Two Ontario New Democratic MPPs – one of whom is Jewish – and an MP have added their support for a federal petition that calls on Ottawa to investigate the Jewish National Fund (JNF) and possibly strip it of its charitable status.
Petition E-1999, which was stared earlier this month, is now being supported by NDP MP Niki Ashton. The petition is sponsored by her NDP colleague, Pierre-Luc Dusseault, the party’s national revenue critic.
“Canadian organizations shouldn’t enjoy charitable status if they support occupation,” Ashton stated on the website of Independent Jewish Voices (IJV), which is spearheading the e-petition. IJV supports the anti-Israel boycott, divestment and sanctions movement and is considered a small fringe group in the established Jewish community.
The appeal to the minister of national revenue to revoke JNF’s tax status, if it’s found to violate tax laws and rules for charities, needs 500 signatures to be tabled in the House of Commons. As of this writing, it is approaching 1,600. Signatures close in May, when Dusseault will present it before the House.
It’s thought to be the first time that the decades-old campaign to revoke JNF’s charitable status has caught the attention of members of Parliament.
Dusseault told The CJN that he agreed to sponsor the e-petition after IJV presented him with a case that had “pretty extensive research” and “compelling facts.”
The government will have 45 days to respond to the e-petition after it’s tabled. Dusseault said the response could range from simply acknowledging the file was received, to a request that the Canada Revenue Agency probe the JNF. He said a response might also be that the CRA has already audited the JNF and found it to be in compliance.
“I’m very confident the CRA is a neutral party, which can make a decision with facts presented by both parties,” Dusseault said.
JNF has called the e-petition “as empty and scurrilous as earlier efforts to de-legitimize the outstanding work of the JNF and, by extension, the existence of the State of Israel.” Anyone capable of “critical thinking” is dismissing the effort “as not worthy of engagement.”
In Ontario, MPPs Joel Harden of Ottawa and Rima Berns-McGown of Toronto have endorsed the e-petition.
Harden, who’s on record as supporting the BDS movement, praised IJV because it “courageously speaks out for justice, peace and human rights. I am proud to support them and their critical work.”
Perhaps the most full-throated support for stripping JNF of its charitable status came from Bern-McGown, who was elected to the riding of Beaches-East York in last year’s provincial election and is one of four known Jewish MPPs in the current legislature.
I’m very confident the CRA is a neutral party, which can make a decision with facts presented by both parties.
– Pierre-Luc Dusseault
“Like most Jews, I had the idea growing up that the Jewish National Fund’s tree-planting in Israel had to be a good thing,” she wrote on IJV’s website. “Like most Jews, I had no idea that the trees were being planted over razed Palestinian villages, precisely to erase them.
“In Canada, we need to begin by having real, honest conversations within the Jewish community, conversations that recognize that progressive Jews – Jews like me, who insist that Palestinian rights are human rights, and that Judaic values insist as a first principle that Israel not oppress anyone, within or adjacent to its borders – are a growing segment of the community. We will not be silenced. We will not be erased. The community needs to listen to what we have to say and it needs to stop questioning our Jewishness,” Berns-McGown stated. “For these reasons, I proudly endorse IJV’s campaign to stop the JNF.”
Other accusations levelled against the JNF have included that it builds projects on occupied lands and that it sells and leases land only to Jews. The organization has said that it operates in accordance with CRA regulations governing its status as a charity and complies with the Income Tax Act.
The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs says it enjoys “a close and supportive relationship” with JNF and that efforts to attack the JNF “as a proxy or symbol for the Jewish state” are not new.
“What all of these activities share is their spurious and baseless nature, which are nothing more than attempts to delegitimize the Jewish state and those who support it,” said CIJA spokesperson Martin Sampson.