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Canadian Jews Win Court Case over Rights to Menorah Imagery by Bill Gladstone

Two and a half years after Canada’s trademark registrar legally protected a stylized menorah used by a Christian group that proselytizes Jews, a federal court judge has reversed the decision.

Officials of the Canadian Jewish Congress, which had sought a judicial review of the matter after the registrar gave the Chosen People Ministries exclusive right to a menorah design in November 1999, expressed satisfaction with the ruling.

The congress said the ministries’ claim to its menorah design as an “official mark” was “scandalous, offensive to Canadians and deceptive.”

“In our view, the menorah is a universal Jewish symbol, and it is one that should not be claimed by any organization in particular, and certainly not an organization created for the express purpose of converting Jews to Christianity,” said Manuel Prutschi, national director of community relations for the congress.

“Official mark” status grants extraordinary protections even broader than those of a trademark. It usually is given to authorities who fulfill a public duty and are under some measure of government control.

The ruling “ensures that no single organization can claim the menorah as its exclusive property and that the menorah’s use most certainly cannot be denied to synagogues, Jewish organizations and Jewish persons,” said Jonathan Kroft, national community relations vice chair at the congress.

Chosen People Ministries is a nonprofit, messianic organization based in New York that specifically targets Jews for conversion. It originally was known as the American Board of Missions to the Jews.

The registrar of trademarks had denied three previous bids by the group to win official mark status for its menorah design, before granting it on the fourth application. The registrar gave no reason for the change.

“Our sense is that CPM was just so persistent that eventually the registrar just threw up his or her hands and gave in,” Prutschi said.

Originally, the ministries also applied for a trademark for its menorah design, but the congress successfully blocked that application.

In a 24-page decision handed down May 28, Federal Justice Pierre Blais rejected the ministries’ contention that since it had attained tax-free charitable status in Canada, it was a public authority that performed a public duty and was subject to government control.

In the decision, Justice Blais cited the congress’ definition of the menorah as “an ancient and hallowed symbol of the Jewish faith.”

“Like the crucifix in the Christian religion,” the congress wrote, “the menorah is not the exclusive property of any one organization, but is rather the shared symbol of Jewish persons and organizations around the world.”

He also took note of a congress affidavit containing samples of letterhead with stylized menorahs from the Jewish Community Council of Ottawa, B’nai Brith Canada and many other Jewish organizations and associations.

“It would be counterproductive to prohibit Jewish organizations and associations from using and adopting a mark such as the menorah, since it has always been historically associated with the Jewish culture,” Blais wrote.

The success at blocking official mark status for the menorah “is a victory for congress’ ongoing efforts to counter those specifically targeting Jews for conversion to Christianity,” said Keith Landy, the congress’ national president. “These groups create the misleading perception of Jewish affiliation through their appropriation of Jewish religious symbols, holidays, traditions and terminology, all to facilitate their proselytizing campaigns.”

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