The Knesset’s aliyah, absorption and Diaspora relations committee has been faced with some pretty weighty issues as of late.
In the wake of the release of the Pew Research Center’s findings on the assimilation of American Jews, it held hearings on the internal challenges facing Jewish communities, and last week, it heard from Diaspora communities confronting the external challenges of growing anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism.
Representatives of communities in Australia, Belgium, Croatia, France, Hungary, Latvia, Serbia and the United States addressed the committee, including a delegation from Canada representing the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) and local federations.
Speaking to the Knesset committee, Joel Reitman described efforts undertaken in Canada to boost Israel’s image while addressing the country’s opponents in the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) and anti-Zionist movements.
Reitman, co-chair of the Toronto local partner committee of CIJA and UJA Federation of Greater Toronto, said the community’s “Shared Values” advocacy approach has proven successful, as reflected in Canada’s “unwavering support for the Jewish state in forums like the United Nations and the G8.
“Shared Values is about tailoring our message to the interests and world view of our target audience – non-Jewish Canadians in positions of influence. By emphasizing the values Israelis and Canadians share – freedom, pluralism, family and democracy – we open the door to discussing more substantive pro-Israel messages, [which] we would never be able to convey if we didn’t first humanize Israelis,” he said.
(The signature ad in CIJA’s “Size Doesn’t Matter” campaign features two attractive young people in an intimate setting. It garnered more than one million hits, along with many subsequent visits to the advocacy website, where information about Israeli culture and politics was offered.)
Reitman told the parliamentarians that “we have worked to ensure that support for Israel in Canada transcends party lines and reflects no single political ideology. It is widely known that Prime Minister [Stephen] Harper and the Conservative Party of Canada are strong supporters of Israel. But Canada’s left-of-centre parties have shown extraordinary support for the Jewish state too. On all the important issues – including increasing Iranian sanctions and disavowing BDS – Canada’s Liberal and labour parties have been remarkably supportive of Israel.”
Reitman said CIJA supports bilateral ties at the grassroots levels, particularly in academia and business. That broadens the stakeholders involved in the bilateral relationship, “in effect insulating support for Israel from the vagaries of political developments,” he said.
CIJA has countered BDS efforts by encouraging “BUYcotts” of Israeli merchandise, creating “a direct incentive for Canadian businesses to seek Israeli products.”
In addition to addressing the Knesset committee, CIJA and federation representatives also met with counterparts from other Diaspora communities.
“Whether it’s fear of wearing a kippah in public, efforts to outlaw kosher slaughter or to ban circumcision, or attempts like those we see in Canada and elsewhere to make expression of support for Israel into a source of shame, my meetings with the leaders of the European communities made it clear that we face similar challenges to our ability to live fully and confidently as Jews,” said Sara Saber-Freedman, executive vice-president of CIJA.
“European delegates see the Canadian Jewish community as an important strategic ally and source of moral support. The educational and advocacy strategies that work in Canada are seen as having potential benefits in Europe. I was touched by the warm reception our delegation received, especially from representatives of the Jewish communities of Belgium, France, and Spain,” she said.
Reitman and Saber-Freedman were joined by Linda Kislowicz, CEO of Jewish Federations of Canada – UIA; Howard English, vice-president of CIJA for the Toronto region; and David Weinberg, director of CIJA’s Israel office.