Pro-Palestinian Jewish group linked to church

Richard Klagsbrun

TORONTO — An interview on the website has raised the questions of just how Jewish Independent Jewish Voices (IJV) is, and what role, if any, did the United Church of Canada (UCC) play in the creation of the organization?

In a recent podcast on the website, a member of IJV’s national steering committee traces its origins to “some members of the United Church who happened to be Jews.”

Robert Allison, an IJV member from Hamilton, said in 2006, United Church members were “alarmed” that the church was being accused of antisemitism as it considered a resolution calling for the divestment from “companies contributing to the Israeli occupation.

“They along with other people started to work with members of the United Church to show there was an alternative Jewish voice, namely that not all Jews supported the actions of the State of Israel, and there were some progressive voices.”

In 2008, the United Church provided IJV with a $900 grant to offset travel expenses for a conference where the group was founded. A year later, relations between the Church and Canadian Jewish Congress reached a low point when Congress complained that the Church was consulting with the group, which advocated an anti-Israel boycott.

The interview was seized upon by blogger Richard Klagsbrun, writing in the Eye on a Crazy Planet blog site.

Klagsbrun, a writer and filmmaker, pointed out being Jewish and a member of the United Church were mutually exclusive and “by their professed beliefs and actions, it seems clear that IJV is made up of Christians masquerading as Jews for the sole purpose of attempting to lend a sick pseudo-legitimacy to their demonization of the Jewish state.”

Klagsbrun said IJV members have explicitly stated they play a special role in the pro-Palestinian movement. “They are only Jews for the purpose of demonizing Israel,” he said. “They’re alibi Jews. They provide cover for charges of anti-semitism. They are Jews for no other purpose of providing cover.”

Sid Shniad, a member of IJV’s national steering committee, distanced the organization from Allison’s comments.

“He wasn’t a member of the IJV when it was started,” he told The CJN.

Asked why Allison described the origins of IJV as he did, Shniad said, “I don’t know. It was completely erroneous.”

He said IJV’s membership of several hundred people is Jewish, though he acknowledged “there is a member who is Jewish who is also a member of the United Church.”

“There are Jewish Quakers, Jewish members of the Unitarian Church. I assume it’s similar,” he said.

In its early days, IJV supporters appealed to a number of organizations “to help get it started,” Shniad said. Among the groups that came through was the United Church, with $900. The grant became “highly contentious,” he acknowledged.

Bruce Gregersen, the United Church’s chief program officer, said “the grant was a small grant to assist in bringing speakers, specifically Muslim speakers, to the IJV conference.”

The grant did create controversy within the Church, Gregersen said, but “it would be inaccurate to say UCC was involved in forming IJV, apart from saying some members would support it.

 “We relate to the many voices within the Jewish community,” and IJV is one of those voices, he added.

IJV shares the United Church’s boycott campaign and co-operates with the Church through an organization called United Network for a Just Peace in Palestine and Israel, Shniad said.

“There was an attempt by IJV to join Canadian Jewish Congress” when that organization operated several years ago. “The application for membership was refused,” Shniad said.

Congress was later incorporated in the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA). CIJA CEO Shimon Fogel said “I won’t apologize for the absence of a seat at the Jewish table for IJV.”

“Within the mainstream Jewish community you’ll not find a legitimate place for a voice that objects to the every idea of a Jewish state,” he said.

Fogel called IJV “the secular equivalent of Neturei Karta (an Orthodox sect that believes only God can create a State of Israel). Their view is antithetical to the reality of a Jewish state in the ancient homeland of the Jewish people.”

Fogel pointed to the views of one of IJV’s founders, Diana Ralph, who believes the 9/11 attacks were a U.S. government conspiracy.

“What does that tell you about the nature of the organization?” he asked.

Shniad, a retired union staffer from Vancouver, said “we have a range of positions in IJV, from strong Zionists to strong anti-Zionists….We don’t have positions on one-state or two-states, pro-Zionist or anti-Zionist.

“We’re concerned about the application of international law and the refusal to recognize the human rights of everyone.”