MONTREAL — Departing Israeli ambassador Alan Baker, left, chastised the organized Canadian Jewish community for not doing more to counter anti-Israel activity on university campuses.
In remarks at an Aug. 27 Canadian Institute for Jewish Research (CIJR)
event, where he received the CIJR’s Lion of Judah award, Baker said
Jewish students and academics need more money and moral support to
effectively defend Israel against “a very well-organized and
well-financed propaganda campaign.”
He suggested that the Jewish establishment is out of touch with what is going on at Canadian universities. “How many Jewish leaders have been on campus in the last 20 years and taken part in debates?… Every Jewish leader should be obliged to go speak on campus and give support to the students.”
Such action might be preferable to “organizing dinners and galas to raise money for Israel and Jewish institutions,” he said.
“It’s a question of priorities, and the campuses must come first.”
During his four years in Canada, Baker said he tried to speak at nearly every university in the country, sometimes against the advice of the organized Jewish community, which he said “does not want to stir up any problems.”
Israel is being attacked not only by Arab and left-wing groups, but also by Jews themselves, he said. “Every time I am on campus, the most embarrassing and disgusting questions are from Jews.”
Baker had high praise for CIJR, which publishes, mostly online, articles from a variety of sources related to the Middle East and Jewish affairs, and it also runs programs training students in Israel advocacy.
He chided the organized Jewish community for not giving CIJR the support it deserves. The 20-year-old independent foundation relies almost solely on donations from individuals.
“CIJR is possibly one of the most serious organizations functioning in Canada, doing important work to inform the public and those working on behalf of Israel, giving them the tools they need, especially on campus… It’s one of the few organizations tackling [the campus situation] head on, and should have wider community support.”
Baker said: “Canadians should be able to speak out on campus with confidence and knowledge, and without fear. It is difficult to understand why the organized Jewish community does not have the good judgment to see how this organization is working in the field.”
The materials that the CIJR disseminates are also useful to Israel’s envoys, he said.
“I’m somewhat embarrassed to say even our own foreign affairs information, or hasbarah, department does not always get us material in real time to answer the questions,” Baker said.
There was more blunt talk from the event’s other two honorees, investment advisor and National Post and Toronto Sun current affairs columnist Theo Caldwell and former World Jewish Congress vice-president and Australian Jewish leader Isi Leibler and his wife, Naomi, world president of Emunah, a religious Zionist women’s organization.
Caldwell, a non-Jew honoured for his vigorous defence of Israel, and Isi Leibler disagreed over which Christians are the true friends of Israel.
Caldwell, who identified himself as a Presbyterian, maintained that all practising Christians, not only fundamentalists, are the best friends that Israel has because of their understanding and appreciation of the fact their faith emerged from Judaism.
Liebler, however, thinks only evangelical Christians can be counted on as friends, and that they are, in fact, the Jewish state’s “only allies today” and are critical to Israel’s well-being.
“Some Christians are great. Some are our worst enemies,” he added.
Among the latter he included the Presbyterian church, which he described as “quite horrific,” and the Anglicans – among whom Caldwell’s brother, who was present, is counted – whom he said are not much better.
Even worse, according to Leibler, are the secular liberals.
“If anyone had told me 10 years ago that I would have friendships with evangelical Christians and feel comfortable with them, I never would have believed it. You can talk with them about good and evil. You can’t do that with liberals. Everything is relative to them,” said Leibler, who now lives in Jerusalem, where he chairs the Israel-Diaspora Committee of the Jerusalem Centre for Public Affairs.
Leibler said Jews should welcome the prayers that these Christians say for Israel.
CIJR founder and director Frederick Krantz added that he also welcomes liaisons with evangelical Christians and is not concerned that their theology may entail the ultimate conversion of Jews. “I say, ‘Fine. When the messiah comes, we’ll ask him if he has been here before.’”
Elsewhere, Liebler decried the absence of able leadership in Israel today, but said he is confident that the recent corruption scandals will pave the way for the emergence of “good Jews” as leaders.
The indictment of the president, prime minister and some cabinet ministers has shown that those in high office aren’t immune to justice and will ensure that future politicians are “as clean as a whistle.”
He added: “Despite its sleazy politicians, Israel is still the miracle of the 20th century, and Jews should feel an enormous pride in its achievements… It is still the superpower of the Middle East, and I would not have brought my children and grandchildren to Israel if I did not have the conviction it will overcome its problems.”
Liebler also gave CIJR a ringing endorsement, and called it a “scandal” that CIJR must struggle to raise a relatively modest annual budget of $250,000 in a Jewish community of such wealth.
“That’s peanuts when put into context,” he said.