Kenney calls church group anti-Semitic

Ottawa’s withdrawal of funding to KAIROS, a Canadian church-based group, last month is an example of Canada’s “zero-tolerance approach to anti-Semitism,” Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism Minister Jason Kenney said last week.

Jason Kenney in Israel

The minister, who was speaking at the Global Forum for Combating Antisemitism in Jerusalem, accused the organization of having an anti-Israel agenda.

“We have defunded organizations, most recently like KAIROS, who are taking a leadership role in the boycott [of Israel],” Kenney said. He went on to compare the group to organizations such as the Canadian Arab Federation and the Canadian Islamic Congress, “whose president notoriously said that all Israelis over the age of 18 are legitimate targets for assassination,” he said.

The Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) recently rejected the group’s $7-million grant renewal application after a 35-year-long relationship with the organization. CIDA’s funds made up about 40 per cent of KAIROS’ annual budget.

In rejecting the $7 million in funding over four years, International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda didn’t mention Kairos’ record on Israel. Instead, she said its mandate doesn’t meet CIDA’s current priorities, which include food security, children and youth and economic growth.

In the past, KAIROS has taken issue with Canadian mining practices abroad and warned of environmental hazards in the  Alberta tar sands. It has also campaigned against bottled water production in Canada.

KAIROS, also known as the Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiative, is an interdenominational Christian organization based in Toronto that works for international social justice. Its member churches include the Anglican, United and Presbyterian churches of Canada, as well as the Quakers and Mennonites and the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Mary Corkery, its executive director, said Kenney’s allegations are “outrageous.”

“There is a campaign of boycott [of Israel]. The only part that we have accepted as a possibility is divestment,” she said. “We decided against boycott and sanctions.”

Corkery is especially upset about the context of Kenney’s speech, which included the topic of terrorism.

“It’s naming us anti-Semitic in a context that’s one of violence and it’s totally inappropriate,” she said.

During his Jerusalem speech, Kenney admitted the government has been criticized for its decisions, but, he added, “we believe that we’ve done theses things for the right reasons and we stand by these decisions.”

Kairos’ church partners are supporting its condemnation of Kenney’s remarks and its calls to reinstate its funding.

United Church spokesperson Bruce Gregersen told the Toronto Star that Kenney’s charge “cheapens the reality of anti-Semitism in the world and diminishes the very careful attention that it deserves.”

He added that Kairos’ policies “have all been approved by the collective board of KAIROS, so in a sense what Mr. Kenney is doing is accusing Canadian churches of being anti-Semitic, and I think that’s really unfortunate.”