Doorstep Postings: Devil and the deep blue CIJA—let’s consider what it takes to draw their social media condemnation these days

This is a special edition of Doorstep Postings, the periodic political commentary column written by Josh Lieblein for The CJN.

When dealing with the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), you must keep three things in mind:

First, they will never, ever admit they’ve been wrong, even when the facts say otherwise. Second, just as you think you’ve got the answers, they change the questions. And finally, their position at the top of the “Who Speaks For The Jews?” hierarchy is owed to the relative incompetence of everybody else.

But this has been the case from the start, two decades ago. How clearly I remember the sense of befuddlement that descended over the sparsely attended room on the second floor of the Wolfond Centre for Jewish Campus Life at the University of Toronto.

By means of a PowerPoint presentation, a well-meaning CIJA representative announced a sea change in the way they, and by extension, we as a community, were to advocate for Israel. CIJA’s research had revealed that pointing out the genocidal intentions of Israel’s enemies—and their unapologetic justification of terrorism in achieving those bloody ends—wasn’t tracking well with Ordinary Canadians.

In the minds of these Ordinary Canadians, Israel was like a hockey team that had scored 10 goals, and because the other side was so behind, it was OK for them to bend the rules in the interests of fairness. And so from now on the “Shared Values” approach would be adopted. We would focus on how Israel and Canada had a lot in common, because ”minds are not changed by presenting complex information or by shouting-out the other side or demonizing them.”

In response, Israel’s enemies in Canada have worked quite effectively to advance the narrative that these “shared values” simply mean that both Canada and Israel are illegitimate. But the persistence of Shared Values, despite this fact, merely underscores the first point above.

The second point is highlighted by the presence of a very clear answer to the problem of the growing acceptance of the notion that Canada and Israel shared the “value” of being apartheid states. Namely, that the Jewish community should realize that delegitimizing Canada is as bad for the community’s interests as the delegitimization of Israel. But you will get nowhere raising this with CIJA, because they’d rather change the question to one they can answer without offending anyone. 

And, as for the third point, regarding how they end up speaking for the Jewish community because they can and others can’t? CIJA are the ones with the research to back their position, with high-profile connections—and, most importantly, an ability to make the rest of the community nervous about asking questions. Only lunatics like me would dream of writing mildly critical columns or even attempting to analyze what they’re doing (like I’m doing now). They do what they do, issue statements (or they don’t), and everyone else grumbles privately or falls in line.

To be fair, there’s something to be said for CIJA’s professed professionalism. Whatever else they are, they aren’t the vanity project of one or two semi-charismatic individuals who put their interests first and the community’s interests last. Their senior leadership aren’t a bunch of boomers who think social media is a passing fad. They don’t pine for the so-called glory days of the Canadian Jewish Congress and plot its return. They focus on other things besides Israel and antisemitism, occasionally. For these reasons, you need to give CIJA a bouquet. 

And they’re certainly head-and-shoulders above organizations like Independent Jewish Voices (IJV), who hosted their 15th anniversary conference this past Shabbat. The theme was “Anti-Racist Solidarity and the Fight for Justice in Palestine.”

And while I’d love to tell you more about the content presented at this conference, doing that is somewhat difficult because IJV has been in a social media battle with CIJA over—you’ll never guess—who speaks for the Jewish community.

CIJA made one of their statements calling out IJV over platforming Omar Barghouti at this conference with some ancillary material from the Jerusalem Post about how Barghouti supports a one-state solution, has used Nazi rhetoric, will not tolerate a Jewish state in any form, etc. etc. etc.

Other than the recent increase in aggressiveness from IJV and their co-conspirators—such as when they protested outside a speech given by former Israeli PM Naftali Bennett last week, calling attendees baby-killers and such—there’s not much newsworthy or interesting about their antics. You can probably guess what they have to say, whether it’s now or 15 years ago: Israel is bad and racist, and anyone who supports Israel is bad and racist, and since they don’t support Israel, they are good and anti-racist and nothing at all like those apartheid-supporting Jews.

Plus, if I was to interview IJV, I would have to ask questions they might not be comfortable with, such as “How many Jewish members do you have?” and “Are you funded by American NGO Jewish Voices for Peace?” and “How come your poster co-sponsoring the Naftali Bennett protest featured a fake book cover with the ‘Heather’s Pick’ sticker on it from Indigo?”

You can ask more interesting questions of CIJA than you ever could of IJV—and while you won’t ever get an answer from CIJA, at least the asking isn’t a complete waste of time.

A few days before the Bennett protest and the IJV conference, Justin Trudeau jetted off to Ukraine and was photographed with Andrij Melnyk, a former ambassador from Ukraine to Germany who was fired after denying the role of a Ukrainian nationalist leader in the Holocaust.

Realizing that they had to save face, the Prime Minister’s Office released the following statement: “The atrocities of the Holocaust can never be forgotten and should never be diminished, not in Canada or anywhere else. Ukraine made its own decisions about its delegation, including regarding the presence of Deputy Foreign Minister Melnyk. Our government has and will continue to take historic action to preserve the memory of the Holocaust and combat antisemitism, including investing in Holocaust museums across the country, criminalizing the denial of the Holocaust, and establishing the role of the Special Envoy on Preserving Holocaust Remembrance and Combatting Antisemitism.”

And where was the comment from CIJA? Nowhere to be found beyond an email reply to The CJN: “Thanks for reaching out on this but we don’t have anything to add to it.”

So why does Barghouti get the official CIJA condemnation while Melnyk gets a pass? How come IJV couldn’t take five minutes out of its regular schedule of Israel-bashing to point this out? How come CIJA gets to change the questions and doesn’t admit they were wrong?

I guess CIJA was right when they told me that minds aren’t changed by presenting complex information. 

Josh Lieblein can be reached at [email protected] for your response to Doorstep Postings.