From the perspective of Canadian Jewish advocacy, 2016 will be a year of opportunity, change, and challenge. In the past six months, we have witnessed the outbreak of a sustained wave of Palestinian terrorism in Israel, the election of a new federal government in Ottawa, devastating Islamist terror attacks in Paris and San Bernardino and a recalibration of Canada’s policy toward Iran – to name just a few major developments.
As the advocacy agent of Canada’s Jewish Federations, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) works to advance the public policy interests of Canadian Jewry. Our agenda is as diverse as our community: our current priorities include keeping our community institutions safe by advocating for the expansion of the Security Infrastructure Program; genetic discrimination; the rising cost of Jewish education; affordable housing; hate crimes legislation; and fighting boycotts of Israel on campus.
While it is not possible in a single column to address all the issues and initiatives in which we are engaged, I highlight two key areas that will occupy us over the coming months.
First, the election of nearly 200 new MPs requires a proactive and sustained campaign of engagement and education on Parliament Hill. While in-person briefings, parliamentary committee hearings and events are effective, fact-finding missions to Israel have proven to be the best way to build relationships with Canadian leaders. This year, we will host many MPs on missions, complementing a record-setting year for our campus missions program, in which we will bring more than 60 non-Jewish students (including many campus political leaders) to Israel.
In addition to building the Canada-Israel relationship and increasing bilateral trade, we are focused on educating elected officials about the ongoing threat posed by Iran – particularly in the wake of the removal of sanctions following the P5+1 nuclear agreement.
While Canada has removed some sanctions, we are pleased that the government has maintained a number of targeted efforts to block Iran’s access to nuclear-related materials and counter Iranian entities involved in the ballistic missile program, terrorism, and human rights abuses. Our message to MPs is the need for continued Canadian vigilance, caution and economic pressure on the Iranian regime.
Second, in a political and media environment increasingly crowded with a multitude of voices and issues, our approach to advocacy must be innovative to ensure our message is heard. Advocating in partnership with other faith, ethnic and civil society groups has proved effective, which is why CIJA has recently increased efforts to build coalitions with other communities. In the past few months, we have worked with partners in Canada’s Sikh, Ahmadiyya Muslim, Catholic, Middle Eastern Christian and LGBT communities to speak out on issues such as religious freedom, hate crimes and the human catastrophe unfolding in Syria and Iraq.
Moreover, strong partnerships are a cornerstone of effective social justice advocacy.
While Federation-supported Jewish social service agencies across Canada are at the forefront of aiding the most vulnerable among us, much of their invaluable work requires sustained investment from government. Although the federal government has committed to increasing funding for the provinces to deliver affordable housing and other essential programs, all governments face the challenge of fiscal constraints. CIJA has assembled a diverse coalition of ethnic communities with similar social service agencies to urge governments to ensure our institutions continue to benefit from their fair share of public funding and to contribute their expertise as the government formulates social policy.
2016 will continue to present us with opportunities and challenges. If you would like to learn more about CIJA and our work, or how to get involved, please visit www.cija.ca.