Time to challenge Pro-Apartheid Toronto United Jewish Appeal

Well healed individuals have the right to cheer on war criminals as they raise funds to promote apartheid and if anyone asks uncomfortable questions they are denounced as antisemitic. That about sums up the Canadian Jewish News’ position regarding a recent United Jewish Appeal of Toronto event with George W. Bush and Stephen Harper.

Last week 3,000 attended a fireside chat between the former US president and Canadian prime minister. Tickets for the launch of UJA’s annual fundraising campaign were $250. Billed as “one of the most important conversations UJA has ever hosted”, the event marketing noted, “Witness these legendary global leaders as they unpack the issues reshaping our world. Ukraine and Russia. Israel and the Middle East. Canada and the United States. The rapidly changing economy. Explore the many dangers and opportunities that will define our future, and what it all means for our global Jewish community.”

While Bush spoke, Tamara Lorincz yelled “George Bush is a war criminal.” The anti-war activist also held a sign stating, “War criminals: Bush & Harper. Accountability for Iraq & Afghanistan.”

At the end of the event another activist questioned UJA president Adam Minsky about the hundreds of thousands of deaths caused by Bush’s invasion of Iraq. Firas al Najim also asked Minsky about Israel’s killing of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh. A clip al Najim posted of him later asking an attendee about Palestinian rights was labeled thusly by the Jerusalem Post: “Toronto activist dressed as Jew harasses Holocaust survivor about Israel”.

A Canadian Jewish News podcast discussion also framed al Najim questioning the president of UJA and others, which can be viewed on his Instagram, as threatening Jews. In “Run, hide, defend: This is the new approach to keep Canadian Jews safe over the High Holidays and beyond”, CJN equated al Najim’s calm questioning regarding Palestinian rights to the Tree of Life Synagogue massacre in Pittsburgh. CJN and the Jerusalem Post are effectively saying that questioning Jews who applaud the world’s leading war criminal while raising funds for ethnic/religious supremacy in Israel is antisemitic.

UJA Toronto is Canada’s most important promoter of apartheid. It is the wealthiest of the Jewish Federations that fund the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, which is their official lobbying arm. UJA Toronto organizes and finances a slew of anti-Palestinian activities, including an annual Walk with Israel. Around a quarter of the money UJA raises is sent to Israel, a country with a GDP per person higher than France and Japan. As a registered charity, Canadian taxpayers subsidize as much as 40% of their budget.

But the most significant institutional purveyor of anti-Palestinianism in Canada operates largely below the radar of solidarity activists. Few know or talk about its apartheid promotion and a “shutdown UJA Toronto” campaign has yet to materialize. In fact, the main pro-Palestinian groups didn’t even bother to tweet about the fundraiser with Bush and Harper, let alone help organize a counter rally.

While many compare Israel to apartheid South Africa — it is far worse in many ways — there is a trepidation about directly challenging Jewish institutions that enable this racist and colonial behaviour. Imagine if during the struggle for racial equality in South Africa in the 1980s an organization in Toronto organized an annual Walk for South Africa, funded a major South African apartheid lobby group and various initiatives that promoted the South African military. There would certainly have been statements of condemnation and demonstrations at their office. Yet UJA Toronto does this and more to support an apartheid state with almost no protest.

It’s time to ignore the name calling and directly challenge UJA Toronto.

Yves Engler is the author of 12 books. His latest book is Stand on Guard for Whom?: A People's History of the Canadian Military . Read other articles by Yves.