With Rosh Hashanah upon us, it’s an appropriate time to reflect on the year that has passed. There were, of course, some big stories to consider – COVID-19, the war in Ukraine, more violence against Israel, and a big increase in antisemitism here at home – which is where we, at CIJA, come in.
5782 was a year of continued hard work by your team at CIJA on behalf of our entire community, advocating for our shared priorities and ensuring our partners, stakeholders, and political leaders understood our issues.
While I take a moment to look back at the year and highlight the important work we’ve done, I first want to thank each of you for your continued commitment to advancing our advocacy efforts. Whether forwarding emails like this, sharing CIJA social media posts, participating in action alerts, or having important conversations about Israel and antisemitism with your networks – your voice is hugely important to moving our issues forward. Please continue engaging. Together, the influence we can have on combating antisemitism, protecting the quality of Jewish life, and strengthening the Canada-Israel friendship is a force to be reckoned with. I can’t stress enough the importance of your role in amplifying our efforts – we don’t work without you.
So, what did that cooperation produce?
After major advocacy efforts by CIJA’s Pacific team, British Columbia publicly issued a letter in which they pledged full provincial support of the federal government’s adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Association’s (IHRA) definition of antisemitism and reaffirmed a commitment to use the IHRA definition as a non-legally binding educational tool to identify all forms of antisemitism in BC. This action showed both a commitment by the Horgan government to fight antisemitism and an acknowledgement that the Jewish community is best positioned to define antisemitism. We continue to push forward the messaging ‘Nothing about us without us’ as we fight for representative Jewish organizations to participate in antisemitism training, programming, and education to ensure that policymakers, law enforcement, and community leaders can identify, understand, and combat contemporary forms of antisemitism in public life, the media, schools, the workplace, and in the religious sphere.
CIJA also continued our work with school boards across Canada to create and institute educational programming geared to both staff and students on antisemitism and the Holocaust. Though we placed an antisemitism expert at the Toronto District School Board on a six-month secondment, much work remains in regions like Ottawa where tensions with the local school board are rising over antisemitism training for trustees undertaken by an inappropriate instructor – an issue on which we are working closely with our Federation partners to resolve.
Because antisemitic hate crimes, the use of hate symbols, and incidents of Holocaust denial and distortion are increasing in Canada, one of CIJA’s major priorities this year was the criminalization of Holocaust denial, a policy ask that resulted in a major cross-partisan success. We advocated to both Liberal and Conservative officials on this, and we were heard. Conservative MP Kevin Waugh introduced a federal bill to criminalize Holocaust denial, which was then adopted by the Liberal government and included in Budget 2022, guaranteeing it would become law.
Making Holocaust denial a criminal offence has helped raise public awareness of the dangers of radicalization, conspiracy theories, and is a valuable tool in prosecuting those who peddle this dangerous form of antisemitism.
In addition to criminalizing Holocaust denial, CIJA’s advocacy brought other dividends in Budget 2022. We secured a cumulative $83+ million for vital community priorities across Canada, including:
- $20 million for the Montreal Holocaust Museum relocation and expansion project
- $2.5 million for the Sarah and Chaim Neuberger Holocaust Education Centre in Toronto (announced prior to the budget)
- $5.6 million for the Office of the Special Envoy on Preserving Holocaust Remembrance and Combatting Antisemitism
- $30 million for the Centre for Aging and Brain Health Innovation, established by Baycrest Health Sciences in Toronto
- $25 million Vancouver JCC redevelopment
These investments were not only vital to the success of these projects but will provide useful community, education, and commemoration opportunities to both the Jewish community and the Canadian public at large.
While government funding is important, so is ensuring it is allocated appropriately. This summer, the country’s attention was focused on federal anti-racism funding granted to an individual with a long and documented history of antisemitism. CIJA ramped up its efforts to condemn the matter and ensure Canadian Heritage was aware of the scope of the problem – that this was only the most egregious example and that any response to it must ensure that, across government agencies, funding would be denied to any groups propagating hate.
CIJA worked directly with Diversity and Inclusion Minister Ahmed Hussen to make sure the Government’s response was effective, appropriate, and took into account the effects on the Jewish community. Minister Hussen’s response included not only a pledge to meet all CIJA’s demands to improve vetting policies but also an apology for the hurt this misappropriation of funds caused and a commitment to ensure it would not recur – an example of meaningful results based on established, cooperative relationships with government officials.
I want to close by highlighting the upcoming municipal and provincial elections in Ontario, BC, and Quebec. We are undertaking big efforts to urge mayors, councillors, city staff, and citizens to help fight antisemitism through several measures including:
- “Nothing about us without us.” Learning from the Jewish community and working with them to ensure Jewish safety, security, and inclusion
- Marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day
- Speaking out whenever antisemitism appears. It thrives when leaders turn a blind eye.
As we step into this new year, reflect on issues and achievements, and plan ahead, on behalf of everyone at CIJA, I wish you and your families a sweet, healthy, peaceful 5783.