$7 million muzzling shocker- Canadian government cuts off funds for church group it calls anti-Semitic

Despite a 35-year collaboration, the Canadian church group KAIROS: Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiatives, “one of Canada’s most respected and important charitable organizations,” was stunned when their likely routine 7 million dollar request for the human rights program was denied by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA). But they were even more surprised when they discovered why: although the group’s board had made public their opposition to sanctions and boycotts against Israel 2 years earlier, Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney in a speech he gave this week in Israel charged the group with being anti-Semitic for “taking a leadership role in the boycott.” Kenney, speaking at the Global Forum for Combating Anti-Semitism, said they were “defunding” groups as part of their new “zero-tolerance” approach to anti-Semitism.  (Read the full text of his speech here. )

In his speech, Kenney included in a list of acts of anti-Semitism, like the spray-painting of swastikas on a Canadian Holocaust memorial, the spray-painting of the phrase “Stop the Israeli genocide in Gaza”.

Anti-human rights/Israel lobby group NGO Monitor built an extensive dossier on KAIROS– which represents Canada’s Mennonites, the Anglican, United and Catholic Churches and does work in some of the poorest regions of the world.

Kairos came under fire for co-sponsoring, along with 50 other groups, an international Sabeel conference in 2005 on morally responsible investment. (Sabeel is “an ecumenical grassroots liberation theology movement among Palestinian Christians,” and Jewish Voice for Peace frequently co-sponsors Sabeel conferences here in the United States.)

In this comprehensive and thoughtful 2008 strategy paper on using “economic advocacy measures… to advance peace between Palestinians and Israelis, ” KAIROS said:

KAIROS affirms the desire of the Israeli people for a secure homeland, recognizing the long, terrible and continuing history of anti-Semitism, and the vital role of Israel to Jewish people around the world. KAIROS also recognizes the great suffering of the Palestinian people, many of whom live as refugees in surrounding countries, and others who have lived under Occupation for 40 years, and affirms their right to a secure and viable homeland. KAIROS calls for an end to the Israeli Occupation of Palestinian Territories and for two secure states based on the June 4, 1967 borders.

They also explicitly rejected “sanctions against Israel” and “a boycott of products from Israel.” But in line with the universal recognition of the illegality of settlements, they did also advocate for things like:

limiting the geographical applicability of Canada-Israel Free Trade Agreement to within the 1967 borders of the State of Israel; and

enforcing a certification of origin for goods coming from settlements in the Occupied Palestinians Territories;   

and, almost identical to the Presbyterian Church USA’s strategy:

That where KAIROS members opt to pursue shareholder action respecting Canadian companies doing business in Israel or the Occupied Palestinian Territories (that are contributing directly or indirectly to violence, occupation or other human rights abuses in the region), shareholder action shall move through several stages, from dialogue with senior company management to filing shareholder proposals and, as a last resort, divestment. 

So, after so much thoughtful and sensitive delving into ways to responsibly use economic pressure and investment, what did they get for their troubles? Charges of anti-Semitism.
(At Jewish Voice for Peace, where we have devised a similarly nuanced approach to economic pressure that works for us, choosing to focus on companies that profit from the occupation, or groups that fund settlements, we’ve seen from day one how pro-occupation groups purposefully and immediately ignore the facts, and raise the urgent flag of anti-Semitism as a strategy to kill virtually any resistance activity that goes beyond nicely asking the Israeli government to stop violating international law. Ironically, as they deny more and more people the right to boycott settlement goods only, they leave them with no choice but to boycott all Israeli products. )

A KAIROS official responded in The Star:

“It’s a horrible charge to make, and to do it with so little thought cheapens the reality of anti-Semitism in the world and diminishes the very careful attention that it deserves,” said United Church spokesperson Bruce Gregersen. “We’re quite disappointed in the government on this.

“The policies of KAIROS have all been approved by the collective board of KAIROS, so in a sense what Mr. Kenney is doing is accusing Canadian churches of being anti-Semitic and I think that’s really unfortunate,”

KAIROS director Mary Corkery told the Anglican Journal

“We do criticize actions of the Israeli government and we do support an independent, viable Palestinian state, so we have criticized the settlements, the barrier wall, the occupation of the West Bank, yes, but that can not be associated with anti-Semitism.”

Corkery said that Kairos had also heard from a number of Jewish people who objected to Kenney’s association of anti-Semitism with criticism of Israel. “They may not agree with us, but they don’t want that. That doesn’t honour anybody,” said Corkery.

KAIROS claims they were confused with a document that was recently released by Christian Palestinian leaders called Kairos Palestine, 2009: A Moment of Truth, which states “We see boycott and disinvestment as tools of justice, peace and security,” endorsing BDS as a form of solidarity for international faith-based organizations. Canada’s KAIROS has nothing to do with this statement.

The Liberal party believes KAIROS “was censured for joining seven religious denominations in speaking out against Conservative policies on climate change, overseas mining operations, aboriginal rights, immigration and international trade.”

We’ll give KAIROS the last word from their December 18 press statement:

Minister Kenney’s charge against KAIROS is false. KAIROS did not lead this campaign. In 2007, KAIROS took a public position opposing sanctions and a boycott of Israel.

A recently released document, Kairos Palestine, 2009: A Moment of Truth, is not a document of KAIROS: Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiatives. Kairos is a Greek word meaning “God’s time” and is commonly used by Christian groups.

A Minister of the Crown says that his government decided, for what is a highly political reason, to cut funds for a proposal developed in consultation with and approved by CIDA.

Canadians need the truth.

Two points must be made: criticism of Israel does not constitute anti-Semitism; and CIDA was developed to fund international aid and not to serve political agendas.

Minister Kenney’s statement, in a highly charged environment, raises very disturbing questions about the integrity of Canadian development aid decisions. If aid decisions are based on political rumour rather than on due diligence, development criteria and CIDA’s own evaluation process then this is a matter of grave concern for the entire international development sector — and for the Canadian people who pay for this aid.

Many non-governmental organizations have proposals before CIDA that have been on Minister Oda’s desk for months. Others are about to apply for funding. How can they possibly trust this decision-making process in the future?

In the past two weeks, Canadians from across the country have called for the restoration of CIDA funding to KAIROS.

People working for human rights are the true victims of the funding cut to KAIROS. This decision cuts funding for a new legal clinic in the Congo to help women who have been raped in the brutal conflict there. The 5,000 members of the Women’s Popular Organization in Colombia will lose funding for life-saving protection against rampant human rights abuses in their country.

To label KAIROS criticism of Israeli government actions as “anti-Semitic” silences dissent and honours no one. KAIROS has a clear position of support for the legitimate right of the Israeli people to a safe and secure state.

Actually, KAIROS, a third point needs to be made. It is true that there will always be some who harbor anti-Jewish hatred, like the vicious anti-Semite David Duke, who opportunistically join the Palestinian liberation movement and who should be opposed at every turn. (I’d argue that the entire Christian Zionist right is built on an anti-Semitic doctrine which wants to see Jews either incinerated or converted.)  

But the fact remains that there is absolutely nothing inherently anti-Semitic about BDS ( boycotts, divestment and sanctions.) As Israeli professor Neve Gordon said, he supports it as a way to save Israel from itself. Further, it follows in a long and extraordinary tradition of nonviolent resistance to injustice, no matter where it occurs.  

KAIROS has posted this list of seven ways you can help. Read it and act.

-Cecilie Surasky

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