By Sovereign Hager
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America
TORONTO, Canada – The Canadian Jewish Congress‘ 90th Assembly will meet today to discuss policy issues such as human rights, Darfur, hate, security and anti-semitism. Speakers include four of Canada’s five major party leaders and Israel’s Vice Prime Minister, Silvan Shalom. The headlining event will be the Saul Hayes Human Rights Award, which will be presented to Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
The CJC has decided to award Harper for his vigorous condemnation of anti-semitism and his strong support of Israel. The award goes to a leader who has exhibited distinguished service to the cause of human rights.
The CJC was founded in 1919 in order for persecuted Jewish minority to gain political strength through collective action. The group has evolved into what some consider “the epitome of political power,” as evidenced by the meeting of leaders today. However, the CJC has become more divided than it was in the past, according to historians and local activists. This is particularly true among those who question Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. Critics of the CJC claim that it is increasingly intolerant of dissenting voices when it comes to Middle Eastern politics.
Some community members regret what they consider to be a focus on the state of Israel, when the original organization focused on human rights issues. Toronto artist Reena Katz, an activist associated with Israel Apartheid Week, an international movement opposed to Israel’s treatment of Palestinians claims to have been “blacklisted” by the CJC. The CJC withdraw its affiliation with the Koffler Centre for the Arts after her exhibit was shown there.
Critics of the CJC say that it has “become the establishment” and make a point that the most prominent members are not activists or agitators, but business people and philanthropists. Others complain that the organization is no longer grass-roots, but instead operates top-down and stifles debate.
Regardless of the criticism, few in Canadian politics can ignore the organization, which claims to present a unified voice for Canadian Jews. This is evident by the high level government attendance to the CJC’s 90th anniversary celebration this weekend. According to CJC chief executive, Bernie Farber, the CJC has “a brand name that is the most significant ethnocultural organization in Canada.”