Filmmaker challenges CIJA’s outreach to Fatah
July 31, 2012 | Joanne Hill - CorrespondentcloseAuthor: Joanne Hill - Correspondent
Name: Joanne Hill
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TORONTO – The social media is abuzz over local filmmaker Ben Feferman’s questioning of a trip to meet with Fatah representatives by senior members of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA).
Feferman called it an “expensive publicity stunt” in a recent email blast.
The June 24 meeting in Ramallah between CIJA emissaries and Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority (PA), along with other representatives of the PA and Fatah (the political arm of the Palestine Liberation Organization) was further proof that CIJA is out of touch with the Jewish community, charged Ben Feferman.
“Never have I come across such a blatant waste of community donations,” Feferman wrote in his email to members of Canada’s Jewish community
“The mission statement of CIJA is to ‘improve the quality of Jewish life in Canada and abroad,’” Feferman told the Jewish Tribune. “I don’t see how meeting with President Abbas is achieving that goal. If they would actually listen to the Jewish community they would understand that people want solutions to the everyday problems of unaffordable Jewish education, the rising needs of our seniors and the 50,000 Jews living in poverty. Meeting with Abbas is one expensive publicity stunt.”
Shimon Fogel, CEO, CIJA, said in response to questions by the Tribune, and other CIJA reps were already in Israel to attend three conferences and thus were presented with “a convenient opportunity to go to Ramallah.”
Similar meetings between the PA and CIJA’s predecessor, The Canada-Israel Committee, have taken place “for decades,” said Fogel in an email. “We find it useful to hear their perspective, understand their messaging and consider their evolving (or not) positions on the issues of the day. All of this insight provides us with an enhanced ability to shape and adjust our own strategy in support of Israel.”
Feferman demanded, “I’d like to know who paid for the trip to Israel. Was it taxpayers or Jewish taxpayers through the UJA? Who paid for the security, the translators, etc? It shows how out of touch they are with Canada’s Jewish community. We don’t need photo ops with world leaders; we need improvements in the quality of Jewish life in Canada.”
Questions remain over whether CIJA’s meeting with Abbas had the official imprimatur of the Canadian government. A Canadian Jewish News article in its July 6 issue quoted Fogel as saying that the Canadian government had “encouraged” CIJA “to take this kind of role.” It continued, “Fogel said CIJA will ‘formally communicate’ its findings to Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird shortly.”
Fogel told the Tribune that, although the Canadian government had not given CIJA a mandate to act as its intermediary with the Palestinian Authority, “in that regard, we have been asked to offer suggestions on how Canada might play a constructive role.”
When asked who in the Canadian government had asked CIJA to get involved in any capacity in the “peace process” between the Palestinian Authority and/or Fatah and the Israeli government, Fogel responded: “When meeting the PA officials, we simply passed on the message that Canada had an interest in becoming more directly implicated [sic] in a resumption of a process leading to peace. We neither spoke on behalf of the government of Canada nor presented any specific offer on behalf of Canada.”
Rick Roth, spokesperson for Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, did not confirm Fogel’s statement to the Tribune that the government had asked CIJA “to offer suggestions on how Canada might play a constructive role” in the peace process.
Roth said only, “The Representative Office of Canada to the Palestinian Authority facilitates dozens of meetings every year between senior Canadian and Palestinian figures.”
Asked whether CIJA’s meeting with Abbas signalled a return to the previous Liberal Party policy of “even-handedness” at the UN, when Canada either voted in favour of, or abstained from voting on, anti-Israel resolutions, Roth referred to Baird’s criticism last November of the one-sided, unbalanced and oversimplified Middle East resolutions at the United Nations, implying that there was no change in this government’s position. Roth also reiterated the government’s support for a negotiated two-state solution between Israel and Palestine.
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