The president of the World Jewish Congress (WJC) met with Prime Minister Stephen Harper in Ottawa this week to discuss rising global levels of antisemitism and anti-Zionism and to suggest ways to continue pressuring Iran on its pursuit of nuclear weapons.
Ronald Lauder was in Ottawa on May 16 on a visit to Parliament Hill hosted by members of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA). He also lunched with Foreign Minister John Baird.
Lauder has met with Harper before, hosting the prime minister at his New York home last fall as part of the WJC’s acknowledgement of Canada’s support for Israel and other Jewish causes, he said.
He said Canada has taken a greater leadership role in the international community with respect to the Middle East, Iran and the support of Israel, and he was in Canada to offer the WJC’s support and counsel to the government on issues relating to the Middle East and antisemitism.
Speaking to The CJN from Ottawa, Lauder, an American businessman and philanthropist – listed by Forbes in 2011 as one of the richest people of the world, with an estimated net worth of $3.3 billion – said he was in Canada because of Harper’s strong support for Israel and to “formalize” relations between the WJC and CIJA.
Asked what specifically he spoke to Baird and Harper about, Lauder said he briefed them “on some of my travels and some of the major issues facing Jews today, not only in Israel but also around the world.”
His travels have recently taken him to Turkey, France, Italy and Israel.
“There are major issues facing world Jewry,” he said. “Frankly, Canada has been an outspoken supporter of Israel, and this trip was a way to say ‘thank you’ and also brief [Harper] on what’s happening to world Jewry.”
Lauder also said he gave the prime minister his opinion on how the new Israeli coalition government could affect the peace process with the Palestinians.
The spectre of renewed, virulent antisemitism as a result of the world economic downturn was also on the agenda.
“Whenever there are financial problems, you do see the rise of antisemitism. And you can tie that back to Iran. Whatever happens, there will be an effect on oil prices, which in turn will have an [economic] effect on the rest of the world. And the question is: what can be done?” Lauder said.
As to his dealings with CIJA – which replaced the now-defunct Canadian Jewish Congress, the WJC’s longtime Canadian affiliate – Lauder said the Canadian Jewish community is “strong and very self-sufficient.”
Shimon Fogel, CIJA’s CEO, said his organization wants to solidify its relationship with the WJC, because the world body’s “extensive network” has a lot to offer to Canadian Jews.
Fogel also said that with the convergence of issues affecting Jews worldwide, co-ordination between the WJC and CIJA makes sense.
“It allows us to leverage WJC to support the work we do [in Canada],” he said.
He said the WJC also recently started sharing resources and fundraising expertise to CIJA for its advocacy work in Canada and abroad.
Fogel wouldn’t reveal how much assistance the WJC has given CIJA, but he said it’s been enough to start planning more trips to Israel for MPs and senators, and to promote CIJA’s anti-boycott movement, for example.
“These things cost real money. And his help is a huge boost to CIJA’s capacity to deliver to our constituency,” Fogel said.
Lauder confirmed that the WJC and CIJA are working on joint initiatives regarding antisemitism or anti-Zionism.
“We have interesting plans, but we’re not yet ready to discuss them. Part of the reason I’m here is to understand what Canada needs and what [the WJC] can give and then put the pieces together.”
He added: “We’re also talking about 70 or 80 countries working together on these efforts. It’s a difficult world out there, and it could become more so [for Israel and Jews] in the coming years.”