I have mentioned the Canadian Parliamentary Coalition to Combat Antisemitism only a couple of times, and always in passing, mostly because I really don't see it as part of my mandate, despite the fact that my beat is, officially, ''social issues and cultural trends.''
A quick summary of what the Coalition is about:
The CPCCA (Canadian Parliamentary Coalition for Combating Antisemitism) was formed in March of 2009 and brings together 22 Parliamentarians from all parties in the House of Commons for the stated purpose of confronting and combating antisemitism in Canada today. The group is broken into two committees: the Inquiry Panel (chaired by MP Mario Silva) and the Steering Committee (chaired by MP Scott Reid).
The Inquiry was launched on June 2nd, with an open call for written submissions by the Canadian public. After receiving nearly 200 written submissions, the committee will begin its public hearings starting on the 2nd of November. At the conclusion of the hearings, the committee will produce a report to the Government of Canada, and anticipates that the Government will respond to this report no later than the fall of 2010.
The CPCCA is not affiliated with the Government of Canada, any NGO, or any advocacy group. It is associated with the Inter-parliamentary Coalition to Combat Antisemitism, the international steering committee which organized the conference in London in 2009.
One could make the case that redefining antisemitism to include criticism of Israel -- which appears to be what the CPCCA's intent is, at least judging from its website FAQs -- is very much a social issue in that it affects Canadians' freedom of speech. But I'll leave that to my Star colleagues Tom Walkom, Haroon Siddiqui and Linda McQuaig as well as blogger Dr. Dawg -- although I have posted articles about it on my Facebook profile to some interesting and very heated discussions. (Incidentally, the CPCCA has received pitifully little corporate media coverage.)
Today I received a copy of an open letter to Liberal MP Hedy Fry which ties directly into what I see as my beat. Here it is, unedited, with some links added by me:
To: Dr. Hedy Fry, M.P.
From: Joanne Naiman
Re: Canadian Parliamentary Coalition to Combat Anti-Semitism
Date: Dec. 8, 09
Dear Dr. Fry,
This past Sunday—the twentieth anniversary of the Montreal massacre—I attended the memorial you spoke at in Vancouver. Your speech was moving and touched on the real concerns of women across the country. However, while you spoke, I was seething underneath. You see, I am a retired sociologist, an activist, and a Jew. This summer, I made a submission to the Canadian Parliamentary Coalition to Combat Anti-Semitism, of which you are a member. In that submission, I noted that, while anti-Semitism certainly exists in Canada, it is a minor social problem when compared to, say, homelessness, the conditions of indigenous people, or other forms of ethno-racial discrimination. I am ashamed to say that what I didn’t think to compare it to, but should have, is the problems faced by women in this country.
I stood in the cold with you on Sunday thinking to myself that my chances of being harmed—whether with words, low wages, or by a gun—are statistically far greater as a result of my being female than my being Jewish. For example, if I were a young Jewish woman on a university campus in Canada, I would be at much greater risk of experiencing physical assault or abuse because of my gender than because of my religion. On average, 182 females were killed every year in Canada between 1994 and 2003 (www.statcan.gc.ca) and almost half of all women in 1998 reported having been sexually assaulted after leaving high school (Jewish Women International). And if I were a native woman, I would be at least five times more likely than other women in Canada to die as the result of violence.
I am not trying to make an invidious comparison between the suffering of one group as compared to another, but the facts speak for themselves. Anti-Semitism is an odious but minor reality in Canada, and has been so for many years. Meanwhile, the conditions for women have been deteriorating, and most of the poor in this country continue to be women. In recent years funding to women’s organizations has been cut drastically, a proposed national childcare program has been abandoned, unions are being attacked resulting in lower wages and worsening working conditions for many women (particularly in B.C.), the long gun registry is under threat of being dismantled, native women continue to suffer the consequence of their peoples’ horrific maltreatment, and—according to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (Nov 2008)— “...hundreds of cases involving Aboriginal women who have gone missing or been murdered in the past two decades have neither been fully investigated nor attracted priority attention.” I’m sure, Dr. Fry, that you are well aware of these facts.
The obvious question, then, is, why have you agreed to participate in this unprecedented and undemocratic Parliamentary Coalition that is spending a great deal of time and money investigating what must be described as a minor social problem? Instead, why aren’t you and your party calling for a similar entity to resolve even a few of the serious problems faced by untold numbers of women in this country? Imagine if we had a Canadian Parliamentary Coalition on Women’s Issues (CPCWI) that planned to make its report to government in the next few months and—as seems to be the case with the CPCCA –expected “that the Government will respond to it by the spring of 2010 (CPCCA news release, June 2, 2009).” Just imagine if this government were to respond to women’s concerns so quickly and so favourably.
Of course, as others have recently noted, the CPCCA—in line with the International Commission for Combatting Anti-Semitism—is not primarily about anti-Semitism at all, but rather is clearly an attempt to muzzle serious legitimate debate about and criticism of the policies of the State of Israel towards Palestinians—men, women and children. This is clear from reading the CPCCA website. How else can one explain why this Coalition has largely ignored submissions from among the many individuals and groups (including those in the Jewish community) who are critical of Israel’s policies? Why is the last group to be called to these hearings (in January and February of 2010) police officers, whom, we are told, will make “recommendations regarding standard definitions of antisemitism to be adopted by police forces across the country”? Why else would this Coalition expect the Conservative-led government to respond so favourably and so quickly to its report? Lastly, why, despite statements to the contrary on its website, has the CPCCA refused to date to reveal its funding sources?*
As a Jew, I am proud of our tradition as a caring and compassionate people that has advocated for universalism, that is, the rights and freedoms of all people. It is this tradition that led many Jews to actively support the Black civil rights movement in the United States and the struggle to end Apartheid in South Africa. But while the narrow and dangerous terms of reference of this Coalition therefore make me outraged, they also make me afraid. As noted in my submission, this unprecedented Parliamentary Coalition will doubtless convince those already predisposed to believe it that Jews hold undue sway in the political arena, and it will therefore inevitably fan the flames of anti-Semitism in this country. I therefore, lastly, ask you to explain to me why you and your party continue to be part of the CPCCA.
I look forward to your early response in this serious matter.
Joanne Naiman, M.A., B.Ed.
Department of Sociology
(now living in Vancouver)
c.c. Joyce Murray, M.P.
Carolyn Bennett, M.P.
Judy Wasylycia-Leis, M.P.
Sid Shniad, Independent Jewish Voices, Vancouver
Lynda Lemberg, Educators for Peace and Justice, Toronto
Two things I will add here.
As I marked with an * above, I don't know that anybody has actually asked the CPCCA for the source of its funding and has been refused the information. Also, the website states that the inquiry is ''independent of the Government opf Canada, although the hearings are being held in the Centre Block on Parliament Hill.
And, for the record, one submission to the CPCCA, which is currently holding hearings, actually hints that even questioning the need for an inquiry is antisemitic.
And so it goes ...
UPPITY WOMAN DATE: I like this letter to the editor in today's Star. Here's part of it:
The public incitement of hatred section of the Criminal Code should be amended to conform to Section 15 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, thereby granting protection to girls and women. Currently, the law only protects those identified by colour, race, religion, ethnic origin and sexual orientation.
Omitting girls and women from the list compromises their safety. This gap between the Charter of Rights and the Criminal Code is a stark piece of unfinished business. Why is it taking so long to deal with it?