Introducing the new Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs

A discussion with Luciano Del Negro, Vice-President, Quebec Region and David Ouellette, Associate Director, Quebec Public Affairs

Tikun Olam (TO): Please tell us about the reorganization that took place amongst the Israel and Jewish advocacy organizations in Canada and the rationale behind it.

Luciano Del Negro (LDN): The rationale for the reorganization of the advocacy agencies in Canada is to have a one-stop centre to deal with advocacy-related matters for the organized Jewish community. In the past, we had a number of organizations dealing with segments of the advocacy challenges with overlapping jurisdictions.

David Ouellette (DO): There were artificial boundaries between the mandates of the different advocacy organizations, especially between the Canadian Jewish Congress and the Canada-Israel Committee. Like many other Jewish communities around the world, we felt that anti-Semitism had morphed into anti-Israel sentiments and that the line between the two had been blurred. We had the challenge of determining whether something was an anti-Semitic issue or an Israel-related issue. The radical anti-Zionist rhetoric actually recycles all the traditional motifs of anti-Semitic discourse, but instead of applying it to Jews as people, they apply it to the State of Israel.

LDN: Anti-Semitism in its past form has been rendered so toxic that today’s opponents of both Israel and the Jewish community, who are more sophisticated, couch their attacks from the angle that they are not anti-Semitic. They say that they like the Jewish community, but that their problem is with Israel. The issue is that Israel has become the Jew amongst nations.

The reorganization allows us to pool all the incredible resources which we had amongst the various independent organizations, because, though we worked in a cooperative manner, we still had these artificial boundaries which impeded the professionals from working together. We now have the benefit of concentrated human resources with a very specific mandate and thus a unified approach and ability to intervene in a timely and efficient manner on issues of concern to the community. The mandate of this organization is to act in the best interest of the organized Jewish community; to be the voice of the organized Jewish community; to act on all issues which, in one way or the other, affect the Jewish community at a national level, be it cross-Canada or in Quebec.

TO: How does the reorganization affect representation from Quebec or the local Jewish community?

DO: The Quebec lay leadership was very involved in the reorganization process and is well represented in the governance of the new Centre. What’s more, there is a vice president for Quebec in the new organization, so this is a reflection of just how important it is for the Centre to recognize that we have challenges that are specific for Quebec. We are given all the tools we need to address them appropriately and the capacity to translate national policy to Quebec realities.

LDN: I think there is also recognition that we have the need to respond in a more proactive manner in concert with Federation CJA and the new structure provides for a closer rapport with Federation through the new Local Partners Strategy.

DO: The Local Partners Strategy actually empowers the local Federations throughout the country in the advocacy process. This was one of the goals of this restructuring; it was to empower the local communities to have their voice at the table and to respond to local needs in a more direct and immediate fashion.

TO: What are some of the current issues?

LDN: The first is the attempt of the Palestinians to achieve statehood without accepting or recognizing Israel as a Jewish state and without abiding a final resolution on the conflict.

DO: One of the big challenges that we have in Israel advocacy is an entrenched notion in public opinion, related to the media, that Israel is the rejectionist party in this conflict; that it is Israel that is stone-walling the process; that is not negotiating in good faith. Yet the record shows that when Israelis were negotiating with a fair-minded and serious partner, peace could be achieved. It was done with Egypt and it was done with Jordan. Israel has shown time and again that it is ready to relinquish territories for peace. The conflict has always been about the existence of a Jewish state, not the absence of a Palestinian state.

TO: When you talk about the media having a distorted picture, what is the Centre doing to advocate on Israel’s behalf?

LDN: Well, there are a number of things. First and foremost, we examine media coverage. We can only advocate against biased reporting in a concerted manner with responsible media. For example, CBC has proven to be incredibly unbalanced and unfair in its reporting and we have had to, unfortunately, file numerous complaints to the ombudsperson. Secondly, with the incredible transformation in communication practices with the web, Facebook, Twitter and blogs, everything has much more a public face. We outreach with those mediums, as well.

DO: We have been successful to complaints to Radio Canada and they have acknowledged that there is a problem. I can’t say we are seeing much improvement, but we are willing to continue the dialogue with them to improve things. Let’s be clear: we are not asking them to be pro-Israel. We’re just asking them to be fair and balanced.

TO: What happened in Hampstead?

LDN: Hampstead City Council reviewed past legislation and wanted to amend one of the uses of its bylaws which, in its present form, limits the citizens of Hampstead from making excessive noise during Easter, New Year’s, Christian holidays and national holidays. The City Council wanted to include the Jewish holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur in that bylaw.

Certainly, the wisdom, or lack thereof, of this legislation is open to discussion. We have seen members of the community who are on both sides of the issue. What we took issue with is the manner which the issue was reported by certain Quebec radio and media hosts. Public policy can be debated, and vigorously so, but the debate has to be based on facts, not conjecture, not truncated facts, not half-truths. The debate should be carried on in a civil manner and unfortunately this was not the case.

DO: The sensationalist and sloppy journalism we witnessed was clearly meant to incite public outrage and denunciation. There were quite a lot of anti-Semitic statements tolerated by some of the news outlets on their Internet platforms; there were calls by radio hosts to basically disrupt the lives of Jews in Hampstead. More profoundly shocking was that an entire community was being victimized. That is one of the eternal challenges as Jews – that if one Jew does or says something, it’s on the heads of all Jews. There is never the understanding that there can be differences of opinions, of orientations, between Jews.

LDN: This was presented by some media as if the whole Jewish community of Quebec was imposing radical, extremist or religious demands. This is how it was portrayed. Now we are looking into various ways to engage with the management of the media outlets, as well as the ways and means of sensitizing the relevant institutions to ensure that media is responsible in its reporting and is not being inciteful.

TO: If you had one message to the audience, what would it be?

DO: That we like to hear from the audience. We like to hear from our bases, from the grassroots to know what they’re thinking, to see how they perceive the challenges. Please contact us – we are here for you.

To contact the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, please call 514.345.6411 or email

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