CPCCA: Follow the Money

July 29, 2011

An excellent article in Macleans magazine on the secretive funding behind the Canadian Parliamentary Coalition to Combat Antisemitism.

Follow the money
An MP inquiry into anti-Semitism vowed to be open and independent. Its shadowy funding says otherwise.

When a group of Conservative, Liberal and NDP MPs formed the Canadian Parliamentary Coalition to Combat Antisemitism in 2009, they decided to work outside of the normal structures of Parliament and raise their own money to hold a conference and conduct an inquiry. But transparency would be crucial, they said, pledging on their website to “voluntarily disclose all sources of funding” and remain independent of the Conservative government, advocacy groups and “Jewish community organizations.” By the time they released their report this month, however—warning that anti-Semitism is on the rise in Canada—that vow of full disclosure seemed to be forgotten, and the coalition appeared closely tied to the government.

Conservative MP Scott Reid, chairman of the coalition’s inquiry steering committee, said the CPCCA promised anonymity to private donors, who contributed a total of $127,078. As for their relationship with the government, the coalition accepted $451,280 from the department of Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, who sat on the CPCCA’s inquiry steering committee as an ex officio member. The coalition’s key conclusion that a “new anti-Semitism” tends to focus on criticism of Israel echoes Kenney’s long-standing position.

Perhaps surprisingly, the MPs’ ethics code appears not to oblige them to reveal the names of their backers. The Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner didn’t comment specifically on the CPCCA, but told Maclean’s the “Conflict of Interest Code for Members of the House of Commons” requires only that individual MPs disclose money they receive—not MPs acting as a group. “There is no mechanism within the code for a group of MPs to disclose a collective gift,” the commissioner’s office said. The coalition knows the rules. “The ethics commissioner doesn’t cover [the CPCCA] because the donations went to an entity, not to an MP,” said Mike Firth, Reid’s executive assistant.

If the CPCCA’s private backers remain unnamed, the government’s support is a matter of record. Still, the arrangement between Kenney’s department and the coalition isn’t straightforward. The grant was paid to a third party, a non-governmental organization called the Parliamentary Centre, a not-for-profit group that helps legislatures around the world, mainly in developing countries, to build their capacity. The centre took on a narrowly limited role for the CPCCA, acting as the recipient of both the Citizenship and Immigration grant and private contributions. As a registered charity, it was able to issue tax receipts to those anonymous donors.

Citizenship and Immigration refused to release its full agreement with the centre. A summary description says the grant was provided to the centre to “host the Ottawa Conference for Combating Anti-Semitism.” That three-day conference was put on last fall by the CPCCA; the centre played, at most, a supporting role. “There was government funding that was earmarked for this particular conference, and we were approached because we had NGO status, and charitable status, and had the systems in place to manage donor funding,” said centre spokeswoman Petra Andersson-Charest. “We were not involved in designing or managing the subject matter that was discussed,” added Ivo Balinov, senior expert in parliamentary development at the centre.

Firth said most of the grant money went to pay expenses of conference participants, including visiting parliamentarians and experts. The coalition also held 10 days of hearings in 2009 and 2010 on Parliament Hill, gathering testimony from dozens of witnesses concerned about anti-Semitism. The CPCCA did not invite outspoken critics of Israel’s stance toward the Palestinians to testify. Its final conclusions were faulted by some for blurring the distinction between anti-Semitism and legitimate criticism of Israeli government policy.

If the coalition’s findings were controversial, its funding mostly escaped attention. But it’s far from typical. MPs normally work within their own office budgets, or through official House committees, which are of course paid for by Parliament. The CPCCA’s broad membership largely insulated it from partisan scrutiny. Along with well-known Conservatives like Reid and Manitoba MP Candice Hoeppner, the MPs who joined included prominent Liberals such as interim party leader Bob Rae, and veteran New Democrats like Peter Stoffer and Pat Martin. That opposition support, and close compatibility with Kenney, made it unlikely the coalition’s financing, however unusual, would be criticized from within political circles. It seems any questions about this shadowy new model for MPs to tackle a policy issue will have to come from outside.


Event: Mahmoud Darwish (1941 -2008): Commemoration in Poetry

July 28, 2011

Mahmoud Darwish (1941 -2008): Commemoration in Poetry
In conjunction with the Rouge Poetry Summer Slam
Tuesday, August 9 (9:00 – 11:00 pm)
Rouge Lounge
10111-117 Street
(Click here for map)

Help us spread the word! Invite your friends to the Facebook event.

On August 9, 2008 Palestine and the world lost a powerful and incomparable voice for justice with the passing of Palestine’s national poet, Mahmoud Darwish. His poetry explored life and politics, using words that sought to change history and to humanize. Join PSN in commemorating the life and words of Mahmoud Darwish and gaze into a selection of his classical Arabic-style writings, which have certainly not been lost in translation. A number of his poems will be presented as part of the Breath in Poetry Collective‘s Rouge Poetry Summer Slam on August 9.

The evening will feature a set of local poets performing original works of poetry, followed by 20 minutes of Mahmoud Darwish’s poetry and concluding with another set of original works. Accompanying the selected readings from Darwish will also premiere the first poem written by the late Dr. Ibrahim Abu-Rabi, the Islamic studies chair at the University of Alberta, which many mourned the loss of last month.

The evening is presented in collaboration with the Breath in Poetry Collective, and there is a $5 cover charge for the poetry slam.

If you are interested in competing in the poetry slam portion of the night by reading your own poetry, visit the Breath in Poetry Collective website for poetry slam rules and details.

Sorry, no minors.


Canada Clamps Down on Criticism of Israel

July 22, 2011

A great article by Jerusalem-based journalist Jillian Kestler-DAmours on the CPCCA final report and other Canadian support for Israel, which appears on Al Jazeera.

Canada clamps down on criticism of Israel
In an affront to free speech, government committee declares that criticism of Israel should be considered anti-Semitic.
Jillian Kestler-DAmours

Nearly two years after the first hearings were held in Ottawa, the Canadian Parliamentary Coalition to Combat Anti-Semitism (CPCCA) released a detailed report on July 7 that found that anti-Semitism is on the rise in Canada, especially on university campuses.

While the CPCCA’s final report does contain some cases of real anti-Semitism, the committee has provided little evidence that anti-Semitism has actually increased in Canada in recent years. Instead, it has focused a disproportionate amount of effort and resources on what it calls a so-called “new anti-Semitism”: criticism of Israel.

Indeed, the real purpose of the CPCCA committee seems to be to stifle critiques of Israeli policy and disrupt pro-Palestinian solidarity organizing in Canada, including, most notably, Israeli Apartheid Week events. Many of the CPCCA’s findings, therefore, must be rejected as both an attack on freedom of speech and freedom of protest, and as recklessly undermining the fight against real instances of anti-Semitism.

Read the rest of this entry »


Response to CPCCA Report by F4P Members

July 21, 2011

An opinion piece by members of Faculty for Palestine responding to the final report of the Canadian Parliamentary Coalition to Combat Antisemitism (CPCCA) appears in today’s National Post Full Comment.

Report on anti-Semitism seeks only to protect Israel
By Sue Ferguson, Mary-Jo Nadeau, Eric Shragge, Abby Lippman, Gary Kinsman and Reuben Roth

This month, a serious attack was made against free speech in Canada. A pseudo-parliamentary committee calling itself the Canadian Parliamentary Coalition to Combat Anti-Semitism (CPCCA) issued a report calling on the federal government to adopt a definition of anti-Semitism that would criminalize criticism of the state of Israel. The report claims to support free speech and open debate around the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, but its recommendations aim to silence pro-Palestinian voices, especially on campuses. The CPCCA’s biased processes and dubious conclusions contradict its own argument for balanced debate, and make a mockery of the notion of disinterested parliamentary inquiry.

The CPCCA was founded in 2009. While it included MPs from all parliamentary parties, the CPCCA is not an official parliamentary committee. It nonetheless draws upon the resources and authority of Parliament, while refusing to hold open debate in keeping with due process.

The CPCCA’s mandate was to define, analyze and address anti-Semitism. However, the coalition formed its core conclusions before beginning its inquiry. Its founding documents emphasized the so-called “new anti-Semitism,” associating it with the global movement for Palestinian human rights.

CPCCA materials published prior to the hearings cited campuses as places of special interest, but provided no substantive evidence. Later, the inquiry’s findings confirmed their biases through distorted claims that pro-Palestinian events create a campus environment ripe for anti-Semitism. Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW), an annual program of public talks, films and workshops supporting the Palestinian Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement, is singled out; it is depicted as an aggressive campaign that “hijack[s] any open and honest dialogue regarding the Middle East.”

The report conveniently overlooks IAW’s value as a site of global education on the plight of Palestinians living on, and in exile from, land that is illegally occupied by Israel. The participation of Jewish students and professors in IAW is systematically ignored. So is the fact that IAW organizers focus their analysis on a critique of the Israeli state, not Jewish people. That IAW explicitly condemns anti-Semitism and all racism is similarly neglected.

The report also dismisses the testimony of campus administrators who refuted the CPCCA’s preconceived notions. To be clear, the 25 university presidents or their representatives who spoke to the panel are no friends of pro-Palestinian organizers, having previously banned IAW posters, obstructed room bookings and otherwise tried to silence criticism of Israel on their campuses. And yet, their testimony consistently denied that the “new anti-Semitism” threatens their students. Instead, they suggested debate of difficult ideas should be encouraged at universities, not censored.

Most who seriously challenged the CPCCA were simply excluded from the so-called “public” hearings. Faculty for Palestine — a network of 450 faculty members from Canadian universities and colleges — for example, was not invited to discuss our written submission despite the CPCCA’s assertion that the “new anti-Semitism” is especially concentrated on campuses. Co-chair Mario Silva explained these exclusions as follows: “I personally feel I didn’t want to give a platform to individuals who had no time for us. Why should we have time for them?” It is no wonder that Bloc Québécois MPs withdrew from the CPCCA in 2010, citing the refusal of the steering committee to hear groups with opposing viewpoints, including from organizations such as the Canadian Arab Federation.

The CPCCA is fluent in doublespeak. The coalition urges critics to commit to serious and rigorous debate, but it avoids engaging in debate. It relies on hearsay, anecdotes and cherry-picked testimony while ignoring a wealth of research countering its claims. The report asserts that IAW should not be banned, but then asks university presidents to condemn IAW and calls on government to legislate this new criminalizing definition of anti-Semitism.

Faculty for Palestine is deeply concerned by the CPCCA’s analysis and recommendations — we think it should be treated with extreme skepticism. Its conflation of criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism is inaccurate and dangerous. Indeed, the Israeli state just announced unprecedented legislation banning boycotts. If Canada accepts the CPCCA’s recommendations, we may soon travel this same politically repressive road. A commitment to real dialogue on this complex conflict in the Middle East must win out over attempts to shut down debate and criminalize movements for social change.

The authors are members of Faculty for Palestine.


Action: Israel Boards French Flotilla 2 Ship

July 19, 2011

CALL TO ACTION from the Tahrir, July 19: Israel has boarded the Dignité, Canadian Stephan Corriveau on board
We Will Not Let Israel Control Palestinian or International Waters

It is imperative that we mobilize in order to ensure that Israeli and the Canadian governments know that the world is watching, and that we demand that all passengers and crew of the Dignité be released so as to continue their legal travel to Gaza. Supporters of the Flotilla and the Palestinians of Gaza need to press for the Dignité delegation and the boat to be freed. There is no legal reason for Israel to stop the Dignité and detain its crew and passengers. The Dignité was in international waters when boarded in which Israel has no legal jurisdiction.

We are calling on supporters and all concerned people to hold public demonstrations and to contact Israeli and Canadian government representatives.

1. We ask people to write Canadian MPs, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Opposition critics to demand that Canada condemn Israel’s illegal actions and to remind them of Canada’s Consular obligations with regards to Canadians in international environments. Tell them that the obligations are clearly established in international law and, more specifically, under the terms of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, to which Canada is a signatory.

2. Keep up local actions, which might include vigils, demonstrations at consulates or embassies or government offices, or other creative actions aimed at drawing public attention to the situation.

3. Continue tweeting and using social networking to spread messages and images far and wide.

The Israeli government needs to know that we know what they are doing and we won’t be silent. We know and the world knows that their actions are illegal.

The Canadian Government needs to know that we know they are complicit in these illegal acts. And that they have a responsibility by international convention, to protect Canadians involved in legal actions, such as the Flotilla and specifically the journey of the Dignité. Included in the letter is a note of disgust that Canadian government is giving in to pressure by the Israeli government. Below, there is a template letter to Canadian MPs and a link for their contact information.

ACTIONS

- Public rallies, vigils, etc: Please, do whatever and wherever you are able. We need this to be big. We need to be visible.

- Letter to our Canadian MPs: We have a letter template for you to use to send to MPs reminding them that the Canadian government has obligations under the Geneva Convention.

TEMPLATE LETTERS AND CONTACT INFORMATION

1. Letter to Canadian MPs

[feel free to edit using your own words]
Click here to find you MP’s contact information

[MP for your RIDING]
[DATE — do it today!]

Dear [NAME of MP in your riding]:

I am writing to you as a concerned Canadian about the alarming news that vessel “The Dignité” bound for the Gaza Strip has been boarded in international waters and the passengers and crew have been detained by the Israeli government. One of the passengers, Stéphan Corriveau is Canadian and was on that boat.

The Dignité, along with the other boats, such as Canada’s Tahrir, are part of the Freedom Flotilla, which is an international initiative with the goal of challenging the illegal blockade of Gaza, and bringing humanitarian aid to the civilian population of Gaza in the spirit of the U.N. Security Council Resolution 1860 (2009). The Dignité and the Flotilla in general, are not breaking the law but are actively upholding international law. Respected organizations such as the International Committee of the Red Cross have stated clearly that all states have an obligation to facilitate all humanitarian convoys to the Gaza Strip.

I am deeply concerned that the Canadian government is giving in to pressures from the Israeli government in preventing the Flotilla from sailing to Gaza by referring to this action as “provocative”. By doing so, the Canadian government is implying that the Israeli government is acting within its right when imposing an inhumane siege on 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza and seeking to control international waters.

As the MP of my riding I urge you to speak out publicly and without delay for the legitimate right of Canadians on the Flotilla to actively express their solidarity with the Palestinians of Gaza, as well as

- to demand the Government to uphold its responsibility for the safety of all Canadians including Stephan Corriveau, a passenger on the Dignité;

- to demand the Israeli government immediately release the Dignité and implement all necessary measures for the safety of the its passengers and to allow, as is their legal right, the Dignité to continue, unhindered, its journey to Gaza;

- to condemn this act of illegal agression or state piracy by the Israeli military

- to demand the Israeli government to abide to international law by removing the illegal blockade of Gaza

I look forward to hearing from you what actions you have taken on the above.

Sincerely,

[name]
[contact information]

2. Letter to Israeli Officials in Canada and in Israel

Sample letter addressed to Israeli authorities (consular and government)

[MP for your RIDING]
[DATE — do it today!]

Dear Sir/Madam:

I am writing to you as a concerned Canadian citizen who has just learned that the Dignité, one of the boats that is part of the Freedom Flotilla, has been illegally boarded – and the passengers and crew detained in international waters. As you well know, Israel has no legal jurisdiction in international waters, and thus has committed what is understood in international law as an act of illegal agression or state piracy.

The Freedom Flotilla is an international initiative with the goal of ending the illegal blockade of Gaza and to bring humanitarian aid to the civilian population of Gaza in the spirit of the U.N. Security Council Resolution 1860 (2009).

All participants on the Dignité are committed to peaceful and non-violent action. Their intention is to break your illegal blockade of Gaza. Their intention is not to break the law but to uphold international law, something which the Israeli government – as it purports to be a democracy – ought to be embracing.

I look forward to hearing what steps you will take to hold your government accountable for its illegal actions. I also expect to have impartial confirmation that all passengers and crew of the Dignité are receiving the proper treatment as is directed in the Vienna and Geneva conventions, to which your government is a signatory.
Sincerely,

[your contact information]

Some Israel contact emails & phone numbers:

Montreal: 1.514.940.8500
Ottawa: info@ottawa.mfa.gov.il / 1.613.567.6450
Toronto: 1.416.640.8500

Prime Minister’s Office: media@it.pmo.gov.il
Foreign Media Spokesman Mark Regev: mark.regev@it.pmo.gov.il
Foreign Press Coordinator David Baker: david.baker@it.pmo.gov.il
Ministry of Defense: mediasar@mod.gov.il
Spokesperson for the Minister Shlomo Dror: dover@mod.gov.il

Ministry for Foreign Affairs:
Spokesman YigalPalmor: palmor@mfa.gov.il
Deputy Shachar Arieli: shachar.arieli@mfa.gov.il
Deputy Andy David: andy.david@mfa.gov.il
Foreign Press Dept: Sharon Goldhammer: sharong@press.pmo.gov.il
Foreign Press visitors: Jason Pearlman: jason@press.pmo.gov.il

Or cut and paste the following into the bcc field of your email program to send an email to all of the above officials:

media@it.pmo.gov.il; mark.regev@it.pmo.gov.il; david.baker@it.pmo.gov.il; mediasar@mod.gov.il; dover@mod.gov.il; palmor@mfa.gov.il; shachar.arieli@mfa.gov.il; andy.david@mfa.gov.il; sharong@press.pmo.gov.il; jason@press.pmo.gov.il


A Palestinian Citizen of the World: In the Memory of Ibrahim Abu-Rabi

July 8, 2011

PSN member Siavash Saffari wrote the following in memory of our friend, Dr. Ibrahim Abu-Rabi.

A Palestinian Citizen of the World
In the Memory of Ibrahim Abu-Rabi

It’s sometime in October 2008. We are organizing PSN’s first event on campus; a small workshop on the BDS campaign. We post posters and send out emails and wait to see what kind of response we get. There hasn’t been a lot of Palestine activism in Edmonton for a while, so we want a chance to get together with other people who are interested and see what can be done. A few days before the event, I get an email from Ibrahim Abu-Rabi. The message starts with “Dear _______,”. Formal but friendly. He introduces himself as a professor at the university; says that he is going to be in Germany (or somewhere else in Europe, I can’t remember) for a few days and will miss the event. He wants to meet when he returns, and would like to help if he can. I google his name and realize that he is the new Islamic Studies chair, a Palestinian from Nazareth, Galilee, with a long CV of work on interfaith dialogue.

A couple of weeks later, I get another email from Ibrahim. He is back in town and wants to meet. He invites me to see him at his office for a chat over a cup of herbal tea. At his office, he greets me with a big smile and some exotic herbal tea that he has brought back from one of his recent trips. He tells me about himself, asks about my research interests, and we end up chatting about Ali Shariati and Muhammad Iqbal for a while. He tells me about a friend in Karachi who is an Iqbal scholar and says if I intend on going to Pakistan he can put me in touch with the friend. Then we talk about Palestine, I tell him about PSN, the workshop, and future plans. He is glad to hear that something is happening. He tells me about his own hopes to get the Palestinian community in Edmonton more engaged and says he’ll help any way he can. We talk about meeting again, maybe this time over some Arabic food at his house.

****

Over the next two and a half years, Professor Abu-Rabi (or “Dr. Ibrahim” as many people in the community call him), spoke at several PSN events, introduced us to many of his friends and colleagues who were also committed to the struggle of the Palestinian people, and was a bridge that connected organizers to the Palestinian community in Edmonton.

The last time he spoke at one of our events was during IAW last March. We were organizing a panel discussion abut the Arab Spring and its impact on Palestine. Philip Weiss was going to talk about the effect of the uprisings on US foreign policy in the Middle East. Ghada Ageel was going to talk about the implications for the Palestinian refugees. We needed another speaker to contextualize the recent changes and talk about different movements across the region. Ibrahim was the obvious choice, and we were hoping that he could find the time between his busy travel schedule and hosting academic or religious delegations from other countries. He was just as comfortable speaking about his homeland of Palestine, as he was speaking about Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan, Tunisia and many other places where he had lived, visited regularly for research, and took his students and people from the community for education tours.

****

Hamid Dabashi describes Edward Said as an intellectual who “cared deeply for Palestine,” and this care and commitment shaped his “politics and ethics of responsibility towards the rest of the world.” The Dr. Ibrahim that I got to know was one those people. A true “citizen of the world” (as a friend described him), with a deep commitment to the struggle of the Palestinian people against occupation and racism. In an IAW event in 2009, Abu-Rabi read one of his poems called “Who will weep for Palestine?” When I heard the news, I made a cup of herbal tea and listened to his words.

Greet our house for us; oh Stranger,
Kiss the stones of our backyard;
Embrace the leaves of our trees
That have shed so many tears since our departure
And take care of the animals too,
Who have gone hungry since we left
And do not forget to pray at the grave of my mother
For all the strength that I have, has come from her.

And greet Father for us
In the chaos of the night;
In the chaos of departure
He was left behind
And although we smell his presence all the time
He has disappeared from our sight

Do you remember the routes of our migration?
I was a baby then
And my mother forgot me hanging in the saddle of our donkey,
Who was shot for trying to return home.
Since that time I have been weeping
For the death of our beloved donkey
Who sacrificed his soul for mine.

You, who are coming from across the seas
Fortified with the claims of civilization
And the fake mission of peace
Take your civilization away
And leave us to our simple ways, to our fig and olive trees
Take your tanks out of our refugee camps
And take your snipers out of our hearts.

You have been asking us to stop
Our anger at dispossession
At humiliation
So that our Arab Emirs and Sheikhs
Can gamble away the wealth of the desert
Or that their American friends can suck out the oil
From the fossils of the desert;
And get drunk in the corridors of Washington and London.

You can exile us, strangle our kids,
And murder our neighbors.
But please be kind to our dreams, to our past
Do not murder our future together,
Because some day we must learn how to live together.

We, the humiliated and the defeated, have extended our hands to you
all this time, begging you to forgive us for the sins we had never
committed
Begging you to drink our coffee with us
To eat our food with us
And even to sleep in our bed.
But you have refused
You wanted our coffee, our food and our bed without us.

You have thrown us into the nightmare of exile, into the abyss of agony.
You have broken the feet of a whole generation, gouged their eyes,
and left them to bleed to their death
And we are still begging you to be merciful; to be mindful of our plight
We still believe there is an atom of humanity within you.

How sad is it to walk the streets of cold New England
Holding the Departed Ones? hands
And how sad is it to think of your eyes
That are full of tears?
And how tragic that I am left alone after your departure from this life
Left alone, unprotected and unsafe!
Please take time from your place of rest to call on me.

Remember the aroma of coffee coming out
from many a chimney of sleepy villages
And the smoke coming out of the nostrils
of old men and women smoking the Huka?

Where do we go from here?
When we are burdened with our tragedy
When we are not left in peace alone
Where do we go from here?


Event: People For Palestine Fundraiser

July 7, 2011

People for Palestine Fundraiser
Monday, August 1 (Doors at 6:30 pm, program starts at 7:00 pm, dinner (iftar) at 9:30 pm)
Mirage Banquet Hall
360, 8170-50 Street
Dinner and presentation: $20

Help People for Palestine spread the word! Invite your friends to the Facebook event.

This fundraising event, organized by People for Palestine and hosted by Islamic Relief Canada, includes a silent auction, a panel of speakers and a Q+A session, followed by a short presentation on the current state of Palestine.

The event will end with a fundraiser along with dinner at 9:30 pm (because of Ramadan observances), and a chance to win a trip to Palestine.

More details are available on the People for Palestine website.

Tickets can be purchased at the following locations:

Earth’s General Store (9605-82 Avenue)
Al Rashid Mosque (13070-113 Street)
Rahma Mosque (MAC Center) (6102-172 Street)

For information email peopleforpalestine@hotmail.com.

“Change will not come without action, and action will not come without people taking an initiative.”


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