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Why does the Jewish National Fund sit on Ontario's anti-racism committee?

Members and supporters of the Stop the JNF Campaign in NYC. Image: Joe Catron

Independent Jewish Voices and the United Jewish People's Order's exclusion from an Anti-Racism Directorate committee has rightly been criticized. But, the Ontario government's more appalling decision to appoint individuals tied to an explicitly racist organization has been ignored.

Two years ago, the Liberals put forward a plan titled "A Better Way Forward: Ontario's 3-Year Anti-Racism Strategic Plan" that proposes "proactive steps to fight and prevent systemic racism in government decision-making, programs and services." As part of the initiative, the government's Anti-Racism Directorate set up four subcommittees last year to look at anti-Indigenous racism, anti-Black racism, Islamophobia, and anti-Semitism.

A number of members of the subcommittee on anti-Semitism have personal or institutional ties to the Jewish National Fund (JNF), which practices a form of discrimination outlawed in a famed 70-year-old Supreme Court of Canada ruling.

A member of the subcommittee, Madi Murariu, is the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs' (CIJA) Associate Director for Ontario Government Relations and Public Affairs. CIJA and JNF Canada often work together and sponsor each other's events. Additionally, CIJA staff fundraise for the explicitly racist organization and JNF Canada CEO Lance Davis previously worked as CIJA's National Jewish Campus Life director.

Another subcommittee member, Karen Mock, chairs JSpaceCanada, which was a "participating organization" with JNF Canada on a 2016 event honouring the life of former Israeli president Shimon Peres. Mock also sat on the board of the Canadian Peres Center for Peace Foundation, which raised funds for the Israeli-based Peres Center For Peace. In Israel, the Peres Center operated a slew of projects with JNF Canada and other branches of the racist group.

Zach Potashner represents the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center on the subcommittee. One of its directors, Tony Comper, was guest of honour for the 2009 Toronto JNF Negev Dinner fundraiser and a Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center Spirit of Hope Benefit chair, Ron Frisch, chaired JNF Toronto's Campaign and Negev Dinner.

Brianna Ames, a volunteer with the Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee, represents that organization on the subcommittee. A CJPAC founder and former executive director, Josh Cooper, left the organization to become head of JNF Toronto in 2009 and subsequently CEO of JNF Canada. Another founding member of CJPAC, Michael Levitt, was a JNF Canada board member.

co-chair of the subcommittee on anti-Semitism is Andrea Freedman, President of the Jewish Federation of Ottawa. Freedman's organization regularly promotes JNF Ottawa events and funds the centre where it's based, adjacent to the Jewish Federation of Ottawa offices. The other subcommittee co-chair is Bernie Farber. During Farber's quarter century at the Canadian Jewish Congress, the organization and its personnel had many ties to the JNF.

I found no support from Farber, Mock or the rest of the above-mentioned individuals for Independent Jewish Voices' campaign to revoke JNF Canada's charitable status, or other criticism of the explicitly racist organization. An owner of 13 per cent of Israel's land, the JNF discriminates against Palestinian citizens of Israel (Arab-Israelis) who make up one fifth of the population. According to a UN report, JNF lands are "chartered to benefit Jews exclusively," which has led to an "institutionalized form of discrimination." Echoing the UN, a 2012 US State Department report detailing "institutional and societal discrimination" in Israel says JNF "statutes prohibit sale or lease of land to non-Jews."

Indicative of its discrimination against Israelis who aren't Jewish, JNF Canada's Twitter tag says it "is the caretaker of the land of Israel, on behalf of its owners -- Jewish people everywhere." Its parent organization in Israel -- the Keren Kayemet LeYisrael -- is even more open about its racism. Its website notes that "a survey commissioned by KKL-JNF reveals that over 70 per cent of the Jewish population in Israel opposes allocating KKL-JNF land to non-Jews, while over 80 per cent prefer the definition of Israel as a Jewish state, rather than as the state of all its citizens."

JNF-style discrimination was effectively outlawed in this country in 1951. In 1948, Annie Noble decided to sell a cottage in the exclusive Beach O' Pines subdivision on Lake Huron to Bernie Wolf, who was Jewish. During the sale, Wolf's lawyer realized that the original deed for the property restricted sale to "any person wholly or partly of negro, Asiatic, coloured or Semitic blood." A Toronto court and the Ontario Court of Appeal refused to invalidate the racist land covenant. But Noble pursued the case -- with assistance from the Canadian Jewish Congress -- to the Supreme Court of Canada. In one of the most important blows to legalistic racism in this country, the Supreme Court reversed the lower courts' ruling and allowed Noble to purchase the property. This decision led to the abolition of racist land covenants in this country.

Should we laugh or cry at an Ontario Anti-Racism Directorate subcommittee led by individuals with ties to an organization practicing discriminatory land-use policies outlawed in this country seven decades ago?

Image: Joe Catron​/Flickr

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