It all started a quarter century ago in the basement of the home of Concordia University professor Fred Krantz.
Frustrated by the media coverage of the first intifadah and the success the pro-Palestinian camp appeared to be having in the battle for public opinion, Krantz gathered together a few like-minded fellow academics to see what they could do.
Krantz also invited some non-academics whose cogent letters to newspaper editors on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict had impressed him.
“The goal was to bring together people who could write and speak, who could critique what the Palestinian side was saying,” Krantz said.
Thus was born the Canadian Institute for Jewish Research (CIJR), which, 25 years later, continues to carry out its conservative, pro-Israel educational mission, despite limited resources and the fact that it has remained entirely independent.
CIJR will celebrate its silver anniversary at its annual benefit gala June 18 at the Gelber Conference Centre.
With the exception of an annual grant of about $5,000 from the Winnipeg-based Asper Foundation, CIJR has no assured means of financing from year to year, Krantz said. It relies solely on its own ongoing fundraising.
After working for three years out of the Krantz basement, the nascent organization was getting noticed. “We began getting donations, but we were not incorporated. We went to all the Jewish organization to get some help processing cheques, to give us some framework. But every organization turned us down,” Krantz recalled.
He defines CIJR today as “an academic research institute with an activist mission in support of Israel and the Jewish People.”
Its main activities include a massive databank of articles related to the Middle East and the Jewish People that has been digitized; the five-days-a-week digest of current articles gleaned from scores of sources; the training of university students, Jewish and non-Jewish, in advocacy for Israel; and public lectures at synagogues and other community venues.
All this is accomplished with a staff of three, volunteers and a handful of summer student interns.
Among the volunteers is one of those letter-writers, research chair Baruch Cohen, who at 93, continues to come into the CIJR’s downtown office every day as he has throughout its history, although he has had to reduce his hours of late.
Many of the other original leaders and supporters remain, but CIJR has rejuvenated in the last couple of years. It now has, for example, a young adult division headed by David Smajovits.
In the last couple of years, it has also expanded its operations to Toronto, to become a national organization.
Now, it is about to go international. A U.S. affiliate, based in Washington, D.C., is in the final stages of legal incorporation, said Krantz, who remains CIJR’s unsalaried director.
“We have a board in place, chaired by Asaf Romirowsky, and a couple of fellows on the academic council,” Krantz said. “Chapters are planned for New York, Philadelphia, Chicago and Los Angeles, as well as Washington.”
The Israeli Romirowsky, a commentator on Middle Eastern affairs, teaches at Pennsylvania State University and is acting executive director of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East.
Another confirmed board member is Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles.
The keynote speaker at the June 18 gala will be Hillel Neuer, the Montreal-born executive director of UN Watch in Geneva, Switzerland, which combats anti-Israel expressions made by the United Nations Human Rights Council.
A former student of Krantz’s at Concordia’s Liberal Arts College, Neuer is one of a cadre of students trained at CIJR who have gone on to be effective advocates for Israel.
Neuer, a McGill University law graduate, was editor of the CIJR student publication Dateline: Middle East. His writings today are published widely and he is a frequent commentator on major TV networks. On June 19, Neuer will speak at a CIJR cocktail reception in Toronto.
Also speaking in Montreal will be Irvin Ungar, director of the Arthur Szyk Foundation in San Francisco, which is devoted to preserving the memory of the Polish Jewish artist of that name. After he immigrated to the United States, his work was vital in the fight against Nazism.
The gala invitation bears one of his striking paintings, Bar Kochba, done in Paris in 1927.
Federal Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver will also speak.
The honorees of the evening are Deborah and Aaron Remer, longtime CIJR supporters. He has served on its board almost since it was founded.
Tribute will also be paid to Sean Wilson, the University of Regina student leader who was instrumental in the repeal of a student union resolution in support of an Israel boycott.