The Jewish National Fund of Canada (JNF) has cancelled former Arkansas governor and Republican U.S. presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee’s keynote address at JNF Ottawa’s annual Negev Dinner next fall.
The June 10 announcement followed objections from people in the Canadian Jewish and LGBTQ communities, as well as the release of an online petition on change.org calling for Huckabee to be pulled from the Oct. 15 event.
The petition was posted by Kingston resident Bruce Bursey, an LGBTQ advocate who isn’t Jewish but learned of the issue from petition co-writer Michael Gennis, an Ottawa real estate agent who’s active in Ottawa’s Jewish and LGBTQ communities.
The petition asked JNF Ottawa leaders to cancel Huckabee’s speech, which was announced last winter, because they said his recent comments “spread degrading hatefulness towards and about transgender people,” and he publicly supported Josh Duggar, a member of the family featured in the TLC reality show 19 Kids and Counting, who allegedly molested some of his underage sisters and a family friend.
In a speech Huckabee gave at the National Religious Broadcasters’ convention last month, he referred to transgenderism as a “social experiment” and joked he would have pretended to be trans in high school if he’d known it would allow him to shower with girls during gym.
Josh Cooper, JNF’s CEO, told The CJN the petition, which had 30 signatories on June 11, “had absolutely no impact whatsoever” on the decision to remove Huckabee as a speaker at the 58th JNF Ottawa Negev dinner, an annual event that honours influential community members and raises money for charitable causes.
This year’s dinner will support autism research in Israel.
In an email statement, Cooper said Huckabee was initially selected because “he is a staunch supporter of the State of Israel” and “has never wavered from this position,” but the decision was reversed because “the media spotlight has recently focused on Mr. Huckabee’s comments about issues that bear no relevance to JNF or autism.”
A new guest speaker will be announced in the coming weeks, he said.
Prior to the recent media backlash, the former governor also spoke out against marriage equality for same-sex couples.
Gennis said he first learned of Huckabee being named JNF’s dinner speaker months ago, and although he generally supports JNF, he objects to the way its choice of speaker disenfranchises community members like him who are appalled by Huckabee’s “horribly offensive transgender comments.”
He also thought it was “a typical knee-jerk reaction from a Jewish organization bringing a speaker that supports Israel… without doing a lot of research about what people like [Huckabee] stand for.”
He said he posted about the issue on Facebook and wrote protest letters to leaders of JNF Canada and the Ottawa regional office, but received no response, so he decided, along with Bursey and several other friends, to craft the petition.
After JNF cancelled Huckabee’s talk, Mira Sucharov, a political science professor at Carleton University and a CJN columnist, posted the news on Facebook.
She told The CJN she objected to Huckabee because JNF Ottawa’s Negev dinner is the city’s highest-profile Jewish event and said JNF has the responsibility to choose “a speaker that’s appropriate.”
Further, Israel aside, Huckabee’s views on many issues “are not in step with the Canadian Jewish community’s, and the optics of it make it look like the Jewish community has moved to the far-right fringes of social discourse,” she said.
She said groups such as JNF and “the Jewish establishment at large” are increasingly willing to “overlook unconscionable policies or public statements made by an individual if that individual holds far-right views on Israel.” She added that “sidling up to the far-right evangelicals in the United States” causes a “dangerous precedent.”
Sucharov said she objected to Huckabee’s anti-trans comments, but didn’t sign the petition because it partly dealt with Duggar, and Huckabee condemned Duggar’s actions and urged that he be forgiven.
Huckabee’s office could not be reached for comment.