Understanding advocacy

with CIJA-Quebec Chair, Eric Maldoff

While their activities are not always visible to the Montreal Jewish Community, the Quebec arm of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) performs a key role in advocating for an inclusive and mutually-respectful environment for the Jewish people in our province. Soon after CIJA-Quebec’s 8th annual National Assembly Cocktail, Tikun Olam caught up with CIJA Chair, Eric Maldoff, to discuss his agency’s role in Jewish-Quebec society.

From left to right: Jonathan Kalles and Luciano Del Negro of CIJA, with Pascal Bérubé, Quebec Minister of Tourism and Gerry Sklavounos, Liberal MNA for Laurier-Dorion and critic for higher education.

Tikun Olam: Broadly put, how would you describe the role of CIJA?

Eric Maldoff: CIJA is the result of the merger of the Quebec Jewish Congress, Quebec Israel Committee and the University Outreach Committee. Essentially CIJA has inherited the mandates of all three organizations in Quebec.

We have a responsibility to deal with issues of concern to the Jewish community in Quebec in terms of developing a better understanding and positive relations between the Jewish community and the broader Quebec society, trying to encourage the presence of members of the Jewish community in our broader society, and intervening in matters of interest or concern whenever necessary. Our responsibility also extends to Israel by promoting an enhanced relationship between Quebec and Israel, and a better understanding of Israel in Quebec.

TO: Can you elaborate on some of the ways you encourage this better understanding?

EM: Generally, good advocacy is advocacy that is not in people’s face. The most enduring support that we can possibly get is support where people can feel that they came to the right conclusion on their own.

TO:  Domestically, what is the approach taken by CIJA on advocacy?

EM: On the domestic front, we spend a lot of time talking to elected representatives, government officials, the media and others to cultivate a better understanding of our community and issues affecting our community. For the last number of years, we have lived with conditions where many of the issues and concerns of the community were able to be dealt with through diplomacy and negotiations. Frankly, making a big public issue out of something is not useful when there is a better chance of success by sitting down and talking with people. Once an issue is made very public, we have to remember that those who are being challenged also become concerned about saving face, and that makes succeeding more difficult. On all fronts, we have a proactive approach and we build relationships with a broad spectrum of a Quebec milieu—business, cultural, media, education, governmental—in order to enable people to get a better understanding of our community and of matters of concern to our community.

TO:  What about the flagrant cases such as those involving Benoît Dutrizac and Bernard Drainville?

EM: It is important to be judicious and not attribute words that may have been expressed by a single individual to the attitudes or motives of the entire population of Quebec. But there are times when behavior or comments cross the line and are unacceptable. Those things require a strong response on the public record. There are fundamental values that we hold in our society such as tolerance, generosity of spirit, fairness, equality and mutual respect. These values are fundamental to the proper working of democracy in a pluralistic society and there are times when we have to lead and remind people respectfully but forcefully of the importance of those values.

A perfect example recently was regarding the complaints by a Quebec minister about giving parking tolerances around Shavuot. Our immediate response in contacting and explaining to the media that those complaints were unjust and inappropriate were quickly investigated and ultimately led to broad condemnation of the minister’s conduct.

TO: How would you describe CIJA’s role as it relates to Quebec and Israel?

EM:  Our job in Israel is not to defend any specific political party or government but to foster a better understanding of what Israel is really is in terms of being a democratic society, and a first-world country with a strong knowledge-based and innovation-driven economy. In our view, it is not about screaming and yelling in favor of Israel—it is about finding opportunities to introduce Quebecers to Israel by assisting and organizing visits and missions. We focus not on the politics of Israel but on the reality of Israeli society and its actual day to day life. We don’t make a major point of bringing people to meet with politicians; rather, we invite journalists, politicians, scholars, business people, artists and other individuals to see Israel for what it is. The stereotypes that are generally perpetuated about the Middle East by the international media dissipate rather quickly when people experience Israel for themselves, without propaganda. It tells its own story. And then, when you start to see feature articles in cooking magazines about Israeli cuisine, or supplements in Les Affaires about the miracle of Israel and another supplement in Le Devoir, they create correct, valid and constructive information that allows relationships to be developed and be sustained.

Last year, we assisted in organizing an important business and trade mission with the Chambre de commerce de Montréal and Montreal International that led to at least at least five memoranda of understanding signed between universities in Israel and Quebec, such as l’Université de Montréal, McGill University, Hebrew University and the Technion, covering a range of academic and scientific fields. These are enduring relationships. When the intellectuals, academics and scientists in Quebec and Israel are working and creating together, durable bonds of respect and mutuality take root.

It’s also important to reiterate that consistent work with all political parties at the National Assembly, for example, makes a difference. Quebec was the only jurisdiction in Canada to pass a unanimous – meaning supported by every member present- resolution congratulating Israel on its 60th anniversary, affirming Quebec’s commitment to Israel’s legitimacy and its security needs while calling for a two state solution.

We welcome your feedback and invite your comments.

Leave a comment

Reader comments are the opinion of the comment writer, not Federation CJA

Comments that make false or unsubstantiated allegations will not be published, nor will comments that contain defamatory, inaccurate, rude, distasteful, disrespectful, abusive, vulgar, hateful, harassing, obscene, profane, sexually oriented or threatening language.

Comments that use hearsay or are based on reports where the supposed fact or quote is not a matter of public knowledge also may not be permitted.

Federation CJA reserves the right to withhold from publication comments that are deemed to be spam or unrelated to the article at which they are posted. Comments that include personal attacks on other people taking part in this website and/or are invasive of another's privacy may also be withheld from publication.

Spelling and grammatical mistakes will not be corrected.