the beginning of my campaign. And then when it was over and I had lost – and to be truthful, I was offered a position to work with CIJA as a senior vice president, but I knew that this wasn’t something that I could do and be happy. I’ve been very lucky in life – virtually every job I’ve ever had, over a period of 35 years, I’ve enjoyed every single minute of it. And I wasn’t going to get involved in a job in which, A, I felt I wasn’t suited for, and B, I didn’t want to do.
So I took this extended leave of absence, and when it was over, I went to work with a different organization. But that’s really what happened – I chose not to work for CIJA, I was very clear about it. I never worked one day for CIJA, really, other than if you want to count that leave of absence, because it was a paid leave of absence. And then went from the Paloma Foundation to where I am now with Mosaic Institute.
Sam Bick:So to try and just tie a bow around the analysis of CIJA and its relationship to CJC, it’s clear from your answers that, individually, this wasn’t something that made sense for you.
Bernie Farber:Not at all.
Sam Bick:Both me and David do not feel like CIJA’s place in the Jewish landscape in Canada is a very healthy one. I guess I wonder how you understand its role – what do you think the concrete differences are now, and what are some of those ramifications?
Bernie Farber:Well, there’s two or three concrete differences. The first and major piece was this noticeable shift to the right. Now, listen – when I was with Congress, we played in every political pool, every political swimming pool. You had to swim in each and every pool, whether it was Progressive Conservative, Liberal, NDP, the Parti Québécois, Bloc Québécois, didn’t matter. We understood that politics is fickle, and one day it may be a conservative government, the next day it may be a liberal government, the next day an NDP government. CIJA became really a voice for Canadian Jewry, at the time, within the conservative government. I mean, it was clear that Prime Minister Harper was a strong friend of Israel, and wrongly, in my view, it was seen that we had to be completely supportive, politically and otherwise, of that view. And that became – and I wrote about it at the time, and I spoke about it at the time – a very disagreeable way of doing advocacy. You don’t put all your political eggs in one basket.
And virtually – by the way, not just CIJA now, but the same thing happened with B’nai Brith Canada, which is, today, very much a shell of what it used to be. And, well, I don’t know if we count the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal, because they’re really very much a private organization. But there has been this noticeable shift within the organized Jewish community.
Sam Bick:We’ve started using the term “institutional Jewish community,” if you’d like to use that in the future.
Bernie Farber:It’s not a bad term, actually. I think it works well. I hate the term “official Jewish community,” and I think institutional’s actually quite good.
There is one other point I should make.
Bernie Farber:And that is the shift away from human rights and civil rights. Congress, with all of its warts and with all of its faults, was a human rights organization. I mean, we at times, back in the 1990s and even in the early 2000s, we worked very closely with the African Canadian communities, with the Chinese Canadian communities, with other Southeast Asian communities, in relation to issues centering around discrimination and bigotry and anti-racism. Congress is very much a leader in all of that. And today, the fact of the matter is that we are no longer seen as that light of human rights – it’s just not part of the overall main agenda. From time to time they’ll get involved in issues if it directly affects the Jewish community, but the beauty of Congress was we were directly involved in issues that affected other communities first before it affected us. And that, to me, was a wonderful thing. It really brought kovodto Canadian Jewry, and that’s gone. We’ve become a much more parochial community than we ever were, even back in the 80s and 90s.
David Zinman:Yeah, it’s interesting because it seems to me like you’re in this role where you’re in constant dialogue with people with the politics that CIJA’s expressing here. And this sort of leads me to our last question, which is, do you think that your politics have changed at all since the time when you were at the helm of the CJC?
Bernie Farber:I knew you were going to ask me this question.
David Zinman:Yeah, because in the early 2000s you made a lot of public statements about BDS being anti-Semitic, or described Independent Jewish Voices as being anti-Jewish. Are these still things that you believe, or do you feel like you’ve changed your take?
Bernie Farber:There’s certain specific things that I still believe. Remember, I was working as the voice of the Canadian Jewish community, and I tried as hard as I could to be even keeled, based on my own set of principles. But I was in a bit of a cocoon. Have I changed my views? I’m not so sure I’ve changed my views as much as I have been able to expand my thinking and open my mind. I’m still not a fan at all of BDS, and that’s something that we can have a back and forth on all the time. I was for sure not a big fan of Independent Jewish Voices, both then and now. The difference, I suppose, now is that I would have more of an openness – there are many people who are involved, I know, in various different causes on the left who post on my Facebook and respond to my Twitter feeds all the time. Once you leave your cocoon, you have this ability to reshape and realign your thinking.
Look, I consider myself a progressive Zionist – I love the state of Israel, and I am a big supporter of the state of Israel. I’m not a great Netanyahu fan. So there’s a lot of ups and downs in my thinking, and my thinking will evolve all of my life. But there are certain things that will remain rock solid, and I kind of know where I am now in the progressive scale, if you want to put it that way. I know this more through the company I keep, now. I’m engaged very much in the non-Jewish community. And many people – authors and playwrights and politicians – have all come to me and said, “What happened to this wonderful Jewish community that was so progressive and so forward thinking? How did this happen?” And I’m at sometimes a great loss to explain it. All they have to do is listen to this podcast and they get a better idea.
Sam Bick:Can I ask you one last question?
Sam Bick:If you were head of the CJC today – if the CJC existed today – do you think there would be space for Jewish groups that weren’t Zionist? Because even the Canadian Jewish News, to a certain extent, or CIJA, has made very clear that they’re defining the terms of the community in terms of people who are Zionist and people who aren’t Zionist. Do you feel like there would be space for groups and individuals who didn’t believe in the Zionist project?
Bernie Farber:Guys, it’s a very good question, but the fact of the matter is that as far back as you go with Canadian Jewish Congress, part of the element of what it was was, there was a Zionist piece to it, a huge Zionist piece to it. So I don’t think that any mainstream Jewish organization could exist anywhere without a strong Zionist element, and that would have to be part and parcel of Canadian Jewish Congress. So the answer is, I don’t think so. And it doesn’t mean that non-Zionists can’t form their own groups and take on the mainstream, which is really what should be done – but if you’re looking at a mainstream Canadian Jewish Congress, it will always, and if it existed today would still have a very strong Zionist element to it, albeit a progressive one.
Sam Bick:I really appreciate that answer. It’s actually quite nice to have a conversation with someone like yourself who’s willing to be honest with us.
Bernie Farber:Well, I’ve listened to a number of your broadcasts, actually, and I quite enjoyed them. Haven’t always agreed with everything, but that’s what makes life beautiful.
David Zinman:Thanks so much for coming on the show.
Bernie Farber:You’re welcome. Be well.
(Music plays: Beat Seasonal by Socalled)
JB Brager: Hi, Treyf, This is JB Brager. I’m calling from Charlotte, North Carolina, where I’m currently visiting my grandparents, and I wanted to share with you a little bit of family lore. My great-grandmother, she tells my aunt that when Hitler came to power, she was engaged to Eric Levy, my great-grandfather. He was very known in the sport of boxing – he had the heavyweight championship in 1928. She says that same night, very dear friends of his helped him to get out of Germany. The reason why he had to get out of Germany so fast, because he had a fight which went into court with Goebbels, which he did win, and would he have stayed, they would have killed him the next day. It is verified that my great-grandfather was a heavyweight boxer, and that he liked to fight Nazis. I don’t know if it was with Goebbels, but my opa, Eric Levy, is speaking to everyone beyond the grave, and saying that there are many things that you should do with Nazis, but one of those things is definitely punching them in the face.
INTERVIEW WITH DAN FREEMAN-MALOY
Dan Freeman-Maloy:So Dan Freeman-Maloy. I’m usually based in Montreal, now in East Jerusalem, and politically active with you guys for a while.
Sam Bick:Yeah. I feel like because we’re straight shooters and with journalistic standards, we should mention that we are all friends and have organized together before.
Dan Freeman-Maloy:There is that.
David Zinman:So, Dan, the principal reason that we asked you on the show is that we want to talk about the Canadian Jewish Congress – the collapse of the Canadian Jewish Congress, but also the creation of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs. And you’re one of the few people that have written extensively about this period of time – and can you maybe just talk a bit about the first time you learned about this shift that was happening?
Dan Freeman-Maloy:Well, I guess as a campus activist in the War on Terror years, I was really struck that whatever social justice or anti-war work we tried to do, one of the principal adversaries we’d come up against was the organized Zionist community and those who sort of called themselves Israel advocates. And it was quite obvious that they were punching beyond the weight that their skills would have dictated. So I did a lot of, then, looking into what were the organizational underpinnings of Israel advocacy in Canada, and I wrote a long piece about it in 2006, but mostly poring over the Canadian Jewish News archives and some of the scholarship back in, probably, 2004.
Sam Bick:The article that David just referred to is called AIPAC North. It seems to be the one that most people refer to when talking about the institutional Jewish community and its relationship to Zionism and to Palestine. Would you feel comfortable sketching the outline of the piece?
Dan Freeman-Maloy:Yeah. The particular piece I wrote a decade ago, so would probably frame a little bit differently now. But in any event, the point that I would make is that there have been two processes, connected, that have really reshaped the Canadian Jewish community over the last decades, and those are, on the one hand, the rise within the community of a fundraiser-dominated leadership in which, again, those with money have control over how the organizations function. And on the other, the rise of Israel advocacy, or support and association with Israel, as a principal priority. And what’s happened decade by decade is this streamlining of the historic set of Canadian Jewish organizations into what now amount for basically a corporate Israel advocacy apparatus. And what the piece tries to do is sketch that history out. And, of course, since 2006 when the piece came out, those processes have only continued apace.
Sam Bick:And in terms of this transformation, it seems like the most recent phase of that transformation was the destruction of the Canadian Jewish Congress reconstituted within the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs. Can you talk a bit about how that came about?
Dan Freeman-Maloy:Yeah. I mean, it’s a long story. What I’ll maybe start by just saying is there could be a principled Zionist critique of the corporate Israel advocacy structure that I referred to, and in fact, there has been. And when I say “principled,” I don’t mean principles we agree with. But in 2011, for example, as you mentioned, the fundraiser-dominated leadership in the organizations that we can get to the details of just dissolved the Canadian Jewish Congress. For a long time it had been subordinate to them, but then they just sort of dispensed with the pretense. And one of Canada’s most prominent, long-standing Zionist ideologues, Michael Brown, wrote a piece for the Canadian Jewish news, and what he said was that the dissolution of the CJC – and I’m quoting – “Will mark the final step in” what he saw as the “Jewish Americanization of Canadian Jewry,” but then he added, “The move from democracy to paternalistic plutocracy.” And this is, again, a stalwart Zionist on the Canadian scene over many decades. So these organizations have no representative claim. And it’s my understanding from us chatting before the show that the Federation system has been stressing its long and illustrious history in Canada with, apparently, the centennial of the establishment of the main Jewish Federations in Toronto and Montreal, and it’s really out of that history that this fundraising-dominated leadership has emerged that swept the other organizations to the side.
Sam Bick:Dan, for people who don’t have any historical context for the CJC – whether they’re in the US or they’re younger Canadians or in other parts of the world – could you talk a little bit about what the CJC was, and if that model was replicated, let’s say, in the US or in other parts of Europe?
Dan Freeman-Maloy:So the CJC, as I recall, was established first in 1919, and then had a sort of brief history before being revived in the 1930s. And it’s always been billed, since the 1930s, as the Canadian Jewish parliament, as the parliament for all Canadian Jews – this sort of democratic forum in which Jews from across Canada come together and make decisions and have this representative body. That’s one history, and we can talk about how that developed into the late decades of the 20th century. But there are a couple of other things that sort of are part of this history. One is the establishment within the Canadian Jewish community of organizations from early on that were not representative, or even pretended to be – but that represented the fundraisers of the community, the philanthropists, as they would have it, which were constituted in 1916 in both Toronto and in Montreal as the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies. We now know those as, in Toronto, the United Jewish Appeal Federation of Greater Toronto, and in Montreal, the Combined Jewish Appeal.
The other side is the Zionist movement. And to put the story as shortly as I can, after the Second World War and in the 1940s, as Israel’s founding prime minister wanted to get as much Western Jewish support as he could – financial in particular – for establishing the Israeli state, some real changes happened in international Zionist organizing. It used to be that the Zionist organizations – the Zionist Organization of Canada, the Zionist Organization of America – were the main Zionist groups. Ben-Gurion intervened to change this, and what he basically did was say, “Okay, I want the Federations to dominate, not the traditional Zionist organizations.” They just didn’t have access to the same money as the Federations. So beginning in the 1940s and 1950s, the main Western representatives of partnership with Israel came to be the Federations. And that has been the alliance that has reshaped everything. Israel has cultivated these links with the North American Jewish Federations, to the point where, in the 1970s, a formal link was created with the incorporation of Jewish Federations like that in Toronto and Montreal into the Israeli state system effectively, or in association with it, through a quasi-state group called the Jewish Agency for Israel.
Now, I know it sounds like a complicated organizational history, but the point that I want to make is not only did the fundraising Federations take control of the Canadian Jewish Congress gradually through their financing muscle – they also formally affiliated themselves with the Israeli state, and subordinated the CJC and everything else under their control through tasks like Israel advocacy. And again, it’s out of that process that we had this Israel lobby, as people think of it, coming in the late 20thcentury.
David Zinman:So bringing things back to the more recent history of the Canadian Jewish Congress, at least toward the last 10 years of its existence there was real conflict between the CJC and the Federation structure about who was really in charge.
Dan Freeman-Maloy:Mm-hmm (affirmative).
David Zinman:Can you take us a bit to that period, and how it led to the demise of the CJC?
Dan Freeman-Maloy:Yeah. I’ll apologize for going earlier, but really the turning point was in the 1970s. And what happened is at that point the Federations started to formally swallow up local operations of the CJC. And it was a very contentious fight from the beginning. So in Toronto, there were people in the Canadian Jewish Congress, the leaders, who said that, “Okay, the Canadian Jewish Congress is supposed to be the Parliament. The Federations are supposed to be the Ministry of Finance. We have a situation,” they said, literally, “In which the Ministry of Finance is becoming the dictator of Parliament.” So the CJC can talk about – or could, when it existed – talk about having some formal autonomy, but it hasn’t, since the 70s.
So what happened in the 2000s is not an entirely novel process – it’s just the pretense is over. So the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, I believe it’s now called – CIJA – was initially established in 2004. And what they did is they brought together some of the biggest fundraisers from the community, and some from outside, and they said, “Okay, we are the center of power as of 2004. Everything is subordinate to us.” People in the CJC made complaints – they said, “Look, you have been agents of our structure for years now. That is the relationship; you’re subordinate to us. This is what’s happening.” And they proceeded to remake everything. So what I find most concerning about this process is that what they tried to do was then launch an assault on Palestine solidarity movements in line with largely pro-Israel priorities. But a byproduct of this process was also the elimination of any pretense of communal democracy, and the downgrading of the CJC’s status.
David Zinman:So, Dan, again, for people who are outside of Canada, or just aren’t familiar with what the current structure here looks like, can you outline that? What does it look like today, what exists now?
Dan Freeman-Maloy:The main difference in looking at the organizational outlook is that in the US, the Federation systems are the formal recognized in Israeli law partners with Israel. And then, on the other hand, you have the lobbying groups like AIPAC. In Canada, that all forms part of one single system. Until 2011 there was the CJC – now it’s done. The Canada-Israel Committee – Canada’s pro-Israel lobby since 1967 – done. CIJA constituted itself as sort of a Federation politburo, with a group who sort of run things and exercise influence on behalf of the Federation decision-making structure, and under that, you have a range of other organizations. But with CIJA at the head and a Federation powerbase as the decision-making authority that they draw upon, that’s the power center that Israel advocacy in Canada is subordinate to.
David Zinman:So the process that you’re outlining of the ascent of the donors as being more long-term – has the rise of Zionism as a singular priority for the Canadian Jewish community also been long-term, or is that more recent?
Dan Freeman-Maloy:I think it’s been – it has definitely been long-term, but there have been contexts in which people talk with Zionism or with Jewish affiliation about dual loyalty – am I going to be a patriot to the state in which I belong, or to the Jewish people? In Canada, this has not been an issue with Zionism. The principal boost to Zionism, historically, was Britain’s occupation of Palestine in 1917 and its issuance of support for the Zionist movement through the Balfour declaration of 1917. In Canada, that meant – I mean, Canada was very much part of the British empire at the time – that if you want to be a proud British imperialist, you support Zionism. This is work of the empire – it’s fulfilling both some supposed Jewish purposes, but in addition, you can wave, very proudly, the Union Jack, and profess your Zionist commitments. It’s what was called “Patriotic Zionism,” and it existed throughout the British sphere.
This has been exactly the same since 1967 in the orbit of US power. So, I mean, since ’67, Israel has been this principal surrogate for US power in the Middle East. And in Canada, if you want to be a good Western patriot standing with civilization against the Eastern hordes, you can wave your Canadian and American and Israeli flags and endear yourself greatly to establishment WASPs in Canada – there’s really not going to be a whole lot of concern about where your loyalties lie.
During the War on Terror, when you have people stressing Jewish identification or support for Israel as some sort of narrow commitment – it’s certainly true that that’s come to sweep and to dominate the Canadian Jewish community, but the Canadian Jewish community has very comfortably slid into that position, and I think it’s in that context that we need to understand it – this patriotic Zionism that merges a Western alliance patriotism, if you will, with this singular focus on Israel.
Sam Bick:So before we let you go, we’ve been focusing a lot on the historical, a lot of the processes that inform where we’re at today – but I was also wondering if you could discuss how we should be relating to these institutions today, whether it’s CIJA or the Federations. How should folks organizing in North America be thinking about these institutions and how they relate to them?
Dan Freeman-Maloy:I think the most important reality to always keep in our minds is the severity of the crisis right now in Palestine. The most important thing to remember about organizations like CIJA is that these are advocates for and affiliates of a state that is systematically conducting severe war crimes. These organizations seek to attack Palestine solidarity and anti-war movements as anti-Semitic, or what-have-you, and I think we just need to be prepared to put them back on the defensive whenever they try to enter the public arena on these questions, saying, “It’s you that are the affiliates of this state committing these war crimes, and you have no moral authority to do a damn thing.” So I think that’s a role for Jewish dissidents, in particular, to take very seriously in the period ahead as CIJA and its various satellite organizations try to attack the Palestine solidarity movement.
Sam Bick:I feel like that’s as good of a place to end this interview as any. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us.
Dan Freeman-Maloy:Nice to chat.
(Music plays: Mourner’s Kaddish by Socalled)
Sam Bick:Rabbi Akiva once said …
David Zinman:Capital is dead labor, which, vampire-like, lives only by sucking living labor.
Sam Bick:It’s time for Shkoyach.
David Zinman:Welcome to Shkoyach.
Sam Bick:Yes, it’s been while, but I think we say that every time, so maybe I won’t say that again this time.
David Zinman:Do we? Well, it seems like we’re putting out more shorts, so the episodes aren’t as bunched together as they sometimes are right now.
Sam Bick:That’s true – but I guess as a listener I’d be bored to hear us keep saying that it’s happened.
David Zinman:Conversation canceled. Sam, what’s your shkoyach for today?
Sam Bick: So my shkoyach is an anti-shkoyach, and I know you asked me to give a positive one, but such is life.
David Zinman:I think it was actually me who said, last time, that I had to do a positive one this time …
David Zinman:… so I think you’re off the hook.
Sam Bick:So my anti-shkoyach might require a little bit of explaining.
David Zinman:Okay, I’m strapping myself in – just imagine those automated seatbelts from the Star Trek reboots going over my body.
Sam Bick:I don’t think you need a seatbelt.
David Zinman:It’s to stop me from escaping out of boredom.
Sam Bick:Yeah, well, actually, brace yourself on that front. I spent the last 24 months studying a particular area of academia.
David Zinman:Yeah, it’s called law.
Sam Bick:It’s called law. And one thing that I’ve really come to grasp in this last couple of months is how much the entire charade of law is the result of the sham of discretion.
David Zinman:I don’t know what that means, Sam.
Sam Bick:So the government gives power to administrative bodies to use their discretion – whether it’s an immigration labor board, or it’s a prison …
David Zinman:Oh, yeah.
Sam Bick:… or the discretion the judges have to use the spectrum of their perspective.
David Zinman:Yeah, it’s kind of like Rabbi Akiva once said – “Gaze into the law, and the law will gaze back at you.”
Sam Bick:I mean, not exactly, but I like that we’ve had so many good Rabbi Akiva quotes today. But ultimately, yeah. So fuck discretion – it’s a scam, the legal system is a scam.
David Zinman:Law school is feeling rough right now?
Sam Bick:I mean, I’m done for the year. But there’s just something that really grinds my gears about how, basically, the law pretends that the people that they’re going to put in power to make these decisions aren’t going to have basically the same set of ideas and decision-making outcomes. So there’s a charade about trying to limit discretion, but ultimately, everyone’s going to make the same decision, and usually it’s going to be a bad decision.
David Zinman:So you’re essentially condemning the institution of law itself.
Sam Bick:100%. I was just trying to bring it down to a little ridiculous argument that ends up taking up so much time.
David Zinman:I mean, for our listeners who are learning for the first time that you are studying the law, Sam …
David Zinman:Do you want to maybe explain the direction that those studies are hoping to lead you in, or what your aspirations …
Sam Bick:Oh, no.
David Zinman:… are …
Sam Bick:Not at all. Just complaining.
Sam Bick:Yeah. I think this is enough anti-shkoyach for the day.
Sam Bick:So with my anti-shkoyach being to discretion, the entire Canadian legal system, what is your shkoyach for the week?
David Zinman:So my shkoyach is going to the Palestinian political prisoners who are, today, on their 22ndday of an organized hunger strike.
Sam Bick:Yeah, David, I’m really happy that you are bringing this up in this segment.
David Zinman:Yeah, I mean, people who are listening to the podcast have probably heard about this. You might have read Marwan Barghouti’s New York Times op-ed that explained the reasons for the strike. They launched the strike on April 17th, which is Palestinian Prisoners Day. And after that op-ed was published, the Israeli authorities actually started investigating his wife and his lawyers, because they’re saying that they helped publish the article. This is pretty mild, in terms of the broader repression that these prisoners are facing.
But I feel like, for people who haven’t heard about this, it’s probably worth just saying a bit about the context of the strike – the fact that there is about 6,000 political prisoners and administrative detainees in Israeli jails right now. There’s a 99% conviction rate within the military courts. About 40% of the West Bank’s male population has been arrested by Israeli authorities since 1967 when they began occupying that territory. The demands of the hunger strikers – we’re going to have a link in the show notes, so you can read all the demands. They’re very straightforward. There’s massive human rights abuses within Israeli prisons. The amount of political prisoners is constantly increasing. Please check this out, support in any way you can. I know Addameer is doing a lot of great work, and we mentioned in one of our shorts about ways to support them. We’ll have the links in the show notes today as well.
Sam Bick:The only thing I have to add here is please support political prisoners in North America as well. We have an episode coming out with someone who’s doing frontline work in that regard. But, yeah, please support all political prisoners, particularly in Palestine and North America, and the tremendous amount of solidarity to folks who are on the inside.
(Music plays: Mourner’s Kaddish by Socalled)
Sam Bick:So that was our episode on the Canadian Jewish Congress. It is the first in our series of Canadian Jewish histories which we will be putting out in the next couple of months.
David Zinman:As Rabbi Akiva once said, “Keep your ears peeled.”
Sam Bick:David’s actually putting together a zine on Rabbi Akiva’s important sayings, so please stay tuned for that.
David Zinman:Yeah, about 90% of the funds we’re raising for our Patreon will actually be going to the publisher.
Sam Bick:Opeaking of, hopefully it’s been two weeks of fruitful Patreon Patreoning, but if you have that extra $5, I think the Patreon is still open, because it doesn’t close, so please donate if you can.
David Zinman:Also, we’ve mentioned on the show before, but we were at the Jewish Voice for Peace National Members Meeting in Chicago last month, and we recorded a series of interviews while we were there. And so in the weeks to come we’re going to start releasing those, so keep your eyes peeled.
Sam Bick:Treyf podcast is Sam Bick and David Zinman. A huge thanks to CKUT 90.3 FM, where we record this podcast under the giant cross of secularism on occupied Kanien’kehá:ka territory. Many thanks to Claire Herzog, to Kara Page, to Cadance O’Neil, to C. Lavery, to Ariana Katz, to Saks Indrom, and to Josh Dolgan. As always, you can follow us on the social medias at Treyf. Support our Patreon, patreon.com/treyfpodcast. Send us emails of all varieties, firstname.lastname@example.org. And thanks for listening.
David Zinman:And send Sam letters of support to get through the rest of law school.
David Zinman:We’ll see you in two weeks.
(Music plays: Mourner’s Kaddish by Socalled)