Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (R) congratulates Ahmed Hussen after he was sworn-in as Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship. Jan. 10. Chris Wattie/REUTERS

The Promise of Ahmed Hussen


He came to Canada as a 16-year-old refugee from Somalia. He’s highly regarded across the Canadian political spectrum. He was just appointed as immigration minister in the cabinet of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Now 40 years old, Ahmed Hussen has a promising career in front of him. And in these polarized, fragmented times, he is exactly the kind of public figure we need when it comes to clarifying the wider debate about immigration and Islamism, human rights and national security. 

Trudeau, the leader of Canada’s Liberal Party, often has been lampooned as a “Kumbaya” do-gooder, devoted to his liberal conscience and slow-witted when it comes to recognizing that fanatics across the world with diametrically opposed views to his are gaining strength and power. I will leave it to readers to judge whether any of that criticism is fair, but I will say that Trudeau’s appointment of Hussen shows a boldness that contrasts markedly with the approach of former President Barack Obama, despite their broadly similar worldview. 

Obama, remember, regards the word “Islamist” as an insult rather than a descriptor. But Hussen has a record of actually tackling Islamism in his own community, engaging in the kind of political fight that Obama would most likely have dismissed as a sop to the radical, nationalist right.

Writing in the Toronto Sun, columnist Tarek Fatah, a close friend of Hussen’s — “though we disagree on much,” he noted — related the time the two first encountered each other. In 2004, Muslim activists in Ontario launched a campaign for the introduction of Islamic Sharia law in the province’s family courts, arguing formally that they simply wanted the same rights that were granted to the Catholic and Jewish communities under legislation passed in 1991.

They were supported in this demand by Marion Boyd, a former attorney general who authored a report arguing that it was impossible to sustain Catholic and Jewish law-based family courts while denying them to the Muslim community. But Fatah and others weren’t buying it.

“Opposing them was a much smaller group of secular and liberal Muslims — including yours truly — for whom this was a do-or-die moment,” Fatah wrote. “We knew how the U.K. had let this happen many years before, only to discover, too late, the Muslim community of Britain being held hostage by Islamic clerics.”

For Fatah and his fellow secularists, permitting Sharia courts in Canada would have effectively involved legal surrender to a conservative clerical establishment. Homa Arjomand, a Canadian-Iranian human rights campaigner, eloquently summarized the problem as she pushed back against Boyd’s recommendations. “Our lawyers are studying the decisions of several arbitration cases and will bring them to court and expose how women are victimized by male-dominated legal decisions based on 6th century religion and traditions,” she said at the time.

Eventually, a decision was reached that neatly reflected the dilemma that all liberal democracies face when balancing the need to strengthen secular values against the demands of a vocal religious minority. Sharia courts were not permitted in Ontario, which meant that other religions also were prevented from resolving family disputes in faith-based courts.

As Fatah tells it, Hussen played a diligent, behind-the-scenes role in this episode. Newly minted as a Liberal Party staffer, he introduced the secularists to prominent Ontario politicians, allowing them to present their case directly. 

The importance of having someone like Hussen countering Islamist encroachment among Muslim communities in the West cannot be overstated. As a child, he had seen firsthand the horrors of the conflict in Somalia, which triggered an Islamist surge in that country nearly a decade before the 9/11 atrocities. In Canada, he became a community activist, helping to secure $500 million in funds to revitalize the community in which he lived in Toronto. Moving into immigration law was perhaps the natural next step for him to take.

Now that he’s in Trudeau’s cabinet, Hussen is well positioned to drive home a key message that is increasingly being lost in the global agonizing over national security, particularly in America. Simply put: Islamism and Islam are distinctive concepts.

“Distinctive” does not mean, of course, that they are entirely separate. The imperative of waging jihad in order to impose the rule of Sharia law did not suddenly appear out of nowhere; rather, that struggle is grounded upon authentic Islamic texts, Islamic laws and Islamic traditions. The argument over whether Islamic radicalism is a distortion of Muslim teachings (a default position held by politicians as diverse as George W. Bush, Tony Blair and Obama) or a faithful reflection of them (as argued by nationalists in America and Europe) will continue to rage. 

My own perspective, based on nearly two decades of observing Islamists and their fellow travelers in the West, is that a sledgehammer approach to the more fundamental issue of Muslim integration may play well politically in the short term but is highly destructive in the long term. 

Nobody could seriously argue that Islam is a united body, after all. It is more accurately understood as a culture in the grip of a brutal civil war — between Shia and Sunni, between secular authoritarians and radical clerics, between competing jihadi schools — that is simultaneously linked, ideologically and operationally, to monstrous acts of terrorism against non-Muslims inside and outside the Muslim world. There were plenty of warnings before the 9/11 attacks that this trend was growing, such as the 1994 Iranian-sponsored bombing of the AMIA Jewish center in Buenos Aires, but Western politicians by and large ignored or misunderstood where this tide was heading.

If we are to avoid repeating these same errors, we need to learn from the past by understanding that Islam’s internal fissures can work to our advantage. But there is nothing to be gained from a situation in which the very word “refugee” becomes a pejorative, as is more and more the case in America, or when we face legislative proposals that could, for example, prevent Kurdish Muslims from Iraq and Syria — traditionally our close allies — from entering our country.

In that sense, we can learn much from people like Ahmed Hussen about the importance of nuance and compassion. As a former refugee, he instinctively understands the plight of those driven from their homes by war and genocide. As a human rights advocate, he grasps that some groups are far more vulnerable than others — which is why he just announced that Canada will allow entry to an unspecified number of Yazidis from Iraq, who have been horribly persecuted by Islamic State, within the next four weeks.

At the same time, Hussen’s record suggests that he recognizes the clear difference between practical support for the victims of extreme cruelty on the one hand, and sinking into nebulous cultural relativism or knuckleheaded bigotry on the other. Partisans of both left and right would do well to consider that.

Ben Cohen, senior editor of TheTower.org and The Tower magazine, writes a weekly column for JNS.org on Jewish affairs and Middle Eastern politics. His writings have been published in Commentary, the New York Post, Haaretz, The Wall Street Journal and many other publications. He is the author of “Some of My Best Friends: A Journey Through Twenty-First Century Antisemitism”  (Edition Critic, 2014).

This indigenous activist is the new ‘face’ of B’nai Brith Canada


Activist Ryan Bellerose sees Israel as not just “a light unto nations” in a general sense — it’s a prescription, too.

Specifically, the State of Israel, whose establishment Bellerose considers the “greatest human rights story ever,” can offer a blueprint for securing land and rights for indigenous tribes around the world.

This connection between Israel and native peoples is personal: Bellerose, 40, of Calgary, is a member of the Metis nation, which is recognized by the Canadian government as one of the country’s official aboriginal peoples.

Bellerose, who was raised Roman Catholic and now practices Cree spirituality, jokes that his friends call him “Rabbi Ryan.” He rose to prominence within Jewish circles when he launched a successful pro-Israel organization, Calgary United With Israel (now known as Canada United With Israel) in 2013.

And now Bellerose, who was raised in northern Alberta in the Metis settlement of Paddle Prairie, has been hired by B’nai Brith Canada as its advocacy coordinator for western Canada.

While he’s not a member of the tribe, he feels that he has “some valid things to teach and to learn” from his Jewish friends.

On social media and in person, his style is straightforward and no-holds-barred, in the manner of the 6-foot-4, 360-pound offensive lineman he is — Bellerose played more than a decade in the semi-pro Canadian Major Football League. His tolerance level for political correctness is low. Bellerose displays interest in well-argued views by opponents, but often admits to losing patience with those posting anti-Israel lies and slurs. (The word “asshat” pops up frequently in his tweets, as in: “If you are threatened by indigenous people asserting our rights, you are probably an asshat.”)

His boss, Amanda Hohmann, the Toronto-based director of B’nai Brith’s League for Human Rights, said that bringing Bellerose on board in late August was “a no-brainer” in helping the organization jump-start operations in provinces west of Ontario that were dormant for years.

“B’nai Brith is trying to change and become more relevant,” she said. “Ryan is the face of that new dynamic.”

Hohmann said Bellerose’s past work in building relationships among ethnic groups is an advantage in his first assignment: helping the organization to confront the “growing problem” of anti-Semitism in western Canada.

Because he comes at Jewish issues from the outside, Bellerose said, “my voice in your struggle is amplified.”

“I’m not doing it because I expect Jews to stand up for my people,” he said. “You guys were always involved in standing up for other people, even when you were a marginalized minority. Let’s all stand together.”

Bellerose came to pro-Israel advocacy from years of volunteer work to advance the rights of Native Canadians, including urging tribes not to sell their land to provincial governments at below-market value.

He was first inspired by the Jews’ return to Israel, seeing it as a model for the Metis.

“When I started doing this, I thought, ‘This is a great example to my people.’ Honestly, we get a little jealous because you have an ability to manifest a bit of your identity that we don’t have,” he said.

Having a Native Canadian representing the oldest American-Jewish organization makes perfect sense, said Hohmann, who called him a “tremendous asset” to the organization.

“Ryan’s not Jewish,” Hohmann said. “He doesn’t have all that baggage.”

“For too long, we’ve allowed the other side” – the anti-Israel activists – “to define the terms of engagement,” she said. “I don’t know why that’s acceptable.

“Ryan has blown that open, he engages on his terms on this issue. He comes from a background of First Nations advocacy: to demand that his rights be heard and listened to. When he does Israel advocacy, he keeps that perspective.”

Much of Bellerose’s appeal within the Jewish community lies in his ability to reframe the debate between Israel’s proponents and its detractors. The narrative, he said, should center on Jews’ indigeneity to the Land of Israel, continued presence there and mass return after two millennia of exile.

“You didn’t have your land — [conquerors] took everything but your identity,” Bellerose told JTA. “Then, you didn’t just take Israel – you seized it.

“I saw a people who were successful in the same struggle my people are in, but for a much longer period of time. You maintained your nation in exile. You maintained your identity. It pushes home to me that we are very, very similar.”

In 1869, the Metis — Bellerose’s ancestors among them — lost their land in the Red River region of present-day Manitoba to the Canadian government. They have since sought unsuccessfully to return home.

Some observers see Bellerose’s style — as well as his unapologetic, unqualified support for Israel’s right to statehood — as providing a breath of fresh air in Jewish circles.

“We as Jews are so vocal in support of others, but we’re afraid to speak up for ourselves,” said Sarah Bernamoff, a Jewish Albertan who co-founded Calgary United With Israel. “Ryan, by his example, has opened a huge door.”

She added: “The voice of Ryan – coming as it did from the outside, from a First Nation – has traction.”

Manuel Batshaw, ‘architect of Montreal’s Jewish community,’ 101


Manuel (Manny) Batshaw, who was considered “the architect of Montreal’s Jewish community,” has died at 101.

Batshaw, who died Monday, won praise for his work over the past nearly half century in structuring some of the community’s main institutions and his renown as a discreet community “fixer.” He was the first Jewish person to earn an honorary doctorate from McGill University.

For years Batshaw served as an adviser to his friend Charles Bronfman, the billionaire Jewish philanthropist and Seagram’s liquor magnate. After retiring from official community life, Batshaw became Bronfman’s director of Jewish affairs.

Batshaw served for 12 years as executive director of the Jewish Federation-CJA and its network of social service agencies, and worked with Jewish schools.

A social worker by training, Batshaw in 1975 issued an exhaustive report on child abuse that set the stage for Quebec to establish such institutions as the Batshaw Youth and Family Services Centre and legislation including the Youth Protection Act.

Batshaw continued performing volunteer community work as a fundraiser well into his 90s.

Canadian political leader is ‘torn’ over resolution endorsing BDS


The leader of Canada’s Green Party is “torn” over two Israel-related resolutions to be debated at the party’s convention next month.

One resolution to be reviewed by party members meeting in Ottawa in August would endorse the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel. The second calls on the party to pursue revoking the charitable status of the Jewish National Fund of Canada.

Regarding the two measures, “I am honestly torn,” party leader Elizabeth May wrote earlier this month in aletter to the Victoria Times-Colonist newspaper.

 

“I, along with all Greens, denounce anti-Semitism in all its forms,” May wrote. “I support unequivocally the right of the State of Israel to exist. I also have deep sympathies with the plight of the Palestinian people, and I find the illegal expansion of settlements on the West Bank deeply concerning.”

In an earlier open letter to Canada’s Jewish community, May repeated that the Green Party of Canada opposes the BDS movement. “Some members wish to change that policy. That is their right as members,” she said

However, “as a past donor to the Jewish National Fund, I am troubled by the JNF support for Canada Park on the site of villages emptied and bulldozed in 1967,” she wrote to the Times-Colonist. “While no doubt JNF supports many worthy charitable endeavors, I am in a respectful discussion with the organization about policies of exclusion.”

Anti-Israel activists in Canada, as well as Great Britain and the United States, have long petitioned their governments to revoke JNF’s charitable status, arguing the organization has appropriated Palestinian land and discriminates in its leasing and selling of land.

May said she has invited JNF Canada to participate in the convention and speak to the resolution. “It may well be defeated in on-line voting and never make it to a debate,” she said.

In her letter to the newspaper, she added: “Decisions taken by any state or government, including the state of Israel, must be subjected to legitimate criticism and discussion in an open and democratic society.”

Canadian PM Justin Trudeau sheds tears on Auschwitz visit


Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau visited the Auschwitz memorial, wiping away tears several times.

Among those joining Trudeau on his tour Sunday of the former Nazi death camp was Nate Leipciger, a former prisoner there who immigrated to Canada from his native Poland in 1948 at the age of 18. Among others in the delegation were the Canadian minister of foreign affairs, Stéphane Dion, and Rabbi Adam Scheier of Montreal, vice president of the Council of Rabbis of Canada. Auschwitz Museum Director Piotr Cywinski welcomed the group.

Trudeau reportedly made a point of visiting the Auschwitz memorial following the NATO summit in Warsaw.

Members of the delegation visited much of the museum exhibition, including one block showing photographs documenting the arrival of a transport of Jews from Hungary. They also saw the room devoted to sorted looted property — shoes, bags, glasses and brushes — that in the camp jargon was called “Canada,” and visited the building of the first gas chamber and crematorium at Auschwitz I.

In the second part of the visit, Trudeau and his group visited the former Auschwitz II-Birkenau and walked along the railway ramp where the Germans carried out the selection of the Jews. They also saw the ruins of the gas chamber and crematorium III, where the delegation said Kaddish, the Jewish prayer for the dead.

“Today we saw the possibilities of deliberate human cruelty and evil. Let us remember always this painful truth about ourselves,” Trudeau wrote in the guest book of the museum. “Never enough tolerance. Humanity must learn to love its diversity.”

Canada is among the 36 countries that supported the Perpetual Fund of Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation, which finances the maintenance of authentic remains of the concentration camp.

 

Nazi death squad member wins Canada court victory, set to stay


A 92-year-old man who has confessed to being a former member of a Nazi death squad won a court victory on Thursday against Canada, boosting his chances of staying in the country that has been trying to revoke his citizenship for two decades.

The Supreme Court declined to hear the government's appeal of a lower court decision in favor of Helmut Oberlander, who says he was forced to act as a translator for the squad and never took part in atrocities.

Oberlander emigrated to Canada in 1954 and became a citizen in 1960 but did not reveal his wartime record.

The Canadian government, which banned those who took part in war crimes, has revoked his citizenship three times since 1995 but had the decision overturned each time on appeal.

Ronald Poulton, a lawyer for Oberlander, said he was pleased by the Supreme Court's move.

“It's taken a great toll on his family. Over and over again the courts have exonerated him,” he said in a phone interview.

“It's been tiring and difficult and unnecessary and now the Supreme Court – the highest court – has told the government that's enough.”

Oberlander says he was conscripted as a 17-year-old to interpret for one of the Nazis' Einsatzkommando mobile killing squads which murdered a total of more than 2 million people in eastern Europe, most of them Jews.

Shimon Fogel, head of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, said Oberlander had “lied about his complicity in these atrocities and gained Canadian citizenship fraudulently … he should be deported without further delay”.

Time is running out to bring to justice to those who took part in the Nazi Holocaust, which had more than 6 million victims. A 94-year-old former guard at the Auschwitz camp was sentenced to jail in Germany last month by a judge who branded him a “willing and efficient henchman” in the Holocaust.

Although Oberlander concealed his wartime service, Poulton said this should not be cause for him to lose his citizenship after living for 50 years in Canada, especially since he had neither committed nor been complicit in war crimes.

Poulton said Ottawa had never moved to deport Oberlander, since it could only do so once his citizenship had been irrevocably revoked.

No one was available for comment at the federal immigration ministry, which filed the request for appeal that the Supreme Court rejected.

Canada’s post office halts delivery of Toronto-area anti-Semitic newspaper


Canada’s post office says it will no longer deliver a Toronto-area newspaper described as openly anti-Semitic.

Judy Foote, the federal minister responsible for Canada Post, issued an order on June 6 against the future delivery of Your Ward News, a free, low-budget newspaper sent to homes in the east end of Toronto.

The publication has been the subject of complaints for years, the Canadian Jewish News reported. It has railed against “cultural Marxism” and lashed out at Zionists, Jewish communal leaders, feminism and welfare recipients, and has mocked the Holocaust. The newspaper has defended itself as satire protected by free speech.

 

B’nai Brith Canada said it has received “literally hundreds of phone calls and emails from people who have felt victimized by the content in this publication.”

Amanda Hohmann, national director of B’nai Brith Canada’s League for Human Rights, said her group was pleased to see that the government “has taken appropriate steps to protect Canadians from this kind of hate propaganda.”

The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs also hailed Canada Post’s move.

“Freedom of speech – a core Canadian value – is cheapened and corroded when it is cynically used by extremists to justify the dissemination of hate,” said CEO Shimon Koffler Fogel. “The fact that the Canadian Union of Postal Workers has supported efforts to ban the delivery of Your Ward News reflects a broad consensus about the nature of the racist propaganda featured in this newsletter.”

As of June 8, the paper’s website said the paper is delivered by Canada Post to 305,000 homes, business and apartments, “with a readership of over one million.”

Your Ward News editor James Sears has filed a request for a review of Canada Post’s decision. An appeal would consist of a panel appointed by the minister. He called the Canada Post order “a temporary inconvenience.”

“We’re just a satirical, offensive newspaper,” Sears told CBC News. “It has been found multiple times by Canada Post lawyers that we’re not breaking any hate-speech laws.”

Sears is a former Toronto medical doctor who was stripped of his license in 1992 after a court found him guilty of sexually assaulting female patients.

Canada prevents anti-Semitic comedian Dieudonne from entering country


Border services agents in Montreal sent convicted anti-Semitic comedian Dieudonne M’bala M’bala back to France on Tuesday after he landed in the city for a series of 10 sold-out shows in Canada.

Hours earlier, Dieudonne had been convicted again in France for breaking hate speech laws, for which he was fined $11,400.

Jewish groups had pressured Ottawa for two weeks to keep Dieudonne from entering Canada based on his numerous convictions in Europe over the last decade for hate speech and Holocaust denial.

“It would seem that the [Canadian Border Services Agency] made the right decision today,” said David Ouellette of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs. “Through his incitement to violence, glorification of terrorism and anti-Semitic vitriol, he was clearly not admissible to Canada.”

Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre had said Dieudonne was not welcome.

Dieudonne confirmed he had to depart Canada, “but I will return,” he said on his Facebook page. “I will be in Montreal tomorrow ‘in peace,’” he wrote, using the name of his planned show.

The comment led some news reports to speculate that he might try to return and enter Canada again on Wednesday for his first show.

Dieudonne, 50, had sold out shows in three Quebec cities, including the Montreal art gallery that was vandalized in apparent anticipation of his appearance there. He was slated to perform in Montreal starting Wednesday, then move on to Trois-Rivieres and Quebec City.

After his arrival in Montreal, according to a report in the Montreal Gazette, he was detained in the airport’s customs area until the decision was announced not to let him in.

Dieudonné has been popular in Quebec since 2004, but less so in recent years. He had shows canceled in 2012 because of the controversy surrounding him.

Countries that have barred the comedian include Great Britain and Hong Kong.

The show he was set to perform in Quebec was described by promoters as tame, but that did not allay the concerns of those opposed to his appearance.

Canadian Jewish groups mount effort to help Alberta fire evacuees


Jewish groups in Canada’s Alberta province have joined the efforts to support victims of the wildfires that have been raging in the area for a week and forced the evacuation of an entire city.

The Calgary Jewish Federation announced it will donate $25,000 from its emergency relief fund to assist the citizens of Fort McMurray, who were forced to flee their homes on May 4 after the Alberta provincial government declared a state of emergency. Some 90,000 people in the city were displaced in the wake of the fires, which have been burning and spreading for the past week.

The Jewish Federation of Edmonton also opened a PayPal account in order to collect donations for those affected by the fires.

Ve’ahavta, a Toronto-based social service organization whose programs include international crisis response, also launched a Fort McMurray relief fund last week, according to the Canadian Jewish News. The group said it would funnel the donations to established groups in the area such as the Red Cross and United Way in keeping with its mandate, the Jewish News reported.

The Israeli humanitarian aid charity IsraAid told the Jewish News that it already had a volunteer on the ground in Alberta to assess evacuees’ needs and would be sending a team to Canada for the first time.

Local synagogues also reportedly are raising money to help assist the evacuees.

The fire continued to burn on Sunday, a week after it started near Fort McMurray in northeast Alberta a week earlier. The blaze reportedly is moving southeast toward the nearby province of Saskatchewan to an area that is less populated.

Fort McMurray is the center of Canada’s oil sands region, which manufactures about 1 million barrels of crude oil a day. The production was taken offline as of Friday, according to Reuters.

The Alberta government estimated on Saturday night that the fire had so far consumed 500,000 acres, an area the size of Mexico City.

Insurance losses could go higher than $7 billion, Reuters reported.

Montreal police seize 8,000 bottles of illegally imported kosher wine


Police seized some 8,000 bottles of kosher wine in what appeared to be a Passover-related bootlegging bust at a Montreal synagogue.

Two men were arrested at the Young Israel of Montreal synagogue on April 26, where police found 650 cases of kosher wine – from Israel, Australia, and the U.S. – in its basement.

Quebec prohibits the private sale of alcohol except through mandated provincial agency stores, although some wines and beers sold at grocery stores are exempt.

Also allowed is some private importing of alcohol as long as special taxes are paid to the agency, known as a Crown corporation.

According to news reports, increased Passover demand for kosher wines combined with a minimal selection at agency stores and prohibitive prices prompted the creation of illegal “stores.”

Such stores are something of an “open secret” within the Jewish community come holiday time.

“There is not a big kosher selection [at the agency stores],” one synagogue member told Global News. The police “always seem like they are coming down hard.”

In 2010, a Hasidic synagogue in Montreal was charged with illegally bringing in about 1,000 bottles of kosher wine without a permit.

Jewish Canadians demand 92-year-old Ukrainian Nazi’s deportation


Jewish groups are calling on Canada to strip Canadian citizenship from a 92-year-old man who was once a member of a Nazi death squad.

In a letter to Citizenship Minister John McCallum, the groups say it’s time to conclude to what has been a 20-year battle to deport Helmut Oberlander.

“As has been clearly established, Mr. Oberlander was a member of one of the most savage Nazi killing units, responsible for the murder of more than 90,000 Jewish men, women, and children during the Holocaust,” states the March 9 letter. “He is here illegally, was associated with a horrific and murderous enterprise for which he has neither demonstrated nor expressed any remorse, and he ought to have his Canadian citizenship revoked immediately,” it adds.

Born in Ukraine, Oberlander immigrated to Canada in 1954 and became a citizen in 1960. Ottawa began trying to strip him of his citizenship in 1995, prompting a protracted court battle.

In 2000, a judge ruled that Oberlander had lied about his wartime service in order to gain citizenship. The Canadian Cabinet stripped him of citizenship three times. Twice it was restored by court rulings.

Oberlander won another reprieve last month when the Federal Court of Appeal sent the matter back to Cabinet, asking it to review its third revocation.

Oberlander, of Waterloo, Ontario, was a member of a mobile death squad in the Soviet Union during World War II. He claims to have been a low-level interpreter who was conscripted under duress. He also claims that he never took part in killings, and that he would have been shot had he tried to escape.

The Jewish groups, including Canadian Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Descendants, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs and B’nai Brith Canada, want him stripped of his Canadian nationality and deported from the country.

“It is particularly stressful for members of our survivor community, who are law-abiding and responsible citizens, to know that a member of the vicious killing unit Einsatzkommando 10a remains in Canada illegally,” they write. “It is well past time for him to leave.”

In an interview with the Canadian Press, Oberlander’s lawyer, Ronald Poulton, said the letter was “irresponsible” because it suggests “that anyone who fights injustice is abusing a system because he never gives up.”

An online petition at cija.ca calling on Ottawa to revoke Oberlander’s citizenship has to date garnered nearly 1,000 signatures.

Students at Montreal’s McGill U pass pro-BDS motion


Students at McGill University in Montreal voted to support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel.

The nonbinding motion in the university’s student society carried Monday by a vote of 512-357, but only about 3 percent of the student body of nearly 30,000 cast ballots. It was the third time that the Student Society of McGill University has voted on BDS in the past 18 months.

On the same day, the Canadian Parliament passed a motion formally condemning BDS.

Despite passage of the motion, which was put forward by the fledgling McGill BDS Action Network, the McGill administration is not bound to implement BDS policies. The motion can only be fully ratified through an online vote by McGill students in the coming week.

But the passage is being seen, at least symbolically, as a bitter blow for pro-Israel forces on the McGill campus, who view the BDS movement as either anti-Semitic or an effort to delegitimize Israel.

Student Aliza Saskin told The Montreal Gazette that the SSMU is “not representing all students on campus, even when their own by-laws call for no discrimination against anyone based on their cultural origins.”

Rabbi Reuben Poupko of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs said in a statement reacting to the motion’s passage: “The campaign to boycott Israel is unproductive, divisive, and hateful. Far from advancing peace of the Palestinian cause, it undermines coexistence by demonizing one of the two parties in a complex conflict.”

Over the past few years, several Canadian universities have passed pro-BDS motions.

The Parliament motion passed by a vote of 229-51. It calls on the Canadian government to “condemn any and all attempts by Canadian organizations, groups, or individuals to promote the BDS movement, both here at home, and abroad.”

Canadian Parliament officially condemns BDS


Canada’s Parliament passed a motion formally condemning the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel.

The motion passed Monday in a 229-51 vote, CIJ News reported. Introduced last week by members of the opposition Conservative Party, the motion won support from the ruling Liberal Party as well.

It calls on the Canadian government to “condemn any and all attempts by Canadian organizations, groups or individuals to promote the BDS movement, both here at home and abroad.”

In addition, the motion notes Canada and Israel’s “long history of friendship as well as economic and diplomatic relations.” The motion says the BDS movement “promotes the demonization and delegitimization of the State of Israel.”

Speaking in favor of the motion last week, Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion said “the world will win nothing for boycotting Israel but depriving itself of the talents of its inventiveness.”

Canadian Jewish groups have praised the motion. In a statement last week, Shimon Fogel, CEO of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, said, according to the European Jewish Press, “The boycott movement does not contribute to peace and is not pro-Palestinian. It is discrimination based on nationality, and it harms both Israelis and Palestinians alike by driving the two sides further apart. The BDS movement is a fringe movement and is outside genuine peace efforts.”

Responding to the vote in a news release, the National Council on Canada Arab Relations said the anti-BDS motion goes “against the spirit of the Freedom of Speech, a right enshrined in Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”

The group described BDS as a “nonviolent campaign that supports proven methods of conscientious objection to encourage Israel to respect international law.”

Canadian parliament to pass motion rejecting BDS


Canada’s parliament stands poised to reject the BDS campaign against Israel.

The Liberals, who comprise the majority of seats in the House of Commons, said the party will support an opposition motion introduced Thursday calling on the House to formally reject the goals of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement.

The motion was introduced by two Conservative lawmakers in parliament. Both the New Democratic Party and Green Party have indicated that they will oppose the motion.

“This is not a partisan issue,” said Tony Clement, the Conservative foreign affairs critic, in leading off the debate. He called BDS a form of discrimination, “just like boycotts that have targeted Jews throughout history.”

Rejecting the BDS movement specifically, Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion said “the world will win nothing for boycotting Israel but depriving itself of the talents of its inventiveness,” adding, “We must fight anti-Semitism in all its forms.”

The motion states that “given Canada and Israel share a long history of friendship as well as economic and diplomatic relations, the House reject the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which promotes the demonization and delegitimization of the State of Israel, and call upon the government to condemn any and all attempts by Canadian organizations, groups or individuals to promote the BDS movement, both here at home and abroad.”

The Canadian bill comes amid numerous initiatives condemning and banning attempts to boycott Israel in the United States — where state legislatures in New York, Pennsylvania, Florida, Alabama, Tennessee and Indiana passed anti-BDS resolutions – and in Europe.

Earlier this week, Britain’s government announced its plan to outlaw BDS. If passed, the measures will make Britain the second major European country with laws against boycotting Israel.

France passed such laws in 2003, and they have served as the basis for multiple convictions of BDS activists who were sentenced for incitement to discrimination or hate due to their actions on Israel.

On Tuesday, the City Council of Paris passed two declarative motions expressing the city’s rejection of attempts to boycott Israel.

Jewish students urged to think twice before applying to Toronto’s York U


Jewish students are being urged to think twice before applying to York University in Toronto following accusations that its faculty association was endorsing a “censorship campaign against Israel and the Jewish people.”

Friends of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre for Holocaust Studies said in a statement issued Tuesday that it was “concerned for the safety and security of [York’s] Jewish students and faculty,” and made the accusations against the faculty group. The association’s executive voted in favor of a campaign urging the university to divest from investments in weapons manufacturers, domestic or international.

Though the approved motion did not mention Israel, the Wiesenthal Centre group contended it was anti-Semitic because the divestment campaign is being led by the York chapter of Students Against Israeli Apartheid, which endorses the international Boycott, Sanctions and Divestment drive against Israel. The divestment of weapons are often for companies that supply the Israeli army for use in the West Bank.

“The campaign is initiated by Students Against Israeli Apartheid – an organization known for its anti-Semitic and anti-Israel positions,” said the statement issued Tuesday by the Friends of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre.

The group cautioned “Jewish students from choosing to attend York” should the vote be endorsed by the faculty union’s Stewards’ Council.

“What I’m asking for Jewish students who are considering going to York or putting in their application for the … 2016-2017 year, is to know what’s going on at York (and) to maybe take a pause until the final vote is in,” Friends of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre President Avi Benlolo told the National Post daily newspaper.

In a letter to the faculty association’s president, the Wiesenthal Centre group said the union’s 51-member Stewards’ Council still has a chance to overturn the executive vote.

“They may not realize that this boycott movement, couched in the language of human rights, is in reality a malicious campaign that targets and singles out the Jewish community as a collective; demonizes Israel and Israelis; applies unfair double standards to Israel at the exclusion of other nations in the Middle East; and rejects the legitimacy of Israel as the only Jewish State in the world – and therefore incites discrimination,” said the letter.

Richard Welland, president of the faculty association, said Students Against Israeli Apartheid is among several groups supporting the divestment campaign.

He also accused the Friends of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre of “bullying” him and other members of the executive.

“I’m Jewish (and) they’ve basically called me anti-Semitic,” he told the Post. “It’s distressing.”

The warning comes a month after Canadian media executive Paul Bronfman announced his decision to cut his company’s donations to the university over a pro-Palestinian mural hanging in the student center.

Canadian Jewish group: Trudeau’s omission of Jews in Holocaust day statement unintended


A Jewish advocacy group said it was satisfied that Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s omission of Jews in a statement on International Holocaust Remembrance Day was not deliberate.

The Toronto Sun reported that the Jan. 27 statement, which caused a firestorm on news websites and social media for failing to mention Jews in reference to the Nazi genocide, was an incorrect draft issued in error. The same day, the Prime Minister’s Office put out a tweet linking to his statement and citing the importance of fighting anti-Semitism.

“On this #HolocaustMemorialDay, we honor its victims & vow to fight intolerance and anti-Semitism,” the tweet said.

That was good enough for the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs.

“Prime Minister Trudeau corrected any unintended impressions left by the initial statement on Holocaust Remembrance by issuing a further comment that addressed the issue of anti-Semitism in a direct and explicit way,” the center’s CEO, Shimon Fogel, wrote on the organization’s website the next day.

The Jan. 27 statement from Trudeau’s office, in part, paid “tribute to the memory of the millions of victims murdered during the Holocaust. We honor those who survived atrocities at the hands of the Nazi regime, and welcome their courageous stories of hope and perseverance.”

Last week, CIJA also sought to allay concerns arising from a Jan. 24 statement by Canada’s foreign affairs minister, Stephane Dion, that said Canada “is concerned by the continued violence in Israel and the West Bank” and calling for “restraint” on both sides. The statement said “continued Israeli settlements” are “unhelpful.”

Dion’s office also sought to tamp down anger over the statement with tweets, one saying “Canada condemns acts of incitement and heinous attacks against Israeli civilians in Israel & the West Bank” and another stating “our thoughts are with loved ones of Shlomit Krigman,” a 23-year-old woman who was killed in a Jan. 25 stabbing by a Palestinian terrorist, “& other victims.”

“The government was responsive” in both the Trudeau and Dion cases, CIJA said.

“Would it have been better had both issues been properly messaged in the first place? Of course!” the center wrote. “While it is clear that a more careful and thoughtful initial effort would have avoided generating the angst expressed by many within our community, the willingness of the Government to correct the record — and the speed at which it did so — should encourage us.”

Canada to lift Tehran sanctions, allow Bombardier to export to Iran


Canada confirmed for the first time on Tuesday that it plans to lift its sanctions on Tehran and said that if Airbus is allowed to sell to Iran, then its aircraft maker Bombardier Inc should be allowed to export there as well.

“If Airbus is able to do it, why Bombardier will not be able to do it? In which way it's helping Canada, or the Iranian people, or Israel, or anyone, that Canada is hurting its own industry?” Dion said in an exchange with reporters.

Asked specifically if Bombardier would be allowed to do business with Iran as soon as sanctions are lifted, Dion said: “Legitimate business, certainly.”

Iran announced plans at the weekend to buy more than 160 European planes, mainly from Airbus, and Dion said reluctance to lift sanctions on the part of Canada's Conservative opposition had helped Airbus and not Bombardier.

The United States, the European Union and other major nations have already lifted their own punitive measures, leaving Ottawa to follow suit.

“Canada will lift its sanctions but what Canada will maintain is our suspicion of a regime … that must not return to (trying to obtain) nuclear weapons,” Dion told the House of Commons moments before meeting journalists.

Dion also said Iran had a poor human rights record and was not a friend of Canadian allies such as Israel.

Canada's foreign ministry had previously said it was reviewing the sanctions and would ensure any move to relax them did not allow Iran to trade in nuclear and ballistic missiles technologies.

Canada government to send ‘tough message’ to Israel as a ‘good friend’


Canada's new Liberal government said on Monday it was delivering a “tough message” to Israel as a good friend after expressing concern about Israeli-Palestinian violence, Israeli settlements and unilateral Palestinian moves.

The statement came a day after Foreign Minister Stephane Dion was criticized for saying Palestinian initiatives toward statehood in international forums and continued Israeli settlements were unhelpful. 

“We're steadfast allies and good friends, and good friends can occasionally deliver tough messages, but it's by no means to suggest that we're somehow retreating from any kind of support of Israel,” said Joe Pickerill, Dion's spokesman.

Dion on Sunday had issued a statement expressing concern about the Israeli conflict, sparking charges by the Conservative opposition that the Liberal government was being unfairly critical of Israel. 

“As a steadfast ally and friend to Israel, Canada calls for all efforts to be made to reduce violence and incitement and to help build the conditions for a return to the negotiating table,” Dion said in the statement on Sunday.

His spokesman, Joe Pickerill, elaborated on Monday by saying that Canada was not trying to create a “faux balance” by equating violence by either side, but felt the need to speak out.

“We're not necessarily equating the violence by any means on both sides, but there have been issues, and we need to be in a position to point that out,” Pickerill said after more than 100 days of violence between the two sides.

Dion's statement drew a swift attack from the Conservative Party, which had adopted a resolutely pro-Israel policy while in power, for not laying blame “for recent terrorist rocket and knife attacks with Hamas, a listed terrorist organization in Canada.”

The Conservatives, who lost the October election to the Liberals, said that by omission, the statement “equates such terrorist attacks with Israeli settlement construction. This is unacceptable.”

Five dead, suspect held in Canada school shooting


Five people were killed in a school shooting in a remote part of Saskatchewan on Friday and a suspect is in custody, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said. 

Two people are in critical condition after the shooting in La Loche, which is about 600 km (375 miles) north of the city of Saskatoon.

“Obviously this is every parent's worst nightmare,” Trudeau said. 

Mass shootings are relatively rare in Canada, which has stricter gun laws than the United States. In the country's worst school shooting, 14 college students were killed at Montreal's Ecole Polytechnique in 1989. 

Extra doctors and nurses have been sent to treat patients in Keewatin Yatthe Regional Health Authority's 16-bed hospital, said spokesman Dale West.

Teddy Clark, chief of the Clearwater River Dene Nation, said that his daughter told him about the shooting, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reported.

“I know there are some casualties and there are some people that are in critical condition that are being medivaced to the nearest cities, I would imagine Fort McMurray or Saskatoon.”

La Loche Grade 10 student Noel Desjarlais told the CBC that he heard multiple shots fired at the school.

“I ran outside the school,” Desjarlais said. “There was lots of screaming, there was about six, seven shots before I got outside. I believe there was more shots by the time I did get out.”

A cellphone video taken by one resident and broadcast by the CBC showed students walking away from the school through the snow-covered ground and emergency personnel moving in. 

La Loche Community School is a pre-kindergarten to Grade 12 school, which houses about 900 students in two buildings. 

There was an emergency at the building that houses grades 7 to 12, the school district's Facebook page said. Both that building and the elementary school were put on lockdown. 

In 2014, a teacher expressed concern about violence at the La Loche school, citing an incident where a student who had tried to stab her was put back in her classroom after serving his sentence, and another attacked her at her home.

“That student got 10 months,” Janice Wilson told the CBC of the student who tried to stab her in class. “And when he was released he was returned to the school and was put in my classroom.”

Pot doesn’t need kosher certification, Canadian agency says


On the day kosher-certified medical marijuana first went on sale in New York, Canada’s largest kashrut agency said it believes such certification is unnecessary.

Following a debate Thursday, the Kashruth Council of Canada announced that medication need not be kosher, The Canadian Press reported.

Last month, Vireo Health of New York announced that the Orthodox Union, one of the largest kashrut agencies in the world, is certifying its medical marijuana products, which come in three forms: pills, oils and vapor.

Canada’s Kashrut Council considered the issue after MedReleaf, a producer of medical marijuana, inquired about obtaining certification.

“Something that is medicine, that’s prescribed from your doctor, that you need to take for your health, that doesn’t need kosher certification,” the group’s managing director, Richard Rabkin, told the Press.

“We don’t really want to get into the business of providing kosher certification for something that is doctor-prescribed,” he added.

Not all kashrut agencies are in agreement on the issue, however. In a statement on its website, the New York-based OU said claims that cannabis, because it is a natural product and because it helps with life-threatening conditions, requires no certification are “factually incorrect.”

“While the cannabis plant is inherently kosher, the final product may contain kosher sensitive ingredients such as alcohol, gelatin and oil,” the statement said. ” The qualifying medical conditions are not always life threatening, and even in such instances where there is a threat to life, it is preferable to use a kosher medication when available.”

Noting that it “stands by” its decision to certify medical marijuana, the OU statement concluded: “New York residents who are experiencing intense pain, can now use OU supervised Vireo Health medical marijuana and not be concerned that the product might contain non-kosher ingredients.”

Kosher Check, a global kosher certification agency headquartered in Canada’s British Columbia decided two years ago in favor of certifying edible medical pot products, but has not yet certified any such products, according to The Canadian Press. A representative of the group said smokable marijuana does not need to be certified kosher, but that edible forms, including capsules, should be certified.

On Thursday, New York became the 23rd U.S. state where medical marijuana is legal. However, it is subject to numerous regulations: Only five producers, including the kosher-certified Vireo Health of New York, have been approved by the state, and sales must go through state-approved dispensaries. In Canada, all forms of medical marijuana are now legal.

Seven revealing facts about Jews at American colleges


Hillel, the Jewish campus organization, released its annual fall college guide earlier this month — complete with rankings of “The Top Schools Jews Choose.” The figures are estimated by campus Hillels. Here are seven takeaways.

1. University of Florida has the most Jewish students of any North American college 

University of Florida, with its 6,500 Jewish (out of 33,720 total) undergraduates, edged out other heavily Jewish public colleges, like University of Maryland and University of Michigan. Two of the top three and four of the top 20 public colleges are in Florida. The private college with the most Jews is New York University, with 6,000 (out of 24,985 total).

2. Barnard is the most-Jewish college that it not officially Jewish

Barnard College in New York, a women’s liberal arts college affiliated with Columbia University, has a higher percentage of Jewish students than all but four colleges: Yeshiva University, Jewish Theological Seminary, American Jewish University and Brandeis University — all of which have Jewish missions. The first three colleges are 100 percent Jewish; Brandeis is about half Jewish.

Thirty-three percent of Barnard’s undergrads are Jewish (800 out of 2,400 undergrads) — more than the 31 percent at runners-up Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pennsylvania (750 out of 2,440 undergrads), and Goucher College in Townson, Maryland (450 out of 1,471 undergrads).

3. Yale is the most-Jewish Ivy, but Cornell has the most total Jews

Yale University’s undergrad student body is 27 percent Jewish (1,500 Jewish undergrads out of 5,477 total). Percentage-wise, it narrowly beats out its Ivy League rival Harvard University, which is 25 percent Jewish (1,675 out of 6,694 undergrads). But Cornell University and Columbia University both have more Jews in total — 3,000 and 1,800, respectively.

4. Jews love the Big Ten Conference

Six of the top 10 most-Jewish public colleges are part of the Big Ten Conference, the oldest athletic conference in the United States, with schools spanning the Midwest and East Coast. Those six colleges, in descending rank by number of Jewish students, are: Rutgers University (6,400), University of Maryland (5,800), University of Michigan (4,500), Indiana University (4,200), University of Wisconsin, Madison (4,200) and Pennsylvania State University (4,000). The other Big Ten schools among the top 50 are Michigan State University (3,500), the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign (3,000) and Ohio State University (2,500).

5. McGill isn’t the top Canadian destination for Jews

That honor goes to McMaster University, a school in Ontario with the official motto “All things cohere in Christ.” McMaster boasts 3,500 Jewish undergrads; University of Western Ontario and York University each have 3,000. McGill University ranks fourth among Canadian schools, with 2,500 Jews.

6. Fifty-five of the 60 most-Jewish colleges are on the American coasts

The five inland outliers are: Tulane University in New Orleans (2,250 Jews or 27 percent of its total), Washington University in St. Louis (1,750 Jews or 24 percent of its total), Kenyon College in Ohio (275 Jews or 17 percent of its total), the University of Chicago (800 Jews or 14 percent of its total) and Earlham College in Indiana (130 Jews or 11 percent of its total). None of the colleges in the top 60 are public.

7. University of Michigan offers 120 Jewish courses — twice as many as Brandeis

University of Michigan offers the third-most Jewish college courses in the country, behind only Yeshiva University (138 courses) and Jewish Theological Seminary of America (150) — which both have 100 percent Jewish student bodies. McGill University and Ohio State University are tied for fourth, with 100 Jewish courses each.

‘Star Wars’ crushes opening day record, global sales near $130 million


Long-awaited film “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” pulled in a record $57 million at U.S. and Canadian theaters in its debut on Thursday night, boosting its global ticket sales total to nearly $130 million in two days, Walt Disney Co said on Friday.

“Force Awakens” surpassed the previous opening day record of $43.5 million set in 2011 by the final “Harry Potter” movie.

The new “Star Wars” film is the first in a decade and the seventh installment in the series created by George Lucas. Disney bought “Star Wars” producer Lucasfilm for $4 billion in 2012.

Forty-seven percent of Thursday's domestic ticket sales came from 3D tickets, Disney said.

“Force Awakens” opened in 12 international markets on Wednesday and expanded to 32 others on Thursday. International sales reached $72.7 million through Thursday, Disney said.

Box office forecasters say weekend sales for “Force Awakens” may beat the record set in June by dinosaur movie “Jurassic World” with $208.8 million.

Will Justin Trudeau win erode Canada’s support for Israel?


The election of Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau as prime minister represents the first change in Canadian government since Stephen Harper and his Conservatives assumed power in 2006.

What is unlikely to change, however, is Ottawa’s robust support for Israel — a policy cemented under Harper, whose forceful backing of the Jewish state earned him a reputation as one of world’s most pro-Israel political leaders.

When it comes to core Jewish issues, Trudeau has said all the right things since assuming the Liberal leadership in 2013. He continued to do so throughout the 78-day election campaign, which ended Monday with his center-left party’s crushing defeat of the Conservatives.

Though some are lamenting the loss of such a reliable defender of Israel, Trudeau has, like his predecessor, stressed that Canada will remain a strong friend of Israel. In a statement earlier this year, he praised the two countries’ “enduring bond of friendship, rooted in our shared commitment to peace and democracy.” And during the Israel-Gaza conflict last summer, he called Hamas “a terrorist organization” and upheld Israel’s right to defend itself. He has also criticized effortsby the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement to pressure Israel.

But there is likely to be a significant shift in tone away from the often strident and polemical style of Harper’s Conservatives. Harper’s harsh rhetoric toward Hezbollah, his condemnation of Hamas during the Israel-Gaza conflict last year and his consistently tough stance on Iran — it led to the severing of diplomatic relations in 2012 — endeared him to many in Canada’s 300,000-member Jewish community. Trudeau, at the very least, promises a softer strategy.

“Under the Harper government, what we were hearing was a regurgitation of Likud policies and a support for a hard-right Likud government,” said Bernie Farber, a former CEO of the Canadian Jewish Congress and a failed Liberal candidate in the 2011 Ontario provincial election. “What we’re going to see is a more balanced, a more thoughtful, approach toward [Israel].”

In a foreign policy debate last month, Trudeau accused Harper of using Israel as a “domestic political football,” insisting that “all three of us” — Thomas Mulcair of the New Democratic Party was the third candidate in the race — “support Israel and any Canadian government will.”

“I think we’ve been very clear that many things are going to change in this new government, but Canada’s support for Israel is not going to be one of them,” said Michael Levitt, a Liberal parliamentarian and founding member of the Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee.

Mira Sucharov, a professor of political science at Ottawa’s Carleton University and a columnist for the liberal Israeli daily Haaretz, expects Trudeau to avoid the “less fair-minded” tone favored by Harper. But she also pointed out how similar the three candidates were in their support for Israel throughout the campaign.

In an interview with the Canadian Jewish News earlier this month, Trudeau labeled BDS a “new form of anti-Semitism in the world.” Sucharov called the prime minister-designate’s stance “right out of a Jewish federation-style playbook.”

“He’s hewing very close to how the Jewish community wants to view the Palestine solidarity movement that’s taken hold over the last few years,” Sucharov said.

One foreign policy position Trudeau has pledged to amend is Canada’s break with Iran. Canada has been in a sort of diplomatic squeeze since refusing to endorse the Iranian nuclear deal negotiated by its Western allies over the summer. The Liberals support the deal and Trudeau has expressed a desire to reopen Canada’s mission in Tehran.

Trudeau’s election marks an extraordinary rebound for the Liberal Party, which saw its political stature decimated in 2011, when its candidates won only 34 of 308 seats in the House of Commons.

As further humiliation, 52 percent of Canadian Jews voted for the Conservatives in 2011 — 12 points above the national average. Jewish voters, who have historically voted Liberal, apparently were swayed by an admixture of Harper’s tough rhetoric and the accusation by then-Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff that Israel committed war crimes in Lebanon in 2008.

Exit polling for Monday’s election is not yet available, but it appears that Jewish voters in some districtsreturned to the Liberals. Joe Oliver, the Conservative candidate in Toronto’s Eglington-Lawrence district and Canada’s first Jewish finance minister, lost to the Liberals’ Marco Mendicino, who is not Jewish. The Liberals also pulled an upset in Winnipeg South Centre, in Manitoba, and won a seat in Ontario’s Markham-Thornhill — both Jewish strongholds. The Conservatives did, however, retain their seat in Toronto’s Thornhill district, which is about one-third Jewish.

Martin Sampson, a spokesman for the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, a national advocacy group, said the fluid voting patterns prove the “Jewish community is not monolithic.”

“It’s a sign of the Jewish community more broadly — it’s very comfortably across a range of issues and identifying with different parties,” Sampson said.

Levitt, whose York Centre district had been in Liberal hands since 1962 before the Conservatives won there in 2011, downplayed Israel and other traditionally Jewish issues as motivating factors for his Jewish constituents. Instead, he insisted that the Liberals won them over with its wider platform, including tax cuts for the middle class and a promise to immediately increase Canada’s Syrian refugee intake.

“There was a sense of comfort in what we were talking about,” Levitt said. “That was reestablished.”

Israel nervous about Trudeau win


This article first appeared on The Media Line.

Many Israelis were disappointed with the results of Canada’s election and the victory of Justin Trudeau over Stephen Harper, who has been a strong advocate of Israel and Israeli policy.

“Not having Harper around is a very big loss for Israel,” Canadian-born Mordechai Nisan, a retired professor of political science at Hebrew University told The Media Line. “He stood out as a person who said explicitly to the Israelis and to the world that he would virtually always adopt a pro-Israeli stance.”

His pro-Israel ethos was shaped by his belief in the reestablishment of a Jewish state in its ancient homeland, Nisan said, as well as an understanding of the permanent threats Israel faces.

In a visit to Israel in 2014, Harper told a news conference that Canadians have learned the lesson that “when someone is a minority, a particularly small minority in the world, one goes out of one’s way to embrace them, not to single them out for criticism.”

When asked about continued Israeli building in areas that Israel acquired in 1967, Harper said, “When I’m in Israel, I’m asked to single out Israel, when I’m in the Palestinian Authority I’m asked to single out Israel, and half the other places around the world you ask me to single out Israel,” adding that he refused to do that.

The support of Canada became even more important to Israel as tensions rose between Netanyahu and President Obama. Having “North American support” was an important psychological boost. Nisan remembers Justin Trudeau’s father, Pierre Trudeau, who came to power in 1968. Now the son, who shares his father’s good lucks and charisma, will become the second-youngest Prime Minister in Canada’s history.

Some Israeli analysts say there is no proof that Trudeau will be openly critical of Israel, and that it is worth giving him a chance.

“Israelis and the pro-Israel community which has a tendency to view the world as revolving around Israel see this as a catastrophe,” Gil Troy, a professor of politics at McGill University in Canada, who resides in Israel, told The Media Line. “But Trudeau has Jewish advisors, and many of the people around him have been to Israel. His father understood Israel and there is no indication that he will be any different.”

Troy said that Israel was not part of the Canadian election but that Harper lost because voters wanted to see a new face in politics.

“Israel’s enemies are going to try to pretend this is some kind of referendum on Harper’s foreign policy and his support for Israel,” Troy said. “The truth of this election was that all of the candidates – even the far-left NDP party are deeply committed to supporting Israel, believe in Israel’s legitimacy, and speak eloquently against boycott and divestment.”

Israeli officials refused to comment until Netanyahu made an official statement.

Canada purchases Iron Dome technology


Canada’s defense forces are purchasing Israeli Iron Dome technology.

The Canadian defense ministry on Wednesday announced the purchase of 10 radar systems for $187 million from Rheinmetall, a German contractor, working with ELTA, a subsidiary of Israel Aerospace Industries, Agence France Press reported.

The radars, which detect indirect fire, are modeled on Israel’s Iron Dome technology.

“Much like Israel’s successful Iron Dome radar technology, the Medium Range Radar system will be able to instantly track enemy fire aimed at Canadian armed forces personnel and help keep them safe during operations,” Jason Kenney, the Canadian defense minister, was quoted as saying.

The U.S.-funded Iron Dome short-range anti-missile system helped repel rocket attacks during last summer’s war between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

Canadian couple plotted to kill Jewish children at synagogue


A Canadian couple convicted of plotting to bomb the British Columbia legislature wanted to infiltrate a synagogue and kill “small Jews” to save the children from going to hell, according to court documents.

Police notes presented in British Columbia’s Supreme Court in Vancouver this week recounted Amanda Korody’s husband, John Nuttall, telling an undercover officer that his wife thought she would be doing Jewish children a favor by sending them to paradise, since she believed “grown-up Jews” go to “eternal hell” when they die, the Victoria Times-Colonist reported Tuesday.

Earlier this year, Nuttall and Korody were found guilty of plotting to detonate homemade pressure-cooker bombs at the British Columbia legislature during crowded Canada Day celebrations two years ago. The couple, self-described Muslim converts, are back in court trying to have the verdict vacated due to police misconduct.

“I asked Nuttall how he thinks he will have access to Jewish kids and he said [he and his wife] were both white and could pass for Jewish,” read the note from an undercover officer of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, dated March 2013.

“They will be regulars in the synagogue. They will gain the trust of everybody. And once they have everything they will get enough guns and ammo to go ahead with their mission.”

Nuttall conceded that Jewish children were noncombatants but believed they would be raised to hate Arabs and Muslims, wrote the undercover officer. However, Nuttall eventually said that “you never know, they may convert [to Islam] in their adulthood.”

Lawyers for Korody and Nuttall are arguing that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police entrapped the pair through an elaborate, months-long undercover sting operation.

Jewish woman who helped Kurds fight ISIS returns to Israel


A Canadian-Israeli who was the first foreign woman to help the Kurds in their fight against Islamic State has left the front lines and returned to Israel, saying she was worried about Iranian involvement in the war zone.

After eight months in which she was often incommunicado, stirring rumors that she had fallen captive, Israeli media feted Gill Rosenberg's sudden return on Sunday. But she may still face a legal reckoning for her unauthorized travels.

The 31-year-old former Israeli army volunteer said the lessons of the Holocaust drove her to help protect the Kurds and other Middle East minorities menaced by Islamic State.

“I think we as Jews, we say 'never again' for the Shoah, and I take it to mean not just for Jewish people, but for anyone, for any human being, especially a helpless woman or child in Syria or Iraq,” Rosenberg told Israel's Army Radio on Monday.

She said that during her time with Kurdish YPG guerrillas in Syria and later with the Dwekh Nawsha, a Christian militia in Iraq, she took part in “some pretty major firefights” with Islamic State insurgents holding lines just 1 mile away.

“But in the past few weeks I think a lot of the dynamics have changed there, in terms of what's going on in the war. The Iranian involvement is a lot more pronounced. Things changed enough that I felt that it was time to come home.”

TRAVEL BAR

Kurdish sources confirmed her service with YPG to a Reuters correspondent who also met Rosenberg at a Dwekh Nawsha base. Pictures she shared over Facebook showed her holding a rifle at a lookout position and, in full battle gear, guarding prisoners.

“She is a trained fighter with capabilities. She was not afraid,” Dwekh Nawsha spokesman Albert Kisso said on Monday.

Iranian-backed Shi'ite militia have led much of the fighting against Islamic State in Iraq over the last year, and Tehran also backs Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who has lost large parts of eastern Syria to Islamic State control.

Israel bars its citizens from traveling to Iraq and Syria, with which it is technically at war, as it is with Iran.

The Israeli internal security agency Shin Bet said it questioned Rosenberg after she landed in Tel Aviv. It did not elaborate on whether she would face criminal charges, but an Israeli justice official told Reuters it appeared unlikely.

Rosenberg's native Canada, from which she emigrated alone to Israel, had also urged her to get out of Syria. The Canadian embassy in Israel did not immediately comment on her return.

U.S. authorities could pose more of a challenge, however.

In 2009, Rosenberg was arrested in Israel over an international phone scam and extradited to the United States, where she served time in prison. Yahel Ben-Oved, one of her lawyers, said Rosenberg won early release in 2013 on condition that she remain paroled either on U.S. or Israeli soil.

“I believe she may have violated this by going to Syria,” Ben-Oved told Reuters. “This could be a problem for her.”

U.S. officials said they were looking into the case.

Rosenberg declined a Reuters request for an interview, saying she would speak to foreign media later in the week.

Canada shows support for Israel


This article originally appeared on The Media Line.

Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs Robert Nicholson made his first visit to Israel, showcasing the close ties that Canada has with Israel at a time of tensions between the US and Israel.

“This is my first trip to Israel here and I’m here to demonstrate emphatically Canada’s unwavering support for Israel,” Nicholson said at his meeting with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu against a backdrop of Israeli and Canadian flags. “Prime Minister Harper has made this very clear that we recognize Israel as a friend, a nation which shares core values, and a beacon of democracy in a region of repression and instability.”

Nicholson, who later told reporters that he had always wanted to visit Israel, said Canada “supports Israel’s right to defend itself against violent extremists.”

“We understand that Israel’s neighborhood is as dangerous as Canada’s is peaceful and so we know that Israel’s leadership has no choice but to take every step necessary to protect itself from the forces that are committed to its destruction,” he said. “We’ve long refused to be neutral in supporting Israel’s right to defend itself against violent extremists. Israel is on the front line of free and democratic nations and any who turn their back on Israel or turn a blind eye to the nature of Israel’s enemies do so, in the long run, at their own peril.”

Netanyahu used the podium to strike out at a decision by Britain’s National Union of Students to boycott Israel and affiliate with the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) Movement.

“A national student group in Britain voted to support a boycott of Israel,” Netanyahu said. “This is less than a year after they refused to support a boycott of ISIS. They boycott Israel but they refuse to boycott ISIS. That tells you everything you want to know about the BDS movement – they condemn Israel, do not condemn ISIS, they condemn themselves.”

Nicholson’s visit comes as Israel is under increasing international criticism for failure to move forward on peace talks with the Palestinians. In an interview with Israel Television this week, President Obama said the world does not believe that Israel is serious about a two-state solution which would create an independent Palestinian state next to Israel.

The Palestinians have joined a growing number of international organizations including the International Criminal Court, which is conducting a preliminary investigation into the conduct of Israeli soldiers during last summer’s war with the Islamist Hamas in Gaza.

Analysts in Israel say the sometimes-tense relationship between the US and Israel is different from the complete support of Canada and Israel.

“The US remains Israel’s most important global strategic partner and Canada is one of Israel’s closest friends,” David Weinberg, Director of the Israeli office of the Canada Center for Israel and Jewish affairs told The Media Line. “There is a tremendous amount of scientific and academic collaboration between Canada and Israel, and an increasing number of joint ventures in biotech, cleantech, environmental tech and military tech.”

The volume of trade between Israel and Canada has also increased to $1.2 billion dollars last year. There are about 20,000 Canadians living in Israel and 350,000 Jews in Canada. But analysts say that support for Israel is a personal issue for Prime Minister Harper, who last year visited Israel and addressed the Israeli parliament.

”It is right to support Israel — because, after generations of persecution, the Jewish people deserve their own homeland — and deserve to live safely and peacefully in that homeland,” Harper said in that speech. “Canada supports Israel because it is right to do so. This is a very Canadian trait: to do something for no reason other than that it is right.”

Amid growing criticism of Israel, Netanyahu seems to bask in Canada’s friendship and support.

Canada says it will bomb Islamic State ‘safe havens’ in Syria


Canada will expand its military mission against Islamic State by launching air strikes against the militants' safe havens in Syria as well as Iraq, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said on Tuesday.

That will make Canada the second NATO member nation after the United States to attack Islamic State positions in Syria, which have also been hit by jets from Jordan and the United Arab Emirates.

Harper also said Canada plans to extend its six-month mission against Islamic State by a year, to the end of March 2016. Canada has around 70 special forces troops in northern Iraq and six Canadian jets are taking part in U.S.-led bombing missions against Islamic State in Iraq.

Harper, facing a tough challenge to retain power in October's general election, portrays rival political parties as weak on terror and says only his Conservatives properly understand the threat Islamic State poses to Canada.

Both main opposition parties said expanding the mission would drag Canada deeper into a war it should have no part in.

Harper told legislators that Canada must strike at the Syrian power base of the Islamic State, formally known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

“ISIL's fighters and much of its heavier equipment are moving freely across the Iraqi border into Syria, in part for better protection against our air strikes … ISIL must cease to have any safe haven in Syria,” he said.

Critics say bombing strikes in Syria will need the approval of President Bashar al-Assad, but Harper said Canada would “not seek the express consent of the Syrian government”.

The left-leaning New Democrats – the main opposition party – said Harper was dragging Canada into what could be a prolonged conflict.

“This government is taking Canada from mission creep to mission leap .. Canada has no place in this war,” said party leader Thomas Mulcair.

Harper, who has until now insisted Canadian forces will not engage in fighting on the ground, notably softened his language on Tuesday.

He told parliamentarians Canada and others must avoid ground combat responsibilities in Iraq “if we can”, which was the first indication Canadian troops might one day be sent to the front.

The centrist Liberals, who polls show have a chance of winning power in October, said they oppose expanding the mission. Party leader Justin Trudeau said Canada should focus instead on providing humanitarian aid to the region.

Canadian Jewish leaders question, pan legalization of assisted suicide


Jewish leaders in Canada reacted with caution and disappointment to a decision by the country’s Supreme Court legalizing assisted suicide.

Canada’s high court struck down the country’s laws against physician-assisted suicide, meaning it will no longer be illegal for a doctor to help someone who is ill and suffering to end his life. But the ban struck down last week won’t be lifted for another year and assisted suicide will have conditions attached.

The Toronto Board of Rabbis, the country’s largest rabbinic group, has scheduled “a study day” for later this month to explore differing perspectives on the issue, board president Rabbi Baruch Frydman-Kohl said this week, and later will issue a statement.

But in an email to JTA, Frydman-Kohl, of Toronto’s Beth Tzedec Congregation, the largest in Canada, said he was concerned the ruling “will blur the distinctive protection that we give to human life and diminish the desire to care with dedication and devotion for the weakest and most vulnerable of our society.”

Frydman-Kohl called for more support and comfort “to those who are dying, so that no one, because of loneliness, vulnerability, loss of decision-making ability or fear of pain and suffering, will feel a need to actively end life.”

The rabbi called on officials to view the judgment “in narrow terms and allow for freedom of conscience for health care workers who do not accept assisted dying as a medical response to pain and suffering.”

Frydman-Kohl also called for adequate funding for palliative and hospice care, “and excellent social support for the weak, the ill, the elderly, the disabled and those who are socially isolated.”

Toronto’s Vaad Harabanim, which represents Orthodox rabbis in the city, said it was “disappointed and distressed” by the court’s decision.

“For over three millennia, Judaism has taught the infinite value and sanctity of all human life and that we must seek to preserve it, while at the same time taking all responsible measures to comfort the ill,” the Vaad said in a statement Thursday. “To deliberately shorten a life by even one second is an act of murder that is interfering with G-d’s will.”

The court’s decision “reflects a dangerous trend away from the recognition of life’s inherent sanctity and presents a stark challenge to our nation’s morals,” the statement said.

The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, or CIJA, in a statement this week called the issue “complex” and said it will work to inform the community of “the implications of the decision and the ensuing legislation so they have greater understanding of an issue that touches many families.”

CIJA said it was “committed to ensuring the legislation gives Canadians full freedom to make decisions according to their unique personal circumstances, their conscience, and their religious beliefs.”

+