MONTREAL (Aug. 4)
A potential battle is brewing over Israel advocacy here.
In the past, a group known as the Canada-Israel Committee, Quebec Region, was responsible for Israel advocacy in Montreal.
That group has disbanded, and its key staff has been kept on by Montreal’s Federation CJA for its fledgling Quebec-Israel Committee, or QIC.
But B’nai Brith Canada — a partner in the disbanded group — also has created its own lobby, the Canada-Israel Public Affairs Committee, Quebec Region.
“We saw an opportunity, realizing there was a vacuum after the folding of the” regional Canada-Israel Committee, said Gerry Weiner, a former Cabinet minister who has been affiliated with B’nai Brith Canada for almost 50 years.
Individuals affiliated with the new organizations said it wouldn’t be a problem to have two groups in Montreal advocating for Israel.
“My own view is that B’nai Brith is entitled to do what it wants to do,” said Sara Saber-Freedman, executive director of the QIC. “In the U.S., any number of organizations are working on behalf of Israel.”
Weiner said, “The community should be apprised that there are now two forces in Quebec advocating for Israel, and I hope we will have the opportunity to work together.”
However, given B’nai Brith’s history of taking more aggressive public stances on Israel issues, the two groups could come into conflict — and the seeds already appear to be there.
B’nai Brith has no business in the Israel advocacy field, said Michael Frankel, a longtime community volunteer working with the QIC.
A leader of B’nai Brith expressed his dissatisfaction at the new situation.
“We would prefer one united voice in Quebec,” the executive vice president of B’nai Brith, Frank Diamant, was quoted as saying. He said he regretted the breakup of the former Israel advocacy group, which he called “an excellent model of cooperation.”
Saber-Freedman stressed that the QIC’s mandate is to make Quebecers more aware of Israel and what Jews stand for.
“We are here to speak to Quebecers — meaning government, members of the public, religious organizations, the leadership of NGOs and our own community — about Israel and to advocate on behalf of Israel,” she said.
QIC already has met with staff of Canada’s Foreign Affairs Department in Ottawa.
Upcoming events will include visits to museums and institutions, including the new Montreal Holocaust Museum, and an international conference on anti-Semitism, to be held in the spring of 2004.
For its part, B’nai Brith says it will take a strong position on issues affecting Israel and racism and will leave plenty of room for aggressive programming, Weiner said.
B’nai Birth plans to address the perception that Jews and Israel-defenders are a shrinking community in Montreal, Weiner said.
The number of Jews in Montreal has declined in recent years, and a riot last year that prevented Israeli politician Benjamin Netanyahu from speaking at the city’s Concordia College garnered worldwide headlines.
“We’ve been a shrinking community, and those with experience who are left must be mobilized,” Weiner said.