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Thursday, December 18, 2014

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B’nai Brith, federation sign ‘historic’ deal

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Eric Bissell, left, president, B’nai Brith Canada and Morris Perlis, chair-elect of UJA Federation of Greater Toronto, shake hands after signing the agreement. [Carolyn Blackman photo]

TORONTO — UJA Federation of Greater Toronto and B’nai Brith Canada met at a late-afternoon reception at the Lipa Green Centre Nov. 19 to sign what they called a “historic” agreement to strengthen ties and work together.

Few details were given about the new deal, nor was the document made public, but it was stressed at the reception that the two organizations would be creating new working relationships.

Ted Sokolsky, president and CEO of the federation, said later in an email interview that the two groups have been working on the agreement for a number of months, with the goal of finalizing it before the end of 2013. 

“The agreement speaks to closer ties between the organizations, particularly in the area of capital fundraising for seniors’ housing, while at the same time respecting the individual autonomy, history and contribution of each organization,” Sokolsky said.

“Both organizations have committed to consult with the other on issues of community concern, but leadership, of course, remains separate and independent.”

Frank Dimant, CEO B’nai Brith Canada, said in an email interview that although informal talks began about two years ago, serious negotiations started this year.

The agreement calls for each organization to maintain its own advocacy entities and to continue with its own leadership and philosophy, he said.

Dimant said the critical component calls for a “very well co-ordinated fundraising effort whereby specially designated staff will work together to ensure very specific objectives such as naming opportunities for B’nai Brith facilities and the fufilment of the commitment by B’nai Brith to create the Stephen Harper Human Rights Centre, as well as B’nai Brith’s very public support for the UJA campaigns and projects.”

It’s anticipated that new programs and projects will be reviewed and perhaps embarked upon collectively by the organizations, he added.

He said the federation will also be more visible in the Jewish Tribune, B’nai Brith’s newspaper, “through advertising and communications.”

The agreement appears to signal an end to public sniping between B’nai Brith and Canada’s other major Jewish advocacy network.

Over the summer, B’nai Brith was criticial of a visit by Gilad Schalit, which was sponsored by the Jewish National Fund and endorsed by the federation-linked Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA). B’nai Brith’s newspaper, the Jewish Tribune, published a story intimating that Schalit was a poor soldier and not deserving of hero status.

B’nai Brith’s paper also ran a story earlier in the year that was critical of CIJA’s Size Doesn’t Matter PR campaign, saying its use of sexual imagery to promote Israel is inappropriate.

Dimant said the new agreement will strengthen both B’nai Brith and the federation because “in public there will be no recriminations, one against the other, although each may voice their own independent views relating to advocacy and issues affecting the Jewish community with respect towards one another.”

Rabbi Daniel Korobkin, spiritual leader of Beth Avraham Yoseph of Toronto, spoke at the signing event and said “there are times when the moon and sun and stars all align. This is a win-win situation for both organizations.

“The two great brands [are coming together], and no one is giving up who they are. They will work together to be better.”

Eric Bissell, B’nai Brith’s national president, called the agreement “a milestone in the Jewish community. B’nai Brith makes a difference in people’s lives. [It] fights anti-Semitism and [provides] social service programs.” 

He added: “This historic [agreement] captures the voice of the grassroots of the community. [It allows for] full autonomy, but joint effort. It means [we have a] stronger community while maintaining our own institutions.”

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