This week, the National Post ran a front-page story about a major restructuring within the organized Jewish community. Unfortunately, the story failed to convey the rationale behind this change. We strongly believe that it's in the public interest that we provide the rationale for this reorganization.
Jewish Canadians face a unique set of circumstances in 2011. On the one hand, our community participates fully in Canadian society and is accepted in all corners of our great country, while freely maintaining our faith and heritage.
On the other hand, we also face many challenges. Anti-Semitism is increasingly expressed through anti-Zionism – the denial of the Jewish people, alone among all the world's peoples, to a democratic national homeland. Virulent campaigns to delegitimize Israel's very existence, extending well beyond legitimate criticism of specific Israeli policies, have erupted on campuses and created a hostile environment for Jewish students. Our country as a whole has begun to examine the foundations of Canadian values through the lens of reasonable accommodation for immigrants – a policy conversation in which the Jewish historic experience will play a key role. And there is always more work to be done to inspire government and civil institutions to build a society where freedom, security and protections for Canada's most vulnerable are even stronger.
Today's opportunities and challenges are not the same as they were 10 years ago – and they are likely to see further change in the next 10 years. Ours is a community that has made historic contributions to Canada's development, but we must be vigilant to do even more in the years ahead. And this is why Canada's Jewish community needs a unified voice, with a singular mandate and a central portal for the grassroots to be engaged and empowered.
The overriding goal in the creation of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs was to establish that body capable of addressing the diverse needs of Canadian Jewry. Gone are the days of separate organizations working in silos. In their place is an organization that has benefitted from a consultation process of greater length and detail than almost any other comparable group can claim – anywhere. Thorough groundwork is essential, given the mantle we will carry on behalf of the over 100,000 community contributors who support this effort through our close partners at local Jewish Federations. Indeed, thanks to the introspective process of restructuring, we have forged a new and dynamic relationship with these local bodies – based on collaboration and democratic accountability.
Extensive discussions with lay leaders and activists from coast to coast have resulted in an elected board of directors representing the incredible diversity of Canada's Jewish and pro-Israel community. It includes those from across the political spectrum, from urban centres and smaller communities and from Jewish and non-Jewish backgrounds. Combined with an outstanding professional staff with substantial corporate, government and media experience, we have formed a team built for success – a model for any advocacy body in the world.
The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs assumes its mandate, while fully honouring the great legacy of all its predecessor organizations, including foremost the Canadian Jewish Congress (CJC) and the Canada-Israel Committee (CIC). This means upholding a tradition of extraordinary activism and standing up for Jewish interests with the same level of vigour and dedication. Just as the CJC and CIC have helped build a better Canada for all Canadians, we intend to be able to make the same claims with authenticity for the next generation.
In any reorganization, whether corporate or non-profit, there are bound to be critics. The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs will continue to listen to all viewpoints expressed by the community, including by its critics. And we shall move forward with the understanding that reasonable criticism and debate only makes us wiser and stronger.
Immediately, we must focus our energies and resources on the immense challenges and opportunities facing Canada's Jewish community. If we are to learn anything from Jewish history, it's that the duty before us is pressing.
While cherishing our past, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs is dedicated to fulfilling its mandate – now and in the years ahead.
- Moshe Ronen is a past president of CJC and past chair of CIC. Ed Morgan is a past president of CJC. Both are currently members of the board of directors of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs.