CPCCA: Follow the money

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.

Canada clamps down on criticism of Israel

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.

Continue reading “Canada clamps down on criticism of Israel”

Response to CPCCA report by F4P members

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.