Quebec party that wanted to ban kippahs loses in elections


The separatist Parti Quebecois government, which campaigned on a divisive charter that roiled the Quebec Jewish community, was beaten soundly in provincial elections.

In Monday’s vote, the Liberal Party won 70 seats in the legislature and will form the next government. The Parti Quebecois, which was in power for 18 months, was reduced to 30 seats from its current 54, and former Premier Pauline Marois was defeated in her own riding, or voting district. Two smaller parties received 25 seats together.

The Parti Quebecois campaigned mainly on its Charter of Quebec Values, which sought to forbid the wearing of religious symbols in the public workplace. It fought to de-emphasize its core aspirations for sovereignty, but observers reportedly believed that voters rejected the party mainly for that reason.

Also defeated was a Montreal Parti Quebecois candidate, Louise Mailloux, who claimed that kosher products have a hidden tax used by Jews to fund their political activities. Marois refused to dump Mailloux from the ticket.

For now, talk of the charter has been tamped down. Since it was unveiled last fall, the proposal has caused turmoil with its pledge to prohibit public sector workers — doctors, teachers, nurses and civil servants — from wearing “conspicuous” religious symbols, including hijabs, turbans and kippahs.

Quebec’s roughly 90,000-strong Jewish community regard the charter as unnecessary and xenophobic. Many observers see it as a wedge issue and a dark example of identity politics.

B’nai Brith Canada in a statement called on the new government “to begin to mend the rifts created to allow all Quebecers to enjoy the highest quality of life in all areas and spheres of human rights.”

Quebec introduces plan to ban government employees’ religious symbols


Quebec’s government introduced its much-discussed Charter of Quebec Values, which would ban “overt and conspicuous” religious symbols worn by government employees.

The plan proposed by the secessionist, secular-minded Parti Quebecois would prohibit public and para-public employees, from judges to day care workers, from wearing large crosses and crucifixes, Islamic headscarves, Sikh turbans and yarmulkes in order to establish “religious neutrality” in the public realm.

If passed, the law would also make it mandatory to uncover one’s face when providing or receiving a state service.

The prohibitions would apply to civil servants, teachers, law enforcement officers, firefighters, doctors, nurses and public day care employees. Elected officials would be exempt. Universities and municipalities could seek a renewable, five-year exemption.

“The time has come to rally around our common values,” Bernard Drainville, the government minister in charge of the portfolio, said at a news conference Tuesday. “They define who we are. Let’s be proud of them.”

A bill will be introduced this fall in the National Assembly. The minority government of Premier Pauline Marois will need opposition support for the measure to pass, however.

The plan has been widely denounced as xenophobic and discriminatory. But polls show that a majority of francophone Quebecers approve the measures.

The federal government responded that if the charter is approved, Ottawa would order a review by its Justice Department to ascertain if the law violates constitutional guarantees to freedom of religion.

The Quebec office of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs said in a statement that it is “dismayed” at the proposed charter.

If passed, it “would restrict the fundamental rights and freedoms of Quebecers. The proposed charter will run contrary to the provisions enshrined by the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It is unacceptable and will only serve to enflame civil discourse.”

The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs said “there is no justification” for the government’s proposed legislation.

“The prohibition of wearing religious symbols in the public and para-public service is not justified, and would exclude a large number of Quebecers. The role of the state should be to bring people together, not to divide them,” it said.

Leaked Quebec plan would ban kippot on public workers


A plan by Quebec’s government to ban “religious symbols,” including yarmulkes or kippot, among public sector workers has elicited worry from religious minorities in the Canadian province.

The bill would seek to ban public employees from wearing large Christian crosses or religious headwear such as that worn by Sikhs, Muslims and Jews while at work.

Richard Marceau, a former politician who now advises the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, wrote a column for Huffington Post criticizing the proposal.

“How could one believe that a kippah-wearing Jewish librarian is … trying to impose his religion on society?” Marceau wrote.

The details of the proposed law were leaked to the Montreal Journal last week, but the Parti Quebecois, which heads the provincial government, has refused to confirm them or answer questions related to the issue.

Canada’s multiculturalism minister, Jason Kenney, offered tepid criticism of the proposal, saying it was important to wait until a bill was made public.

Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau was more critical.

“I have enormous concerns for the limits that would be imposed on people, on their religion and on their freedom of expression,” he said.

Quebec official: Rosh Hashanah election date not discriminatory


A Canadian government minister who said the Jewish community receives “privileged treatment” denied that a 2016 election scheduled for Rosh Hashanah discriminates against Jews.

“Give me a break,” said Bernard Drainville, the Parti Québécois minister of democratic institutions and active citizenship, in response to a reporter’s question about his refusal to change the proposed date for Quebec’s first fixed-date election in 2016, which coincides with the Jewish New Year.

Drainville said it will be possible to vote before the election on Oct. 3, 2016, the Montreal Gazette reported.

Last week, one of Quebec’s opposition parties, the Coalition Avenir Québec, joined Parti Québécois in voting down a Liberal Party amendment that would have allowed flexibility in setting the election date if it coincided with a religious holiday or for other reasons.

Lawrence Bergman, a veteran member of the provincial Legislature for a largely Jewish Montreal-area district, said an election on Rosh Hashanah would mean “some people will not have a chance to vote.”

But Drainville insisted that “the main issue here is not a Jewish holiday.”

“The issue here is the principle of not setting the election date according to the different religious holidays,” he said, according to the Gazette. “There are more than 100 religious holidays in the calendar. You cannot say we’re going to allow for the postponement of the vote according to one religion because other religious communities will also demand the same.”

Last month, Drainville opposed the relaxation of parking restrictions in Montreal on Jewish holidays, saying the Jewish community receives “privileged treatment.”

Quebec promoter nixes performances by anti-Semitic comic Dieudonne


A series of performances in Montreal by the French comedian Dieudonne M’Bala M’Bala, whose act has included anti-Semitic references, has been canceled.

Quebec’s largest concert promoter pulled the plug on the four shows scheduled for this week by Dieudonne, whose routine has included Holocaust denial and joking praise for Adolf Hitler. Dieudonne has been found guilty of inciting hatred in France.

In a statement issued May 11, the promoter cited “contractual conflicts.”

The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs had complained about the comic to the promoter, Evenko, which last week replied that it had no choice but to honor its agreement with him.

“It is well-known that Dieudonne’s trademark is not humor but hatred toward Jews,” the center said in its complaint. “That is why the French courts have on several occasions found him guilty of inciting hatred.”

CIJA added that Dieudonne’s current show, titled “Give us back Jesus,” has been branded “a long litany of anti-Semitic comments” by the Belgian media. An article in Le Soir in March said it featured Holocaust denial, slurs against the Talmud and said that Hitler was “a nice boy.”

The comic has given the Nazi salute during performances.

Luciano Del Negro, CIJA’s vice president in Quebec, welcomed Evenko’s reversal.

“While we support freedom of expression, we have a responsibility to relegate anti-Jewish rantings and all expressions of hatred and racism to the margins of society,” Del Negro said.

This week, Belgian authorities forced Dieudonne to cancel two performances in Brussels. The French news agency AFP reported that police stopped him mid-performance May 9 after determining his act contravened local laws.

Jewish group rips Canadian party’s questioning of ritual slaughter


Canada’s Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs accused a Quebec legislator of raising “a false issue” when he questioned ritual slaughter practices in the province.

Parti Quebecois lawmaker Andre Simard on March 14 expressed his party’s concern that halal meat, which is derived from slaughtering animals according to Islamic rites, is being sold by mainstream meat companies without proper labeling to unsuspecting consumers.

He said ritual slaughter, implying both Muslim practice and Jewish laws of kashrut, is at odds with Quebec “values” and could be dangerous for human health.

At the time, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs said it would wait for a statement clarifying the Parti Quebecois position that kosher slaughter does not run counter to Quebec values. But the party issued no follow-up statement.

In a statement issued March 16, the group took Simard to task, saying he had “raised a false issue of transparency [in the] slaughter and marketing of kosher meat.”

The group said kosher meat has been “clearly identified and marketed as such for nearly a century in Quebec. To argue that it threatens to establish itself as the norm is strictly unfounded,” said Luciano Del Negro, vice president of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs in Quebec.

“Our community is outraged that Mr. Simard has insinuated that traditional Jewish food practices can be at odds with Quebec values,” the group’s statement said.

It also is “unacceptable” to suggest that kosher meat can represent a public health risk, the statement also said, noting that Jewish ritual slaughter meets the same health standards as other methods of killing.

Last week, a newer political party, the Coalition for Quebec’s Future, agreed that halal products must be clearly labeled as such in Quebec.

In a letter to CIJA, a Coalition for Quebec’s Future legislator clarified the party’s criticism of halal meat, saying that “it is indeed known that the identification of kosher products is an established standard for many years, that the slaughter of animals according to this ritual is done according to Canadian standards, and that this practice
is closely supervised. To claim that these practices lack transparency is therefore false.”

Quebec parents challenge ban on day care religious instruction


Jewish and Catholic parents in Quebec have gone to court to challenge a government ban on religious instruction in government-subsidized day care programs.

In a legal challenge filed Tuesday, the parents say that the province’s policy violates their rights to freedom of religion guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and Quebec’s Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms.

Under the new rules, which came into effect June 1, subsidized day care centers may celebrate cultural aspects of religious holidays, but may not teach “a belief, a dogma or the practice of a specific religion.”

Teaching religious songs will be off limits, as will crafts with a religious connotation.

Sandy Jesion, a plaintiff in the case whose daughter attends a subsidized Jewish daycare in Montreal, told the National Post newspaper that the Bible’s story about the flood “is not a problem, but the fact that God spoke to Noah and told him to build the Ark is religious, and under the directive, you can’t do that.”

The directives are especially troublesome for Jews, said Danielle Sabbah, president of the Association of Child Care Centres of the Jewish Community, representing 17 day care centers serving 3,000 children.

“The problem is that in the Jewish religion, traditions, culture and the religious aspect are mixed together,” Sabbah told the Montreal Gazette. She said that Jewish children could be told the Biblical story of Moses but not about the 10 plagues inflicted on Egypt. “We cannot have anything that mention miracles or acts of God,” she said.

The policy would leave it up to inspectors to determine when the line between culture and religion is crossed.

Quebec grocery store removes, puts back Star of David


A grocery store in southwestern Quebec returned a Star of David over a display of Passover products after removing it following a customer’s complaint.

The Metro grocery store in Westmount was ordered Sunday by the chain’s head office to remove the Star of David over the Passover display after a customer complained that it was religious propaganda. But it put back the star Tuesday after about a dozen phone calls from angry local customers, according to the Montreal Gazette.

This is the 10th year that the store, which has many Jewish customers, made a special display of Passover products. It was the first time that the chain of 600 stores has logged any complaints about it, according to the newspaper.

Marie-Claude Bacon, director of corporate affairs for Metro, apologized Wednesday for the misunderstanding during a visit to the store.

“We’re here for all our customers,” she said, “so we decided to put back the Star of David realizing we made a mistake.”

Quebec Orthodox Jews fight bill banning Muslim veils


Quebec’s Orthodox Jewish community is fighting a bill that would ban women from wearing a Muslim face veil when receiving government services.

Quebec’s proposed legislation would ban the wearing of the Islamic face veil—the niqab and burka—in those situations.

Appearing Wednesday before a Quebec National Assembly hearing, the Jewish Orthodox Council for Community Relations said that by placing gender rights above religious rights, the bill would create a hierarchy of individual rights and freedoms that would be challenged in courts.

According to the Toronto-based Globe and Mail newspaper, the group warned the government against adopting “hard and fast rules” that could exacerbate tensions surrounding religious minorities.

The bill conflicts with both the federal and provincial Charter of Rights, the Jewish group’s legal counsel, Lionel Perez, told a committee studying the legislation.

“It will lead to court challenges, and if it leads to court challenges there will be more media coverage,” Perez said. “If there is more media coverage, it will lead to more scrutiny, and it will exacerbate the social tensions.

“The government has to be equal towards its citizens, meaning that it doesn’t distinguish between religions. And it has to ensure that it does not impose its view, whether religious or secular.”

The council’s arguments clashed with other groups that are demanding an even tougher law that would emphasize Quebec’s secularism.

More Jewish teens attacked in Paris, Adelson gives $30 million to Birthright


Jewish Teens Beaten in Paris Attack

Three Jewish teenagers were attacked in the same Paris district where another Jewish teen was beaten severely in June.

The victims, who were wearing kippot, were temporarily hospitalized for minor injuries on Saturday in what some officials are describing as another anti-Semitic attack in the 19th District.

Badly bruised and with some fractures, the three were shocked and worried about their safety, said Raphael Haddad, president of the French Jewish Student Union, who spoke to the victims on Sunday.

“Their attackers were also from the neighborhood,” said Haddad in a telephone interview, “so they are worried about what will happen if they see them again.”

The three reported the incident to Paris police on Saturday after going to the hospital. The attack took place at about 6:30 p.m. in the low-income, heavily Jewish and Muslim northeastern Paris neighborhood, where 17-year-old Rudy Haddad was beaten on June 21 by a group of young people.

Two of Haddad’s assailants were charged with “attempted murder and group violence aggravated by their anti-Semitic character.”

Richard Prasquier, president of the Jewish umbrella organization, CRIF, told Jewish Radio RCJ on Sunday that he was “certain” the three were targeted because they were identified as Jews.

“There isn’t a shadow of a doubt” concerning the “anti-Semitic character” of the crime, said Prasquier. “Let it be made clear — the boys who were walking by had a kippah.”

A Paris police spokeswoman said an investigation was launched to determine whether the incident was anti-Semitic, adding that the attackers reportedly did not speak to their victims.

The victims’ names were not made public by the French press, but the Jerusalem Post identified them as Bnei Akiva youth group counselors Kevin Bitan and David Buaziz, both 18, and Dan Nebet, 17.

Foundation to Give Birthright $30 Million

The Adelson Family Foundation has pledged another $30 million to the Birthright Israel Foundation.

Sheldon Adelson, the casino mogul who is chairman of the Las Vegas Sands Corp., and his wife, Dr. Miriam Adelson, have now contributed nearly $100 million in gifts over the past two years to the foundation that supplies private funds to Birthright.

The latest pledge consists of a $20 million contribution for 2009 and $10 million for 2010, said Michael Bohnen, president of the Adelson Foundation, in a news release Tuesday announcing the gift.

Adelson said in the release that Birthright Israel “has proven to be the best vehicle we have to strengthen the Jewish community and our people’s connection with the State of Israel. We are honored to have helped Birthright Israel establish a track record of effectiveness on an unprecedented scale, and we look forward to its continued success.”

He called the gift a challenge to other philanthropists to step up during difficult financial times.

Adelson in September 2007 was ranked third on the Forbes magazine list of wealthiest Americans, with a net worth estimated at $28 billion.

Bronfman Prize Seeks Nominations

The Charles Bronfman Prize is seeking nominees for 2009. The prize, which includes a $100,000 award, celebrates the accomplishments of individuals, 50 years old or younger, whose Jewish values have infused their efforts to better the world.

The prize, named for the Birthright Israel co-founder, was launched in 2002 by his children, Stephen Bronfman and Ellen Bronfman Hauptman. Past Bronfman Prize winners include Jay Feinberg, founder of the Gift of Life Bone Marrow Foundation, and Israeli environmentalist Dr. Alon Tal.

Deadline for nominations is Nov. 30.

For nomination forms or more information, visit www.thecharlesbronfmanprize.com.

— Staff Report

Entire Quebec Town Invited to Wedding

Jewish couple Hana Sellem and Moshe Barouk, invited hundreds of residents of Sainte-Agathe-des-Monts to their wedding Tuesday as a gesture of good will after a series of anti-Semitic attacks in the town this summer.

Sellem, 26, an immigrant from France who follows Lubavitch-Chabad teachings, is vice principal of a Jewish teacher’s college in the town.

The couple printed wedding guides in French and English explaining the ceremony. About 300 residents attended.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

World Briefs


Ramon Memorial Service Held

A state memorial service for Israel’s first astronaut was
held at an air force base near Ben-Gurion Airport. A plane carrying Col. Ilan
Ramon’s remains from the United States landed Monday and was taken to the base
for the ceremony. Israeli President Moshe Katsav and Prime Minister Ariel
Sharon were among those participating in the service.

“Your pain is the pain of the whole nation,” Sharon told the
Ramon family at the service. A private burial service, attended by Ramon’s
family and close friends, will be held Tuesday at Nahalal, a moshav in northern
Israel located near an air base where Ramon served.

Court Leaves Way Open for Sharon
Trial

Belgium’s Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that Israeli Prime
Minister Ariel Sharon cannot be tried while in office for alleged war crimes,
but left open the possibility of a trial once he steps down. The court upheld Sharon’s
diplomatic immunity, but did say that charges could be brought against
nonresidents of Belgium. That means that there could be further legal moves
once Sharon retires. The court also ruled that investigations could proceed
against former Israeli army commander Amos Yaron, who was also named in the
original complaint filed with Belgian prosecutors two years ago.

Expanded Benefits for Some
Survivors

Some Holocaust survivors will receive an increase in
compensation payments as a result of an agreement negotiated Wednesday by the
Claims Conference with the German government. The Article 2 Fund, which
currently pays more than 46,000 Jewish Holocaust survivors in 40 countries,
will now distribute monthly payments of approximately $290, up from about $275,
according to the Claims Conference. Monthly payments from the Central and
Eastern European Fund, which pays 16,000 people in 23 countries, will increase
from about $137 to $145.

The programs are administered by the Claims Conference on
behalf of the German government. The negotiations also led to the expansion of
eligibility criteria for the two programs. As a result, some 4,000 additional
survivors, including some people from Romania, Hungary and some Western
European countries, may now get compensation.

Storm Over Quebec Jewish Magazine

The publisher of a Canadian Jewish magazine called Montreal
a “fascist and totalitarian” city because of recent anti-Semitic and
anti-Israeli incidents. Ghila Sroka, publisher and editor of Quebec’s
French-language Tribune Juive, wrote in the magazine’s recent issue  the cover
of which read “Montreal: Capital of Palestine” that the city’s facade of
open-mindedness hides a dark side of anti-Semitism in the trade unions,
universities and media. Her comments were criticized both within and without
the Jewish community.

“We don’t think that Quebec is fascist or anti-Semitic,”
said Joseph Gabay, president of the Quebec region of the Canadian Jewish
Congress. But Gabay did admit that the community was witnessing acts of
anti-Semitism. “It’s scary, it’s becoming worrying. Nobody is hiding,” he said,
but “the Jewish community cannot stay quiet. There is an ill-smelling smoke
over the city and over the country.”

Quebec Premier Bernard Landry and Montreal Mayor Gerald
Tremblay both said Sroka crossed a line. “Her language is clearly excessive and
unjust for Montreal. It saddens me and I hope that in other texts, her issues
will be more measured and in-line,” said Landry, who added that he considers
Sroka a friend.

A spokesman for Tremblay said, “We must wish that people
make efforts to not uselessly aggravate situations and conflicts that are
already quite complex.”

One-third of Tribune Juive’s funding comes from the Quebec
government and the separatist Parti Quebecois.

Changes in Mideast Panel

There are several new faces on the Mideast subcommittee of
the U.S. House of Representatives’ International Relations Committee. The
subcommittee make up, announced Tuesday, now includes new members Nick Smith
(R-Mich.), Mike Pence (R-Ind.), Thaddeus G. McCotter (R-Mich.), William Janklow
(R-S.D.), Joseph Pitts (R-Penn.) and Katherine Harris (R-Fla.). Chris Bell of Texas
is the only new Democrat on the panel. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) will
replace retired Rep. Benjamin Gilman (R-N.Y.) as chair of the panel, and Rep.
Gary Ackerman (D-N.Y.) will remain the ranking minority member. Reps. Brad
Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks.) and Robert Wexler (D-Fla.) left the panel to become
ranking minority members of other subcommittees.

Briefs Courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.