Kenney defends government's stance on Israel

The Harper government’s with-us-or-against-us stance on Israel may lead to an anti-Semitic backlash, said Liberal MP Anita Neville last week.

Jason Kenney

Neville was one of several opposition MPs to question Immigration, Multiculturalism and Citizenship Minister Jason Kenney about the Conservative government’s “black and white” position on Israel at a Feb. 8  hearing held by the Canadian Parliamentary Coalition to Combat Anti-Semitism.

“I’ve had people who are traditionally supporters of Israel [say] they don’t like what this government is doing in terms of turning Israel into a… black and white issue… and for stifling criticism of Israel,” Neville, a Winnipeg MP and the co-chair of Liberal Parliamentarians for Israel, said in an interview after the hearing.

“I don’t like the government using Israeli politics… as a wedge issue… That’s not the way one does politics.”

In response to similar comments at the hearing, Kenney said that he has been commended for Canada’s stance on Israel and anti-Semitism.

“All I get is praise for Canada’s effort to deal with these sometimes difficult issues and not to sweep them under the carpet,” he said. “In terms of accusations that the government is inciting people to anti-Semitism, I just don’t understand that.”

Kenney acknowledged that some of the government’s positions have been controversial, but said that “sometimes it’s necessary to be controversial.

“Sometimes you have to say, ‘I’m sorry, if someone is out there defending terrorist organizations or using implicitly anti-Semitic language, we’re going to name them and if that ruffles some feathers, so be it,’” he said.

Opposition MPs brought up the de-funding of KAIROS, a Canadian church-based aid organization, as an example of the government’s hardline stance on Israel.

While on a trip to Jerusalem late last year, Kenney said that KAIROS lost its government funding as an example of Canada’s “zero-tolerance approach to anti-Semitism” and that it was “taking a leadership role in the boycott [of Israel],” which KAIROS denied.  

Kenney and International Cooperation Minister Bev Oda later said that KAIROS was “defunded” because its goals didn’t meet with Canada’s new aid priorities.

“The perceptions of [the KAIROS situation] is not a good one. It’s viewed as being muzzled,” Neville said in an interview.  

In response to criticism, Kenney denied calling KAIROS anti-Semitic, but acknowledged that he accused the group of being involved in a boycott campaign.

Shimon Fogel, CEO of the Canada-Israel Committee, said Neville’s accusation that the government stance on Israel can lead to anti-Semitism is a “big statement.

“Pretty much anything could contribute to increased anti-Semitism. From the government’s perspective, I think it has been consistent in identifying and acting on agencies, NGOs and programs that don’t conform to its overall vision of where taxpayers’ money should be directed,” he said.

The Feb. 8 CPCCA hearing, which was the last of 10 hearings held to discuss the issue of anti-Semitism in Canada, included speeches from members of the RCMP and police forces from around the country.   

Steve Sullivan, the federal ombudsman for victims of crime, said that victims of hate crimes report higher levels of fear, depression and anxiety than victims of other crimes.

“At the community level, the impact of hate crimes reaches far beyond the individual or the institution that’s been attacked,” he said. “Hate crimes can create fear among other members of the community.”

Sullivan added that less than 10 per cent of victims of any crime in Canada access any victim services offered by the government, and that most victims of hate crimes turn to their family, friends and religious institutions for comfort.

Sullivan went on to say that because a hate crime affects whole communities, these support systems are often damaged due to fear.

During his speech, Kenney said that Canada’s zero-tolerance approach to anti-Semitism and hate crimes includes supporting Holocaust education in Canada, working to collect hate-crime data from police forces throughout the country, and denying citizenship or permanent residence to anyone charged with, convicted of or under investigation for a war crime or a crime against humanity.