In time for the new year, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) has published its list of priorities. There are several takeaways from the process.
Through an online survey and in-person focus groups, CIJA asked Canadian Jews to signal which issues the organization should prioritize in its advocacy efforts. The survey – provided to me by CIJA staff at my request, though I recall filling it out when it was issued – provided a dozen or so options, ranging from issues related to anti-Semitism; affordable housing and poverty relief; religious freedom, minority rights; positive Israel education; countering the boycotts, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel; Holocaust education; the cost of Jewish education; immigration and refugee issues; protecting Jewish students on campus; and enhancing security at Jewish institutions.
The results, published on the CIJA website, also form a long list including protecting Jewish students on campus, strengthening Canada-Israel friendship and “maintaining Canadian pressure on Iran,” ensuring a “fair and efficient refugee system,” providing affordable access to kosher products and Jewish education, fighting anti-Semitism and protecting human rights (including accountability for “war crimes, genocide, torture and crimes against humanity,”), ensuring adequate security for Jewish community institutions, preventing terrorism, affordable housing, and securing restitution for Holocaust survivors.
Gleaning the difference between the two lists is an exercise in fine detective work, compounded by the fact that CIJA has not specified how these priorities were actually ranked by respondents.
The survey results also do little to clarify respondents’ specific policy preferences around these issues. Regarding Israel, for example, there are many unanswered questions. Would respondents prefer that CIJA ask the government to push Israel more vocally on settlements, or should the government to remain silent? Should the Canadian government actively back a two-state solution or remain passive in its approach? Should Canada pair its support for Jewish refugee return with the Palestinian refugee issue or decouple them? Similarly, preventing terrorism could mean supporting controversial legislation such as Bill C-51, or it could mean a variety of other more globally focused policy measures.
Perhaps most importantly, what some may not realize is that CIJA doesn’t intend to represent the Jewish community at large. CIJA’s core funding comes from the network of federations. And as Shimon Koffler Fogel, CEO of CIJA, told me in an email interview, while CIJA did receive some feedback from outside of the federation system, CIJA does “not claim to represent the totality of Jewish Canada” and instead aims to “advance the public policy interests of the organized Jewish community,” which CIJA defines as the “tens of thousands of Jewish Canadians affiliated with their local federation,” whether by donation or by volunteering.
The lesson here is that if one wants to have a voice in CIJA’s affairs, one should become a federation donor or volunteer. Conversely, if one objects to CIJA’s policy approach and feels it’s beyond changing, one should keep in mind that providing a donation to federation’s annual campaign also entails funding CIJA.
For those who value open dialogue, one should recall that CIJA’s record is mixed, but nevertheless shows signs of improvement. On one hand, as I wrote in Ha’aretz in 2012, CIJA has at times stymied dialogue, as when the organization advised local Hillel chapters not to meet with noted analyst Peter Beinart on his three-city tour in 2012. On the other hand, last year CIJA hosted a debate between Yoram Hazony and me on the issue of Israel’s Jewish nation-state bill, a forum that indeed lent itself to a healthy exchange of ideas around Israeli policy.
CIJA has the right to survey people however it wishes. But this process reminds us that, unlike with our Jewish neighbours to the south, we Canadian Jews – whether affiliated with a federation or not – have an unfortunate dearth of good, solid polling data on specific political attitudes on a range of issues.