In this guest column, Shimon Koffler Fogel, CEO of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) discusses some of CIJA’s advocacy initiatives in Ottawa and invites the Jewish community to review and comment on its Impact Report.
Defined as “the act or process of supporting a cause or proposal,” advocacy is in many ways intrinsic to being Jewish – whether one identifies as secular, traditional or somewhere in between. From generation to generation, Jews have refused to accept the status quo and, in turn, have helped lead some of the most important advances in human rights, freedom and social justice. Just as Jewish activists worked to secure recognition of our national freedom in Israel and our own rights to equality in the Diaspora, we always advocated for the vulnerable – whether African-Americans in the Southern U.S., refugees from Vietnam or the people of Darfur.
As the non-partisan advocacy agent of the Jewish Federation of Ottawa and its partner federations across Canada, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) is engaged in a range of initiatives in keeping with our communal legacy of advocacy. But our work is entirely dependent on the engagement of our stakeholders. Simply put, we owe the Jewish community a transparent report of our work and an opportunity for the grassroots to rate our performance and let us know their priorities – which is why we recently launched our Impact Report.
While many organizations and businesses publish annual reports, the Impact Report is designed to be an entirely new way of communicating with stakeholders. In its online version (www.cija.ca/impact), the Impact Report enables readers to review, on an issue-by-issue basis, the actions we have taken over the past two years, the outcomes achieved and our intended next steps. Readers are then invited to use an online survey platform to evaluate and offer comments on each issue. We have strived to use technology as a means to raise the bar on community accountability and motivate community members to get involved in whatever area of advocacy speaks to them. Whether advocating for stronger Canada-Israel economic ties, countering proposed restrictions to freedom of religion or becoming involved in the federal government’s anti-bullying strategy, there are countless opportunities for Jewish Canadians to make a difference for the benefit of all Canadians.
The National Holocaust Monument is an example of an initiative here in Ottawa that has important implications for our entire country. As host to hundreds of thousands of tourists annually, including many students on field trips, Ottawa is uniquely suited for a downtown memorial that stands as a permanent reminder of the dangers of anti-Semitism and hatred in all its forms. Last year, the federal government announced the monument will be located next to the Canadian War Museum. With construction slated to begin this summer culminating in a dedication ceremony in fall 2015, Ottawa’s Jewish community can be proud of its role in helping secure all-party support for the monument from its very inception on Parliament Hill.
Ottawa is also an important focal point on another advocacy file: campus activism. Home to two universities that include a significant number of Jewish students from across Canada, Ottawa saw a general decline in anti-Israel campus activism in 2013-14. Based on local monitoring, campus activities surrounding the offensive Israeli Apartheid Week (respectfully renamed “Islam Awareness Week” at the University of Ottawa), were quiet, uneventful and ill-attended in Ottawa this year. And the recent effort to boycott Sabra hummus at uOttawa fell flat, the boycott launch lasting less than 10 minutes and drawing an audience of fewer than a dozen people. In response, a university spokesperson rejected the boycott and noted the purchasing policy of the school’s supplier is “apolitical.”
This academic year, CIJA launched a series of local internships on campuses across the country, providing resources to pro-Israel students looking to create their own impactful programs to promote Israel as a vibrant, multicultural, liberal democracy. Our intern at Carleton has put together an innovative outreach project in the form of pre-exam “recharge” stations, inviting students of all backgrounds to enjoy a bite of falafel, a drink of SodaStream carbonated water and complimentary pens, highlighters and notebooks promoting Israeli culture. This is the sort of positive and practical initiative that connects Israel to the broad swath of students who tune out broader debates over the Middle East conflict. And it’s the sort of grassroots-driven advocacy that CIJA is proud to support in Ottawa and across Canada.
I urge you to take a few moments to review our Impact Report at www.cija.ca/impact. More importantly, I encourage you to get involved.