Sunday, December 13, 2009

HUAC North and its backers

The other day I posted a brief update about the goings-on of a bizarre all-party grouping known as the Canadian Parliamentary Coalition to Combat Anti-Semitism. Maybe it's time to dig into the operations and background of this outfit in a little more depth.

The CPCCA is supposed to be conducting an "inquiry" into anti-Semitism in Canada. But as I noted in an earlier post, the chair, Liberal MP Mario Silva,
let slip a telling comment this past week: those denying the threat of "anti-Semitism" on Canadian university campuses, he said, are "downplaying" it; those hyping this alleged threat and sounding the appropriate sirens are being "frank."

Among the less-than-frank, in Silva's estimation, would be people like Fred Lowy, former president of Concordia:

By and large, Canadian campuses are safe and are not hotbeds of antisemitism of any kind.

And Patrick Monahan, Provost of York University:

The difficulty is that there is a narrative (of antisemitism) that gets picked up by others who never set foot on the campus here, but purport to be experts on the atmosphere on our campuses. It is unfair to the students, because it sows fear, it sows division. It fans flames of more conflict. We hope that your report and work of your committee will not in anyway contribute further to that.

This is definitely not what Silva wanted to hear. He has been parti pris on the issue from day one. Hence his implicit smear of the witnesses: that they were being dishonest.

The hearings, with hand-picked guests, have been ludicrously one-sided. One organization that did not receive an invitation, the Seriously Free Speech Committee*, has protested:

We have been in contact with more than a dozen organisations and individual academics that submitted briefs expressing concern over the process and mandate of the Coalition and it’s potential impact on freedom of expression in Canada. None had received an invitation to testify nor notification about the hearings.

Also troubling is that the Coalition has not revealed its funding sources despite a promise that it “will voluntarily disclose all sources of funding.” As the Coalition is not an official parliamentary body, it would be unethical for individual MPs to use their constituency or party resources to support its “inquiry”.

It appears that the Coalition is trying to have it both ways, implying that it is an official parliamentary committee by referring to itself as a “committee” (as quoted above) and using parliamentary facilities but avoiding the transparency and openness required of an actual parliamentary body.

The Coalition’s actions force us to conclude that its process is closed to anyone who questions its preordained recommendation of expanding the definition of anti-Semitism to include criticism of the State of Israel, such as calls for a boycott or political discussions of Israeli apartheid, thus moving toward criminalising dissent in this country. In addition, The Seriously Free Speech Committee infers that the Coalition is not genuinely concerned with determining the state of antisemitism, racism and human rights in Canada. Clearly, the operation of the Coalition is designed to shield Israel from criticism and to silence Canadians who are critical of Israel’s illegal occupation of the Palestinian territories and Israel’s recent war crimes in Gaza, as documented by the Goldstone Report to the UN.

Independent Jewish Voices of Canada, another group excluded from the hearings, has mounted a petition against the process.

There has never been a parliamentary group quite like this one, in fact, self-selected and conducting a farcical "inquiry" with the evident intent of chilling debate about Israel on Canadian university campuses and elsewhere. Now, to take up the Seriously Free Speech Committee's question: how is it being funded?

I have said before
, in response to those who mutter darkly about alleged conspiratorial thinking, that everything about CPCCA is out in the open. Not entirely, as it turns out. Here is what they have to say about financing:

The CPCCA is not affiliated with the Government of Canada, any NGO, or any advocacy group. It is associated with the Inter-parliamentary Coalition toCombat Antisemitism, the international steering committee which organized the conference in London in 2009.

Who is paying for/supporting the Inquiry?

. The CPCCA is independent of the Government of Canada, and NGOs or Jewish Community Organizations.

. Funding will only be accepted for the inquiry and conference if it will not compromise the terms of reference and the mandate of the CPCCA.

. We will voluntarily disclose all sources of funding.

That ain't necessarily so. I am reliably informed that a number of people have written to the CPCCA to ask where its funding is coming from. I have written myself, although very recently. Replies are still awaited.

Never mind: follow me.

Let's begin with Monica Kugelmass, the CPCCA's Director and an assistant to Liberal MP Irwin Cotler, who is an "ex officio" member of the CPCCA.

From her bio: "Monica is the first Canadian Legacy Heritage Fellow, and is working as a Middle East policy advisor at the office of the Honorable Irwin Cotler MP, official opposition critic for Human Rights."

What is the Legacy Heritage Fund, of which she is a Fellow? Well, it's an organization that promotes "Israel awareness" with generous grants. And that connection with Israel is not without its politics:

JobKatif, a grassroots organization developed by Rev Yosef Tzvi Rimon of Gush Etzion, West Bank, is dedicated to rebuilding the lives and restoring normalcy and a sense of dignity to displaced settlers.


Funding for JobKatif’s projects comes mainly from American Jews. But there has been an outpouring of support from all over the world, including gifts from Israel, Europe and Australia, notes Gur.

Recently, the Susan Wexner Fund of the Legacy Heritage Fund offered $600,000 to JobKatif if it could get matching donations from individuals or foundations.

What is the Susan Wexner Fund? Better still, who is Susan Wexner?

You don't have to dig very deeply to discover the hard-right Middle East politics lying not far beneath the surface here:

StandWithUs - an "organization that ensures that Israel's side of the story is told" - has become increasingly aggressive in challenging the "pro-Israel" credentials of moderate Jewish-American groups, going so far as to suggest that receiving money from Arab donors and supporters of Human Rights Watch undermines a group's commitment to Israel and peace.

J Street - the "Pro-Israel and Pro-Peace" advocacy group - faced criticism last week for accepting contributions from donors who have been critical of Israeli government actions.

But an IPS investigation into the tax records of the donors to StandWithUs, which professes to be ideologically neutral, found a web of funders who support organisations that have been accused of anti-Muslim propaganda and encouraging a militant Israeli and U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East.

Some of these organisations have tied the origins of Palestinian nationalism to Nazi ideology, and suggested that a vast Muslim conspiracy - in a similar vein to the anti-Semitic Protocols of the Elders of Zion - is mobilising to undermine the U.S. constitution and impose Sharia law.

The biggest donors to StandWithUs since 2005, according to a search of publicly available tax returns, were foundations controlled by Susan Wexner, who has contributed over 850,000 dollars to the group. [emphasis added]

Is it impertinent to ask if CPCCA is being funded from this source? To suggest such a thing is sheer speculation, of course, at this point. I'm hoping that CPCCA will clear things up by delivering on its promise to "disclose all sources of funding," and I shall share with my readers any correspondence I receive from it.

UPDATE: (December 15) As I suspected, the CPCCA prefers to keep its funding sources secret after all. A written inquiry by reader and commenter Antonia to an MP she knew was referred back to CPCCA. Today she received this response from CPCCA functionary Sarah LaFreniere:

''Thank you for your inquiry. The website describes our funding restrictions and regulations, disclosure of funding will occur with the publication of the report.''

So much for voluntary disclosure of funding sources.

Why should this information be withheld until the final report is published? What does CPCCA have to hide? Inquiring minds want to know.

*"The SFSC was formed in February, 2008 to defend individuals being sued by Canwest, in a classic Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP), for producing a parody about the pro-Israel bias of the Vancouver Sun."

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