Independent Jewish Voices Canada (IJV), a Jewish group dedicated to defending human rights for Palestinians, celebrated its 10th anniversary last weekend (Oct. 12-14) in Toronto. Over 180 Jews (and a few non-Jewish supporters and observers) from across Canada heard outstanding speakers and participated in action-planning workshops. Read a summary report from CTIP guest columnist Diana Ralph.
In 2008, when we founded Independent Jewish Voices Canada (IJV), the Israel Lobby narrative was virtually unchallenged generally and especially among Jews. In the media and popular mind, Palestinians were viewed, if at all, as terrorists. Israel had just invaded Gaza and Lebanon in 2006 with the enthusiastic support of the Harper government.
The Canadian Jewish Congress, the National Post and the Conservative government had viciously attacked the Canadian Union of Postal Workers and the United Church of Canada for even discussing a minimal Israel boycott. In 2007, Israel imposed a brutal siege of Gaza. Progressive Canadian Jews were scattered among 26 small groups. We were virtually invisible in the media, in Canadian politics, and anywhere else.
IJV started in 2008 with 4 members. Now we have close to 1,000 members and donors and many thousands more who have participated in our actions. We have now two full time staff and active chapters in almost all major Canadian cities, and student clubs on 8 campuses. We’re now also the largest membership-based organization in Canada that focusses on Palestine solidarity!
Now 10 years later, not only has IJV grown exponentially, but we have played pivotal roles in shifting public attitudes, winning significant support in the Green and NDP parties, defending unions, churches, faculty and students who are attacked by the Israel lobby, and growing the Palestine solidarity movement both here and internationally.
The allies panel at the conference (representatives of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, the Association of Progressive Palestinian Canadians and the Mennonite Central Committee) emphatically agreed that IJV plays a crucial role in legitimating their work for Palestine solidarity.
Here are some of the exciting and interesting presentations we heard in our two and a half day meeting in Toronto:
- Rebecca Vilkomen, Executive Director of the US Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), described both the threat of rising fascism in Israel and ways JVP has found to challenge it by changing the narrative and debunking the Lobby’s attempts to label criticism of Israel as antisemitic.
- Diana Buttu, a prominent Palestinian-Canadian lawyer, and Dan Freeman-Maloy summarized Israel’s rising fascistic, genocidal official policies and laws. Buttu argued that the oppression Palestinians face is unprecedented, and requires world action. Freeman-Maloy urged IJV to build a campaign to demand that the Jewish Federations in North America disaffiliate from Israel.
- Hanna Gold described how the UK Jewdas is promoting a concept of “Diasporism” (in opposition to Zionism), and hosting “Birthwrong” tours to places around the world where Jews enjoy secure lives and share rich cultural diversity unavailable in Israel.
- Sheryl Nestel and Mark Tseng-Putterman gave outstanding talks arguing that support for Israel is basic to (Ashkenazi) Jewish whiteness, and showing the racist underbelly of Israeli and Zionist policies. Tseng-Putterman urged IJV to embrace intersectional solidarity, and to challenge the fallacious Israel narrative of antisemitism, which weaponizes allegations of antisemitism to divide and confuse progressive groups.
- Sabreena Ghaffar-Siddiqui presented a perceptive study showing how Canada systematically under-reports Islamophobic and racist hate crimes, and over-reports incidents of antisemitism.
But most exciting was seeing the inspiring success of IJV itself.
The tide is turning. Last year, IJV co-commissioned a study of Canadian attitudes about Israel/Palestine which proved that the narrative has shifted dramatically. A strong majority of Canadians now feel negative about the Israeli government. And most Canadians also think the Palestinian call for boycotts is reasonable and oppose the Parliament decision to condemn BDS supporters.
We are about to release the results of another ground-breaking survey of Canadian Jews. It shows that between one quarter and two thirds of Canadian Jews now disagree with those of Israel lobby groups. The Israel lobby’s hegemony is crumbling, and our call for universal rights, justice and generosity is rapidly gaining support.
In 10 years, we’ve come a long way from being a voiceless, tiny minority, to reflecting the views of a majority of Canadians and a major segment of Canadian Jews! The Israel Lobby is now on the defensive, trying to shore up Israel’s shrinking legitimacy by attacking critics as antisemitic. Young people are flocking to IJV. As it grows clear that a two-state “solution” is a false dream, IJV is welcoming Liberal Zionists to join the struggle for justice for all in the region.
Of course, we face enormous challenges; Israel’s brutality and the world-wide growth of neo-fascism. But we are now the ones shining a light unto nations, and joining a world-wide movement for fundamental justice.
Canada Talks Israel Palestine (CTIP) aims to promote a serious discussion in Canada about the complicated and emotional Israel/Palestine issue. We accept guest columnists from time to time and encourage brief comments (under 100 words) from serious readers. To learn more about what we do, contact us at email@example.com. The opinions in guest columns are the author’s own, and do not necessarily reflect those of Canada Talks Israel Palestine (CTIP).